Sunday, December 11, 2016

Blame it on Tennessee

The other night, after watching PBS NewsHour, which included a tribute to John Glenn, one of America’s first astronauts, and before turning to NBC’s Thursday Night Football, I fell under the spell Magic Moments: The Best Of 50s Pop, a rebroadcast of a concert from 2004, used as a filler and fundraiser more than once. The show featured stars, now in their golden years, singing their hits from the days of poodle skirts, penny loafers, and greasers. I’m a helpless romantic, and while I was impressed by host Pat Boone’s youthful enthusiasm, I was fixated on co-host Phyliss McGuire, of the McGuire Sisters, and her less than subtle plastic surgery, especially her enhanced, and slightly asymmetrical lips, sincerely wondering if that was my fate in 30 years time.

But before I could dwell on what might look like for me, she introduced the first act, “Patti Page, the Singing Rage”. Patti Page was the best selling female artist of the 50’s, and when she took the stage ensconced in a blue glittery gown, she was meet with a thunderous applause. And while some of the clapping was embellished during post-production, I felt it was appropriate; like it was her fans, applauding from the grave.

Her first song was her biggest hit, Tennessee Waltz. I know it only because it was featured in one of my favorite films, The Right Stuff. The movie, based on the Tom Wolf novel, is the story of the Mercury Space program in the 1950’s, which includes, John Glenn. As she began to sing, my mind wandered, traveling to place and an idea I don’t recall ever thinking about. How often does that happen? I thought about dancing with my dad, like at my brothers and sisters weddings, my cousins weddings, and even my own wedding some years ago. It was emotional.

And while I feel so fortunate to have shared the dance floor, on more than one occasion, with my beautiful mom who sometimes wore a cerulean blue dress, I haven’t had that opportunity with my dad. It’s not like he wasn’t there, he was, but I grew up and attended most of those events as man in my parents’ eyes.

Friday night I attended our Bangor Holiday event for work. It’s a simple affair compared to our annual Gala, we show up, organize the function room, have a few drinks, nibble on appetizers, give some awards away, talk about our work, and ask for money. It was my job to talk about our work with our guests, both from the stage and amongst the crowd. I’ve been doing these events for nearly three years, and in that time, grown confident in myself as a woman, and as an activist and public speaker. But I was thrown off Friday and felt more vulnerable than most nights. Was it my speech, which addressed some of the disturbing trends we’ve seen in the aftermath of Trump’s election? Was it the guest who misgendered me after finding out we were born in the same hospital in Boston? “He was born at St. Elizabeth’s too” she called out to her friend. Maybe it was the reminder of the Pulse massacre, mentioned during one of the other speeches. Either way, I didn’t see any of them coming, like a comet or meteor crashing into our atmosphere without warning.

I also don’t know why the thought of dancing with my dad got to me so. Maybe it’s the season, it’s dark in Maine in December, the days are short and the nights are long and cold. And while I often catch myself ogling at the star filled sky, I’m reminded how small I am in this world, and on most nights alone as well. My parents have aged right before my eyes, and as I face their mortality this Christmas season, maybe I’m afraid of my own.