The hazy red sphere, reflected in the rear window of the rusting hulk of the1929 model A Ford, lifted above the brown cattails, pin oaks, and dead sycamores on the eastern edge of Bradner Pond in Northern Ohio. The passenger door, the rear fenders and the cloth roof had abandoned the rusted out, black four door sedan years ago. The rubber tires had rotted off the wheels. The front end rested on what remained of the rims. The rear axle rested somewhat precariously on rocks rolled from a nearby field to keep the rear wheel rims off the ground.
“Tequila” by the Champs ripped the cool stillness of the morning, as the three teens worked feverishly wrapping the frayed rope, clothes line and binder twine around the right rear rim of the old Model A Ford. To be truthful the the rope was rope in name only. They had modified the rim so that it would hold two hundred yards of the rope which now stretched across the dark blue waters of the pond and disappeared into the tall grasses, brush and cattails. Chris, Mike, Eddie and I stepped back and admired their work.
CALL OF THE WILD
MISS Hatie, wire rimmed half glasses, white hair in a tight bun, black polka dot mid calf length dress and matronly black shoes, was our English teacher.
With ram rod posture she stood in front of the class peering out at us looking for any glimmer of literary knowledge and any potential deviant behavior. Satisfied, she looked down at her teacher’s edition.
“This week we are reading….”
The classroom door blasted open flying back on its hinges smashing the door handle into the wall.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Miss Hatie.” Mike yelled as he crashed into and upended Alice and her desk.
History, geometry and English books flew everywhere. Alice’s Rockabilly handbag with lucite handle skittered across the floor leaving a trail of its contents. Pens, pencil, rulers, one each – pearl ink, coral, and white lipsticks and a small cellophane blue package labeled “KOTE_”.… Before the rest of the letters could be read, Miss Hatie and Alice dove for it at the same time. Their Heads collided. Balance was lost and Both ended sitting on the floor each clutching one end of the package of KOTEX.
“Excuse me.” Mike gingerly stepped over the two and nonchalantly made his way to his seat.
Miss Hatie struggled to her feet, straightened her dress and her glasses which were hanging from one ear.
Alice scooped her belongings into her purse, uprighted her desk and took her seat.
The class which hadn’t exhaled since the door flew open, exploded into riotous laughter.
One stare over Miss Hatie’s wire rimmed glasses, and the room went silent.
“As I was saying, this week we are reading from the works of Jack London.”
As the class read, discussed and droned on through the novel paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence, I began reading ahead. Ever so slowly the classroom disappeared around me, and I sank deeper and deeper into the adventure.
Every American high school student is exposed to “The Call of The Wild”. Not every American boy is as captured by the sense of adventure as I was. In a matter of weeks I had read all of London’s short stories and novels. Particularly, I was drawn to his novels about the South Sea. My favorite was “The Cruise Of The Snark” which I read over and over again.
Jack London also introduced me to surfing. He called it the “royal sport for the natural kings of earth”. I started to look for anything I could find on surfing including Alexander Hume Ford and George Freeth, the father of Modern Surfing, who became the catalyst for West Coast Surfing.
It was in January 1960 that, while browsing comics at the Rexal Drug store, our combination drug store/ice cream parlor, that I saw and bought the first issue of “The Surfer” January 1, 1960 Volume 1. It subsequently was to become just “SURFER”. I bought. I studied. I memorized that and every subsequent issue. I knew the day that it was delivered to the store and waited excitedly for each issue. For 75 cents I was transported from my small Midwestern town to the exotic surfing world of California and Hawaii.
In the subsequent issues you could order 8mm surfer films. It was in these that I first saw “the tube” and surfers riding these huge waves. The best of these was John Severson’s original “Big Wednesday” in 1961.
I bought Duke Boyd’s color block “Hang Ten” surfer shorts with the two foot print logo.
I bought the jacket.
I found and bought an original Dewey Weber long board.
I talked my two best friends, Mike and Eddie into going in with me on a dilapidated “Woodie”. I sold them on the idea that we needed a cool vehicle to scoop girls at the “Atom”, and the “A&W Root Beer”.
Every penny I earned from my part time job at a flower shop/green house went into either the woodie or my surfing obsession. Finally, I had all my surfing gear, and the woodie should be able to make it to the nearest large body of water.
THINGS GET ERIE
The problem was this: the largest body of water capable of producing surfing waves was Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes. It can go from calm to nine foot waves in less than fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, It was a good ninety miles away.
Mike, Eddie and I tied the Dewey Weber board to the top of the 1950 canary yellow Ford woodie. Next we hoisted the rusty red steel CocaCola cooler loaded with our bologna sandwiches, Charlie Chips and Dad’s root beer into the back. On top of that we chucked our towels, sweatshirts and swimming trunks.
We clambered into the front seat. I was behind the wheel, Eddie had shotgun and Mike was sandwiched between. We looked at each other and began the ritual.
I stomped the clutch to the floor, gripped the wheel with my left hand, threw the stick into first with my right and then inserted the key into the ignition and put my foot on the floor mounted starter button. Mike and Eddie solemnly placed their hands on the dash. We looked at each other then looked to heaven. I depressed the gas pedal and hit the starter. The starter motor ground – nothing. Again I hit the starter – nothing. I straightened into the seat, looked at Mike and Eddie who tightened their grip on the dash. We all looked to heaven, I turned the key, the starter ground, caught, the engine coughed once, twice, three times, belched fire and started. A cloud of blue smoke enveloped us. We coughed, wiped the tears and the stringent exhaust from our eyes. I eased out the clutch, the car lurched and shuddered, and we were on our way.
Two hours and three stops later we are once again waiting for the radiator to stop spewing steam. Finally, we arrived at the shores of Lake Erie’s East Harbor State Park. The place was packed with families and other teens on summer break. Mike and Eddie grabbed the cooler and food. I untied my Dewey Weber from the roof, tucked it proudly under my arm, and we headed over the dunes and across the hot dark beige course sands of Lake Erie. I couldn’t help noticing the families and girls staring at my surf board and smiling. Although my chest swelled with pride, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of other surfers. All the better for me I thought; no competition for the best waves.
So there I was in my shortie and baggies sitting on my original Dewey Weber board a couple of hundred yards off shore bobbing like a cork in a washtub. I waited and waited and waited as the sun slowly moved across the grey northern sky. No waves!
It was a long slow ride home even in our beloved woodie.
A week later we had another long drive with the same results. Another week and the same results; no waves. The troops were beginning to grumble. Quickly I suggested that we bring the girls with us, and the grumbling subsided.
Beaches and Bikinis
This next surfing expedition we brought the girls, our classmates and lifelong friends. We soon discovered that our treks to the beach would be dramatically different with the girls in tow.
First of all, besides our equipment the girls now added: picnic baskets, changes of outfits, hats, various CopperTone suntan lotions, lemon juice (for high lighting hair — who’d have thought it), beach chairs, a beach umbrella, cameras, and a radio. The girls wore the same one piece suits they had worn swimming with us all summer at the White Star, an abandoned limestone quarry that had filled with water when the mining operation shut down. The girls had slipped madras plaid shorts and white blouses over the swim suits for some reason.
We, the guys, hadn’t really thought about the seating arrangement. It seemed simple enough. We would keep the same arrangement we had always had. I would drive, Eddie would ride shotgun and Mike would sit between us and the girls would share the back seat. We loaded the woodie, took our usual seats, and looked through the windshield to see all three girls standing in front of the car staring at with us hands on hips and furrowed brows.
“What?” I shouted.
Eddie, Mike and I waited. We looked at each other in bewilderment. We looked at the girls. There they stood arms folded across their chests, staring icily, tapping their feet. I turned to Eddie and shrugged my shoulders. Eddie turned to Mike who shrugged back. As we turned to look back at the girls, the car doors flew open. Ruthie yanked Eddie from his shotgun position, Alice pulled Mike from the car, and no sooner had Mike’s feet hit the ground than Juanita slid in next to me on the front seat.
So, this was to be the seating arrangement. I was behind the wheel with Juanita right beside me, Ruthie and Mike, Eddie and Alice were in the back seat. I sat bewildered. I looked in the rear view mirror at Mike and Eddie. They shrugged; the girls glared.
I turned facing front, took a deep breath, stomped the clutch to the floor, gripped the wheel with my left hand, threw the stick into first with my right, turned the key in the ignition, depressed the gas pedal, and stomped the starter button on the floor. The starter ground – nothing.
I looked at Mike and Eddie. They shrugged. Again I turned the key – nothing. I straightened in the seat. Mike and Eddie leaned forward and grasped the back of the front seat. The girls looked puzzled. I hit the starter – nothing.
I asked Ruthie and Alice to join Mike and Eddie and put their hands on the back of the front seat and Juanita to put her hands on the dash. The girls rolled their eyes and reluctantly complied. Mike and Eddie tightened their grip. I depressed the starter again, nothing. I took a deep breath.
The boys looked to heaven. The girls looked at each other puzzled. I jammed my foot down on the starter; it groaned, caught, the engine coughed once, twice, three times, belched fire and started. A cloud of blue smoke enveloped us. We choked and wiped the tears from our eyes. I eased out the clutch, the car lurched, and shuddered. The six of us were on our way.
The trip to East Harbor park was, aside from the engine’s usual overheating, uneventful.
The girls chattered endlessly, the guys stared ahead awkwardly. Once we got to East Harbor State Park, I grabbed my board from the roof and headed for the beach and firmly planted my board in the sand. I turned to discover I was by myself. I started back to the car and discovered Mike and Eddie struggling towards me loaded like a couple of pack mules with the girls things.
“Where are the girls”, I asked.
“They’re in the cabana.” Mike replied.
“Doing what?” I asked.
“They’re changing, you dolt.”
“They already had their suits on in the car.” I replied.
Mike and Eddie just shrugged.
At that moment the girls appeared in their brand new bikinis.
Mike, Edie and I stood dumbfounded with our mouths open.
“Mike, Edie, are you coming?” Alice and Ruthie giggled in unison.
Ahead of the heavily ladened burros, the chattering girls walked on.
I turned back in time to see Juanita staring at me. She wore a bright yellow bikini. I just stood there staring at the bikini with the stupidest grin on my face.
Juanita walked over, smiled, and punched me in the shoulder.
“Owww!” “What was that for?” I asked’
“You know, Chris.” she laughed.
“What?” I whined.
“RRRR!” She growled as she gave me another punch in the arm, spun and stomped off kicking sand back at me with each step as I followed her, the girls, and my friends, the burros.
The surfboard never made it into the lake the rest of that summer. Instead every weekend the six of us piled into the woodie and headed to the beach. It became a summer of sun, sand, sweet smelling CopperTone, lemon juice and peroxide. And, the girls sporting the latest bikinis.
When we weren’t at the beach we were at Len’s, the burger place that served as teen central in our small town. There was a long counter with stools along one side. Worn splitting, red leather seats atop a chrome frame spun so that you could see and talk to anyone in the restaurant. Along the other side were booths, and in the corner was our booth. There was always at least one or two of the six of us holding our place. If not at Len’s, we were cruising between the A&W and the Atom in the next town fifteen miles away. The A&W, on the east side, was known for its root beer floats. The Atom, on the west side was knows for its onion rings. So, by circling from one end of State Street to the other you had a complete meal, and you could see who was cruising with whom. Round and round we would ride, laughing, teasing, talking and enjoying the feeling of the warm summer breeze in our hair and on our skin.
Every two weeks there would be a new flick at the Starlight Drive-In, and we would go there for the evening. The StarLight was an older drive-in. The girls would bring snacks; the guys would bring beverages, usually soft drinks. Initially we went to watch the movies. Then it soon became obvious that some, if not all of us, were becoming more than best friends. Although the seating arrangement in the woodie was well set, at the drive in the couples took turns rotating from front to back seat. Everyone made out with their boy or girl friend. Two couples cramped into the front seat so that the third couple could enjoy the comfort of the unencumbered back seat. The nonstop teasing and comments from the front seat kept the activities in the back seat from getting too out of hand. We named ourselves “the six pack” since we went everywhere together.
I sat in my room, listening to the Beach Boys “California Girls” on the hi-fi. I stared at the geometry text in front me. My eyes returned to my longboard gathering dust in the corner. As I looked at the board, the desire to surf started to glow like an ember in one of our beach fires until it ignited into a raging inferno.
I had to surf. There had to be a way. I would never get reliable surf on Lake Erie. I needed another option. I slammed the geometry book closed, grabbed the keys to the woodie, opened the garage door, grabbed axes, shovels, and tool box. I closed the garage door and left to pick up Mike and Eddie.
Within minutes I was in the driveway of Mike’s house.
“Nice flat top, Mike” I called out as Mike ambled to the car.
“Where are the girls, Chris?”
“Don’t need them. We’re headed to Eddie’s.”
“Wait till we get to Eddie’s.”
A short ways out of town I turned into Eddies lane and the woodie left a cloud of dust the length of the long lane to Eddie’s farm house. By the time we reached the two story, chalked grey, clapboard farm house, Eddie was waiting. He slid in and slammed the door just as the cloud of dust was about to envelope him.“That was close,” he laughed. “What’s goin on?”
I took my foot off the brake, released the clutch and we started back down the dust choked lane.
“Remember how we were going to spend the summer surfing?” I asked.
Grinning at each other and in unison, “We sure do.”
“Did we ever get to surf?”
“Depends on what you mean by “surf”?, smirked Mike.
“I’m serious”, I said. “I really want to surf.”
“Looked to us like you “surfed” pretty good.” Mike replied.
“You finished?” I asked.
“OK. OK.” laughed Eddie. “Talk to us about surfing. But, first where we goin?”
“Bradner,” I announced.
“Bradner?” Mike and Eddie in unison. “Seriously.”
“What’s in Bradner?” They asked.
“You’ll see.”, I said.
I peeled from the dirt lane leaving a cloud of dust as I pulled out onto the county road.
“Ok, Chris, where we going?” Mike asked.
Listen, guys, do you remember where we took the girls skinny dipping? I asked.
In unison, “Do we ever!” they enthused.
“That was Bradner Pond.” I shared.
“You want to go skinny dipping without the girls?” Edie asked in disbelief.
“No! numb nuts!” I shouted. “Just wait, all will be made apparent.” Just shut up and turn on the radio.
“I feel fine”, “Come See About Me”, and “Like a Rolling stone” by Bob Dylan began the musical journey.
Within fifteen minutes we turned down an overgrown lane making our way to Bradner Pond.
We bounced along two overgrown parallel tire tracks as the path became less and less discernible. Wild raspberry bushes, milk weed, young sassafras trees scraped under and along the woodie. All manner of bugs and mosquitoes clouded around the car as we picked our way down the overgrown path. Suddenly around a curve was Bradner Pond. To the right next to the edge of the pond was an overgrown pile of brush obscuring an old Model A Ford. The rest of the day was spent clearing the overgrowing vegetation and decades of debris from the car.
We stepped back and leaned agains the woodie.
“Gentlemen, behold ‘Dream Maker’!”
Mike punched me in the shoulder. “Looks looks more like “nightmare maker” to me.”
“Nightmare or dream maker,” I said, “it’s time to divide and conquer.”
“Mike, you find and remove the oil filter and drain the oil.”
“Eddie, you pull the spark plugs, wires and distributer then drain the radiator and open the petcock in the sediment bulb.”
“I’ll clean out the inside then pull the valve cover and oil pan and see how bad the mechanics look. Whoever gets done first will start inspecting the transmission.
“Hey, Chris, this oil is the consistency of peanut butter.”
“Mike, Eddie,” hold everything! “Guess what I found under the front seat?”
Eddie yelled, “a rat’s nest.”
Mike chimes, “a pair of panties.”
“Idiots, I found the original owner’s manual from Ford. This will help us get this baby running.”
We gathered around to study the manual. We had our guide book, and we had our work cut out for us. Fortunately all we had to do was get the engine running enough to turn the rear wheels. Each of of us tore out the section of the manual dealing with the job he had been assigned. At the end of each day we would compile a list of tools, parts and materials we would need for the next work session. The journey began. After school all week long we worked on “DreamMaker”.
The weekend came, and the girls made their feelings known about our absence; and truthfully, we were missing their company too.
Also, our parents were raising concerns about us showing up only at meal time and the affect on our grades.
A solution finally was worked out: Friday nights and Saturdays we focused on the girls. Sundays were reserved for families.
As summer approached, it appeared “Dream Maker” would be ready to go by Memorial Day.
Standing there Mike, Eddie, and I were ready. Dream Maker was ready. The rope across Radner Pond was ready. The surf board attached was ready. “Tequila” was blaring. The surf board was appropriately waxed.
“Well, whose the first surfer?” I asked.
“Your project, you should be the first to surf,” said Mike as he turned down the 8 track player.
“You agree, Eddie”
“Ok, you guys fire up Dream Maker, and I will swim over to the surf board. When I raise my arm, you throw the clutch and stand back.”
I swam easily following the rope across the pond where the surfboard waited in the cattails. I heard Dream Maker cough and rumble to life. I mounted the board, placed my feet to lower my center of gravity. Mike and Eddie revved the engine building rpms. I raised my arm. They engaged the clutch. The board started moving slowly as the rope caught on the spinning wheel. I am balanced on the board which is hurdling across the pond. My friends are jumping up and down waving excitedly. I’m surfing! I’m surfing! And then I’m not as the board hits the shore propelling me into the air as it aims for Dream Maker. Looking up from the muck I face planted in I see Mike and Eddie running from Dream Maker as my surfboard plows into it knocking it off the rocks holding the rear end off the ground. Dream Maker shakes as the drive wheels dig into the ground propelling her towards me and the pond. I roll to my right in the muck as she screams by me headed toward the pond. She hits the water sending a tsunami across the pond and promptly bubbles her way to the bottom of the pond.
We trudged back to the car in silence never to speak of Dream Maker again.
Of Boys and Girls
Shortly after the start of school, Mike and Eddie each got their own cars. We no longer triple dated. The six pack existed only at Len’s where we still had our table.
Juanita and I became a couple. Ruthie and Mike paired together. Eddie and Alice became the third couple. Throughout the school year the couples began to break up.
By Thanksgiving Ruth and Mike and Eddie and Alice were no longer going steady. By Christmas Juanita and I were seeing other people. Dating others in our school was awkward and depressing. The question was always present with each new date. “Why did you break up?” I really didn’t have an answer. No one cheated. There were no big fights. No hurt feelings. We just couldn’t or didn’t want to go beyond the really great, fun and close friendships.
Spring brought SATs, College Boards and college applications, senior proms and graduation.
Summer brought summer jobs and prep for going away to college.
“Grandpa, What kind of old car did you say this was? It says Ford on it.”
“ It’s called a Woodie, but Ford made them first.”
“Grandpa, where are we going?”
“I told grandma we were going fishing, Delaney.”
“But you put that old surfboard along with mine in the back of the ah Woodie along with the fishing gear.”
“You never heard of surf fishing”? “ You know, you catch a wave and troll for fish on the way to shore.”
“Grandpa, I may be a girl, but I’m not stupid.” “Did you forget that we used to go fishing by that old junker resting half in the water at Bradner pond?”
“No, I remember that spot well he grinned. It has many memories for me, including having to bait the hook for a little red haired girl with dimples.”
“Why am I driving all the way to Sebastian Inlet?”
“Best fishing and surfing on Florida’s Atlantic Coast!”
The old man, feigning sleep, slouched on the bench seat and against the door. At one time the woody was cherry red; now it was faded pink and bleaching white from the Florida sun. The sun had taken its toll on the old man too. It had bleached his shoulder length hair white and burned splotches of pigment out of his deeply tanned and wrinkled skin. He had worn his old faded Duke Boyd color block “Hang Ten” surfer shorts with the two foot print logo. The old Dewey Weber longboard he had repaired bounced along beside Delaneys short board in the back of the woody.
As they drove along he succumbed to the drum of the old woody on fresh pavement, and images filled his mind. His wife of 60 years, his son, his four grand children, places they had lived, places they had visited (42 of the fifty states), the dive trips (Barbados, St. Croix, the Caymans, the Bahamas), the ice cold waters of White Star quarry), their dogs (Star – the Irish Setter, Fletcher, Alfie and Alfie2.0 – the standard poodles.
“Grandpa, Grandpa, wake up.”
“Where?” He asked trying to shake the sleep from his head.
“Sebastion Inlet. Don’t you remember?”
“Of course, I remember. Grab our boards from the back of the woodie.”
“What about the poles and fishing gear?”
“Fishing gear? Oh, right, I forgot. We’ll get that later.”
“Should I roll up the windows and lock the woodie.”
“Nah, nobody would want to steal it.”
“Where you want to go, gramps?”
“Over where the rest of the boards are standing upright in the sand.”
He stood, curled his toes in the hot sand. The Atlantic air filled his nostrils with the smells of salt and sea. This was definitely not Lake Erie, nor was it in any way Bradner Pond. After all these years he was going finally to surf. He felt the excitement building in his body. His heart rate increased. It pounded in his chest like a runaway locomotive. His vision blurred as he felt his knees buckle. In the far distance he could faintly hear Delaney.
He felt her hands cradling his head in her lap and brushing the sand and his hair from his face. He turned his head to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and chuckled to himself at the irony.
“Someone help my Grandpa!”
A couple of surfers ran up the beach to her aid, but it was too late. The crashing waves rolled up on the sandy beach and slid back into the ocean.