A snapshot from 40 years ago: My sister and I are staying with my Mom’s best friend- we call her ‘Aunt Tiny’ because she’s well…tiny. We're staying there because the house my family had been renting burned down a few weeks earlier on the day after Thanksgiving (also my 13th birthday) and we were now essentially homeless.
We’re pretty sure that my younger brother lit the fire. At the tender age of four he already had a history of lighting fires- another story for another time.
My family survived. The house, however did not fare as well and our resources were not sufficient enough to find another home right away. Donations from Red Cross put us up in a hotel for a few days but that dried up quickly and we had to split up. My mom, step-dad and brother stayed with another family while my sister and I camped out in Aunt Tiny’s spare room. The room was tiny, too! There was barely room for the two of us to sleep, no less creature comforts. But we were safe and frankly, it was always nice to have a break from the usual lunacy. And it’s not as if we needed room for our possessions. Almost everything was destroyed in the fire.
Every morning Aunt Tiny would yell from her bed at her two children and us to “GET UP!” and “GET READY FOR SCHOOL!”
On the morning of December 9th 1980, Aunt Tiny yelled out her usual rousing orders from her bedroom command center but then, on the heels of “GET UP!” she added “GUESS WHO’S DEAD? JOHN LENNON!!”
My sister and I sat up at the same time and looked at one another. I don’t recall any words passing between us at that moment. But I know we were both thinking the same thing; how much worse are things going to get? I barely remember Aunt Tiny telling us the details of Lennon’s assasination as we got ourselves ready to go.
We took the bus from Merrick to Freeport. Watching the houses and strip malls drift by, I kept hearing 'shot him in the head' in a sickening rhythm. My mind’s eye saw his head rocking back and his body hitting the pavement-Yoko Ono crying out.
When the bus pulled into Freeport I hugged my sister before getting off and heading in the general direction of the Junior High. My sister would ride on across town to the High School. The streets were quiet while I walked alone through the early morning gloom. Someone had strewn copies of the morning paper on the sidewalk and those horrible headlines rolled and rattled past me like dark tumbleweeds. I wanted my mother. Again, I wondered if things could get any shittier.
There were two places I would go when I ditched school. If anybody ever actually looked for me, I could be found in the Freeport library or the Sunrise Mall movie theatre in Massapequa. That day, I went to the library. There perhaps I could read the paper in peace, be alone and gather myself.
The librarians must have come in super early that morning. All of the Beatles records had been placed on the main display cabinet. My stomach did a flip when I saw the album. I didn’t remember this one being in my mom’s collection. I took it down from the shelf and headed for the listening room. There amongst the microfilm machines and 70’s A/V accoutrements were several record players with giant headphones tethered to them. I sat down, slid the record out of the double sleeve, placed it on the turntable and clicked the dial to ON . The disc began it’s 33 RPM spin. I put the headphones on, took a deep breath and gently lowered the needle. When the album had finished I started it again, and again and again. And then, just the title track, over and over.
I’m not sure why the library staff always left me alone. They could have called the truant officer but they never did. On that day, they didn’t try to stop me when I slipped that album under my jacket and left to catch the bus back to Merrick. Perhaps they saw my deep grief and shabby clothing and thought it best to Let It Be.
Has music ever helped you get through tough times? Even today, I can listen to that album and feel the feelings; grateful for the immortal, healing power of the music.