Age Fifteen: “Where the Boys Are . . .”

After the so-called senior recitalwhich should have marked an end point, should it not?—the piano saga continued.

I played in a piano competition in Memphis the fall I turned fifteen. I was the youngest competitor, which should have told me something. Also, I’d refused to practice as I should. I went blank in the performance, just lost it several measures in. I started over and played fairly well, but the damage was done. I was humiliated.

My teacher for nearly ten years didn’t feel she had anything else to offer me, so my mother dragged me once a week to a nearby small college where I fumed for an hour under the tutelage of a young piano professor who forced me to play Bartok. I hated every minute. I had better things to do now. Those lessons lasted an interminable year.

Oh, but that summer!

By this time, my parents invited my best friend to go along on our beach trips. We usually stayed at Panama City Beach, in motels with names like Trade Winds and Surf and Sand. One year, we could see the amusement park just down the beach. We could walk there. (Chaperoned, of course.)

Here we are, prepping for the beach. And the second photo shows you what we found: a lifeguard. Cute, isn’t he? And he was mine!

Friend Sarah and I check out the beach. I’m on the left.
Lifeguard!

He had a friend, too, for my friend, which worked out nicely. We mostly talked to these boys when they were off duty during the day, but one evening, my folks allowed us to invite the boys up to the motel (my parents had to meet them, of course), and then we were allowed to sit around the pool and walk on the beach. I don’t remember this boy’s name. I never saw him again. But it was heady stuff.

I had gone from little girl a year before to full-fledged teenager. Still no dates. Still no kisses. But I was on my way!

That friend, by the way, is still around. She and I don’t talk or write often, but when we do, it’s as though we pick up where we left off. Occasionally, she’ll send me a photo from when we were girls together. I do the same. Friendships like that, and memories of beaches and lifeguards, don’t fade with time.

Is there a particular place you associate with the time when you went from child to teen? A particular friend or experience? Tell me about it!

This is the fifteenth post in the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. Thanks, Jane Ann McLachlan, for the challenge.

Age Fourteen: Not There Yet

In terms of maturity, that is, in every sense of the word.

The photo? Another beach trip. Note that the legs are getting longer, but I still look like a child. Love the car, though.

Beach motor hotel, the fifties

I was, however, a mature pianist. I gave a “senior” recital in October after I’d turned fourteen in September. They even trotted out the high school glee club for this one. It was quite a deal. And then it was over. I didn’t want to take piano any longer. What was the point?

The event of the year was a non-event, actually. (I’m fudging a little in order to write about it, but did happen during my fourteenth year.) Had I gone that night, it might have been one of the most memorable of my life. A young singer from Memphis named Elvis Presley was set to play at the Toccopola, Mississippi, gymnasium on March 29, 1955. (Toccopola was, as we’d say, way out in the county. This was not a major tour. Elvis was just getting his swivel going.) I begged to go, oh, how I begged, but my parents said no. So I missed seeing ELVIS IN PERSON, before he hit it really big.

I have fictionalized that night in a long poem. The venue is no longer a high school gym but a roadhouse. Makes it more interesting, I think. In the poem, not only do I go to see Elvis, but my parents . . . Well, you’ll see.

This edited section picks up in the middle:

Summer Nights Like This

. . . and there he was—Elvis,

not yet the King—

just a fresh-faced, pouty-mouthed

kid from Tupelo with a rag-tag band

and the longest sideburns

I’d ever seen. He sang

“I don’t care if the sun don’t shine,

get my lovin’ in the evenin’ time”

and the crowd was dancing

and screaming and I was screaming

and the back of my neck prickled

like a ghost had run a finger

across it

and it made me turn and look

and there, across the room,

I saw my mother and daddy dancing . . .

They did the bop better than any of us kids.

When had they practiced their twirls and turns,

their dips and swaying hips?

When the song ended, even Elvis applauded,

but I looked away. I could not bear

my mother’s beauty,

the wild suggestion of my daddy’s touch:

I began to cry,

not for fear of being caught

but because I imagined them young,

I imagined them lovers on summer nights

like this, her naked skin against his,

with all the mysteries I had yet to learn

before them still.

The Not-Eleven Memoir: The Star!

This post should be about age eleven, but I’m breaking the rules of the October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. It turns out that the year after I turned ten (it’s my eleventh year, after all, so maybe that counts for something) was a big one in terms of memorable events. The ice storm. My grandfather’s death. But it was also the solo recital year, and I have to write about that.

First, a little music history: I had started piano lessons the summer before I turned six with a college student who had allowed me to “play by the numbers.” When my real teacher, Miss Vera, took me on in the fall, I didn’t know one note from another, so she started over. If you’ve been reading these posts, you know about the piano Santa brought. Daddy played some by ear, and I was picking out tunes before I started lessons. In that house, we loved music! There were the radio shows my parents listened to, but they didn’t own a record player until later. By the time I was seven or eight, I did. Among my favorite records–all 78s–were Peter and the Wolf and Rusty in Orchestraville (a narrative that introduced all the instruments of the orchestra). There were others, I’m sure. I took to the piano and I had a good ear, which helps account for “learning ” music without being able to read it.

The first recital dress my mother made

But I progressed. For my very first piano recital, my mother made a dress: pale blue organdy with triangles of ruffles on the skirt and a band of ruffles across the shoulders. At the point of each of those ruffled inserts on the skirt was a rosette of tiny organdy rosebuds tied with narrow satin ribbon, like nosegays, all made by hand. I remember watching Mother make them; those rosebuds involved a tedious process of rolling the edges of the fabric between her fingers. What a labor of love that dress was, and how I wish she hadn’t let someone borrow it! We never got it back.

The ruffles around the neck are obvious in the photo, and if you look carefully, you can see the top of the ruffles on the skirt.

Solo recital

When I was ten (going on eleven by a few days), I gave a solo recital. That’s right. All by myself. An older boy played a duet with me (a boy who was teased unmercifully for his talent and his “sissy” ways), and Miss Vera herself played second piano on a rousing arrangement of “Turkey in the Straw.” I was a hit, and I would continue piano lessons through the ninth grade. This recital dress was pale pink, by the way. And those are tiny artificial flowers sewn on by hand. My mother didn’t consider herself to be creative, but I believe she was an artist.

What music do you remember? Did you learn to play an instrument? Did you love it or hate it?