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James R. Stout

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Marlena, My Candy Girl

I made a trip into Houston recently. Well, to be honest it was just north of Houston in a place called The Woodlands. Speaking of which, what were the founders of that city thinking when they included “the” in the name of their town? I’ve always thought it odd. Alas, there’s no telling what would cause them to do such a thing. I digress. On my way back home, a 75 mile drive, I listened to the radio a bit, my iPod a bit, and a CD that I had brought along in case I got bored with the radio (even SAT radio gets tedious at times) or the seemingly stuffed little iPod gadget that I frequently find confusing. Give me a good old CD and I’m typically able to master it’s use with virtually no frustration at all.

So, I’m cruising along on I-45 and I pop in that CD and start listening to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons as Frankie tells me all about “Sherry” and the fact that “Big Girls Don’t Cry” as well as some great advise to some poor schlep who needs to be reminded to “Walk Like A Man” (but sing like a girl). It was when two songs that are back-to-back on the CD (for those interested, numbers 6 & 7) as well as they had been both sides of the original 45 rpm “single” came on that I was whisked back to the summer of 1963. Let me digress again. I find it interesting that The Four Seasons last of 5 number 1 records was called “(Oh What A Night) December, 1963” which came out in 1976. I told you I was going to digress!

Anyway, those two songs are “Candy Girl” and “Marlena”. Do NOT ask me which one I like best. I will likely turn into the robot on “Lost In Space” and start yelling “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” I love them both. My oldest sister, Barbara Ann (known in our family as “Barbara Hand Springs” which I have no idea if she ever was able to do, but Dad thought it was funny and the nickname stuck) bought the 45 record in the summer of 1963 and we all loved those two songs. Even my Dad liked the goofy bass singer who sings words of wisdom with the line “shay yay yay yay”. When I hear either of those songs I am back in that summer. There were a few other songs from that summer that have the same effect. Namely, “Sugar Shack”, “It’s My Party”, “My Boyfriend’s Back”, “Surf City”, “Wipe Out”, “Blowing In The Wind”, “One Fine Day”, “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda”, “Easier Said Than Done”, and several more. 

That summer was the last innocent summer for America. I believe that so much that it was my thesis upon graduating from college. Well, to be honest the thesis, which I named “From a Coonskin Cap To A Generation Gap”, gets more specific and divides the “before and after” with an event that occurred on November 22, 1963. Darn it! I keep digressing. Sorry about that. But for the summer of 1963 things were still innocent and light-hearted. Some of the events in my life that summer included drive-in movies with the whole family (“Donovan’s Reef” was a big one along with “The Great Escape”), playing army in the strip of woods behind our house with my neighborhood friends (we all wanted to be Sgt. Saunders from “Combat”), standing on my father’s workbench in the garage with a broom for a guitar and singing folk songs like “Michael Rowed The Boat Ashore”, riding in a convertible for the first and only time in my life, debating who was the best pitcher, Sandy Koufax or Whitey Ford, and one of the hottest summers on record in Texas. We didn’t have AC. Box fans and screened windows opened for a cross-breeze sufficed. My grandmother used to make all of us grandkids pajamas for the winter and then for the summer. Light weight material of some kind (scraps of which would end up in a quilt) and I would lay there in my bed after all the lights were out and feel the occasional and wonderful breeze through the window while listening to a passing train about half a mile from our house as it clickety clacked through town. I would dream of days to come and wonder what lie ahead. That was nearly 50 years ago now and the truth is no amount of imagination about what was to come could match what did come. 

All of these things went through my head as I drove listening to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons this afternoon. I was taken back to a time of innocence not only for me, but for our country. I am so very glad that I got to experience it. I am so very sad that my children and grandchildren haven’t. Not all change is bad. Some change is necessary and good, but one thing that I have believed for most of my life is that change for change sake is no reason to change. Some things are better left alone. Things like our constitution or trusting in God rather than anyone who says they are actually capable of bringing hope and change. Perhaps the latter, but less likely the former. So, here’s to Marlena, my candy girl and the blessed fact that she hasn’t changed a bit in nearly 50 years other than she’s just a whole lot sweeter.

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