The River's Badge

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Life In 1964 ~ With Music!


It occurred to me that 1964 is akin to the nineteenth century to many people. To me it's my childhood, albeit somewhat hazy by now. My mind flashes on scenes, but they sort of run together. My "fun adventure" possibly lasted no more than six months, but my brain squeezes it into approximately one week.

My regular life wasn't what one would call exciting. I rode the orange bus two times a day and in between I endeavored to grasp knowledge inside my third grade classroom. Granted, third grade was my favorite grade. My teacher, Mrs. Thomlinson, abetted my natural show-off tendencies. I was a third grade star. Then came summer vacation and I tried to find adventures, but living in the country demanded that I engage my imagination in order to find things to do that didn't involve traipsing along a dirt road, riffling my outstretched hands across the tall wheat-heads. No wonder I made up little melodies and told myself stories. It was just me alone with the sapphire sky.

Then my Uncle Howard stepped in. He'd invested in a triple-threat business in a tiny town called Lisbon; a splotch of a village criss-crossed by Highways 27 and 32 in the southeastern sector of North Dakota.

This is it:


As you can see, it's now an Eagles Club. And smoke free? Ha! Not in 1964!

The establishment was called Triple Service - because it contained a bar, a restaurant, and a service station. One-stop drinking! The problem was, my uncle was a bachelor and he didn't exactly know how to cook. So he presented a proposal to my mom and my aunt. He'd pay them handsomely to alternate weeks functioning as fry cooks. My mom, scouring her checkbook, acceded. Farming was a credit business. One charged everything; gas, seed, groceries, clothes -- everything except ice cream cones -- and waited for a late fall certified check to grace the mailbox so the charge accounts could be settled up. 

Mom had two little kids and me. Luckily my big sister was eighteen and negligibly responsible, so Carole was tasked with minding the little ones while my dad harvested the wheat and potatoes, and Mom and I packed our pink Samsonite suitcases and crunched inside the Ford Galaxie and aimed it down Highway 81 toward Lisbon.

My Aunt Barbara had two kids roughly my age. The deal was that the three of us kids would reside in Lisbon, North Dakota, trading off "moms" every week. It wasn't at all strange, because we'd had sleepovers our whole lives, so Aunt Barbara was really my second mom. 

Living in an apartment attached to actual real life was an awesome experience. We could step outside our kitchen door and inside a tiny room stocked top to bottom with all manner of crystal liquor decanters. Next to that was a cavernous dance floor, hollow in the daytime hours, but slippery and shimmery when the klieg lights were flipped on.

The cafe itself was a parcel of cushiony booths and twirly stools straddling a long Formica counter. 

The Triple Service bar was dark and smoky, lit by lavender sconces, jam-packed on weekend nights, the glow of the Wurlitzer heating up the corner; smelly with whiskey/cigarette butts and hops in the bare-bulb light of day.

My cousins, Paul and Karen, and I, forged a new life inside Triple Service.

We'd formed a little trio, thanks to our accordion teacher back home. Paul manned the accordion, Karen strummed a guitar, and I burnished the snare drum, brushes in hand. We had costumes and everything -- white-fringed felt skirts and western shirts and boots. I don't remember if there were hats -- possibly only neckerchiefs. Rules prohibited us from actually entering the bar area (when it was open), so we set up in the "triple" area of Triple Service, abutting the service station counter, and put on a show. Our big number was "Bye Bye Love". It's a funny thing about men who'd imbibed -- they turn into philanthropists. We raked in dollars and quarters and nickels from patrons who exited the bar through the service station door.

We became jaded, as neuveau-riche people do; and stuffed our glass piggy banks with coin and greenbacks, until we made that Saturday expedition to F.W Woolworth's to stuff our pockets and plastic purses with candy necklaces and molded Beatle figurines.

The only hitch in our (at least my) resplendent lives was the fact that our mothers had enrolled us in Catholic school. For my cousins, who were used to it, this was de riguer. For me, a dedicated public school girl, it was cataclysmic. My new fourth grade teacher was a nun! Nuns were evil, my catechism experience had taught me. Evil and sadistic. However, this teacher was semi-youthful and frightfully timid, so I settled in. The curriculum, however, was predicated on 1963 topics, and this was 1964! So, I was bored because I'd already learned all this stuff, and I hated my new school, because I didn't like new people. I wasn't what you'd call "easy to get to know". I'd always had a best friend back home, and it hadn't been easy choosing that honor. Best friends had to meet exacting standards. Karen, on the other hand, always had a group of friends, so the pressure on her was less. She adapted to our new school the very first day. I was miserable for at least a month.

And the nuns at the school, especially the "Head Nun" (sorry; I am not up on Catholic school lingo), heartily disapproved of our living arrangement. "Oh, you live at the place," she would comment. Yes, Sister Denunciatory, we lived at a bar. B-A-R. That sin-soaked den of people enjoying life. Scandalous!

Uncle Howard had a plaque affixed to Triple Service's wall that read:

There's no place anywhere near this place
Quite like this place
So this must be the place

I guess Mother Condemnation was right after all.

Kids being kids, we found all manner of off-duty pursuits, most of them stupid. Karen and I climbed up on the roof and perched between the big red letters that spelled out T-RI-P-L-E S-E-R-V-I-C-E and serenaded the guys who'd pulled up to the gas pumps below. "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" was our favored choice. Paul, Karen and I hid in the liquor room, which was right off the cavernous dance floor and did stupid things, like slide ice cubes across the linoleum. Paul, one night, captured a frog outside, and released it to hop across the floor. Essentially, we were scientists -- we just wanted to find out what would happen.

The juke box was Karen's and my tether. We inspected the white and red title strips and gleaned our musical education from Uncle Howard's ten-cent singles and fifty-cent album showcases. She and I created a comic book, the premise of which was, what happens to musical artists when they get old. That juke box really assisted our creativity. I do remember that Bobby Bare was a bear. Bent Fabric was shaped like -- well, I guess you can figure that one out. Uncle Howard passed our creation among his patrons and they loved it. We got orders for more, which we had priced at twenty-five cents each; but you know how it is with designing something -- once you've done it, it becomes monotony the second or third time. We made a half-hearted effort to produce more copies, but finally drifted away and into more interesting endeavors.

So, what did we glean from Uncle Howard's juke box? Bear in mind that Uncle Howard's clientele didn't go for that rock 'n roll "noise", so his musical choices were relatively sedate.

This was the hottest, I meant hottest, new act of 1964:




 Here's that "Bent Fabric" guy:


Little Millie Small:



One can never, ever forget Bobby Bare (who is not, in reality, a bear):


My dad liked this song; therefore, I, too, like it:



Dean Martin:



A gal named Gale Garnett:


Believe it or not, this was huge in '64. Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz (I guess):




Karen's and my seminal number:


Roger Miller again:



There was no one, however, who dominated country music in 1964 like Buck Owens dominated. Buck Owens was everything. I wasn't even a country-western fan (I was a Roy Orbison fan), but all I knew about country music revolved around Buck Owens.




The couples who stepped onto Uncle Howard's dance floor on Saturday nights contented themselves with Ernest Tubb covers played by a bolo-tie-clad trio of local musicians.We, in the liquor supply room, listlessly tapped our feet to the thump-thumping bass guitar. Had Buck Owens suddenly made an appearance, especially with Don Rich and the guys, it would have been like Uncle Howard's juke box come to life.





No comments: