“Adam recalls something he learned in graduate school: memory is always a collaboration in progress.”
— from “The Overstory” by Richard Powers
The other day I was reminiscing with Newell Robinson, a friend from childhood. We hadn’t talked in decades. Newell, whose father, Dr. Jo Robinson, was a pediatrician here for many years, is a heart surgeon practicing in New York.
“Do you remember those nights you and Bo left church early and ran to my grandma’s to watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan?” I asked him.
Three Sunday nights in a row in February, 1964, we huddled around the small black and white TV at my grandma Eunice’s house on College Street. America had never seen anything like it. We, Newell, Bo Andrews and I, were among 73 million who tuned in for what was the Fab Four’s American television debut.
Not surprisingly, clips of those appearances are on the internet.
Ed Sullivan comes out and announces the receipt of a telegram of best wishes from Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager.
Then after an Anacin commercial, Sullivan introduces the lads from Liverpool. The audience, mostly hysterical teenage girls, erupts.
The next image is the boys on the bandstand, clad in matching dark jackets with stovepipe pants. Paul McCartney launches into “All My Loving” and more screams ensue.
At the time, their hair was shocking to Americans.
“It was very important,” said McCartney about the hair. “We came out of nowhere with funny hair, looking like marionettes or something. That was very influential. I think that was really one of the big things that broke us — the hairdo more than the music, originally. A lot of people’s fathers had wanted to turn us off. They told their kids, ‘Don’t be fooled, they’re wearing wigs.'”
“Do you remember when we got those Beatle wigs?” Newell asked.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t.
Just in case, I asked my sister, Tanner, who, when it comes to our childhood memories, is close to infallible. Chances are if I’d had a Beatles’ wig, I would have let her in on the secret. Tanner had no memory of such.
Did we ever use tennis racquets for guitars and pantomime Beatles’ songs? Possibly.
A couple days later, after the conversation about the wigs, Newell and I called Lawton Harrison, a fellow classmate who lives in Texas.
The first thing out of Lawton’s mouth to Newell: “You remember when we got those Beatles’ wigs at Belk-Hudson (a Main Street department store, a precursor to Belk). I was pissed because you got the brown one and I ended up with a black one.”
Lawton continued to Newell: “We used to go up into that upstairs room at your house and listen to records. That was around the time when the movie, “A Hard Day’s Night” came out.”
While I was relieved to know I had not lost a memory so momentous as owning a Beatles’ wig, I now wish I’d been with those two at Belk-Hudson that day. Heck, I’d even have been happy with the black wig.
The older we get, it seems, the more treasure our memories. When we’re able to reconstruct those memories in the company of those who were part of them, and laugh about it together, that in itself can be deeply satisfying.