Happy Birthday, Dad — And Assorted Other Awesome Memories

So today is my father’s birthday. He would have been 77.

But I’m not writing about him. Not now. Maybe not later. I mean, well, eventually. But this won’t be a birthday post like I’ve done in the past. Have I thought about him today? Sure I have. A lot, actually.

But I’ve also thought about other things in my past — and that’s what brought my here. Maybe it was on a whim. But so what. I’m here. And, well, apparently, so are you.

(Thanks for that, by the way.)

The inspiration for this post came from a strange thread on Facebook that started with an innocent comment about a friend’s interest in roller derby. She commented about another friend who would make a dynamic player. I made a comment that, even now, the two of them would kick ass.

I know that doesn’t sound like much but it then led to a look back at the roller rinks of southeastern Connecticut and southwestern Rhode Island, under 21 nights at a couple of now defunct establishments and old-school top 40 radio.

What do these things have in common? Simply, they are institutions of my childhood and early teen years. So, by default, they have an automatic place saved in me. A place where I can always go and pull out some fabulous memories — just like I do about my dad. But, as I said, I’m not writing about him.

So, those of you that grew up in and around Pawcatuck, maybe you’ll appreciate some of these things.

Since I started this thought with roller rinks….let’s start there.

Remember Galaxy when it was down at the beach and Roll-On America in Groton? And of course Wes-Skate in Westerly — Friday night sock hops, anyone? Now Galaxy is in Groton, ads are on the radio and I want to take the kids there. I never could shoot the duck, and I’d probably kill myself trying now, but forget the socializing nights as teenagers, remember the birthday parties and school nights roller skating — because there were a lot.

Maple Breeze. Do I have to say much more than that? I drove by today and was saddened. I went to the auction of when they sold the place — just to see whose hands would be on the property, knowing they’d never do it justice. I went to the property auction, and, as a result, have two special things in my garage — the old clown face and the golf ball sign that says, “Don’t Bounce Me.” On a perfect summer night like tonight, it was the place to be. Mini golf, go karts, bumper boats, water slide. And friends. Always with friends. Aidan and I were mini-golfing in North Conway this week and all I could think about was wishing I had the chance to take him to the best course ever.

There was always music playing at Maple Breeze. Always the local radio station. Maybe it was Fun 102 or 102.3 The Wave. Maybe it was RI104 before it became WRX, 103.7. Or, maybe it was the grand-daddy of the day — Q105. I have an affinity for the Q since I interned there and, most recently, was on the morning show a few years ago with Franco and Nancy and then Nancy and Shawn. But, the point is, more than a few of you reading this had red and yellow Q105 bumper stickers on your bedroom door or car.

So as some of you know, I went to St. Michael School. And, not sure about you public schoolers, but whenever there was an SMS school function, we always — and I mean always — ended up at Bee Bee Dairy in Westerly for ice cream. An equally good pizza place now, but each time I go in, I think about a Bee Bee Dairy sundae.

And speaking of St. Michael’s…Saturday morning basketball league at the Pawcatuck Junior High School Gym. St. Mike’s, West Vine, West Broad, Deans Mill Green, Deans Mill Gold. Great coaches and refs and great stuff for us kids. Even cheerleaders for the girls. Every Saturday morning…two games. And the gym was packed. Or at least I remember it that way.

Nothing could be written about sports in Pawcatuck without mentioning Pawcatuck Little League. I’m a little biased. Ok, a lot biased. I practically grew up there. I have immense feelings for the place and the people who made it into arguably one of the top complexes in the country. Gibson. Knowles. Lenihan. Walsh. Crowley. Cray. Seriously, I could go on and on, but I won’t….I’ll miss too many people. It makes me crazy to go to my own Little League now and see what it is compared to what I had growing up. If I ever moved back to Pawcatuck, that would be one of the reasons. Call me crazy, but it’s true. I remember the boys team that won the district and you’d think they had won the World Series….I remember the girls teams that were good enough to win the World Series. I remember all of it. It’s just a part of me. And always will be.

Back to St. Michael’s for a bit…how about the summer festival? Another institution growing up. Are you kidding me? Charlie LoPresto and family making fritters in the corner. Bingo in the other corner. The white elephant booth. Charlie Shea calling, “put a dime down, win a dollar. put a dime down win a dollar.” My first gambling experience at the dice wheel where they’d sweep losing quarters off the board into rain gutters. The putting green contest where a prize was a free pass to Maple Breeze. The moonwalk when it was there. Pony rides on the convent lawn. And fried dough. Oh, the fried dough.

Wilcox Park and summer pops. Seriously, remember when it all started? Remember the glow sticks you’d get? Remember how early you’d have to get in the park?

And speaking of the park, remember McCrory’s nearby? You could go in and get popcorn — and everything else.

What about Besso’s on the bridge?  A must stop before every movie to get penny candy when it was still just that — a penny.

And after the movies, you’d go to McDonalds. I mean, what else would you do? Of course, if the show was at the United, you’d be happy if you could sit in the balcony.

And the United was close to China Village — a mainstay for ‘special occasion’ dining.

So many memories. So many things to talk about. I mean, I didn’t even mention Rosalinis. I didn’t mention Thanksgiving Day football. I didn’t mention Del’s Lemonade. I didn’t mention “Smiley” working at the DQ. I didn’t mention the Westerly Community Credit Union holiday hoops tournament. I didn’t mention the wall. I didn’t mention the pavillions.

It doesn’t have to be mentioned to be important. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a significant event in your life either. It just has to be something — that when you look back on it — it makes you smile.

I apologize for typos and the ‘rush’ of my writing here, but the inspiration was there to get down a few thoughts and, well, that’s just what I did.

What I really hope is that some of these memories trigger some positive thoughts for you. I am blessed to have grown up in a very cool part of the world with a lot of very cool people around me. Some of them are still around me. And some of them aren’t. And often times you don’t think enough about the ones that are still around until they are gone. But it’s when they are gone that they can sometimes have the greatest impact on you.

Happy Birthday, Dad.