“School is like a lollipop. It sucks until it is gone.” Ashley Salvati. I’m wondering if the Teenage Morose One (aka Paco) will be harboring such thoughts soon? It seems like only 2 or 3 years ago that my 6’2″ son was toodling all around the house in his footed flannel pjs, in love with his mama and his universe. Tonight, he’s off to his Senior Prom and yesterday we signed a lease on his first college apartment, where he moves next month to start the summer semester. Did I momentarily glance away in the ensuing years and miss something? Today I’m Tarzan, wildly swinging on a emotional vine from tree to tree. One minute overjoyed for all my boy has ahead of him on his plate of life, for all the firsts he still has to experience. The next minute my eyes well up and my heart feels like it will burst. What will it be like to go for weeks without experiencing his sly smile and his dry, subtle sense of humor, his playful nature?
I could never understand how my friends could endure the loss of their kids going off to college; how do you bear the quiet, the stillness that fills the void where they once were? I feared I might take to my bed for an extended time and cry for weeks on end. But then came the teen years and suddenly I began to get a clue as to why my friends with emptying nests didn’t wither away from depression after all…THEY WERE FRIGGIN ECSTATIC TO HAVE THEM GONE!!!
Yes, I’m sure there will be tears more than once, at first anyway. But it’s wildly liberating to realize I won’t ever again have to scream at someone to clean up their room or to stop leaving skateboards where I could trip over them. No more going to the freezer to enjoy the last bit of ice cream to discover Paco beat me to it. No more painful glances into his car to see what looks like a recycling center. No more grounding anyone and feeling like a prison warden. I think I’m beginning to understand a quote I once read, “Adolescence is perhaps nature’s way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest“.
Like many parents at this stage of life, I suppose this will either bring out the worst in him, or happily and hopefully, the best. He’ll either forget what a toothbrush is for and arrive at his six-month dental check up with Spanish moss hanging off his teeth, causing his dentist to refer him to a gardener instead of a hygienist, or he’ll thrive without my micro management. Fearing for the worst but hoping for the best, let’s now move on to today’s installment of “Texas Toast”.
One month after Jack and I, along with several million other Manhattanites, had survived the July 1977 blackout, my 25th birthday arrived. Since Jack was a hopeless romantic, and this was the first birthday we’d celebrated together, I’m sure there were armloads of flowers, restaurants, concerts, and plays during that birthday week, but I have absolutely no recollection of any of it. What transpired two days later, on August 16, 1977, is, however, burned into my brain. I was in the shower that morning, listening to the radio, when two huge news stories were broadcast. First, the feared serial killer, Son of Sam, had been arrested. He turned out to be a pasty chinless fellow, more Pillsbury dough boy than the hideous monster we’d all envisioned. The outer boroughs breathed a collective sigh of relief, and then they announced the news of Elvis’ death. I stumbled out of the shower and cancelled my schedule for the day; I wandered around in a fog, absorbing the 24/7 news coverage. I was more than a fan; in 1964 I was going to be the one Elvis married, not Priscilla Beaulieu.
The US Army had been courteous enough to invite my stepdad to work at a base in Germany for one year when I was just turning 13. Despite this being only a one-year post, he thought it would be a fine adventure for my mom and me to join him there. In the year 1964, Germany was in an Elvis-mania feeding frenzy, which I joined enthusiastically. I ate, drank, and slept all things Elvis Presley. I would decline babysitting jobs if I wasn’t allowed to bring my Elvis albums and listen to them after the kidlets fell asleep. I would attend his movies over and over, all in the same day, and could recite entire scenes from memory. I was aware that Elvis had a 14-year-old love interest, whose dad was also in the military. It wasn’t too huge of a stretch to see myself as her replacement.
What happened next is probably impossible to understand in the context of today’s world of 24-hour news, tweets, and instant messaging, but things were so different then. In my hormonally crazed, naive, 13-year-old world, I was completely unaware that Elvis had left Germany four years earlier. I thought he was still serving at a base in Friedberg and knew that if I could just meet him, surely he would drop this Priscilla silliness and realize that we were destined to be together. It really wasn’t that much of an imaginary reach. He liked them young, obviously, and he must have a thing for military daughters, right? The plot I hatched to bring this to fruition consumed most of my eighth grade year.
The best way to meet Elvis would be to audition for his band. Problem was, I couldn’t play any instrument. I convinced my clueless parents to buy me an acoustic guitar for Christmas and took lessons to learn to play. Unfortunately, the only guitar instructor they could find spoke no English. I absolutely loathed the German language (sorry Grandma!), and was tone-deaf to boot. The teacher cheerfully kept taking my parent’s money, and I cheerfully kept pretending I could play my ass off. I didn’t understand the first thing about musical notes and keys in English, so German wasn’t looking too hot either. My poor parents had no musical experience, and therefore were wildly enthusiastic about my head-pounding efforts. I would just whale away and they would grin from ear to ear, proud of their talentless spawn.
I spent several months trying to manuever my parents into taking a trip to Friedberg, but no luck. Every time we traveled, it was always north, never south where I needed to be. Finally, as our time in Germany was drawing to a close, I decided I’d have to do this on my own. My best friend Denise decided to go along for support, just in case. I took my stash of babysitting money, my hapless guitar, a couple of cute outfits, and my autograph book. Denise packed a picnic of our favorite comfort foods, a bag of lemons, a box of Morton’s salt, a bag of Fritos, and bottles of Dr. Pepper. She told her mom she was having a sleepover at my house, and I did the same; we sat back and prayed our moms’ paths wouldn’t cross at the base commissary. This was it; Elvis or bust!
We boarded our bus on a snowy Saturday in April and about midway to my destiny, that lumbering bus hit a patch of ice on a curve and proceeded to overturn after a short plunge down a hill. I remember several things in the aftermath. There were no seatbelts at that time, so folks were flung about quite randomly. Also, it was eerily quiet; no crying, no calling out for help. It would have been easy to believe that we were all dead. Denise and I managed to wiggle about and realized that we were OK, except for minor cuts and bruises, and then we heard the wail of the first sirens. We thought up and discarded every lie imaginable to keep from giving the nice people at the emergency room our parents’ information, but ultimately, our butts were toast; the gig was up. A postscript to the accident…despite how horrific the scene looked in the papers, amazingly no one died or was even seriously injured; all 18 of us were treated and released.
God knows what our punishment would have been for our escapade if the accident hadn’t curtailed our plans. Denise had strict, deeply religious Catholic parents, and the thought of her running away to some army base to meet some “hip-gyrating, smooth-talking music man” could have spelled the end of her. I just got grounded for the duration of our stay in Germany, and had to listen to my parents tell the tale of my running away to marry Elvis until I was 51 years old. It cracked them up every time. As for me, I guess it all worked out. Don’t think I would have been down with that dyed black hair thing so I’d more closely resemble his mother, and that sleeping during the day and living by night thing, not so much.
By the following year, I had switched my allegiance to Dino, Desi and Billy, which just goes to show how truly fickle love can be!