Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today's the day

the music died....

Yes, beloved, it has been 55 years--February 3, 1959--since a one engine plane carrying Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Vallens crashed outside Clear Lake, Iowa, killing three of the most popular musicians of the time.

I was 11 (unwittingly revealing my age!) and remember hearing about it the next day in school. 4th grade girls were weeping and all the boys (except Charlie Harmon who knew nothing about popular music) were stunned. Things got so out of hand that Miss Hawkins, our teacher, threatened to start spanking people if order was not restored.

Teachers could make such threats in those days. And they were obeyed.

Charlie Harmon not only knew nothing about music, Charlie knew almost next to nothing about much of anything. Charlie was 15 and in the 4th grade only out of mercy from Mrs. Bingham, Mrs. Santie and Mrs. Short--the first, second and third grade teachers. Charlie had taken 8 years to get to the 4th grade and shouldn't have been then. Charlie, God bless him, should have been in an institution (which there were in those days) for severely damaged children. His parents weren't much smarter than Charlie but they had beat any possibility of intellect out of him. He was huge to us at 11 and, blessedly for him and the 5th grade teacher whose name I can't for the life of me remember, able to quit school after 4th grade. We all knew that Charlie had been beaten silly. Such things in rural America in 1959 were commonplace. The little community of Anawalt (population 455) and the several surrounding coal camps whose children came to Anawalt Elementary and Junior High (all in the same building) did not ship away their problematic and defective. However, nothing was ever done to Charlie's parents, who continued to beat him silly until he, at 17, was big enough to beat them back. And no one reported that to the authorities either since it seemed to be poetic justice.

Anyway, Charlie chewed tobacco. He wasn't the only one in 4th grade that did, but the only one not clever enough not to get caught. Miss Hawkins (the old maid daughter of the town Druggist--we didn't call them 'pharmacists' then or there) caught him chewing tobacco in class the day the music died. She drug him by his ear to the boys bathroom, took his pack of Red Man and made him eat and swallow the whole thing. After which he threw up enough that the school nurse would have been called if we had a school nurse.

Here we all were, now grieving for Charlie as much as for Buddy, Richie and the Big Bopper as Charlie raced from the room several times to vomit up Red Man tobacco.

Miss Hawkins, the meanest woman I ever knew, I think, was epileptic. David Jordan, by far the most trustworthy and best kid in our class, had, at the beginning of the school year, be entrusted to be the one to run to the office and tell Mr. Ramsey, the principal, that Miss Harmon was having an epileptic seizure.

The day after the music died and those three cult heroes were being pulled from the wreckage of a plane built in 1947--the year of the birth of almost everyone in the class but Charlie and Miss Harmon--the seizure finally came.

I don't think it was the death of Buddy and Richie and the Big Bopper that brought it on. I don't even think it was the exertion of energy in making Charlie Harmon eat a whole package of Chewing Tobacco. What I think brought on the episode is threatening 11 year old children who were, perhaps for the first time, grieving for something of their youth, with a spanking with a paddle that made God make Doris Harmon fall down gasping, twitching and flailing on the floor of Anawalt's 4th grade classroom.

When David Jordan jumped up to run to the office, Donny Davis and Arnold Butler, the closest we had to thugs in the class, blocked his way.

"Just a minute," Donnie told him.

So, for a while, on the day after the music died, 23 eleven year old children, watched a tall, skinny woman that heated writhe on the floor for several minutes. Then Charlie threw up at his desk and David ran to the office and Jess Ramsey, the principal, took over our class after the ambulance finally came and she was gone. Jess had no idea what to do in a class room and wondered why the big boy in the back kept gagging and why the rest of the students suddenly seemed so confident and self-assured.

Poetic justice seemed to be done that day as well and the day Charlie finally beat the shit out of his father who had beat him for years.

It's hard to imagine I could forget about today's anniversary, given all that.

Google Don McClain (sp?) or "American Pie" and listen to the song (hopefully with the original '72 or so music video) about the day before Charlie vomited and Miss Hawkins had a fit.....

(If you pray, say a little prayer for Buddy and Richie and the Big Bopper this day...they deserve it....)

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.