This piece appeared in the ‘Ballad Of Brian and Betsy, Summer of 63′ magazine, June 2013
My childhood summers were spent dragging Grandma and Granddad down Blackpool’s promenade, tugging on their hands with my wind whipped cheeks beaten pink.
Those long, quiet evenings are remembered through a child’s eyes: sucking humbugs until they splintered and scored the inside of my mouth; playing with the naughty girls next door whose parents grew lewd with cider as the night wore on; pretending to ‘bake’ cakes by stirring coloured beads in bowls – yellow for butter, pearls for flour, red for cherry.
But there was another summer that peppered those hazy evenings spent on South Shore in the early nineties – the summer of ’63, when everyone called her Baby, and it didn’t occur her to mind.
Next to the television was a stack of VHS tapes. I was only allowed to watch one: the Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which I watched each holiday, despite finding it deeply disturbing.
The summer I was seven, I remember my parents dropping me off for the duration. As they were leaving I overheard Mum ban Grandma from letting me watch me Dirty Dancing. “It’s not suitable,” she said firmly.
Undeterred, I would try my luck. I’d go up to the shelf, run my finger along the spines of the videos and ask Grandma whether we could watch The Other One. The answer was ‘no’.
The warm weeks passed until one day Grandma finally relented, tucked me into the crook of her arm and pressed play. “Don’t tell your mum,” she said.
From then on our secret screenings of Dirty Dancing were a holiday ritual, my small world swelling with the sights and sounds of the ‘60s while Granddad dozed in his chair and Grandma declared her undying love for Patrick Swayze.
Those repeat viewings introduced me not to the adult issues of the plot – class, sex, abortion – but to beehives, flicks of eyeliner and denim hot-pants. For the first time, I heard the popular girl and boy groups of the decade, pleading harmoniously to stay, love or hold back tears.
More than a decade letter, I would even compare the film’s setting to that of a resort I worked at in upstate New York – Dirty Dancing being my only point of reference to describe my holiday camp surroundings.
Of course, in later years the film’s coming-of-age angst would have more resonance with my teenage growing pains than the humid August days I spent watching contraband cinema with Grandma. But at my grandparents’ house circa 1991, the seeds of adoration for an era I never knew were sewn, and my summer memories of ‘63 were born.