Tuesday was early dismissal day. I bolted when the bell rang at 2:20, gathered my books from my locker, and caught the first bus home. I raced through homework, skipping algebra because I knew Chris would help me work out the problems before homeroom the next day. I took off my white blouse and dark brown wool uniform skirt, and had a long shower, carefully washing my hair. Then I checked my face in the bathroom mirror, looking for new blemishes. I spent a long time getting my hair just right, because I was in the process of growing it out from an elaborate backcombed style with what we called shadow bangs. My ultimate goal was a perfect flip, like the Susan Van Wyck, everyone’s favorite Seventeen Magazine model My short term goal was to keep my hair from frizzing up into a brunette halo.
It looked like we were in for a cold February drizzle. My mother made room in our station wagon, clearing out the books and papers she brought home each night from her job as an elementary school vice-principal. Chris, Houch and Gay arrived, dropped off by their fathers. Each of them carried a small overnight bag and school books for the next day. We sat in the living room, chattering away, nervous and excited, while a cold drizzle began outside. Then it started to snow—wet, sloppy, slushy snow. And then, we lost it.
“Oh, no!” we all began to wail. “Oh, oh, no!” We looked at my mother, who was gathering up her work papers and handbag, and heading for the living room closet.
“You didn’t think little snow would keep us from driving to Washington, did you?” she said. She had called the weather service to find out how bad the storm was expected to be. “A little slush, a little cold rain,” she said. “Nothing I haven’t driven in before.” I noticed she was wearing her ankle high stadium boots.
We sighed and began to giggle again, wondering what time the Beatles would take the stage, what they would sign first, and whether we would be close enough to see them and toss the peanuts and jelly beans we had stashed in our pocketbooks. Mom slipped into her gray wool coat and pulled on her good leather gloves
“Let’s go, girls, we’re off—the Beatles await.”
Our books lay in four stacks in the corner of the living room, the fat binders, Latin, history, and religion books and experimental math texts with the bright yellow covers. I stopped to look at myself the full –length mirror inside the closet door. I rubbed under one eye where my mascara had smeared. As we rushed to our station wagon, I smelled a heady mix of scents—Shalimar, Chanel No. 5, Wind Song. Mom refused to turn on the radio, the better to focus on the driving. I sat next to her and turned almost all the way around to talk with my friends. We practiced speaking in Liverpudlian accents, then in our normal way about what we always talked about—homework, the nuns who taught us– especially our favorites, Sister Frederick and Sister Augusta– boyfriends if we had them (Gay and Chris did, Houch and I were still looking), the junior prom in three months’ time, summer jobs we’d had, summer jobs we wanted.
As large wet snowflakes fell, the windshield wipers kept a steady, fast beat, My mother said nothing until she took a D.C. exit off the parkway, and then, flashlight and map in hand, I gave her directions, turn by turn. Soon we pulled up in front of the Coliseum. We were an hour early, but throngs of teenagers, mostly girls, crowded the sidewalk. Uniformed D.C. cops stood near the door.
“Meet me here as soon as the concert is over,” Mother said. “I‘ll be right here, in this very spot. Don’t go anywhere else when you come out. If you don’t see me, wait—I‘ll circle the block.”
At the time it never occurred to me to ask her where she planned to wait while we were screaming and jumping up and down in our seats with thousands of girls just like us—and some boys. We walked into the old arena. I glanced back at the spot where my mother had dropped us off. The blue and white Chevy wagon was gone, and a yellow taxicab stood in its place. Slush seeped into my good black suede flats. I pulled Gay by the hand into the lobby of the coliseum, and Houch and Chris followed.
Inside, we wandered up and down long aisles parting endless rows of seats, until we found an usher. The stage was a center ring, more suited for a boxing match than a concert. Ringo’s drum kit was set up so that the drummer faced squarely away from us, and we were already worried that we would have to watch our beloved Fab Four from the rear. Four microphones stood at uneven interval, and black speakers were positioned at each corner of the stage. We squeezed down a long row, climbing over small knots of girls and an occasional guy. When we reached our seats, we plopped down and looked around. I spotted Suzanne, our ticket benefactress, four seats down, along with three of her girlfriends. They wore nearly identical plaid kilts and sorority sweaters. Suzanne and I stood up and talked over her friends. “Thought you wouldn’t make it!” she shouted. “We would’ve walked from Baltimore if we’d had to!” I yelled back. I noticed that her summer bleach blonde hair was now a sedate chestnut brown, in a perfect flip.
I’d like to say that what happened next is as clear as if it were yesterday. But in truth it’s a blurry memory, infused with music and sound, and palpable adolescent energy as each musical act took the stage. The performers had to shift regularly during their sets so that each quarter of the audience could take a turn gazing on the faces of the performers. The night smelled of the old boxing arena, hairspray and perfume of thousands of teenaged girls, and aftershave cologne of their intrepid boyfriends along for the ride. Whether I wore my Mary Quant miniskirt and Peter pan blouse with the little black tie, or the big fuzzy gray and pink mohair sweater my mother had knit for me, I can’t remember. Our outerwear–did we wear hats and gloves, or just our winter coats? Did we spend hours doing our eyeliner from a Maybelline dry mascara cake wet with tap water, and applied with a tiny brush, or did we just smooth on lipstick and go out the door to meet the Beatles?
What I do remember is enduring an endless parade of opening rock and roll acts. Tonight, we wanted the Beatles. So we waited, increasingly impatient. We scanned the aisles to see if the cops were drawing closer to the stage where we knew from reading Time and Life that they were there to keep girls from rushing the stage, clambering up and trying to tear the clothes off the Fab Four.
The parade of singers began— Jay and the Americans. The Chiffons. The Righteous Brothers. After about 45 minutes, Chris announced she had to go to the bathroom. “Not now!” I wailed. ”Yes, go now, right away! “ Houch advised. Off to the ladies room Chris ran. When she returned, breathless, she said she’d been in the stall when she heard loud screaming and applause, and she was sure she’d missed her very first chance to see her beloved George Harrison in person. But it was only yet another opening act.
And then, at 8:31 PM our boys took the stage, and we were soon in monkey heaven. I remember these young men who seemed so much older than we were (though George Harrison was only twenty, Ringo and John were twenty-three, and John and Paul, twenty-one) singing above the cries, the shrieks and the screams. I remember the problems with the amps. I remember jumping up and down and holding my face and screaming “I love you, Paul!” I was one with my girlfriends and we were one with a crowd of eight thousand just like us. The police who guarded the stage might as well have been aliens from some other, quieter, more restrained planet, their faces impassive, their espontoons dangling from their belts.
We screamed and screamed until we were hoarse. And at the end, after the Beatles did a rocking rendition of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” complete with Paul’s falsetto “Wooooo!” they dashed off the stage to thunderous applause and more screams. The lights went down, and the coliseum began to empty. With a few other stragglers, we four approached the stage and leaned over to scoop up a few jelly beans and peanuts which a custodian was sweeping to the edge of the stage.We stuffed this detritus into our pockets and strolled to the front entrance.
The snow had stopped.
“How will your mother ever find us?” Gay asked.
“Look.” I pointed straight ahead to our Chevy. My mother was smiling at us from the driver’s seat. A cop was standing nearby and he gave her a little wave. Had she turned on the charm so he would let her live-park there and wait for us? How long had she been waiting? Where did she go while we were inside having the time of our young lives? None of these questions ever crossed my mind until years later. We navigated the slippery sidewalk to the curb and climbed into the car. We were too excited to nod off on the ride back to Baltimore, though it was well past our bedtime. When we reached my house, scrubbed off the mascara and lipstick, brushed our teeth, and got into our nightgowns, we remained alert and awake. We stayed up for hours, whispering in my bedroom, sleeping bags and air mattresses crammed in close. Would we ever get to meet our Beatles, one to one, in person? Would John ever get an annulment from Cynthia (and marry one of us)? We divvied them up: Gay had John, Houch had Ringo, Chris –of course—had George, and I had Paul, the Beatle with the big expressive eyes and the amazing voice, sweet at times, wild and soulful at others.
The next morning we were zombies. My mother made us coffee.We downed orange juice and slowly gathered our books up, but our hearts were back in that 1941 boxing arena. I looked down at my book in my math class and daydreamed, something I never did in school. I rested my head on my crossed forearms in study hall and dozed. I told everyone –including my Latin teacher, Sr. Jeremy, where we had been the night before. I heard the Beatles singing in my head, and recalled the backdrop of screaming and hysterical cries –“Pauulllll! Georrrgggge!” in the coliseum.
But a day or two later, it began to fade. My friends and went back to our plans for Friday or Saturday night. CYO at St. Matthew’s or St. Ursula’s? Hang out at Chris’ house and stay up late watching the Steve Allen Show? Gay had a date with her college boyfriend, the one with the red sports car. I wondered if that senior from Loyola would ask me to one of those cool dances in the school library. We invited our classmate Debbie into our little Beatles club, and now we were five.
We remained fans; after all, we had sworn, “Beatles Forever!” We never went to New York to stand outside the Delmonico Hotel in New York and scream their names, but we did go to two of their 1965 concerts at the old Baltimore Civic Center. Years after she’d been married, raised two daughters, and divorced, Chris went to England and made sure to include Liverpool in her route. She sent the rest of us postcards. Separated by geography and our busy lives, we still managed to commemorate anniversaries of that first concert, or to console each other with letters and phone calls after John Lennon was killed in the lobby of the Dakota in 1980, and when our beloved George Harrison died of cancer in 2001.
Today, we five high school friends live so far from each other–California, Maryland, Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts. We gather in New York from time to time for a reunion. We ‘ve made a ritual of walking by the Dakota and then down to Strawberry Fields in Central Park, where we think of John Lennon and Paul and Ringo and George, and how those days bound us together.
Two years ago I persuaded my husband to go with me to Pal McCartney’s concert at Fenway Park. There he was, my Beatle Paul. He’d been married, raised kids, been widowed, married again, then divorced. He dyed his hair. I was married, my sons were now in their twenties, and I dyed my hair, too. There was no way around it. He was really old, and I was getting there. And when Paul sang “I Saw Her Standing There” I jumped to my feet and screamed with joy, just as I had on that cold, drizzly February night so long ago. My husband was amused and tolerant.
Somewhere in my old trunk, next to the old-fashioned prom dance card booklets we never bothered to fill out, Army dogtags from my GI boyfriend the summer before I left for college, and ticket stubs from rock concerts and Broadway shows, there remains a small, beat-up plastic bag containing ossified peanuts and two yellow jelly beans from Ringo’s drum set, my little piece of Beatle history.
Beatles’ Set List , February 11, 1964, D.C. Coliseum
Roll Over Beethoven (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
From Me To You (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
I Saw Her Standing There (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
This Boy (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
All My Loving (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
I Wanna Be Your Man (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964).
Please Please Me (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
Till There Was You (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
. She Loves You (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
I Want To Hold Your Hand (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
Twist And Shout [Incomplete] (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
Long Tall Sally (Concert Washington Coliseum – Feb. 11, 1964)
4/5 of the Beatles Club, Bethany Beach, DE, 2102