Birthdays. At some point you may not want to be reminded of their visitation. Still they drop around annually (I’m not getting into the leap year thing) and probably, over the years, there may be one or two which evoke a smile when remembered. Perhaps it’s because of my own recent “visitation”… I thought I’d use this post to pay a call on two such events from my past.
The year was 1969…
and, if you (and I) have done our math correctly, that would make it the year of my seventeenth birthday. As previous posts have suggested, my friendship with Jane was evolving (by this point) into something a little more serious. So it will come as no surprise that, when she informed me that she had a prior commitment on the occasion of my birthday, I was gravely disappointed. I took little comfort in the fact that my friend Tom had suggested that we (he and I) could go out “out on the town” that weekend ourselves. However it appeared his offer was the best available (all my other friends also seemed to have prior commitments as well) and so, in a rather morose frame of mind, I climbed into his Acadian that night and we set off. Tom lived on a farm a few kilometres from our home and he indicated that he needed to drop around to his house before our expedition got underway. When we arrived at his house he insisted I come in and say hello to his parents. Which I did.
Now you need to know that I’m the sort of person who likes to anticipate surprises. I had, for instance, become extremely adept during my childhood at searching every nook and cranny of our house for presents in the months leading up to Christmas. Not that I would announce my discoveries. It just gave me an odd satisfaction that I knew what was coming. And usually I did.
Not this time. When I entered Tom’ s house I was directed to the living room where his parents were to be found. Instead, when I opened the door, I was greeted with a deafening mix of happy birthday! and surprise! As you might suspect both Jane and my other friends had enscounced themselves in the living room some time earlier in order to accomplish this ambush. Of couse I was later gratified that this had all been done for my benefit but… I really was surprised. Jane would subsequently describe me as more pale and shocked than surprised at the moment of revelation.
This anecdote comes to mind because I’ve recently been sorting through old records (vinyl) housed in the basement. Amongst them is a 45 rpm (single) of Since I Met You Baby by Sonny James and the Country Gentlemen. Now if you knew me at that time (1969) you would know that I was no country music fan (with a few rare exceptions). Both of my closest (male) friends were and that divide created numerous arguments as we battled for control of the radio in Tom’s car (he, being older, had his own vehicle and was resident chauffeur on many of our travels). It is therefore not surprising that, for my birthday, they should give me the latest number one single on the country charts (if only to irritate). Regardless, here he is…
Before or After?
I’m really not sure which… it was either Jane’s birthday prior to that surprise party or her birthday in the following year. I am, however, quite sure of how the celebration unfolded. I had decided to splurge (I think I had amassed about $25-$30) and treat her to a fine dining experience. Since that would not be achieved in our small village I drove her to Sarnia, a small city about 40 minutes away. There, dressed in our Sunday best, we ate at the Sahara… notable for its expansive glass facade and a huge artificial palm tree strategically located in the centre of the restaurant. It was, as I recall, quite a decent meal (which my father would pronounce as edible) and cost about $20 (we’re talking expensive)!
I had determined that the pièce de résistance for this special date would be a visit to a nearby (about thirty minutes away) Lake Huron beach and a romantic walk along the shoreline. So far, so good. We reached the lake after an uneventful drive and parked the car on the beach. (I should note that cars would drive along this sand beach for a number of kilometres during the summer season.) It was then that I (we) discovered that a leisurely romantic beach walk was more difficult to achieve in month of April. Especially when dressed for beauty, not warmth. After a short stroll, we scurried back to the car and the warmth of its heater. We thawed out somewhat and I put the car in reverse. Now the thing about a sand surface is that it is easy to get one’s vehicle stuck, especially at this time of year. Which I did. I opened the car door to better observe my predicament and tried to rock the car out of its hole by alternately shifting from forward to reverse. I only succeeded in spraying sand all over my suit and the driver’s side of the interior as well as thoroughly burying the wheels up to the axle.
The other thing about visiting a seasonally popular beach like this one is that few people seem to see it as the perfect destination at night in April. So there we are… stuck… no one around… and very little money on hand if a tow truck could be summoned. Remember that this is an era before cell phones and credit cards (at least for teenagers).
Strangely enough, after about fifteen minutes of total despair, a large car came slowly rolling by.
Several frantic arm waves later the driver stopped and we explained our dilemma. In response we were assured that, after a short drive along the beach, the several occupants would then drive over to a friend’s cottage (a year-round resident) and request that he bring over his “one-ton truck” and pull us out. This seemed like a hopeful turn of events until, about a hundred metres down the sandy road, our would-be rescuers also became mired in the sand… if possible, even more deeply than we had managed to accomplish. Not to give up… the occupants of that vehicle set out on foot for the friend’s house. About twenty minutes later they returned in the back of a truck driven by the aforesaid friend. So… now naught but to get their car freed and then to assist us.
A good plan… had it not been that, after attaching a tow line to the car (did I mention it was a large car?), the truck proceeded to bury itself in the sand as well. So… picture, if you will, our car, the behemoth and the truck all buried more or less side by each in sand on that chilly April night. It would have all been quite amusing except for the fact that my parents (and probably Jane’s parents) would be less impressed when we were finally extricated and returned home.
Now I would normally be a bit guarded in greeting six male adolescent types cruising along a beach road on an April eve. On this night, however, we were collectively relieved when yet another vehicle packed with these young men pulled up alongside our stranded convoy. We briefly explained our situation and I (I’ll take credit for this) suggested that, since our car was the smallest of the buried collection and nearest to the road, perhaps it would prudent to try to rescue it first. The assembled multitude surrounded the car, pushed/lifted (pop!) and out we came. We did get stuck again almost immediately but a second shove and we were on the move. We stopped on the nearby (relatively sturdy) gravel road and offered to assist with the remaining vehicles. Whether it was our fine attire or their confidence acquired from this first success, the entire group urged us to be on our way and that they now had things well in hand. I wasn’t about to argue the point. We headed back and I delivered Jane to her house by (more or less) the appointed time for concluding our date. Upon arrival home I quickly wiped the visible sand from our car’s interior, shook out my suit and trundled off to bed with an enormous sense of relief.
You may wonder how my parents reacted to this near brush with catastrophe. Oddly enough, they were quite sanguine about it… even a bit amused by my account. It may be because it was one of those “all’s well that ends well” tales… or it may be because I waited a respectable twenty-five years or so to relate the events of that night.
And, by the way, 1969 had lots of interesting non-country songs too. Songs like Sweet Caroline, Get Together, Hair (see previous post), Proud Mary and this classic (the top number one hit for that year- note how music had become more sophisticated over the decade)…