A Milltown Girl Goes to New York City (And Wins a Big Contest)

I was 21 years of age.

The night was enchanting. The backdrop was the functions room of a posh New York City hotel where we’d enjoy a dance hosted by the ladies of the New Jersey Junior League. The timeframe? The 1960’s. In the day, New York City was the go-to destination for excitement—especially for us young people. All the more for a young woman from a Rhode Island mill town (West Warwick).

The spinning disco ball suspended from mid-ceiling of the dance hall refracted slivers of light, along the walls, floor and ceiling. I was dressed in a formal gown; he in a tuxedo.

When the live band started, my boyfriend Peter and I took to the floor, wearing patches designating our number, as we joined 40 other couples vying for “Best Dancers” title. In dance, he and I were perfectly suited; our moves perfectly synchronized. The dance designating “the winners” wouldn’t happen until some unannounced time.

An hour into the dance, the atmosphere changed. A judge had come onto the floor, holding a clipboard. The music started and I nervously watched as he went about, subtly tapping the back of each male partner, the signal that that couple were to quit the floor; they were no longer in competition.

Over the next half hour, the dance couples were winnowed down to 3…then 2…then 1.

Peter and I were the 1!

That Saturday night at this uptown dance was the perfect end to a less-than-perfect attempt at my getting there.

The day before, I’d taken an Amtrak train from Providence to New York City, Grand Central Station, where Peter met me. It had been a difficult trip. I’d sat in a row of 3 seats, by the window, with the 2 seats next to me vacant. I placed my gown in a long plastic bag across from me in another vacant seat. It was around 3:00 PM, so regular commuters hadn’t arrived yet. I anticipated an easy journey.

Then he arrived, a man reeking of alcohol, carrying a paper bag from which he took swigs from a bottle. Though there were many unoccupied seats, he took the seat right next to me and as the train rumbled along, he kept leaning on me, causing me to disengage him, directing him to lean the other way.

I was still not of an age to confront another, nor did I seek a train porter’s help with an unacceptable situation.

So, my ride was 4 hours of absolute misery.

But that Saturday night made the awful lead-up tolerable, for Peter and I were declared winners of this hotly-contested event! Our fellow contestants erupted in cheers and we were given our prize–a huge liquor basket, filled with the day’s finest alcoholic beverages—gin, vodka, whiskey.

Because I was traveling back to Rhode Island via train the next day, it was decided: Peter would get the liquor and I’d get the wicker basket.

The decision wasn’t exactly equitable, but I reasoned: On future trips, I’d help him deplete his part of the prize.

***As an aside, I guess all those times we junior high kids went to Al Angelone dance night at our school really paid off.

***Now, tell me: What were your first memories of a trip to New York city, as a young adult, without parent or other adult supervision?


Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor@gmail.com)writes of her and others’) growing up years in a small milltown in Rhode Island in the 50’s and 60’s. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com.



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