From the time I was a young child, I heard my mother talk about England and the "Queen," but I really didn't know much about England until the evening of February 9, 1964. That was when everything changed.
On Sunday, February 9, 1964, the Beatles arrived right in our den of the flat we lived in on Second Avenue in San Francisco. I was six and a half years old.
My Mom walked around the den, into the kitchen and back into the den going on and on about music, waving her arms around - something about the Beatles? I had never heard of the Beatles, but they must have been pretty important to our Mother.
At that time, I thought my Mom was the smartest and most beautiful person in the world. I also thought she was magical, that she knew everything. I wanted to be like her, but I knew there was never a chance.
All of us kids, me, my little brother Michael and little sister Jennifer, sat in our pajamas in the wood paneled den of the old Victorian railroad flat we lived in, watching the big screen black and white TV and waiting. We sat on our own little wooden chairs on the big white shag carpet that covered the middle of the old hardwood floor. Mom sat in the “basket chair,” a large whicker chair shaped like a circle with big pillows, but she kept getting up and walking around.
“Kids, what you’re going to see is history!” said my Mom excitedly, clasping her hands together. “Nothing will ever be the same after tonight!”
I had seen the Ed Sullivan Show before. Mostly, I remembered those people who balanced dishes on long sticks and made them spin around. And that music they’d play while you sat at the edge of your seat wondering if the plates would fall down and break. They hardly ever did. Even when one fell down, which was rare, one of the dish twirling people always caught them. Mom always let us stay up to watch the Ed Sullivan Show on the big screen Zenith black and white TV.
I recognized the funny looking guy who said “really big show” a lot and who always wore the same suit and tie, Ed Sullivan, with big stage curtains behind him. Some other stuff might have happened on the show, but I don’t remember it.
Ed Sullivan said something about “The Beatles,” and suddenly, all you could hear was a lot of screaming, and we could see four guys with weird bowl hair cuts (at least that’s what they looked like to us) playing music that would change the world, “Chose your eyes, and I’ll miss you...”
As they started to play, my mother, beautiful and so young looking and dramatic, like an overgrown kid, gasped and yelled and clapped. “Oh, look kids!!!! It’s THEM!!!! IT’S THE BEATLES!!!!! AAAAHHHH!!!!"
They had arrived, four guys from England with wonderful long hair that fell into their face and flew around when they shook their hands, which they did often, played music that would change the world!
I was fascinated, and found myself tapping and swaying to the music right along with my Mom, getting caught up in the spell of the Beatles, John, Paul, George and Ringo. I knew was that there was something about the music that drew me right in and made me feel good, and I loved it.
Before it was over, my mother and I held each other and swayed to the music, singing, practically yelling, “She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah!!!” over and over again while my brother and sister stared at us, their mouths wide open in wonder.
I don’t remember having anything in common with my Mother until that night.
We were hooked. By the time I was seven, I knew every Beatles song by heart. We screamed whenever the Beatles showed up on TV. We screamed when the Beatles were mentioned on the radio. We sang along with all the Beatles songs and listened to Beatles records over and over again. We woke up with the Beatles and slept with the Beatles. My Mom made sure we had every single Beatles album right after it came out.
I grew up with the Beatles, and suddenly I knew about England because that's where the Beatles were from. It seemed like whenever I changed, the Beatles changed too. I could hear the Beatles change in their music, and see them change on their album covers.
“Look Mom,” I would say, “The Beatles are growing up just like me!” And Mom would smile.
I had a white transistor radio that I carried around with me everywhere, listening to all the Beatles songs.
England suddenly became a part of our lives in other ways as well.
The frizzy-haired hippie was always there – either inside the tiny Fish n’ Chips Shop on Haight Street or standing outside, giving peace signs to people who walked by, always wearing colorful tie-dye. He smelled of incense and patchouli and fish and chips. On Friday evenings Mom always took me and my brother and sister on a journey – walking through the city streets of San Francisco to get something to eat. Mom didn’t drive then, and we didn’t even have a car. Car rides were reserved for visits with my dad. He would take us on adventures outside San Francisco and beyond to places like San Jose and Santa Cruz.But with my mother, our adventures almost always happened in San Francisco. And on most Friday nights, when we didn’t feel like eating hamburgers at Top’s Doughnuts on Irving Street, we’d walk to the fish n’ chips place squeezed in beyond the bowling alley on Stanyan and Haight Streets.
We’d walk through Golden Gate Park, past Children’s Playground and the muddy lake where we’d catch tadpoles sometimes, up the hill, to the pillars. When we walked past those pillars, we were practically right on Haight Street – a colorful place back then, still colorful now, but not the same.The Fish n’ Chips guy was always there, waiting for us it seemed.“Hey, how are you groovy kids doin’ today?” he’d ask, and I’d giggle.
I’d give him the peace sign right back when he gave it to us.“We’d like fish n’ chips for all of us,” Mom always said. “With vinegar and…”
“Wrapped in newspaper!” we’d all yell in unison.Mom always ordered fish and chips that way. She said that’s the way the people in England eat them so we should too.
“Coming right up!” the frizzy-haired hippie always said, and we’d watch in fascination as he’d throw fresh fish into this metal basket-looking thing and it would make a loud, hissing noise as the fish fried up – the smell was amazing – oil, fish, blended with patchouli and incense. Mmmmm.
Then the hippie guy would get out four paper baskets and spread out a piece of newspaper in each one. He’d put a piece of white paper on top of the newspaper before placing “chips” into each basket and then the fish. Then he’d hand us the vinegar bottle so we could sprinkle our own vinegar on the fish and chips.“Here you go,” he’d say to each of us, me, my brother, my sister and my mother. We’d pass the vinegar bottle around.
“Bye!” I’d say to the frizzy-haired hippie. He’d wink and give me the peace sign as we carried our paper basket with fish and chips across Stanyan Street and back down into the park – where we’d sit at the same green bench each time with our vinegar smelling basket of fish and chips.As we all sat on the bench and munch on the yummy fish and chips, occasionally throwing a piece of a chip at a nearby duck or sea gull, Mom would tell us stories of living in England or Ireland – they had fish and chips in Ireland too, I guessed. I can still hear my mother’s deep, dramatic voice telling us stories of a great, great grandfather who stowed away on a ship – and of how the windy, cobblestone streets looked in London.
And it really felt like we were in England instead of sitting on a park bench in Golden Gate Park near Haight Street.
And that's how I discovered England...