For a long time, my Canadian TWIST AND SHOUT LP was my favorite album – I still have it, vinyl of course. Reading this entry again, it’s telling that as quickly as I acquired this treasure, I feared its loss – “I just hope it doesn’t get broken or stolen on the way home.”
Surely, I’m not the only person for whom the joy of acquisition coexists with fear of forfeiture. Looking back, many – if not most – of my relationships traced a similar trajectory. No sooner did I fall for someone than I obsessed about our inevitable break-up. Who would lower the axe? When? Nothing lasts forever.
I maintain my sense of impending doom originated with the birth of my beloved sister Janet, who usurped my place as center of my parents’ universe. It proved that when I least expected it, the people I loved and trusted most, might – for no apparent reason – replace me with a newer model. (For further evidence of this theory, see photo galleries Kathy Vs. the Alien Baby and And then there were three.)
My brilliant niece Carly wrote an essay in high school about how their family’s animal hierarchy suffered a seismic upheaval every time a new feline entered the household. When a new human being joins an existing family unit, the reverberations can be – and usually are – far more extreme.
In the case of S and CD, not so much, unless both of them have successfully hidden their trauma for years. In my mind, the seven-year gap in their ages was as responsible for the smooth transition as their respective temperaments. CD was more engaged with his peer group, less dependent on his parents, therefore less inclined to resent her intrusion.
However, just because sibling rivalry didn’t rear its ugly head doesn’t mean our home avoided an earthquake. I’d repressed all memory of 3 AM feedings and dirty diapers but total recall returned with a vengeance. We all rose and slept to the rhythm of a baby. Sometimes the sheer exhaustion was overwhelming.
What I wouldn’t give to live through those golden days again…
There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.
My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
As the photos suggest (a very well-documented party, thanks to my sister Janet) this was a fun birthday party with two very familiar features – the phone call with my parents, in which they regale me once again with the details of my birth in a snowstorm. I’m ashamed to admit I got impatient with them although I tried not to show it – don’t they understand that I know this story by heart? How many times are we going to tell it? Of course, now that they’re gone, I’d give anything to stroll down those familiar paths of memory again.
And – true confession – I’ve been known to torture my own three children with overly-long sagas about their birth – which I’m sure they’d prefer to live without.
My second obligatory birthday riff – no matter what birthday it happens to be – is how achingly sad I feel to be so old. The melancholy trauma of aging hit me for the first time when I turned ten. I was inconsolable at the realization that from that day forward, my age would never again be a single digit.
Although I should know better by now (live for today, darn it!) I’m always lamenting the loss of something trivial, especially compared to the blessings I’ve enjoyed in this life. If you’re into the enneagram, I’m a classic type 4 personality – obsessed by what’s missing, never satisfied with what I have – until I lose it, anyway.
I suspect the reason I didn’t have imaginary friends was my two sisters. (That said, the youngest – Joyce – had a a deep long-lasting friendship with an imaginary boy named Keith – and for all I know, Janet had one too but she never told me.) Sandy was an only child with an oversized imagination so naturally she created a cast of companions.
The characters in my story took the place of imaginary friends. My favorite part was naming them. I was – and still am – obsessed with names. I used to go through the fashion section of the huge Sears catalog that arrived every year and name the models. Selecting the perfect moniker was a challenge in 1964 because all the names in the baby books – and all the kids I knew – got stuck with traditional names (Kathy being particularly popular in the early fifties – see link to blog).
The era of exotic names – Apple, Charisma, Karma, Carlisle, Kipling (many unisex) – was at least a decade in the future, maybe more. In 1964, the top five names for girls were Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen and Patricia. For boys, Michael, John, David, James and Robert.
The less said about the story described above, the better. At thirteen, I cornered the market on terrible hackneyed ideas. A surprising number survive, although recently I realized I might not need to save everything. If “Chamberlain Castle” never escapes the slush pile (in this case, a file cabinet in the garage) the literary world will not suffer.
I’ve written elsewhere about how right UCLA was for me (link) but I knew little more than its four initials when I applied. For all I knew, it could’ve been located in the dregs of downtown LA. (Except then it would’ve been called USC. Whoops, my snark is showing.)
My parents were equally ill-informed – their now-void plan had been to send me to a Lutheran college where I’d meet and marry a guy at least half-Scandinavian. To their credit, they hid their disappointment well and didn’t try to change my mind.
Consequently, on Friday after Thanksgiving in 1968, my parents and I left my sisters in Santa Clara and drove to LA. It wasn’t often I spent significant time with them without my sisters as buffer. It was exhilarating to reclaim their undivided attention but also unnerving. Too much focus on me risked revealing defects I sought to hide, especially from them. Based on the most formative experience, which took place when I was two years and two days old, imperfections – the failure to entertain, for example – were cause for replacement. Either one of my younger sisters – both less flawed than me – could easily take my place.
It wouldn’t be the first time. They’d done it before and could do it again.
Click this link to view family photo albums illustrating the inner torment of a highly sensitive recently displaced first-born child. You’re not being disloyal to Janet or Joyce. They signed off on my weird obsession decades ago. I’ll add new photos and captions in the near future.
Hmmm, “Stage-struck.” Based on the sizzling synopsis, I’m baffled it failed to become an international sensation. Unfortunately, the title – the characters – and the story-line – are all too typical of what I generously considered “creative” writing at thirteen. My oeuvre was stories about junior high girls, one popular and one brainy, frequently involving show biz.
Mr. Uebel was one of my favorite teachers although I was a nervous wreck in his room, I was so desperate to impress him. Mr. Call, our Spanish teacher, was great too, as evidenced by their musical duel. The innocence of these times seems unreal from the perspective of 2017 yet I can unequivocally swear life actually was this innocent, this simple – at least at Jefferson Jr. High.
At thirteen, it never crossed my mind to rebel against a teachers or authority figure – and to the best of my knowledge, none of my classmates did either. Maybe Jefferson got lucky and employed teachers with big personalities who loved teaching.
Full disclaimer – far from being anything close to a radical dissident trouble-maker, I was a kiss-up sycophant who idolized my teachers. I made it my mission to be teacher’s pet (not exactly a fast track to popularity, in case you’re wondering). More often than not I succeeded, not because I was so special or brilliant (although I liked to think so) – I just tried harder.
Looking back, I regret how eager I was to be free of our Friday family nights. Little did I know that once gone, those nights could never be recaptured in quite the same way. I should have treasured and prolonged every last minute.
When my sisters and I bought tickets for the awesome Desert Trip last year, it never occurred to us we’d be too wiped out to cross the finish line – Sunday’s double bill of Roger Waters and the Who. I can’t recall who broached the subject of leaving early first – not me. I objected strenuously but my heart wasn’t in it. Desert days were sweltering and nights didn’t cool fast enough plus my feet hurt. As painful as it was to admit my lack of stamina – another way of saying, I’m getting old – there’s nothing like some first-class pampering at a spa to ease the agony.
For the record, we were disappointed with Dylan (who won the Nobel Peace Prize the following week) due to his disregard for the audience. No hello, goodbye, or introduction of his band – his face hidden under a hat, rarely visible even on the huge video screens. I’m a fan of his music, not so much his performance. The Stones, as expected, were spectacular.
The next night, Neil Young was great and what can I say about the love of my life, Paul McCartney? Spectacular, as always. Realistically, a third rock concert the night after McCartney couldn’t help but be anti-climactic. There’s no one like Sir Paul.
Then there’s my embarrassing behavior in the tiff with my sisters You’d think somebody too old to handle three consecutive rock concerts would be mature enough not to act like a baby. Unfortunately, the most obnoxious sides of my personality surface with my sisters, who I love dearly. I’m guessing echos of old behaviors from the childhood we shared seep into our present interactions and catapult us back to primitive childhood emotions.
Funny how my perception of what constitutes a “problem” changed over the years. Today, for instance, it wouldn’t bother me a bit to be known as a brain – quite the contrary.
My mother telling me I’d be allowed to go to a Jr. High dance was a really big deal in a positive way. I do not want to perpetuate the stereotype of a preacher forbidding an entire town of teens from dancing ala “Footloose.” As a Lutheran pastor’s daughter, I can unequivocally state my father never sought to impose his views on a community – or even a neighborhood. And, to the best of my knowledge, Lutherans have not been “forbidden” to dance in my lifetime.
That said, even in the sixties some stigma attached to dancing at least in the Midwest. I had a major temper tantrum one summer when I wasn’t allowed to go to a dance at Lake Okoboji with my cousins. More importantly – at least to me – because of this unwritten stigma about the clergy and dancing, I never got to go to a Father-Daughter Dance with my dad. He was uncomfortable with the idea.
As far as parents go, mine were the best and I have nothing to complain about. Whining about how I never got to dance with my dad is vain and silly, I know that. Still. I thought he was the handsomest man in the world and I would have loved to show him off and dance with him, just once.
Prophetic words. As history has it, that San Francisco concert was the very last performance all four Beatles gave in the USA. For years, I tormented my parents about the injustice of not letting me go – made even more egregious the following year when they did give permission for my sister Janet to go to a Monkees concert. The Monkees, of all bands! When I was not allowed to see the Beatles!
I know I wasn’t the only girl to sincerely believe she’d never love any boy as much as she loved Paul, John, George or Ringo. Some straight boys that I knew – mostly aspiring musicians – loved the Beatles as much as I did (although I suspect our fantasies about them differed).
It’s obvious their music has stood the test of time. People born long after they broke up love them too. But I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t young – meaning, a teen-ager – when they burst upon the rock scene can fully comprehend the sheer magnitude of their effect. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was a revelation next to everything else played on popular AM radio. It still gives me chills when I really pay attention to it. In some mysterious way, it changed everything.
A new Beatles single was an event. Everybody stopped and listened. Girls wanted to be their girlfriend, boys wanted to be them. They came from nowhere, they made it look easy. Maybe it’s not so surprising my parents underestimated their importance, took them for a passing fad instead of an artistic, cultural phenomenon unlikely to be equaled in my lifetime.
Go ahead, argue others are bigger. Make a case for Sinatra, Elvis, Springsteen, Michael Jackson, the Stones. I’m not suggesting they weren’t important, major influences on music. But for my money, none of them come close to the Beatles in terms of song-writing talent, ingenuity, the ability to re-invent themselves and inspire a generation to do the same.
Meeting Paul McCartney in person is #1 on my bucket list. As of now, it’s not looking likely. But if I found out he was at a local bookstore or restaurant, I’d be in my car in a flash if only just to gaze in wonder at my first true love.