Day was coming to an end. Jackson and Lee lay on their backs in the front yard, happy that the sun was almost gone and a slight breeze tickled their underneath. Inside the house, lamps were turned on and I gathered up my current rodeo sports magazine, kicked back in my recliner and read how local cowboy Chad Masters was winning rodeos and taking home top money. Koko leaped to my lap laid his fuzzy head on my leg and Chili began to snore from her favorite spot on the couch. My family was at peace. “Life is good,” I thought.
Finished with the magazine, I tossed it on the coffee table at my feet and flipped on the TV. As I moved around the channels, Glen Miller’s recording of “In the Mood” stopped me cold. I’ve always found it impossible to sit still when I hear that piece. Channel 13 was having another of their drives for viewer support and this was the “The Big Band Era.” Boy, oh boy, am I ever a fan of the big bands! For the next couple of hours, musical heroes I listened and danced to so long ago, when I was young and the future was a happy blur, changed my living room into memories of a recreation hall in Portland, Oregon; a tiny ballroom in Vernon; a college gymnasium in Wichita Falls; Abe and Pappy’s Showland in Dallas. I had enjoyed them all with my date at the time. After I met Tom, he was the only partner I had. Hearing the familiar music drew me out of my chair and a surprised little Poodle had to find another seat as the dogs watched me with worried looks. Had anyone been watching, they would have seen an aging romantic twirling around the room and energetically trying to recreate the jitterbug steps once so easy to do in saddle shoes and bobby socks.
Musical heroes that I loved in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s appeared on the television screen and memories became so real that at times I was engulfed in tears. Tex Beneke, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Guy Lombardo, Cab Calloway…they were all there along with their boy singers, Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey and girl singer Doris Day with Les Brown and groups… The Andrews Sisters….The Mills Brothers.
By the time the first plea for contributions came, I had already traveled the memory road all the way back to 1941. And as the music started again, “Sentimental Journey” picked me up mentally and set me on a silver train racing through the night. It was 1945 and we were going home! V-E Day had been celebrated and with the war in Europe at an end, the push was on for victory over Japan. After two atomic bombs were dropped Japan surrendered August 15 (August 14 in America) and the celebration began.
That was 64 years ago and we were young; dreams for the future intact. Remembering is great for an entertaining evening but afterward reality jerks you back. Now you feel that ache in the left shoulder that won’t go away with Tylenol no matter what the commercial says and you might dance for awhile but then the legs give out.
An evening with the Big Bands brought everything back once more. There were the uncertain years of WWII, when the whole world was living on the edge and most of our prayers were all about the boys who had gone off to fight and how soon would they be coming home again? And that boy next door who was just 17 and joined the Merchant Marine….”Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me…” the Andrews sang and it was 1942 once more.
We traded in used toothpaste tubes for new filled tubes and felt that we were helping the “war effort” by saving. We used up our books of ration stamps to buy sugar, leather shoes, and gasoline. We went without tires for our old cars and had hopes of buying a new car once the war was over. Farmers left their fields and went to work in the city building airplanes. Women left the dishes in the sink, took off their aprons and went off to the shipyards to weld battleships together. And all the time we prayed that soon the war would be over and the boys would be coming home and life would get back to “normal.”
We listened to Gabriel Heater and his opening line….”Oh, there is good news tonight…” and there was the big band music on the radio and we listened and dreamed about another day when everything would be “back to normal”. But of course everything had changed once the war was over and the smiling young men who marched off to war with a wave good-bye came walking back with nightmares they could never forget and many never came back at all. Life would never be back to “normal.”
Maybe we all forgot what was normal anyway. We went on with our lives because we didn’t know what else to do and then, while we weren’t paying attention, the future slipped behind our backs and became our past. And we heard a familiar voice say, “That’s the way it was.”