Friday, May 29, 2015

Reaching For The Stars

For Casey

It was the summer of '76, and it was hot. Summers in Stockton, California, were always hot, so that wasn't anything unusual... Though it was an unusual summer, nonetheless.

In '76, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence rolled into town on twin ribbons of steel. An avid student of U.S. History, I still remember the awe I felt, standing but a pane of glass away from John Hancock's florid signature. I visited twice that summer, once with my seventh grade class and again with my paternal grandmother. She drove me in her old '57 Chevy, a green and white, 2-door sedan my dad had won for her in a gas station raffle decades before. It was hot and I stuck to the Chevy's vinyl seats, but I didn't care, as I had a second date with history.

As memorable as the historical aspects of 1976 were, though, my fondest memories of that summer are associated with another old car, an AM radio, a church parking lot, and a man with a most distinctive voice.

Throughout much of my childhood, I attended my parent's baptist church. It was the church they were married in, and it's the church they attend to this day. By the summer of '76, my mom had given up on trying to get me or my sister to attend anything more than Sunday School, and pretty much let us do whatever we wanted while she attended the main service. And what we wanted to do was to sit in the church parking lot, listening to Casey Kasem.

That was the summer that my sister and I discovered "America's Top 40". Every Sunday morning, Casey would count down the most popular songs in the land... One after another, with colorful commentary about each artist or band... In glorious, monophonic sound. Stuck to the vinyl seats of my parent's old '64 Ford in +100 degree heat, my sister and I sang along to the Captain and Tennille, Queen, Elton John, Barry Manilow... We sang along to music we couldn't afford to buy, but could listen to for free on the radio... We sang along oblivious to the stifling heat, to sweat or discomfort, lost in the music.

In another year, at the tender age of 13, I'd get fed up with the Baptist hypocrisy, with the differing treatment of the church's 'haves' and 'have nots', and would stop attending entirely. And, when that happened, when I stepped through those church doors for the last time in a great many years, it wouldn't be my Sunday School teachers or the others my age that I'd miss... It would be Casey.

The old Ford's long since rusted away, my sister and I haven't spoken in years, and Casey's now but a memory as well. Still, listening to 70s music via satellite radio on the way home from work tonight, I couldn't help remembering back to that hot summer of '76, with its vinyl seats and its rich tapestry of musical hits... The summer I learned to "Keep [my] feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars."

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