I lived in a suburb outside of Houston, Texas, called Missouri City between the time I was in 3rd and 6th grade. In the time that I lived there, I went to three different schools–Blue Ridge Elementary, Lantern Lane Elementary, and some middle school whose name I can’t recall. I could look it up, but I really don’t feel the need. Throughout my youth I moved so much, there was a certain sadness in being tossed to different schools even though I was supposedly anchored in one spot. I think I went to 18 different schools during my K-12 experience. Again, I could count, but I’m being lazy.
Living deep in the heart of Texas, you couldn’t get far from country music. My parents liked a band called Elliott, Walter, and Bennett, who played at a local Steak and Ale and a bar called the Railhead.
I remember spending many nights going to dinner and listening to this band til the late hours of the evening. Back then, kids could be in bars with their parents til all hours and apparently they could even drink, as long as their parents bought the alcohol and provided it to them. I remember my mom buying margaritas. I loved to lick the salt off the rims.
So this band did a bunch of cover songs–things from Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ray Stevens, and Alabama–but they also had had their own stuff–good stuff! I remember listening to their albums on Sunday mornings as my mom tinkered around the house. It was always really sweet to go up and request a song and have them play it for me. And it was always really sweet to sing along with them at the top of my lungs. Their songs mostly required audience participation, and I always remember clapping, singing, smiling, being happy…really, really happy.
Sometimes, you forget about things, never realizing how much they may have had an impact on you, until–at some point–you really start looking at things and how they got they way they were–and you remember.
As mentioned, I moved a lot when I was a kid. Somewhere in California, around 9th grade, I finally attached a huge significance and support line to music, which significantly defined who I would become. I developed strange and unique attachments to radio stations and deejays, became identified as an crazed fan of a particular band, and eventually, even became a radio deejay for several years. In fact, if I wasn’t in radio, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now. Music became (and still is) an integral piece of my life.
Now, when I came to Penn State in 1987, I moved here and lived in an apartment on Vairo Boulevard with my dad. We were living here until my mom could sell our house in Plano, Texas (which never happened) and while I busted my ass studying, my dad would be out with coworkers drinking tequila shots and listening to Tommy Wareham at Joey Z’s. Joey Z’s is long gone, but Tommy Wareham is still here and still singing. Tommy is the “piano man” of State College, PA.
In the past few years, my husband and son have gone hunting several weekends during the fall and leave me at home to my own devices. On those empty weekend nights, I find myself at the American Ale House and Grill sitting at the piano, singing along with Tommy. Over the past years, I’ve recognized a pattern of certain faces. Certain people who return night after night. People who pick up an instrument and play, or stand alongside at the microphone and harmonize with a few tunes. Last time I was there, I found that a large part of the recurring crowd is part of the State College Singles Club. Sorry, folks, I’m not single. However, one man asked me if I was a singer. I said no. He said, “You really seem to be engaged by the music.” I can’t help but feel sheer joy when I sit there and sing along. I don’t need to talk to a soul. I don’t need to buy any drinks. I sit there, contentedly, for hours, and just absorb, experience, and sing. Happy.
And I sit and wonder, where did this all come from…why is this so? And slowly, but surely, my youth returns to me–the time spent in bars with my parents where they were happy–everyone was happy–where music fed the soul and anything was possible. I still hang on to that belief and carry that song in my heart.