Author: John Lansing
A Short Story
A coming-of-age story set in 1950s, small-town Long Island, at a time when suburban America is about to undergo seismic societal changes.
Jack Morgan returns, for what he knows will be the last time, to Baldwin, Long Island in order to settle his parents’ affairs. He felt indifferent about the sale of his boyhood home until he found himself parked outside. Looking at the house unleashed the floodgates of memories and emotions, taking him back to 1963 when he was a boy of fourteen in a completely different social and racial climate.
Jack and his two best friends, Gene and Greg, are sprucing up and getting a little buzzed on beer before heading to the dance hall. The evocative atmosphere is captured perfectly and is so relatable. Having the pre dance drinks for dutch courage, only in our case it was cider – yuck! Even after all this time I still can’t so much as think of drinking the stuff. The groups of boys and girls separated by the width of the room, the music and the coloured lights. After a couple of false starts Jack gets to dance with the girl of his dreams. Only it’s anything but straightforward.
“Jack, you’ve got to leave…now. No shit. I heard some crazy talk. Go! Now!”
I read the fear in Vida’s eyes; she nodded her head yes. I took her lead and we were on the move across the dance floor, hearts thumping. We grabbed our coats and were out the door and walking briskly down Grand Avenue before the song ended.
A touching teenage love, described with feeling and emotion, which could never be realised without probable tragic consequences. But, above all else, this is a poignant and disturbing reminder of the social conflict of the time. Racial prejudice was prevalent in most communities and was a major factor for a large number of people. When the first black family arrives in Baldwin the event is viewed with mounting dismay and anxiety by the towns’ residents. As Jack finds out to his cost.