Usually I go to Maine for the Fourth of July. I used to go for Christmas, but a few years back, Meine Schwester and I started wondering why we went back during the worst weather instead of the best.
This year, I came out a little later so that I could attend Frankie’s memorial service. It is part of my Four Weddings and a Funeral year. Hopefully this will be the only memorial service this year.
Frankie was the guy who would yell at you to get off his lawn—or dock, as the case may be. He and Virgie have the camp next to ours. They and my grandparents used to live together in the house I grew up in. They like to think of it as the first commune.
As much as Frankie was that mean, old bastard who’d yell at you for making too much noise, Frankie was an instrumental piece of my childhood.
Frankie and Virgie ran Rollerland on Sebec Lake, just a few hundred yards from my house. My summers consisted of four things: sleeping, eating, swimming, and rollerskating. Every Friday, Sunday, and Tuesday nights, and Wednesday afternoons, we would gather our change and don rollerskates.
At Rollerland, you didn’t just skate in one direction and change direction for one song. Our play time was structured. We feared, respected, and loved the sound of Frankie’s whistle. Sometimes it meant reverse skate. Othertimes, it indicated time for a game, such as the wheel, memory with six wooden cards, or the game where we would all pick different special locations around the rink and Virgie would call out a location and those kids would be out of the game. Frankie also used the whistle to punish someone (usually one of the boys) for skating too fast, or hot dogging in a way that was dangerous.
What the girls all waited for was the whistle blow that indicated a couple’s skate. This was when you found out who liked who. There would be a slow song, and the lights would dim, and couples would go out on the floor hand in hand. I spent a lot of couples skates looking out the big window at the boats in the marina, but occasionally I’d get a chance to skate.
My favorite boy was Zippy, who would come up from the exotic Boca Raton to spend the summer with his grandmother. He was the kind of boy you’d find in a magazine or Abercrombie & Fitch ad. The girls all loved him. I adored the Adonis. I was fairly homely as a kid, but he’d hang out with me, and occasionally, he would make my night by asking me to a couple’s skate. Those were some of the best nights of my childhood.
And those nights wouldn’t have been possible without Frankie and Virgie. They provided a safe environment for teens to hang out. They gave jobs to my brothers who worked in the skate room. And when we didn’t have the money to get in to the rink, they would let us in for free.
When a girl with my size skates left hers at the rink and didn’t claim them, Frankie and Virgie gave them to me. At least that is the story they told me. The skates were beautiful. White and perfect in their own case. I eventually got new rubber wheels for them and new stoppers and they would glide on the floor. I never skated as well as Frankie and Virgie, but we all aspired to their grace and talent.
Frankie passed away back in October. It was probably for the best, as he hadn’t been doing well for a number of years and hadn’t been able to spend his summers in Maine. But he is certainly missed—every time there is silence when someone slams the screen door on the camp. And every time I hear a whistle and think maybe this time I won a prize.