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A Night Of Silly Love Songs

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Songs from the Summer of 1976 bring lots of memories to mind.

The Bicentennial…

The pet rocks we painted red, white and blue…

The Fourth of July parade my brother, sister and I watched from the front porch of my grandparents’ house in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania.

With TastyKakes in hand, I’m sure…

And: A once-in-a-lifetime concert.

Not one I attended, but one that I (and several relatives) performed.

Unlike V-dog, mt, and other esteemed colleagues on this site, I have zero musical talent.

But at age 12 going on 13, that didn’t stop me from rounding up my sister (a good singer) and several of my cousins for a group we called:

The Dreamers.

At the risk of sounding like my grandparents did in 1976, being a preteen at that time was lightyears from what middle schoolers experience today. No phones, computers or Internet.

Often, I would go upstairs to my brother’s and my guest bedroom and turn on my Sears radio-cassette player, queued in to York-Hanover’s WYCR-FM

Television meant the local area ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS stations. We were encouraged to keep TV watching to a minimum. Mamaw, my grandmother, didn’t like us watching All My Children (too “grown-up,” she said – although we watched it on our own in Chicago when school was out).

She and Pappy, my grandfather, let us watch The Price Is Right, Rhyme and Reason (with Nipsey Russell) or Match Game with them in the afternoon.

Match Game got “PG” occasionally.

“Seymour The Squirrel had an accident, and fell out of a tree.
Fortunately, he was able to save his blank.”

But as long as we just giggled – and didn’t repeat what was said when a celebrity referred to a woman’s chest – Mamaw would pretend she didn’t notice.)

Invariably, Mamaw and Pappy would say something to the effect of “It’s too nice outside for the three of you to spend all of your time inside.”

And that’s when my brother, sister and I would head for our cousins’ houses.

We loved spending time with our sixteen first cousins. Our Lawrence cousins were older and had part-time jobs already, so we didn’t see them as often. Only a couple of our Smith cousins were close to us in age, so we were there less often as well.

The cousins closest in age were the Kuhns – seven girls and a boy. Half were our age or younger. My Aunt Betty, the youngest of my dad’s siblings, was a little less strict than Mamaw.

As long as you didn’t make a show of it, she’d let you sneak in a few minutes of to catch up on Erica’s latest misadventure.

And she wasn’t above humming along with a song on WYCR.

Uncle Ed was a member of an area barbershop quartet, so music was a given.

And the Kuhns’ house had an awesome wrap-around front porch, perfect for practicing when everyone insisted on our being outside.

So, while some cousins played basketball in the backyard, I was figuring out how to pull together our family’s version of the Osmonds. (I wouldn’t have thought of them then because “Donny and Marie” was too cheesy, even for me. But today, it seems more obvious.)

My 9-year-old sister and our 11-, 10- and 7-year-old cousins joined me as The Dreamers. For one song, a neighbor, Michelle, would replace me, making the group The Female Five.

My cousin Sue, turning 13 like me that year, and my brother going on 12, were group managers. They ordered us around on the front porch and ran across the street to Uncle Ed’s glass shop when my sister got mad at my brother and stomped through a board. (Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt, just stuck.)

We practiced for several days before hosting the concert for Mamaw, Pappy, Uncle Ed, Aunt Betty and their best friends, Michelle’s parents. The concert took place downstairs in the TV room, with a bedsheet curtain clothes-pinned from the drop ceiling. My cousin Angie’s music stand became our “microphone stand.” My brother and Sue set up the tape player so we’d have the tracks to accompany.

I remember being so nervous as I stood up, my sister and cousins to my left and right, our family and friends in front of us.

For a while, my voice had its share of Peter Brady moments, and I prayed this wouldn’t happen tonight.

We heard the steam-engine whistle that opened the album version of Wings’ Silly Love Songs. I remembered my brother’s admonition to count “1-2-3” at the instrumental pause before singing, “You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs…” The five of us nailed it and kept going, joyfully. If not necessarily tunefully.

The trickiest part was up ahead, and The Dreamers had spent most of our time figuring it out. As the only male voice in the group, I was singing the “I love you” part for a good minute.

My sister and one of my cousins would do Linda’s “Ah, I can’t explain …,” although we didn’t own the Wings album and guessed as to what she was singing. And then the other two cousins came in with, “How can I tell you about my loved one?”

In practice, it was hard to get straight. (That might have been what made my sister stomp through the front porch.)

But that night, we pulled it off.

We were so tickled with ourselves that we almost missed the instrumental cue at the end to reprise, “You’d think that people would have had enough …” The applause from our family and friends sounded deafening.

I bowed out as Michelle came in to take my place. Five girls, 12 and younger, did Andrea True Connection’s “More, More, More. The only way they could have gotten away with it was that, a few years before “Saturday Night Fever” none of us kids knew what they were singing.

“How do you like it? More, more, more” could’ve just as easily referred to the ice cream cones we got from the area dairy.

As The Female Five finished their number, I steadied myself for the finale, America’s Today’s the Day.

This one made me even more nervous because it was more plaintive, less exuberant than Silly Love Songs. We had to sing with subtlety, a word I didn’t know but a concept I recognized. I just didn’t know whether I could pull it off.

As we began to croon to America, one of my cousins started adjusting “the mic.” The stand began to drop, and drop again, finally falling over. Our audience thought it was part of the act, and Mamaw and Aunt Betty began to laugh until they cried. (I wasn’t amused. Uncle Ed noticed.) My cousins, meanwhile, started fighting with each other about whose fault it was that the mic stand fell.

As Today’s the Day ended, The Dreamers took our final bow.

I remember feeling deflated.

Then Uncle Ed came up and pulled us aside.

He told us that when you sing in public, you have to be prepared for anything. And when something funny happens – especially when you didn’t plan it – laugh along and roll with it. He told his kids and us how proud he was of all of us and gave us all a hug.

With just a few notes of Silly Love Songs or Today’s the Day:

The front porch, the mic stand, the summer of ’76 all come back.

The hug and the laughter are what stay.

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 31 years (9 legal).

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Phylum of Alexandria
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February 6, 2023 9:15 am

Great story! I wasn’t even alive at the time, and I feel nostalgic.

Life really was different before the advent of the internet. Photos were a sort of record of your life, but they were a personal record. As such they were often allowed to be rougher, less primped and perfect. Not to mention capturing things that could be embarrassing (or incriminating, at least in the teen and young adult years).

And I guess the same goes for performances. I have fond memories of going caroling for Christmas as a child, but perhaps it’s better that passersby couldn’t text me their feedback on how we sounded?

When I first started working in a fed gov job, my branch had an end-of-fiscal-year get together. It was an 80’s themed party, so we all dressed the part. And there was a dance-off, and I was egged on to join in. I ended up winning the damn contest, by virtue of forgoing all shame and just dancing like a fool. I was so caught up in the fun of it all that I forgot that in the 2010s, people record such things with their phones.

So unfortunately, evidence of this ordeal does exist…

Virgindog
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February 6, 2023 10:21 am

What Uncle Ed did was perfect. Atta Uncle.

LinkCrawford
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LinkCrawford
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February 6, 2023 11:33 am

I really love this story. It’s a great snapshot of what it means to be a kid.

And, we have an Indiana connection, of course, but also a Pennsylvania connection. All of my mom and dads families were both from PA…although it was northwest PA. And my grandfather was big into Barbershop singing. He passed when I was 8…I would have loved to have talked music with him as I got older (and like, right now, since I like a lot of the music he would have liked).

Thanks for sharing your memory.

dutchg8r
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February 8, 2023 12:31 pm
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Link – Erie NW, or Bradford NW PA? My dad grew up in Potter County, and that whole Northern tier of PA is still some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. Grandpa sure loved his accessibility to daily fly fishing too, especially in retirement. 😄

LinkCrawford
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February 8, 2023 1:04 pm
Reply to  dutchg8r

Crawford County (oddly) and Venango County. The Meadville and Oil City areas. Theres a beautiful cemetery in Rousville, PA (which is otherwise not a very beautiful town) and I’m probably related to a significant percentage of the people there.

Being raised in the flat farmland of Indiana, going to western PA seemed like heaven to me.

Pauly Steyreen
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February 6, 2023 12:38 pm

This was an awesome story — thanks Chuck! I could totally picture myself there as a fly on the wall — the joy, the embarrassment, and the relief at pulling off the tricky parts.

My two cousins (one a year old and the other 3 years younger) and I would go to my grandmother’s house every day after school until our parents got off work to pick us up. We always wanted to watch Scooby Doo or Voltron, but Granny was always chiding us to get outside and play. And their home was an old farm, no longer in use, so there were plenty of barns to explore and spider-webbed tractors to pretend to drive. So it was a great childhood.

JJ Live At Leeds
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February 6, 2023 2:02 pm

That’s a lovely story Chuck, very evocative. It might not have been how you wanted the performance to go but like Uncle Ed said, just go with and embrace whatever happens. Probably made it all the more memorable.

Ozmoe
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February 7, 2023 9:46 pm

Great story as always, Chuck. Thanks for sharing this. Wish I had as exciting a story to tell about my childhood like this, but I’m afraid I don’t. Or at least I can’t think of one to match it offhand.

dutchg8r
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February 8, 2023 12:26 pm

Awww, what a sweet and valuable life lesson from Uncle!

And kudos to the group of you kiddos for committing yourselves to seeing your performance through and putting all that effort and time into it. Well told too, I felt like I was getting to watch the concert first hand!

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