I was just tall enough to see the selections on the old jukebox: Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis… At eight, I was a good reader, but it didn’t matter. I knew which of the worn out buttons to push with my eyes closed.
On those special hot summer days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, my dad would take my brother and I to The Lovin’ Spoonful for ice cream. My favorite was mint chocolate chip, though sometimes I had a drumstick like my brother always got. We spent our days at camp out on Clear Lake or sharking the college kids at the Union over games of pinball. My brown hair had turned blond from sun, and I remembered feeling cool when a stranger asked my dad once if we were from California.
That summer we didn’t have a car. My dad walked the miles to work and back. My brother and I knew the buses that took us where we wanted to go by heart. I carried a purse full of rocks, which I figured would come in handy if anyone tried to kidnap me. No one did.
Before he ditched the car, my dad would load my brother and I up in it when he came home from work. He would fill the tank with gas, roll the windows down and drive us through the country with music from the fifties and sixties as our soundtrack. He would tell us stories about his own childhood, or Vietnam, or how he traveled after.
Some of them were scary. Some of them were silly.
He planned on buying a farm where we could raise chickens and grow our own food. Those long drives into the cooling night, with our hands outside the windows rising and falling like tiny airplanes and the moon making its way up into the sky, we were shopping for the right place to land; we were looking for home.
My brother and I knew all the back roads between Ann Arbor and Adrian. We knew all the cottages, the fields, the forests. We knew by the way the air changed that there was a lake or a river at our side. We believed in our world, our dad, the music, the small space inside the car and the landscape of Michigan.
Afterwards, we always ate ice cream at an old parlor my dad used to frequent as a kid.
That summer, instead of the car radio, we had the old Wurlitzer in the front parlor of The Lovin’ Spoonful. After I gulped down my cone, my dad would give me a quarter, and I would drag a chair across the rough wooden floor over to the jukebox. I’d put it in and climb up onto the seat, push my selection and press my face against the glass. I loved watching the way the vinyl spun through the machine, how the arm lifted out the 45 and how the needle fell upon it.
As soon as the first strains of Let’s Twist Again began to play, I was out of the chair and on the floor in a space between the tables my dad had made by pushing them apart.
My brother and I, hyped up on a sugar and ice cream induced joy-cum-mania, would do the twist like no one’s business. We would laugh out loud with our arms held away from our bodies, our hips and feet and ankles and knees in every direction, our faces red and sticky from sweet and sweat.