When I was teenager in Louisville in the 1960s, one of our favorite places to go was the Gardiner Lane Ice Skating Rink, a couple of miles from my home in the Highlands section of Louisville.
As I’ve written before, adolescence was difficult for me, partly because I attended an all-boys Catholic high school — St. X — and then an all-male Catholic college — Bellarmine.
(Thankfully, before my junior year in college, the ’66-’67 school year, Bellarmine merged with an all-girls Catholic college — Ursuline. That first year, the boys could sign up for classes at Ursuline and the girls could sign up for classes at Bellarmine…I’ve claimed ever since that I was the first boy on the inter-campus bus.)
Deprived of everyday female companionship, we St. X students desperately sought occasions and places where we could at least see some girls and perhaps make the acquaintance of one or two. So, on crisp, fall afternoons — after school — some of us would go to Seneca Park to watch the girls from Sacred Heart Academy, the closest all-girls school, play field hockey games. I can’t recall ever meeting a girl at any of those hockey games — which didn’t help my aching, anguished heart — but it at least put me within a few arms’ lengths of the girls as they ran by, exuding energetic and blessed femininity.
Another place where we could see girls, and where we had an even better chance to mingle with them, was the skating rink. I loved that rink, even though it was all I could do to stay upright and plant one foot in front of the other on the ice. Enhancing the experience was the rink’s excellent sound system, which constantly blared the Oldies that were on the pop charts at any given time.
I have a memory of one night and one song that particularly lifted my spirits. It was Bobby Vee’s “Walkin’ With My Angel,” released in 1961. For a lonely kid, it said everything…
Aww, when we’re strollin’ hand in hand
I’m as happy as can be
‘Cause she’s the prettiest girl in town
And everyone can see she belongs to me
Well I feel so proud
It’s as good as walkin’ on a cloud
When I’m walkin’ walkin’ with my angel
I think I skated better than ever that night, to that song. Even without “an angel” to skate with, I was almost giddy.
“Walkin’ With My Angel” — written by the great team of Carole King and Gerry Goffin — was one of several hits for Bobby, who died Monday at age 73. Others included “Run to Him,” “Come Back Baby When You Grow Up” and “Take Good Care of My Baby.” (The latter, also written by King and Goffin, was Bobby’s only No. 1 hit.)
The New York Times’ obit on Bobby said, “Mr. Vee was one of a crop of dreamboat singers promoted by the music industry in the late 1950s and early ’60s, joining Ricky Nelson, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and others on the charts.”
Boy, those guys were great. Ricky, of course, died in a plane crash many years ago. Frankie and Bobby Rydell are still alive.
I tell you, each of them eased the pangs of adolescence for this boy from Derby City. And I’ll never forget that night at the skating rink, when Bobby Vee and “Walkin’ With My Angel” salved my restless, teenage soul.