Friday, February 6, 2009

Dancing At Mr. Ben's

Dancing At Mr. Ben's
8.5" x 11"
We loved to dance, back in the 1950s.
There were no dance halls or such, and no drinking, in Huntsville, Texas back in those days. But there were several places to dance. If a business had a place to dance, a juke box, a place to sit, and something to eat and drink, there would be college kids there-day or night.
The SUB (Student Union or Lowman Student Center-a fairly new building at the time) was one place that had a good dance floor, a jukebox, and a band for college dances, and a snack bar, and bookstore downstairs. This was on a hill by the science building. People cut classes to hang around the SUB and dance all day. And it was the place to go between classes. Some people even sat there to study while the jukebox was going.
Remember, we barely had tv and could only get one radio station because of the hills. Tv was a new thing, and we only had tvs in the visitors areas of the dorms.
Another place to dance was at Mr. Ben's. This was a trolly car that an older man had set up on a hill by a book store, just across the street from campus. In the trolly, he had a grill and cooked hamburgers, Lousiana rice, chicken and dumplings, and short orders. Behind the trolly, hanging over a ravine, was a long room with a hardwood floor. On one side of the room was a counter for ordering food. On the opposite side, in a corner, there was an old juke box with some really old songs on it. On each of the long sides of the room, there were some old student chairs with the writing arm on them, where people could sit and study and eat. Or they could wait until someone came along to dance with.
I was so thrilled the year that I no longer had to get up early for a class, and had to eat my meals in the dorm dining room. I made it a point to go to Mr. Ben's about 10 in the morning and rebel. Instead of breakfast food, I got one of his wonderful hamburgers. They were even better at that time of day. The first one off his grill was the best. I guess it was because the grill was still clean.
Sometimes, I would get a small bowl of chicken with dumplings, or rice, or stew at lunch time. (I really liked Helen's stew at the beer joint next door to Daddy's variety store, best, though.)
None of it cost over 25 cents an item. And 5 cents for a Coke. 10 cents for french fries or onion rings. And you could get a package of potato chips for 5 cents.
If there was a big crowd at the SUB, we would wander over to Mr. Ben's and listen to the jukebox, hoping someone would come in ready to dance.
In the drawing above, I showed one of the styles of the time and one outfit that I wore. I had an orange felt circle skirt, with about 6 to 8 petticoats under it. I borrowed Alison's white cashmere sweater and wore an orange scarf at my neck, (like they wore in the cowboy shows! That was "in style"!) , and either black flats or black and white saddle shoes. My hair was cut in duck tails. I carried my books around, but I wasn't very studious. I would rather dance!
During the summer, Mr. Ben closed up his place and went camping on the river. As I remember the story, one year, when the students returned, Mr. Ben didn't come back. He was found at his campsite on the river.
Our school colors were orange and white, which is the same for the University of Texas. When I would go to visit friends there, I wore my Sam Houston outfit and people thought I was from the university! I fit right in.
I didn't want to wear that outfit anymore after one older man, professor, told me he would pass me if I would sit on the front row of his class and wear that outfit to each class. I ran out of that place, and would not go back! I got an F in the class. I didn't know that I should have reported him. Of course, you didn't do anything about sexual harrassment, back then. Girls just tried to avoid the person and change the situation. Drop a class, move, quit a job, get a boyfriend or father to step in for you. I thought something was wrong with that man, anyway, when he told the class that things like tables and chairs were masculine or feminine! How could one tell? I wasn't about to ask! I just thought he was some kind of pervert! And that was confirmed when he told me how to pass his class!
Ah, but Mr. Ben's was a nice place to go, and Mr. Ben was a very kind, grandfatherly type of man. I thought he would be someone to go to for help, if needed. And, the kids and the noise of the jukebox and dancing, didn't seem to bother him a bit.
Most grown ups of the time thought our music was horrible, couldn't stand to hear it, told us it was trash and wouldn't last. Of course, that made us want to play it even more. It was great for dancing, fun, listening, parking, energizing, relaxing, and we're still listening to it. We thought some things were just funny and not to be taken seriously, although the adults thought we were thinking that it was great music. And, sometimes, we just tried to shock them with things like "the dirty bop". (Wasn't dirty, at all, and we laughed all the while we were dancing.)
Hope that you are going to be able to go out for some good dancing this weekend, or that you can watch.
I noticed that at the 979 Gallery and Cafe in downtown Bryan (I hope that I didn't type that wrong, but it's close!) has a night when they have Swing Dancing. Now that should be fun. At least to watch. My knees won't move that well, but that is like the jitterbug and jitterbop that we used to do. So much fun!
I could go watch and sketch, maybe.
The night and times are on their website.
Hopefully, if you are local, you got out to First Friday in Downtown Bryan tonight. I'm sure that it is fun, with so much to do. Lots of art, music, entertainment, food, and activities for all ages.
Look at Virginia Vaughan's website for workshops coming up. She is doing a workshop in Rockport tomorrow, with an emphasis on drawing with the paintbrush.
She will be in Calvert February 21-22 for a Plein Aire Painting Workshop.
Sign up and join us!
Thanks for reading and sharing with others.


winna said...

I like the sketch very much--has a lonely feel. What you wrote reminds me of my own teen hangouts!

Cecelia said...

Thanks, Winna. Yes, it is a bit lonely. Waiting for a group to come into Mr. Ben's so we could start dancing. I've been thinking of this one as a painting, with lights from the jukebox reflected in the hardwood floor.