29 January, 2015

Let Me Tell You a Story

Let me tell you a story. It has all the elements that you love: one fateful night, two young hearts, hippies, rock and roll, and a man named Bob. It starts with my dad.

You see, my dad Dave dropped out of college to play guitar in a band with his friends. This act would have gotten me excommunicated from the household for three life terms, but for him, it was no big deal. He had long hair, a collection of guitars, and had already played in a band in high school- they called themselves Destiny's Children. And while I don't necessarily believe that Beyonce may have stolen the band name from four awkward young white teens in the heart of Boston, it does raise a few questions, doesn't it?

My dad and his band, the Shittons, went on grand tours across the northeast college campus and dive bar circuit, so the night they were playing at a small college in the suburbs of Boston was just another night. Or was it? (Of course it wasn't. Why on earth would I be writing about some random meaningless night where nothing happened? I need you to get on board here.)

A brief note on the Shittons, the band. The revelation of what their band name was didn't occur to me until embarrassingly too late (18). It literally is just two words smooshed together: "shit" and "ons". I also later learned that it was a clever play on the wildly popular Chiffons. But the Shittons was a name that I just grew up with. You know how if you're really familiar with something, you never really think about what it means until someone else calls it into question? This was one of those cases. I'm sure this was very edgy for the college crowd, and that has shaped my image of the 1970s: full of raw guitar sound, freedom, long hair, and poop-related band names. That night, the Shittons were to play at Northern Essex Community College.

As fate would have it (I told you this story would include fate), my mom Deb should not have been at the Shitton's concert that night. My mom's friend Jane was in charge of all the bands that came to entertain the masses at Northern Essex Community College. Jane was out sick, Deb stepped in to help her friend, yadda yadda yadda, my mother met my father.

The way my mom tells it, he had hair down to his shoulders, a kind smile, piercing blue eyes. Something about his eyes is probably what prompted my mother to invite him back to her apartment later that night for a party. A party that, until the previous millisecond, had not existed.

Mind you, this was in the early 70s, at least three decades before the dawn of texting. Sociality in these days required effort- real effort. Finding people. Calling land lines. Probably more than a little prayer.

As the story goes, my mom called her friend, who called her friend, who called her friend. And thus, the makings of a party were born. A party being thrown for a boy my mom had just met in a rock band that was spending one night at her college. (Hashtag: things I would have gotten in trouble for in college had I pulled a stunt like that.)


The Shittons' set ended and the band packed up their equipment. I like to imagine my dad lingering around, trying to find my mom. (He was nice like that.) And then he did, he found her. She gave him the address to her apartment, at which point in the story my mom almost always interrupts and instructs us to never invite over strangers to our apartment without knowing who they are. ('Do as I say, not as I do' is a mantra strong with the love children of the seventies.) She gave her keys to a friend and told her to get everything set up. She then left to go to the package store to grab beer, liquor, all the other alcohol essentials. Probably some snacks; my mom has always had a strong snack game.

Later, as my mom arrived at her apartment, the Shittons were also pulling up. My mom walked up her steps, making small talk, planning some excuses in the likely event that no one would show up. She turned the handle to enter her apartment, an apartment that, until 3 hours before, had not been expecting any visitors, and especially not throngs of people.

But instead, you can guess what happened: she saw people, multiple people. People she knew, some people she didn't. They were drinking and laughing, listening to music, sitting on her furniture. She always interrupts the story at this point to say that there were definitely no drugs. "There were definitely no drugs" at a party thrown at a young hippie's house in the seventies for a rock band that was touring her college for the night. (There was only drinking in moderation; no drugs.)

In my head, I've always imagined 75 people packed into her tiny apartment, elbow to elbow, bell bottom to bell bottom, talking about the latest songs, probably Creedance Clearwater Revival, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash (but not Young, my mom hates Neil Young.)

And so it was. They fell in love, quickly and madly. They were married in a small church with five people in attendance, she clad in a navy floral dress, he donned a plaid suit. We still have them in the attic, somewhere. That was 43 years ago. Just goes to show- plaid has always been in style. Oh no, wait, that's not it. It goes to show that love doesn't need a $30,000 wedding or even a white dress. (You hear that, Pinterest?) It just needs two people who love each other, and maybe some drinking (but definitely no drugs).

But I also promised you something about a man named Bob. Bob was my mom's ex-boyfriend, a man with a motorcycle. This fact, of course, I took as a seven year old to mean he was up to no good. He probably wore a black leather jacket. He probably didn't wear a helmet.

Bob broke up with my mom when they were in a van with four other people and then proceeded to start dating another girl in the car that very same car trip. Such was Bob's character.

Needless to say, my 18 year old mother was devastated. And while I'm sure Bob is not an evil person- like, he most likely doesn't kill kittens for pleasure (that I know of)- for the sake of this story he is a villain and terrible and he got what he deserved.

And what he deserved came after he showed up at my mom's party. He saw her sitting at the foot of some upstart musician with enviably long, lustrous hair (I've seen the pictures). He tried to talk to her, but she was so distracted with this new guy she didn't even notice him. Bob stuck around for a bit, I guess, felt awkward, and then left. We once got a Christmas card from Bob and his family. He was married, had a family. Wrote my mom a nice note (the bastard). It's weird to think about what life would have been like if my mom had gotten back together with Bob that night, someone she knew, someone that, until three hours prior, she thought she was still heartbroken over.

If she hadn't filled in when Jane got sick. If she hadn't met my father.

Two young hearts, hippies, rock and roll, and a man named Bob. That's the story of how my parents met, and then lived their lives filled with love, music, guitars, way too many children, an impossible number of grandchildren, a country house, a garden, dogs, cats, a bird, a series of unfortunate hamsters, and me. And a moderate amount of alcohol, but definitely no drugs.