When Nancy and I were in seventh grade in Gettysburg in the Forties, a popular place to go to meet friends, dance, and play games on a Saturday night was the Teen-Canteen. There were several locations over the years, but the one we remember best was in the first block on the east side of Baltimore Street
As a new teenager in 1944, dancing to recorded music at the Canteen was an intimidating experience, not just for me but all boys my age. Typically, I stood awkwardly with my friends on one side of the dance floor and watched while Nancy and the girls danced with each other. Rarely were the boys brave enough to invite a girl on to the dance floor.
I hoped to gain some confidence when Sissy Sherman, a neighbor who was in high school, gave me some private lessons. While Sissy taught me how to hold a girl and how to lead her, she never did anything for my courage. As a result when I visited the Canteen, I just stood around looking self-conscious and stupid like most of the other new teenage boys.
The years during World War II were part of the big band era, and some of the most popular dance bands in 1943 and 1944 were Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Vaughn Monroe and Harry James. A few of the top vocalists of the age were Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore and Bing Crosby.
When the Canteen closed, we often went to the Sweetland, a local ice cream parlor for a burger, a coke or a sundae . . . sometimes all three!
In Nancy’s diaries from the Forties, she often described a Saturday night at the Canteen by writing, “I had a swell time.” The adjective “swell” was probably the most used word to describe a guy, a girl, a movie or a good time at the Teen Canteen.