Today’s zealous Taylor Swift fans have nothing over the teenagers of my generation. Way back then, we were crazy for those South Philly crooners – Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Bobby Rydell.
I was 15 years old when I went to a local dance hall and saw Bobby Rydell perform live. You don’t forget moments like that.
When Chicken Soup for the Soul was asking for stories about grandmothers’ experiences, I flashed back to that special night. Time has a way of warping memories. As I sat at my grandson’s 8th grade graduation, imagine how I felt when Bobby Rydell, himself, sat in the pew right in front of me! I was instantly fifteen again.
The moment was incredibly poignant as I realized my “little” grandson was old enough to feel the same emotions I had. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I rocked him in my arms?
Here is the story I had published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grandmothers in 2011.
By Judy Harch
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
~ Marcel Proust ~
The band of earnest 8th graders decked out in royal blue cap and gowns gathered in the vestibule at St. Mary’s church. The pews quickly filled to capacity as the organist played and church officials took their places. It was graduation day for our grandson, Joey.
Although engulfed in a sea of blue, I immediately spotted him looking impossibly grown up at 15. A grandparent’s vision may get fuzzy with age, but somehow we always manage to scope out that one special child at a group event. Through misty eyes, I tugged on my husband Chris’s arm and said, “Look at him. He’s so handsome.”
Our eldest grandchild seemed to be moving through each new life passage at warp-speed. I’ve always suspected that we unconsciously measure time against our age. The older we become, the faster the wings of time beat.
Chris smiled in agreement, and then said, “Now, don’t forget. You promised to behave.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about and it wasn’t our grandson.
Chris was worried about Bobby Rydell. More precisely, he was worried about my reaction to Bobby Rydell. The very same heart throb from the late 1950s was parked on the pew directly in front of me. I’d heard through the grapevine that his grandchild was also graduating that day. Be still my heart, I thought.
“I’ll try. I really will,” I answered. “But it’s a tall order, you know.”
He knew. Chris and I grew up together in a small town in southern New Jersey. As Bobby Rydell’s career moved skyward, he made appearances at local venues in our area. I was fifteen when I saw him in person. I remember standing by the small stage with a throng of overzealous girlfriends screaming Bobby’s name as he snapped his fingers, wiggled his hips, and belted out “Kissin’ Time.” We were all deeply, madly in love with the skinny South Philly kid with a massive pompadour and wide smile. It was a mob scene at the edge of the stage. I hadn’t a prayer of capturing his attention.
So, there I sat many years later, within shoulder-tapping distance, staring at the back of Bobby Rydell’s head. Sure, he looked older. The pompadour was gone. But I saw that mischievous trademark smile as he turned sideways. What to do? I was dying to talk to him. How many times in life does the opportunity for a do-over come along? He was literally a captive audience.
Chris, a quiet, reserved man in public, glared at me. He didn’t have to say a word. After many years of marriage, I could read his mind. I didn’t like what it was saying.
The processional began. A reverent hush fell over the gathered families. Everyone stood to honor the class of graduating students. They made their way down the center aisle to a lightshow of camera flashes. I saw my Joey walking sure and proud. I instantly turned back into a woman of a certain age in awe of her grandchild. But every time I looked at Bobby, I traveled backward through a time tunnel.
As I sat through the formalities, intently listening for my grandson’s name to be honored, I had an epiphany. I suppose I will forever think of my grandchildren as just that – children. But the rush of teenage angst that overwhelmed me at the sight of my teen idol, took me back to fifteen. I suddenly remembered with great clarity how intense each emotion feels at that age. And here before me stood my 15-year-old grandson, the one I stubbornly still viewed as a sweet, blue-eyed baby boy.
I silently made a promise to myself that day. I would remember to respect the feelings of each grandchild as they became a person reaching toward adulthood while making their way through the rough passage of the teen years.
If we’re lucky, the crazy mix of part child and part grown-up defining those years remains in us, giving us permission to act silly now and again. Hmmm…After all the pomp and circumstance had ended, Bobby Rydell was still sitting in front of me.
Chris looked at me. “You’re not?” he said.
Seize the moment, resounded in my head. “Yeah…I am.”
I caught the eye of Bobby’s daughter-in-law, who was seated next to him, and whispered, “Is it okay?”
She smiled and nodded, obviously having been through this situation before. That’s all I needed. She whispered something in Bobby’s ear and he turned around, looking me right in the eye. Zap – fifteen again! I said something inane about seeing him forever ago at a dance hall in South Jersey. He smiled knowingly and wistfully said, “Oh yes, that was a very long time ago, wasn’t it.”
I wonder if he was having his own epiphany that day.
UPDATE: My adorable “little” grandson is now a college graduate embarking on Stage Two of life. Me – I still remember fifteen as if it were yesterday!
(photo of Adoring Fans with Singer by photostock courtesy at freedigitalphotos.net)