Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Reruns: My Literal Childhood: More Reflections

original post-date: October 20, 2010

In at least one previous post, I shared how, as a child, I had a tendency to interpret the meaning of things with a strong sense of the literal. I corrected my mother when she suggested that she might “tuck me in.” I assumed teachers were constantly bestowed with gifts by virtue of how many kids answered the roll call with “present.” I thought the phone’s busy signal indicated an inordinate amount of activity in the home being called…

Well, here’s another anecdote. It’s about the Beatles.

Back in the early- to mid-Sixties, our family had a few routines, and one of them occurred on Sunday nights. Martha and I would watch The Wonderful World of Disney as Mom and Dad would hang out in another part of the large basement room, preparing the main course of our Sunday night supper: square hamburgers (pre-made frozen patties) prepped in the electric frying pan and ultimately placed between two slices of white bread. Generally, dinner would be ready in time for The Ed Sullivan Show, which we would watch together, en famille.

The basement in question went through a nice metamorphosis during the summer of 1967, but before that, it was a little skanky. And on either side of the change were the insects and household creatures that are simply indigenous to where you live.

In our basement, the indigenous crop of insects included beetles, and although they showed up regularly, they never felt intrusive. A little less than an inch long and black in color, they always seemed innocent enough. (They certainly never seemed as gross as the cockroaches I would confront years later, when I lived in New York.) Beetles were simply part of rural life, and there was no denying our rural life: on the other side of the backyard’s barbed wire fence was a cow pasture (and the requisite cows).

So I guess it was late January, early February of 1964 when Mom started getting excited. She just couldn’t wait for the upcoming Ed Sullivan Show. “The Beatles!” she would say, enthusiastically. “The Beatles are going to be on Ed Sullivan!”

Just over six years old, I wasn’t up on current events, and because I never asked my mother to SPELL OUT her enthusiasm, I could only draw my own conclusions. So, for that week before the infamous debut of the Beatles in the states, I had a vision. I imagined these incredibly large bugs jumping through hula-hoops. I kid you not. And, by the way, if you were a kid my age watching Sullivan, you will have to admit that an act like that would not be out of the question. Sure, it might have made Topo Gigio and the venerable plate-spinners feel totally upstaged, but, come on, it could have happened!

Of course, and as we all know, it didn’t happen as I had imagined it. No insects jumping through hula-hoops that night, but rather a fabulous foursome of mop-headed boys, and among them, one who was (“sorry girls”) married.

Martha and I quickly identified our bachelors. For me, Paul. For my sister, George. And during the entire telecast, I don’t remember once looking back at the couch where Mom and Dad were sitting. I never once looked to see the joy that must undoubtedly have been spread across my Mom’s face. After all, she was the one who had been so excited about this event.

I do, though, remember so many instances, in the years thereafter, of jumping in the car when Mom would come to pick me up from school. Her smile broad, she’d share, “I just bought the latest Beatles album!”

I also remember working on a school report once. I was probably in 4th grade at the time. At that point, our family’s Beatles collection probably included no fewer than seven albums. As for my report? It was about friction, and a line therein contained the following phrase, “rubber souls help…”

My mother saw the line and was compelled to comment. “Look at that,” she said. “You’ve got two Beatle album titles in a row there!”

Of course, I could have corrected her in that moment. I could have pointed out to my mother that the album Rubber Soul is in the singular, not the plural. I think the thought even crossed my mind at the time. But I decided to dispense with any parsing. I clearly was growing into a different phase of my life.

Thanks to my mother and the band she introduced me to, I was beginning to view things a little less literally. And I would need that new mindset for the grey areas that lay ahead.

… In the liner notes of Flaming Pie, which – in my opinion – is the most Beatles-sounding of any album Paul McCartney has recorded since he became independent, there are comments from the artist regarding each song. I loved reading this note that Paul wrote about the song, The World Tonight: “The lyrics were just gathering thoughts. Like ‘I go back so far, I’m in front of me’ – I don’t know where that came from, but if I’d been writing with John he would have gone ‘OK, leave that one in; we don’t know what it means but we do know what it means.’”

I love that. We don’t but we do. It’s like spelling the name with a Bee or a Bea. Whatever is meant to take the stage will take the stage.

And history will unfold from there.


Sarah Pearson said...

I love this story, I was a child who took meanings literally as well.

Kristy said...

I would need that new mindset for the grey areas that lay ahead.

I love that line!

Andrea said...

Lovely, Katie. Your mother must have been delighted with her literal little girl going wild over music she loved too. Strange how we all remember where we were that night, how a British band brought so many of us to the same page. I was nineteen, I think. You were six. Your mother was...maybe thirty? Thirty-five? Yet, we all celebrated their arrival and held on tight. What a wild ride they took us on. And I love the way your mother "mothers" you here, in such a fun and funny way. How she loved you, so touching.

Anonymous said...

Ah, you stirred up lots of memories for me here Katie. Topo Gigio (as seen on Sunday Night at the London Palladium) I'd watch the entire show just to catch him at the end.As for the Beatles - well I was same age as you in that era and aged six was asked by an older friend whether I was a fan of the Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Not wanting to follow the crowd, I had no hesitation in saying,
"I like the Batchelors!" (think 'My Diane') I wasn't the 'hippest' child in the class!

Martha Mawson said...

I remember that too. I think Davy had been to a press conference in NYC and that's how Mom knew about them. Yes, that was a night that almost defined a generation - February 8, 1964. And I remember having the same ideas about what these insects were going to do. (I'm sure you and I conferred and concluded that Mom was showing far too much enthusiasm for a novelty act.) And, Paul, I know you just remarried, but there is a widow in Virginia who would take you in a minute.

Arlee Bird said...

I was there for The Beatles on Sullivan as well. In our home the Sullivan show was required watching as my father was always hoping to see a juggler. At first the Beatles were my sister's band/teen craze. The after "Yesterday and Today" and "Rubber Soul" they seemed more sophisticated and they transitioned into my band as my sister lost interest in them.

Great story. And the quote is true. Many times I can't really explain what something means but I know it inside and feel it. I know what that quote is saying.

Tossing It Out
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Midlife Jobhunter said...

‘I go back so far, I’m in front of me’

Lovely story here, told with such patience. I didn't see the Beatles on Ed. I was watching Disney, I'm certain.

Anonymous said...

I remember that night! I was all of five years old. My parents just laughed and said, "The Beatles! In five years no one will ever remember them." We still don't let them live that remark down!

My sister loved Paul. I was a George fan. I sure do miss that guy.

BECKY said...

What a great post, Katie! I don't remember if I read it last year or not. I'm hoping I would remember something so "literal" and traumatic!! Speaking of just reminded me of an episode with my youngest son, Mark, who just turned 24 years old yesterday! I'll send you an e-mail about it!