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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

Ray Smith: "Sands of Time"

The next year Brad was offered a job to manage the New Beach refreshment stand. He reluctantly decided to skip playing baseball and accept the job. The beaches were full and business was great where he worked. It had been a very hot June and the summer people and tourism had multiplied. A great deal of building was going on in P-Town – all over the Cape for that matter. The new decade of the fifties seemed to be a fine time all over, except for the rumblings of a new war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula.
His brother Don again had invited him to stay with him and his family for the summer and he eagerly accepted. His brother was a terrific guy and Audie, Don’s wife, was bright, witty and loving. He loved her as if she was his true sister and he felt right at home with them. His two little nephews were great kids and they loved their Uncle Brad.

Upon his first visit he loved the Cape and soon discovered that P-town was a fun place. There was always something going on. It was much better than the oppressive summer heat of his home in Boston. There usually was a cooling briny breeze during the day and evening. He learned to love the place on his first visit and each summer thereafter.
He would walk all over the small town. Often he would go to the wharf and watch the little Portuguese kids treading water after the ferryboat arrived from Boston with a load of passengers. They would start hollering, “Chuck a nickel over mister.” They would scramble and dive down to retrieve the coins thrown and rise to the surface sticking the coin in the pouch of their mouth. Again, the kids would shout up to the people on the wharf, “Chuck a quarter over. Come on lady, no pennies.” With a jaw full of coins sticking out of their cheeks like a big wad of tobacco, they would fight each other when a larger coin hit the water. Occasionally some of the braver ones would sneak aboard the ferry and climb to the top. The captain would warn them off, but sometimes smiled at the bravado of some little guy completing a perfect swan dive or jack-knife from the upper deck.

Sometimes he’d stroll up to Pilgrim’s Monument, scale it and for many miles scan the land and sea below, never failing to marvel at the beauty. Often he would find himself out in the dunes. It was peaceful out there. He could hear the faint sound of the waves on the beach and the grass dancing in the light breeze and the crickets, lots of crickets making their evening music. He would walk along the shore, climb a dune and sitting atop the sandy hill he would watch the waves cascading and washing the beach. After selecting the right piece of grass for its sweet core, he would chew on it and feel an inner calm. Although a people person, he still liked the quiet solitude that it afforded out there. Occasionally his friend Pete would join him and they would climb up and then slide down a high dune and race each other to the water. Sometimes they would skip flat stones along the rising tide and tell each other their dreams.

The colors of the painted shops on Commercial Street always seemed to brighten spirits. And that certain smell around the wharves. What was the chemistry that generated it? Was it a combination of tar, sea salt, with remnants of dead fish and scales clinging on fishing nets that produced it? Strange, it was an odd briny perfume that often made other’s nose wrinkle. It might not have been the most pleasant aroma, but there was something about it that he liked – it was a sea smell and he liked the sea.
Sometimes he would just stop and watch in admiration as a talented artist transformed a blank canvas into a fabulous seascape as if there was magic in his brush. He would smile at the many characters filling the busy summer streets. The place was a melting pot of many types. There were actors, artist, authors, poets, and just plain folks absorbing the golden sun and feeling that along the sidewalk one might brush elbows with someone famous and not even realize it - maybe John Dos Passos, Norman Mailer, Eugene O’Neill, the strange Cape Poet Harry Kemp.

It was exciting for Brad to think that he might rub shoulders with a famous movie star appearing in summer stock with the Provincetown Players, maybe a Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn – Who Knows? There were a lot of rich and famous people just walking along the busy sidewalk on Commercial Street just like him. He shrugged his shoulders at gays with polished nails and skin-tight shorts walking hand-in-hand, withholding any judgement and grinned as Fat Albert, with his red checkered shirt, work boots and bib-overalls, tipped his top hat politely to all he would greet. Another town character, Popeye would sometimes appear as he collected his treasures from trash barrels.

During the summer the traditional dances were held up on the second floor Town Hall’s ballroom. The Fireman’s Ball and the Fisherman’s Ball, each trying to outdo the other. The burly Portuguese fishermen, firemen and town citizens dancing the night away were dignified compared to the wild Artist’s Costume Ball held over at Beachcombers. That was always the festival of the year, drawing participants and voyeurs from all over the country. The parades and costumes were at times outrageous, and each year seemed to out-outrage the last. It seemed like P-Town was the Northeast answer to New Orleans when it went crazy before the beginning of Lent.

It was a place of stark contrast in many respects. The weather was glorious during the summer and generally unpleasant in the winter season. During the warm summer months, Provincetown life seemed to be dominated by tourists, artist, and the gay community. Strangely the year round residents, with a large Portuguese influence, welcomed the strangers although their life-styles differed greatly. Of course a great deal of money was spent during the summer months and winter was somewhat lean in comparison, especially if the fishing was poor. During the warm weather things were happening so fast, it seemed that people were trying to grab as much of life as possible before the fall came. Yet the strangers seemed to disappear as the wind began to shift around to the north. The permanent residents were happy with the new quiet as the fall weather cleared the beaches. 

Brad loved the evenings, especially on Fridays when the Yacht and Tennis Club had their dances. The building was hardly what one might picture as a typical yacht club. It was a large old weather beaten wooden structure with a tennis court in back. Some screening to prevent tennis balls escaping from the tennis court was missing. The court nets appeared to have been well used even though it was still only late spring and seemed to sag from their own weight.

The club was very typical of many Cape Cod structures. Buildings or houses covered by cedar shingles were left unpainted and allowed to gray naturally, weathered by sun, sand, salt, sea spray and wind. The same gray wooden structures could be seen on the many wharves jutting out like withered old lady’s fingers in the Provincetown harbor. The faded gray color would provide a nice contrast to the colorful fishing boats tied to the dock, recently painted for the Blessing of the Fleet. Artists often used them as subjects for their canvas.

The club’s second floor was large and had a dance floor. It was a romantic time after World War Two. The music was nice. The lights would dim and couples would dance to the latest tunes of the day. It was soft, romantic and easy to dance up close and smell the girl’s perfumed hair and neck. Occasionally a fast tune would interrupt the touch of her breasts on his chest and allow the sweaty palms to dry. A fast dance, maybe a jitterbug or a swing tune would be a break in the action of bodies touching to allow the boys and girls to emotionally simmer down.

A trip to their individual restrooms would also allow the brows to cool. In there the guys would brag how close they danced with this one or that one, or how they copped a quick feel of her boobs as they danced close. In the other restroom the brassier girls would snicker and tell their close friend how they felt the guy’s thing against them as they danced. After a quick look in the mirror, hair in place and another swab of lipstick, out they would go on the attack again.

Sinatra, Crosby, Como, Patti Page, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, would ease them into a slow dance and the dreaming would begin again. Yes, it was that way for boys too. The boys would be nicely dressed, sports coat and slacks and maybe dirty white-bucks - clean ones were out. And you had to have a good after-shave lotion. Many kids didn’t really need to shave, but Brad started about fifteen.

Some girls wore pretty summer flowered dresses, high–heels and fresh smelling cologne. Others wore heady perfume, very tight sweaters showing Lana Turner boobs, and wide skirts that flared to show pretty legs and maybe flat ballerina shoes so they wouldn’t tower over some cute short guy they might be attracted to. These were the older, bolder, breastier, sexy girls that drew the boys’ attention.

This was Brad’s third summer on the Cape and he looked forward to Friday night. He liked to dance, but he had no special girl. Over the years he met and developed friendships with many kids. Some were local kids and others tourists. The summer people were often affluent – many on the social pages of the cities they evacuated during the summer’s heat. Many of the summer visitors that he knew just played through the season. Brad worked at the new hot dog stand on New Beach. He didn’t mind work. He liked people and they liked him. It seemed as though everyone was his friend or wanted to be. He was good-natured and handsome. A square face, quick smile, blond hair, deep-set blue-green eyes and his six feet were well proportioned with wide shoulders and slim waist.

Manny approached Brad and playfully faked a right to the mid-section initiating the usual flinch. They were friends now after ‘The Man’ accepted that he had been bested from the altercation they had last year at the ballpark. A few that remembered Manny’s bullying tactics said that the fight actually changed him into an acceptable ‘human being.’ 

“Where’s the action Brad?”
“I don’t know, Manny. I thought you would have picked out a girl by now.”
“Naah, I’m letting you have first choice, Pal.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.” They laughed as Brad lightly jabbed at Manny’s arm.
“See you later, Brad.”
“Okay Man, good hunting.”

Two friends saw Brad and guided their dates over to meet him. As they were introducing him to the girls they met on the beach, his eyes filled with her. As if the volume dial was suddenly turned down on the radio, he heard no more of the conversation. There was an aura of splendor as she passed, almost magical. A light powder blue dress with a filmy white shawl and low-heeled sandals on her small feet reached the corner of his eye. Only a glance sent an electrical shiver up his spine. He suddenly felt the hair stand up on his arms and his next breath seemed to be difficult to manage. Never had he ever experienced this at the sight of another person before. God, who is she? He wondered.

He quickly excused himself, trying to get closer to the dream that he had just seen. Was she only a figment of his imagination? Where had she gone? He tried to keep an eye on her as he broke away from his friends, but she faded into the bobbing dancers out of sight. Had she entered the ladies room? She seemed to be going in that direction. He moved a little closer to that area in hopes he would meet her as she came out.

The lights softened and the music began. Couples were making their way to the dance floor. A new popular song by Doris Day, ‘It’s Magic’ brought the dancers close and the gal’s hair to the guy’s cheek. He liked the song, but wondered if it might be too slow or romantic for the first dance with someone new. She came out and appeared to be alone and somewhat uncomfortable, looking around for no one in particular. Brad waited to ensure she was not with a date, but moved in before another claimed her. “Hi, would you like to dance?” he tried casually. She looked and liked. “I guess so.”

He didn’t want to dance too close in fear of her thinking that he was coming on too fast. She felt heavenly at the first touch of her hand. She didn’t seem to have any of that heavy perfume on that he could detect, but it was a nice natural fragrance. Maybe there was a light touch of cologne. It had the scent of springtime. And then again, it might be the shampoo she was using. She had a nice freshly scrubbed aroma unlike some of the stuff that many of the girls would wear that would practically knock you over.
He didn’t know what to say, but felt some small talk was in order. “Gee, it’s been a hot June, hasn’t it? She said, “Yes it has been.” “Oh, my name is Brad,” quickly stealing a look at her. Her eyes brightened and she smiled, “Hi Brad, I’m Kari.”

He liked her name. It was different. He thought it kinda sounded exotic. After they exchanged first names they fell silent as the record continued. He was reluctant to look too closely in her face - afraid to discover some flaw and spoil his original impression. The song ended and Kari shyly stood back and prepared to leave. “Thank you, Kari. Can I buy you a coke?” he offered.

“Maybe later, Brad,” she said looking up at him.  

He saw her up close and there were no flaws. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Her hair was golden and fell below her shoulders. A perfect smile and an oval face filled with wide spread green-blue eyes that you could swim in, a light trace of pink brushed her full lips and high cheekbones gave her a movie star look. She was petite, about five four, had a tiny waist and nice full breasts. As she walked away he could still smell her freshness and within that very short time, she seemed to have totally enveloped him within her. He was a captive. He just stood there unable to move, eyes following her.

He had to dance with her again, but Billy Costa came to her and now they were dancing. He never really liked beefy Billy, a real syrupy kind of guy. He didn’t like the thought of him dancing close to her. Well, it wasn’t a slow dance though – ‘Shake Rattle and Roll.’ It’s okay for them to dance to that. He shrugged, mentally allowing him to dance with her rationalizing that he wasn’t holding her close. It seemed like hours before it ended and as they parted he quickly approached her, “Would you like that coke now?” She smiled and nodded and said, “Okay.”

For that time of year it was unseasonably hot. The place was not air-conditioned and two large fans only pushed stale air from one area to another. They moved outside to the back porch seeking relief, but found none. It was as hot there as it was on the dance floor. They made small talk as they stood at the dimly lit second story railing overlooking the tennis court. A few other couples were smoking and talking in hushed tones also. Their smiles sparkled in each other’s eyes as they discovered that they both liked many of the same things; reading, slow romantic music, swimming and boating, and the dunes. He said, “There’s something magical about the dunes, especially the ones that cascade down to the ocean.” She agreed and volunteered that sometimes she would climb up, slide down and then dash into the water – when she was a kid of course. “Hey, me too – when I was a kid.” He laughed and she giggled. She liked his laugh.

They were young. He was eighteen and just graduated from Boston Latin High School, Class of 50.’ She just turned seventeen and was entering into her senior year. She mentioned that she took extra courses in high school and accumulated enough points to have graduated a year early, but her mother and dad wanted her to continue school and finish her senior year. Beautiful and smart too, he thought.

Both were typical young, healthy, well-scrubbed all-American kids, pleasant personalities and both very good-looking as well. They were wholesome, the type of kids that attracted other kids and made adults smile. She was originally from the mid-west and he was a Boston boy. She had two siblings, a younger brother and sister and he three older brothers. Before the family history continued, they were interrupted by a swarm of mosquitoes. They quickly finished their cokes and returned to the dance hall.
The Mills Brothers began, ‘Up the Lazy River.’ Brad and Kari danced a little closer this time. He tasted her hair as she dreamed on his shoulder. It tickled his nose as she nestled closer. His right hand pressed the small of her back and she liked the feel of him holding her close. The floor was crowded with other dancers and with the closeness of the crowd he sometimes felt her breasts against his lower chest. As they continued to dance he started to become excited and tried to wish it down to no avail. He was embarrassed. Had she noticed that he had a hard on, he wondered? He became self-conscious and although he tried to put some space between them, they would occasionally be crowded closer. She then detected the bulge next to her belly, not quite sure what it was – and then realized. She became excited also and they could both feel their hands becoming moist as they danced.

The lights were low on the dance floor and she raised her head to look directly in his eyes. His lips lightly brushed her forehead. Oh God, the music stopped and here I am out like a flagpole. How can I walk off without being seen? He didn’t have to. A Sinatra song saved him and brought them close together again. Billy Costa came over and tapped Brad for a cut in, “Not now, Billy.” As Billy sulked away he finally willed himself down as they put a small distance between them.
“Wow, they should have air conditioning in here,” he said feeling a bit uncomfortable with the thought that he might be smelly to her. “Yes, really,” she breathed uncomfortably, hoping her cologne wasn’t wearing off.

He was sweating heavily and beads began to show on her forehead also. The hands were wet, as were other intimate parts of their bodies. Sinatra concluded the final refrain and she excused herself and moved to the rest rooms, promising to “be right back.” He had to go too and quickly made his way to the men’s room where he removed his jacket and shirt. The cold water brought down the fever. He dried off with paper towels and re-combed his blonde hair, which had become dark with the moisture. He went in a booth and dried himself from the stimulation. He had never been so sexually aroused in his life. His only experience was some heavy petting and intimate touching with two different Canton High School girls that really didn’t do much for him. He met them in his senior year at school sock-hops, and went outside to the rear seat of the car. They were kind of common girls – town pumps as his buddies said. Actually the experiences were not that satisfying – he really felt nothing for the girls at all. This time I almost came in my shorts. He hated the thought that came to him about having sex with her. I shouldn’t feel that way about her, and felt dirty at the thought of it. This girl has class. She is too nice and innocent to have sex. She’s not that type. She’s the type of girl you respect and marry, he told himself. He felt better and was glad he had convinced himself. But wow, he shook his head!

He stood before the large fan in the men’s room trying to cool off. He then put on his moist shirt and sport coat and exited. Billy came over to make small talk, testing their relationship. He brushed by him. “Sorry Billy, I can’t talk. I’m looking for someone.”
Billy scrambled after him like a dumb puppy dog. “She left,” he said and Brad hurried to try to catch her to no avail. Two friends were at the entrance and Brad asked if they had seen her. They told him that someone drove her away a few minutes ago. He cursed himself for taking so long in the men’s room and wondered if he would ever see her again. He never asked where she lived or anything else that might help him to find her again.

--Ray Smith

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