Serenading Little Sis

Catherine Grow’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print journals, magazines, anthologies, and college-level texts. Currently, she is working on a collection of stories set in the Missouri Ozark Mountains.

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It’s the summer of 1965. I’m sixteen, and she’s seven. “Wanna go for a ride?” I ask my little sister, Gige. She’s on her feet in a flash, ponytails dancing as she runs to slip her bare feet into sneakers. By ride, I’m referring to the bicycling extravaganza that has become our nightly, after-dinner ritual.

We borrow our brother’s Stingray low-rider: a black-framed conveyance with sturdy tires and a banana seat. Gige hops onto the padded crossbar and settles in. My arms encircle her longlegged, scabby-knee-ed little body as I reach around her to grasp the handlebars and grips. Then off we go, coasting down the driveway and into the street—at which point I begin pedaling vigorously to move us beyond the immediate confines of our neighborhood.

We cross the main thoroughfare that borders our subdivision and enter more distant parts of our section of South San Jose suburbia. By this time, my voice has warmed up enough, while conversing with Gige, to begin serenading my young sibling with the Beatles’ songs that strike my fancy.

And there are plenty. I have every Mop Top album so I know, by heart, every song. In time, so does Gige—well enough that she can sing along to most of the selections and prompt me with suggestions.

We sing one song after another in no particular order. While doing so, I frequently ham up the delivery, much to the delight of my diminutive companion. I call her a “bird” (pronounced like “bud”)—the British vernacular for “girl”—and offer a running commentary about the songs, speaking entirely in the Liverpool accent a Beatle-crazed girlfriend and I practiced for weeks until we were proficient.

Gige and I sing with gusto—the emphasis being more on volume and dramatic interpretation than pure melodic output. We bellow until our voices crack, or the sun goes down—whichever comes first—only to return the next night and the next and the next to repeat our performance.

And never, during any of these exuberant nights, does a single resident along our “concert” route waylay my sister and me to scold us for making such a racket.

That August, a girlfriend and I will see (and hear) the Fab Four in concert at the Cow Palace in Oakland—a good 50 miles north of where we live. Months before, my mother had found out about the concert and immediately secured two tickets. On the night of the concert, my father will drive us to the Cow Palace through a daunting maze of bodies and vehicles; hours later, as we exit the building, he will be waiting close by to pick us up. He endures this hassle without a single word of complaint.

This is the era of go-go boots and ghillies, mini-skirts and Empire-waist dresses. And the hair! Oh, that perfect hair: long, straight, sleek, and shiny…on others, that is. Try as I might, my wavy coiffure refuses to be brushed, combed, sprayed, pulled, or otherwise coaxed into anything close to the ideal—though I never resort to ironing my hair, as do truly dedicated fashionistas.

And then there’s the Yardley pot ‘o gloss: the original, nonfruity version—expensive because it’s imported from the Motherland. It’s the only product I’ll allow to touch my lips…or the lips of my beloved baby sister. The Shrimp (British model Jean Shrimpton) promotes this item as well as other things British. No matter that I must bicycle many miles into an adjoining town to patronize the only drug store in the area to stock Yardley merchandise. My effort is well worth it, for Yardley means England to fellow Beatleophiles and me. And wearing anything English signifies an allegiance to our idols and allows us to feel connected to The Adored Ones—body, mind, and soul.

I was recently reminded of all this when the local oldies radio station played “I Feel Fine.” I was transported back to those evenings when my sister and I aired out our lungs and spirits. Years later, Gige will relocate to Los Angeles to become the lead singer for an internationally-known alternative rock band. From there, she will live in and travel all over Europe. She’s still singing, though now her main venue is jazz.

But during the summer of 1965, my little sister and I will go out into the world as a duo. Some nights, Gige will sleep in my bedroom—her cot placed so close to my twin bed that we can reach out and hold hands. We’ll eat English Muffins spread with real butter and orange marmalade; and we’ll sip Twinings of London English Breakfast tea, cooled with milk. And within the pink walls of my small, rectangular chamber, we’ll talk—about everything and nothing—until we can no longer keep our eyes open. I’ll let her cuddle the John Lennon doll I fashioned
out of muslin and cotton batting from a pattern I put together earlier that summer. Together, we’ll make her one of her favorite, Ringo.

In the course of the evening, we’ll get out my set of bobblehead Beatle figures and nudge them until they rock as well as “ooo” and “ahh” over the books and album covers, news clippings, and other Beatle-related memorabilia I’ve gathered into a small, red metal suitcase throughout my years of devoted fanhood.

What remains are memories: recollections of the concert at the Cow Palace (No, I did not scream or become otherwise hysterical!), the homemade John and Ringo dolls, the set of bobble-heads, speaking Liverpudlian, and dressing and acting as Mod as possible to emulate the mid-sixties, Carnaby Road style of Englander.

But most precious and long-lasting of all are my memories of time spent with Gige: at bedtime, when we traded confidences within the confines of my room, and while cycling over miles of residential roads, belting out Beatles’ songs until the sun went down.

My sister and I sang loud and long and hammed up the lyrics. We laughed and talked in silly voices. We shared our lives—intensely and intimately—and forged a bond that, for all the years and miles that are currently between us, remains unbroken.

And, just like the Beatles, we felt fine.