HULL — Mary Farren had her first date right at Nantasket Beach. They rode the roller coaster at Paragon Park. He spent his paycheck trying to knock things off the head of the Walking Charlie game. They danced to music from a radio and fell in love and got married.
“Do you know what year that was?’’ she asked, reaching down to pat a reporter’s knee. “1941.’’
A couple years ago, their granddaughter met her husband at that same Hull beach. “She’s a pilot,’’ she said. That’s how stories like that end.
There is a lot to say about what has been lost at Nantasket, but music and dancing on the boardwalk endure.
Every summer Sunday, Farren and a crew, who have been coming here since before the war and remember when it was like Coney Island with boats coming from the city, unfold their chairs in the Bernie King Pavilion to hear the band and go back in time. It’s a soft-focus scene, slow and sweet.
It always starts, promptly at 2 p.m., with the first song — and Rose Kabilian.
Kabilian is wearing a pink cowboy hat with rhinestones. She’s 90 years old and all swagger. For the past 25 years, she has been up with the first note and is kind of the star of the whole thing. The North Weymouth resident has been coming to the beach forever and leaves her cane at her chair for the first song.
“My friends, the music, the atmosphere, the ocean,’’ she said, waving her cane. “Take your pick.’’
It’s a scene that is hard not to like. The band plays some oldies, some country, some Jimmy Buffett, and “Sweet Caroline.’’
The tide is high and waves crash against the rocks just over the seawall, early afternoon in late summer in the shade with a breeze. The dance floor is never empty, and women dance with little dogs and little girls and their men.
Across the street, a wind turbine has replaced the roller coaster on the skyline, and the boats from the city are long gone. But the carousel remains, and you can spend a paycheck trying to win a stuffed animal for a girl in the arcade. The whole place still has teenage first date written all over it.
Next to Kabilian in the front row are the Garritys, Gene and Edie. They had their first date across the street at the old Paragon Park, and they have been married 64 years. Every Labor Day on the front of the arcade Gene puts up a big display of photos he has taken of people dancing at Nantasket through the years.
For two hours, slow feet shuffle softly to slow songs until the big finale, which is everyone’s favorite part. And it starts when Rose Kabilian gets up again.
At exactly 3:59, she walks to the bandstand, and a guitarist hands her the American flag that has been flying behind the stage. Then two things happen: The band plays “Yankee Doodle Dandy,’’ and everyone who still can gets up to march.
A man in a hat with the name of a ship on it salutes another man. Kabilian and the Garritys and everyone sing. There are about 50 of them, and when they move on to “God Bless America,’’ the volume goes way up. A crowd forms on the boardwalk to watch and sing along.
Across the street, the carousel spins, and a hundred Skee-Ball tickets will get you a Whoopee Cushion. Waves hit the shore and the singer, Tommy Claffey, talks about how summer is slipping by.
And then the song starts coming to its end, to the big drawn-out notes, and the marching slows with it.
“My home.’’ Kabilian stops and raises her cane in the air.
“Sweet.’’ A big group high note.
On the beat
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