The other day I read about a woman who was driving along, listening to the
radio and heard an old song that was popular back in her high school days.
It hit her so hard, emotionally, that she had to pull over for a few minutes.
I can relate. My long-term memory is fairly clear, if not always accurate, and
many of my memories bring with them powerful emotions that occasionally
leap out from nowhere and nearly overwhelm me. It’s not a new experience,
it began happening right after college, and music has always been the trigger.
I’m sure this is true for many of us.
I have this “lost summer” that I remember occasionally. Actually, I had quite a
few of those in my late teens and twenties. I guess this particular one was the
first of many, and it comes with some powerhouse music that can bring it all
back to me with alarming clarity. I mean, this was 54 years ago, for christ’s
sake, and it might as well have been yesterday when I hear any of those
heart-wrenching, memory-jogging tunes.
It was the summer of ’63. I had just finished my first year at the U. of Montana
and was, for the second summer in a row, working for the Forest Service in
West Yellowstone, Montana. “West” sits at the Northwest entrance to Yellowstone
Park. It was a fun, bustling little town back then, tourists and park visitors in the
summer, and skiers, dog sledding and skijoring, which is, basically, horse racing
with sleds, in the winter.
It was a loose, semi-wild little burg in the summer. There were four or five great
bars, two of which had Los Vegas-type bands come through for a week’s
gig all summer long. West was part of a Vegas circuit which included Reno,
Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole and West. They were all good country bands,
four to six pieces, always with at least two vocalists. If you liked a band (and I
liked them all) you had two weeks to hear them, because they played the
first week in the Cowboy Bar, then the second week at Doc’s Bar, which,
weirdly enough, was right next door to the Cowboy. I liked catching them
at the Cowboy, as it was a way nicer place, more “sophisticated”, dimly lit
with low tables and comfortable chairs, not a bad seat in the house.
Was I twenty one yet? Hell no. But I’d gotten served the summer before,
when I was 19, and now most of the bartenders and waitresses knew me.
C’mon… it was Montana…
Now, you need to know this so the rest of it will make a least a little bit of
sense. I had dated a girl from West, Sharon R., for the last three years
of high school in Ennis, Montana. She was cute and very sweet, and played
some piano. We could play duets together from time to time. We knew each other
well and had finally, the summer before, hit that place where we needed to get
more serious or move on. I knew what I wanted to do next, but Sharon wasn’t
quite ready for that particular move. We drifted apart, and she spent her first
college year at Montana State in Bozeman, where she met Mike B. During
that first winter in college, I had called her up one night, where she told me she
and Mike were going to get married the following summer, the summer of ’63.
I was crushed. “But I love you!” I wailed. Calmly she replied, “Steve Hulse,
you don’t know what love is!” (Sadly, she was right.)
Well. At that moment there began a six month mourning, lamenting, sad, a
what-might-have-been period of my life that might be better described as
“Steve’s harsh welcome into the real world.”
I didn’t deal with it well. Eh, that’s probably subjective… some might think I
handled it absolutely perfectly. I drank too much, I told everyone about it (that
would listen) and began dating (or trying to) any girl that was even remotely
attractive. And that’s where I was when the summer of ’63 rolled around.
Suddenly I was back in West, a veteran of the Forest Service now, a known
patron of the cooler bars there, and was being informed, before I was able
to get properly settled in, that Sharon was going to marry Mike in a few weeks…
right there in West!
Oh, the pain! The agony! The unfairness of it all! And I find this out just as
I’m about to get on top of the whole issue and attempt to move on gracefully.
Well, flush all that. A few days later I see this Mike B. drive by in an old
car. I’m standing next to a fruit stand when I see him coming. Without thinking
(per usual) I grabbed a plum and threw it at his car, hitting the passenger
door, splattering the plum. Mike slowed, saw who it was, and decided to
keep on going. So glad now that he did… he was the son of a construction
company owner, and might have cleaned my clock! And besides, he’d already
won, hadn’t he?
And so Sharon married Mike that summer. I wasn’t invited.
– to be continued –