A Mania for the Lads from Liverpool, Times Two

     Mania can be defined as an excessive enthusiasm or desire; an obsession. The one that stands out in my memory was elicited by four young men from the British seaport of Liverpool. If you don’t remember the Beatles, the word mania may seem like a stretch. If you do, you know exactly what I mean.

     Although it’s a sweet and amusing memory now, it was serious business then. My friends and I spent many hours hunched over our transistor radios, just about bumping heads. (Those radios were not very big.) Beatles music was a source of unending happiness, each new song or album convincing us we knew them better than we did before.

As if the music, the fan clubs and the Beatles cards, (which came with bubble gum) didn’t get us worked up enough, in August, 1964 the roof just about caved in. A Hard Day’s Night was released. It was a madcap romp through a few days of their lives, punctuated by song. As soon as we heard it was playing in our local movie theatre, we knew we just had to see it or we would die.

Do you remember local movie theatres? At the Rivoli Theatre on Campbell Avenue in West Haven, Connecticut the tickets were 35 cents if you were under 12 and went up to 50 cents if you were 12 or over. The best part was we could walk. It was a five or six block walk to the theatre so we didn’t need a ride for the 2:00 showing. We were thinking we were about as cool as we could be.

     The front of the theatre was a mob scene. People were pushing and yelling, trying to get in the door to get the best seats. My friends and I clasped hands and pushed toward the ticket booth with all our might. We made it and ran inside to get as close as we could. The place was filled to the rafters with very excited children, and the atmosphere was almost as out-of-control as the sidewalk out front. And then the movie started.
     If you’ve ever seen the shots of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, you’ll know what I’m describing. It was a little hard to actually hear them sing over all the screaming and claims of love everlasting. There was nothing else to do but to join in. We yelled and jumped and sang along like people in the midst of a true mania. By the time it was over, our throats were raw but our hearts were full. We couldn’t have imagined it, but they were cuter in a movie than on TV or in photos.

     When the movie ended we sat for a few minutes while some kids filed out. The manager of the Rivoli, an elderly fellow who, I’m sure had never seen anything like this crowd, came out to see how things were going.
“How did you like it?” he asked those of us who had stayed behind.

 “We loved it!”
“Well, I’m glad. But you made so much noise and commotion I thought the roof would fall in.”

“’But we love the Beatles!”
“O.K. I’ll tell you what. If you promise not to scream and go crazy, I’ll play the film again. How’s that?”

We all started to scream and go crazy. And he really did play it again. That Saturday afternoon in 1964 was Beatle mania times two.


A Wonderful Life in the Neighborhood

A few days ago I was driving on the new, wide boulevards of the town where I live, and it got me thinking about neighborhoods. It’s been a trend in the last 20 years to build towns from the ground up. This is one of those towns. The up side is that the roads are new and wide and ready to accept the volume of traffic that will surely come. The down side is that no matter how artfully designed these places are, they will only be a pale imitation of neighborhoods that have grown up over many years.

There’s something intangible about history. The passing of years gives a place some weight. You can stand on the street and feel the layers of life that have built up over time. You can imagine the generations of children who ran, bicycled and skated over those sidewalks. In the town where I grew up, many young parents have brought their children to the beach to escape the summer heat. As the years passed crowds of teenagers gathered on the sand to get some sun and some attention.

My favorite memories are the people. They were a collection of ages, backgrounds and personalities whose regard for each other made it a true community. On summer days we ran through each other’s back yards, swam in each other’s pools and piled into our parents’ cars for rides to beaches and parks. After a heavy snowfall, shoveling the sidewalks was combined effort. When someone was sick, their family ate very well, thanks to the efforts of the other mothers.

No one had a lot of money. Most families survived on one income. It would be difficult to replicate that now. It’s almost impossible for a family to survive on one job these days. So the houses have gotten bigger and the lawns have gotten wider. The pools are in ground and instead of running through yards on both sides children are driven to activities of one sort or another. Were things better then or worse now? Not really, just different. In either case, children make their way.

So it’s just a bit of nostalgia that keeps me thinking of the way things were in my old neighborhood. It’s fun to think of those streets and sidewalks, above ground pools and games of touch football under the street lights. We played from telephone pole to telephone pole. There were usually ten to fifteen people on each team, boys, girls and every age. No one cared who won. It was just a chance to feel part of the group, to run and yell, to feel the strength in our legs and enjoy the sweetness of a summer night. Life was good.

Life still is good. Children still play and run and feel how strong they are. We still watch them and relive how much fun it was to be alive and have unlimited energy on a summer night.

What were summer nights like in your neighborhood?


It's All There in Black and White

In preparation for a recent move I took two boxes of photos down from the shelf in the hall closet, determined to place the yellowing pictures in albums. I figured it would take me two hours at the most. Well, that was a silly thought. I guess I spent about twice that and I wasn’t even half way through. I had to take the half empty boxes with us, hoping to finish the job in our new location.

You can probably imagine the reason why this has taken so much longer than I had planned. As I pick up every photo, I look at it. There’s no way I can just place it under the clear sheet and move on. These are all people I’ve known my whole life. Some are still around, but most have died.  So I sit and gaze into the photos trying to relive their presence.  

It might be a trick of the memory but they all seem happy. Everyone is smiling, of course. Many are taken at family events, like weddings. Others show family and friends relaxing, eating and drinking together. I think the black and white pictures have something to do with it.

The shadows seem to hold emotions. The sun-kissed faces are alive, as if, frozen in those frames, they would always be alive.  The surprising thing is how vivid the memories are.  I can hear their voices and laughter. It’s like it was yesterday that my brothers and cousins and I ran around outside, oblivious to the conversation of the adults. I want to believe that, even then, we knew those times were special.

But time moves on. People grow up and move to different parts of the country, even other parts of the world. Our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles are part of our lives for a limited time. So we carry the memories of those days in our minds, hearts and boxes of pictures. It’s always nice to take those black and whites out and gaze into those contented faces. It’s the least we can do, really. All of those people deserve to be remembered. It’s only right that we sit and ponder the part they played in our lives, giving them life again in our memories.

So make the time soon to take down those boxes, or take out those albums if you’re one of those organized people. Black and white photos are the perfect memory aid. The vivid color that is possible in modern photography is certainly stunning. But sometimes it gives you too much to look at. In a photo of people on the beach, you’re more likely to stare at the water if it’s a beautiful shade of turquoise. In an old black and white, you focus right in on the person’s face. The images have a timeless feel, as if you must have seen them in Life Magazine back in the day.

Happy memory hunting.