GOT TO GET YOU INTO MY LIFE
(1957 – 1958)
The year 1957 was turning out to be a hopeful year for me. A new reunion with my mother had whipped me up into a feverish pitch. And my band, the Quarrymen, finally got our first gig playing at a dance at Quarry Bank. Truthfully, we were probably horrible. But, as teenage bands go at their first gig, I guess we were okay, and the kids didn’t seem to notice that none of us could actually play our instruments or remember the words to the songs.
I was very excited about the performance, and I wrote in my journal: “The girls were squealing. I never heard that sound in real life before. It made me forget the words several times, but I don’t think anyone noticed.” I had rare praise for Len Garry. Evidently he had carried on despite having accidentally kicked his tea chest off the stage. Unfortunately, I don’t explain how he saved this moment, and I can’t remember. Most likely he just maintained his cool. That was by far the most important thing a bloke could do in my eyes in those days.
We had a few more school gigs over the next several months before Aunt Mimi (of all people) helped us land an actual non-school gig, which was at the garden fete in Woolton. The date was set: July 6, 1957.
In the meantime, my neighborhood friend Ivan Vaughan was continuing to bug me about his school friend from the Inny, who I only knew as “Paul”. Ivan had first brought him to my attention in October of 1956, right when I was putting my band together. He told me his school friend was very talented, extremely popular at school, and also really good-looking. My journal notes that Ivan told me, “He is really cool; he looks like Elvis a bit.” That got my attention, since, as I have already described at length, Elvis was my idol. “Well, bring him ‘round,” I said.
A few weeks later Ivan told me that he had invited Paul around to meet with us the third week of November, on the 21st. My journal records this momentous news with something less than enthusiasm: “So Ivan says his friend Paul will drop in on our rehearsals tomorrow. I wonder if he is all that Ivan claims he is. Doubtful.” My journal also records that Paul was a no-show on November 21st. “No Paul. Ivan dropped by and was surprised not to see him. He had no excuse for this.”
So, a few months later, Ivan set up a second meeting. This was going to happen on January 17, 1957. He told me that Paul had had “a last-minute family thing” on November 21st that had kept him from coming. So, okay, I’m open to meeting this Paul, but was now quite skeptical, and had taken to referring to Ivan’s friend as “the Famous Paul”. I wrote in my journal: “According to Ivan, the Famous Paul is the second coming of Christ. He plays four instruments, and sings and looks like Elvis. I don’t think it is possible for anyone to be as cool as that.”
January 17th came and went, and no Famous Paul. Now I was thoroughly over this little diversion. When Ivan showed up to say that Paul was again detained by family responsibilities, I said, “I don’t think there is a Famous Paul. I think you’re making him up just to get attention.” Anyway, Ivan knew better than to bring up the subject again. I heard no more about the Famous Paul until the day before the Teen Fete at Woolton.
According to my journal, July 5th, 1957 was a hot and sultry day, and while the band had met at my house to rehearse, we were too hot and had just lain about talking for a few hours. Ivan, who lived across the street from me, came strolling in to my Aunt’s front garden where we all were sprawled out on the lawn in various stages of undress, sweating. He looked nervous and tentative.
“What do you want, Ivan?” I asked him, barely opening my eyes.
“I just thought I’d mention that my friend Paul will be coming ‘round to the fete tomorrow to watch the show. I was going to bring him ‘round to meet you afterward.” This announcement was greeted with a dead silence. All the other boys were holding their breaths, knowing that I could be a right asshole when I wanted to be.
“Oh?” I asked.
“Yes, I know he didn’t show up the other two times, but I am sure he had a good reason.”
“Umm...” I responded. “Well, if he shows up I might say hello, but I might not.”
Ivan looked very uncomfortable. “I don’t think Paul would take that very well,” he said. “If he comes all the way out here, I think you should at least say hello.”
“We’ll see how it goes.” I responded. At this point I was clearly posturing for the other boys. As a deeply insecure person, it was always important for me to feel as though I was the most popular, the most compelling person in the room. Ivan’s advocating for Paul at the risk of angering me was making me a little nervous. This was not a good omen, from my point of view. It spoke volumes about the Famous Paul’s popularity.
The next morning, July 6th, was a beautiful day. The heat had broken, and there was a lovely warm breeze. I had talked my Aunt into purchasing me a new plaid shirt, which I wore with the sleeves rolled up and the collar pulled up – just like my idol, Elvis. I also had the ducktail ‘do, and the black and white oxfords. I was seriously styling. As the only one who sang; as the one who stood directly in the center in front of the microphone; I dominated the stage. There is a tape from that day of us singing one of our numbers, but it is barely audible. You can hear it on You Tube. There are also a few photographs of the Quarrymen from that day. Sadly, no photos of Paul on that day exist.
Over the years, the Day John Met Paul has become something of a music world legend. Somehow the legend includes a loud crowd of screaming teenagers. In fact, at least according to my journal, there were only a few handfuls of people in the audience. My Aunt Mimi and the church rector, my mother Julia and her two daughters, and maybe 30 to 35 other people, only half of which were teenagers, and none of whom were screaming. My journal briefly addresses my disappointment: “When we started, the only people in the audience were related to the band members. We collected another 35 or so observers as we went along.” One of them was a 15 year-old boy from the Liverpool council flats – James Paul McCartney. Of course, since I wasn’t wearing my glasses, I didn’t see him there.
After the afternoon gig, I was lounging in the church parish hall with my 4 band members around me, feeling like The King. In my mind’s eye, the band was my entourage, like Elvis had. I was feeling my oats, and was working on my second beer, and actually had donned my glasses. I was lolling in a chair, staring out the open door into the adjacent street. In my direct line of sight was a street crossing, (called “zebras” in England). My eye idled on the street crossing as a group of teenagers got the go light and started across. Suddenly, my eye froze on one of them.
Directly from my Journal, July 6, 1957:
“Little Elvis showed up! He was pushing a bicycle, and he had a perfect ducktail ‘do. I haven't seen him in months! He had a curl that fell down over his forehead perfectly. Just as I was noticing this, he reached up with his hand, and pushed the curl back – he didn’t want it! How could he not want it? He had tight black drainies on – Mimi would never let me get away with that - and he looked like he could care less what anyone thought about him. He was in his own world. As I watched, these two girls walked past him, going in the other direction. They turned to watch him as he walked away, and one of them walked straight into a post! He didn’t even notice.
“He got to the other side of the street, and suddenly I noticed that Ivan was with him, and they were talking together. Very slowly it came to me that this was the Famous Paul! Ivan was bringing Little Elvis to meet me!”
So it turned out that ‘The Famous Paul’ was my ‘Little Elvis’! They were one in the same boy. I pulled myself together as fast as I could, but:
“I had the strangest feeling. As he approached me this feeling went through me. I thought to myself, ‘here is my future, coming to meet me.’
“The boy walked up to me in his own good time. Ivan said some remarks about Paul to me, and about me to Paul. I barely noticed Ivan. My eyes, my head were filled with the vision of this boy. I could barely talk. My throat was dry. I felt like I was blushing.”
I could tell he recognized me from the Abba’s incident the past summer, but he didn’t let on to the others. That would remain our own little secret for decades. One thing I hadn’t counted on was, as he got closer to me, I noticed how much taller, thinner and more beautiful he was now than he had been just a year earlier. He also had a heavy beard that he clearly had to shave, where before he had been smooth-cheeked. I was a little drunk after two beers - I never have been able to hold my liquor - and for years afterwards Paul would think I was pink-cheeked and flustered because of the beers. When he would mention this in interviews, I would not correct him. Better that no one knew the effect he had on me was so overwhelming and fluttery.
Another thing I noted in my journals was that I was not alone in my stunned admiration of this ‘creature’ that appeared before us:
“My friends – I could tell by their crowding around – were impressed by him. He had an energy about him I can’t describe, but it felt as if every nerve in my body was activated. Even my wanker got hard. I put my guitar in front of me to hide it. That certainly never happened to me before! Bleeding hormones. He told me he was ‘just fifteen’, like he expected me to make an issue of it, but he met my eyes and didn’t blink. It was like he was daring me to make an issue of it, so I didn’t.”
One thing I didn’t write about in my journal concerning this meeting - I assume because what I had done was totally from my sub-conscious and I didn’t realize I had done it - was I reached out and touched Paul’s hair while we were talking. I only know I did this because Pete Shotton and a few others of the Quarrymen saw it, and gossiped about it amongst themselves afterwards. Pete finally found the courage to twit me about it when we were in our forties. I denied it happening, but there were three witnesses who saw it. I asked Paul if he remembered it, and in the same way he has cluelessly not clocked that other men were coming on to him he said,
“Oh yeah. That.”
“That?” I probed.
“I assumed you were wondering what kind of hair pomade I was using.”
I do remember asking him how he was going to play for us without a guitar, and he put his hand out for mine. I also remember not wanting to move my guitar for fear of revealing my engorged state. Instead, I told Eric Griffiths to offer up his guitar. When Paul put it on, he turned it upside down, and played it the wrong way around and backwards. I recorded our group reaction in my journal:
“’Hey!’ I said, ‘you’ve got the guitar backwards and upside down!’ My lads laughed derisively. He did not blink. His eyes seemed to say to me, ‘go ahead and laugh. You’ll look stupid in the end.’ He then started singing ‘Twenty Flight Rock’. He knew all the chords and all the words, he had perfect pitch and perfect timing, and he sang the song like someone who had been performing all his life. I was speechless, and so were my mates. We just stared at him. He then did ‘Long Tall Sally’ by Little Richard. I noticed he was playing all the chords on the guitar, and he wasn’t even looking at his fingers. He then went over to the piano, and started playing some Jerry Lee Lewis songs. We all think he is a bloody genius!
“After a while, the blokes had moved off, and the boy was playing the piano. It seemed as though he was in his own world, and none of us existed. I walked over, stood behind him, and looked over his shoulder to see what he was doing. Eventually he noticed me, and he slowly leaned his head back to look up at me. His eyes are huge. They are huge. I asked him – ‘how did you like the show?’
“’It was pretty good,’ he said.
“’Pretty good!!’ I blurted out. This was insulting to me.
“’I noticed you were playing banjo chords on your guitar. Why?’ He asked me.
“I sat down next to him on the piano bench. None of my friends were around, and I kind of forgot where I was for a while. I told him that I only knew a few banjo chords.
“’No guitar chords?’ he asked. It was more like a question than an insult.
“’No.’ I admitted.
“’I also noticed that a few of your strings are broken, and the others are out of tune.’
“’You could hear that?’ I asked. ‘I can’t afford to get my guitar tuned as often as I should.’
“’You should learn how to do it yourself.’
“’Do you know how to do it?’
“’Of course,’ he said, and he looked at me as if I were crazy for even asking the question. He seemed to notice my surprise. ‘Do you want me to tune your guitar? I can fix the strings, too.’ I nodded. I couldn’t speak. He gestured for me to hand him the guitar, and I did. Out of his pocket he pulled guitar strings! What kind of person walks around with guitar strings in his bloody pocket? It was like he was magic, or something. He quickly restrung my guitar, and then proceeded to tune it by ear, using the piano chords as a guide. He handed it over to me.”
I don’t honestly remember this much detail; but I wrote it down in my journal, and so I know it happened. What I do remember with some detail is what he said about my performance of “Come Go With Me,” so reading it in my journal was no surprise:
“He said, ‘I like your words better than the original words.’
“’What do you mean?’
“’You changed the words to all the songs. I especially like when you changed the ‘Come Go With Me’ lyrics to ‘oh come with me, don’t send me to the penitentiary.’ That was great! Much better than the original!’ I didn’t know what to say, because the only reason I had made up words was because I didn’t remember the real words. But he thought I did it on purpose, so I didn’t see any reason to let him know the truth.
“’Yeah, I thought the real lyrics were kind of stupid,’ I said, lying through my teeth.
“I know – ‘oh come with me, don’t send me way beyond the sea’ – what is that supposed to mean?” He laughed and I laughed too, remembering that those were the actual lyrics of the song. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. So good looking, so smart, so talented, so cool, so for certain sure about everything. I have never ever met anyone like him.”
It is important to note that prior to the monumental entry where I described meeting Paul in such detail, the only entries I’d made in my journal were two or three paragraphs per entry. The July 6th entry about Paul went on for 10 pages.
My journal went on to reflect that I was of two minds about asking this marvel to join the band, though. He was as good as me - no, he was far better – and maybe the boys would like him better than me. If I couldn’t be the leader, then I didn’t want the band. But, on the other hand, I had to be around him. He could teach me guitar chords, and the words to the songs, and how to tune a guitar. He could teach me how to play the piano. And, perhaps most importantly to me at the time, he could just stand there and be exquisite so I could feast my eyes on him at leisure. In the end, I knew I had to have him in the band.
After Paul had left - he had to go home before the second show - the whole atmosphere felt empty and cold again. Just like what happened the year before at the Cast Iron Shore, it seemed to me as though this beautiful, enchanted boy brought the sun with him when he came, and took it with him when he left. This is what I wrote in my journal that night:
“I watched him while he left, shaking hands with each of my friends as he left - the conquering hero. When I could no longer see his silhouette it felt like the sun suddenly went down. The temperature dropped several degrees, and the room was darker. I didn’t want to be there anymore, and I lost interest in the second show. Somehow, the second show didn’t matter to me any more.”
The first interview topic I raised with Paul was his recollection of the day we first met. I felt awkward and weird, and Paul clearly found the whole enterprise vastly amusing. I couldn’t possibly summarize that interview because it largely consists of the “John and Paul Jockeying for Position” variety of conversation, for which we are so justly famous (infamous?). I guess we just had to get that out of our systems before we could be serious about it. But, just for fun, here is the entire transcript of my interview of Paul McCartney on the subject of the day we first met, transcribed word for word from the tape with emphasis as it happened, and with descriptions I’ve inserted from my point of view about what went on that were non-verbal. Pretend you are listening to a tape:
John: Ok, we’re going to talk about the day we were introduced.
Paul: Oh, no one’s read about that before. [Rolling eyeballs.]
John: I can’t very well leave it out, can I?
Paul: I suppose not. Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s make up a completely false version of what happened, and publish that!
John: You’re not taking this seriously.
Paul: I just thought it might be more interesting. Spice things up a bit.
John: You need to just answer the bloody question, or I’ll bash you over the head with this lamp! [I gesture to table lamp to my left.]
Paul: Oh, [disappointed look] I would so much prefer to be bashed in the head with the other lamp. [Points to table lamp to my right.]
John: Wanker. [Liverpudlian derogatory term.] Look, there are things we know about that day that aren’t in any of the books. Things we never told anyone about.
Paul: There are? [He looks sincerely surprised.] Like what?
John: Well, like I got a hard on when I first saw you walking across the street that day.
Paul: [Totally surprised now] A hard on? You got a hard on? You never told me that before!
John: See? Now it’s your turn.
Paul: [After prolonged thought, grudgingly] Well, there is something of paramount importance that I want to make clear about that day.
John: Which is? [I’m excited now, leaning forward with the mike.]
Paul: [Speaking loudly and clearly and directly into the microphone] I want everyone to know that I most definitely did NOT have a hard on!
Believe it or not, it went further downhill from there, but I won’t bore you with the details.
The interviews with Paul about the days following the fete, and leading up to his joining the group, were far more informative (if not nearly as entertaining.) In the following passage, I am recreating the events, drawing from my journals, my discussions with the other Quarrymen, Ivan Vaughan, Michael McCartney and Paul.
The day after the fete – July 7, 1957 - I went over to Ivan’s house after school. My brain was filled with the boy, Paul. I was captivated and breathless at the same time. It was as if this boy’s soul was on fire! I could not tear my mind away from his. I could actually see bursts of light popping in the air around him because his energy was so electric. Ivan was in his room. I was reluctant to bring up the subject of the Famous Paul. But Ivan saw through me. He smiled at me and said, “I told you he was the best.”
I tried to look non-committal. I told him we needed to fill a spot in the band, and otherwise I would not consider him. This was a lie, and Ivan knew it. He laughed at that comment and said, “Paul can sing and play you and all your friends around the stage and back again. You’d be lucky to have him, and he knows it.”
Not able to keep up the fiction anymore, I asked Ivan if he thought Paul would agree to join. Ivan responded by saying he thought so, but he warned me, “He is very serious about music. He’ll only be interested if you’re serious about the band.” All I could do was nod my assent. “Okay then,” Ivan said, “You should ask him if he’ll join.”
I walked away feeling insecure and unsatisfied. I did not like looking like a supplicant, and I was starting to hold it against Paul. The fact that this was irrational, considering Paul didn’t even know I wanted him in the band, and hadn’t yet opined on the subject, didn’t matter to me because I was naturally inclined to assume the worst intentions about others’ motivations. Still, the die was cast. I would just have to make it clear to him who was the boss, and who wasn’t.
The next day – July 8th 1957 – I gave my lieutenant Pete Shotton the job of telling Paul he could join the band, and a few days after that Pete dropped by my Aunt’s house with Ivan. Pete said: “We saw Paul when we were riding our bikes thru the park this morning. I said you’d offered to have him in your band.”
“What did he say?” I asked, trying to sound distracted and disinterested.
“He said he had to ask his Dad about it, and wondered why you didn’t ask him yourself.”
“What??” I screeched. I couldn’t believe the nerve!
Ivan shrugged and smiled at my reaction. “You have to know Paul. He isn’t interested in playing games. He is very direct, and he doesn’t understand why anyone else would be otherwise.”
Again, I ended up dissatisfied by this news, and out of synch. It never occurred to me that I would offer him a spot in my band and he might turn me down. How dared he? I began to stew on it. Two weeks went by, and Ivan and Pete both said they hadn’t heard back from Paul.
From my Journal, July 24th, 1957:
“I went over to Ivan’s house and asked where Paul lived. He told me, ‘the council estate in Allerton’. I couldn’t believe it. I had never been there, and Aunt Mimi would kill me if I even thought of going there. I asked Ivan, ‘where in the estate’? He said, ‘Forthlin Road.’ I was too shy to ask what the street number was. After all, how long could Forthlin Road be?”
The council estate in Allerton was only a little less than a mile away from Menlove Avenue, the middle class neighborhood where I grew up. The council estate might as well have been Deepest Darkest Africa, based on the propaganda I’d been subjected to by Aunt Mimi all those years. According to Mimi, only Irish and Polish immigrants lived there, “R.C.’s” she would hiss. Nothing worse than an Irish or Polish Roman Catholic in Mimi’s book. The council estate was separated from Mimi’s neighborhood by a wilderness area, which included football fields, some playgrounds, estate grounds, and an old soldier’s home, which was called ‘Strawberry Fields.’ Paul had only just moved to Allerton a little over a year earlier. Prior to that, he had lived 3 miles away from me, in Speke-Garston. That move to Allerton is what put us within shouting distance of each other, and it had only been a matter of time before our paths crossed, given our interests and proclivities. The fact that the financial situation and social standing of our respective families were separated by about 1 or 2 class strata (with my family being the better off), would not have been a disqualifying factor in our eventually finding each other, because I had never felt a part of the middle class, due to my poor-relation orphan status in my family. Things like that just didn't matter to me at all.
So I had a choice to make. It occurred to me that Paul would not agree to be in my band unless I asked him personally. And as much as I wanted to walk away from him and just continue to be the King of the Quarrymen, there was a much more demanding part of me that was fascinated by this boy. I rationalized it by saying that he could teach me how to play real guitar, and would make our band much better. I didn’t concentrate too much on the sensual arousals I would get from even thinking about him. That was something I didn’t want to focus on, and refusing to focus on things that disturbed me was one of my most notable qualities for decades.
According to my journal, I worked up the courage to go beard Paul in his den early on a Sunday afternoon, July 21, 1957. Not knowing the street number, I started on the bottom of Forthlin Road and worked my way up. It was early afternoon, and I banged on every door on Forthlin Road. At each door, I would ask the woman who answered, ‘Does a boy named Paul live here, who sounds like Little Richard?’ Some doors were slammed in my face; some women laughed at me and thought it was a joke; some were kind to me, but had no idea what I was on about. Near the middle of the block, I came to a house where several badly groomed children were playing in a hardscrabble yard. I approached the front door, which was open, and rang the bell. A woman in what was probably her late thirties came to the door, a baby on her hip. She had a heavy Irish accent, and a big statue of St. Joseph was perched on the railing. Oh no - Mimi was right! Irish R.C.s!
“Do you have a boy named Paul living here, who sounds like Little Richard?” I asked. She smiled at me, and said, “No, but the McCartneys across the road at 20 have a lovely boy named Paul, about your age. He watches my children for me when I have to run to the market.” Bingo!
I crossed the road to No. 20. As I approached I noticed that this particular row house was beautifully maintained. The little bit of front garden was immaculate; the front door was painted a bright black; the brass knocker and doorknob were perfectly polished brass. There were lace net curtains in the windows. The place couldn’t have been more different from the rundown homes on either side and all the way up and down the block. I approached the front door, and rang the bell.
In a few moments, the door was opened and a man stood in the aperture. He was wearing a dress shirt, pleated wool slacks, a tasteful knitted vest and a neat tie. He was bald on top, with the hair on the sides of his head neatly slicked back. He had a pair of half-lenses perched on the end of his nose, and he held a pipe. He looked exactly like a college professor. Revving up my courage, I said, “Do you have a boy named Paul living here, who sounds like Little Richard?”
His face barely reacted to what I said, although there was a definite sardonic glint in his eye. He took two steps backwards into the hall, and then shouted up the stairwell, “Oh, Little Richard! Your fan club has arrived!” He gave me a very knowing look, and I found myself intimidated by this man. A moment later, however, the boy Paul showed himself on the stairwell.
“John! Come on up!” It was like he was expecting me. I stepped gingerly around Jim McCartney, Paul’s father, who was watching me with an ironic lift to his left eyebrow: the same lift to the eyebrow I have received from his son in iffy moments for lo, these many decades now. I walked backwards, facing him, to the stairs, and then quickly darted up the stairs behind Paul.
“Who was that?” I whispered.
“He’s kind of scary.”
Paul laughed, and ushered me into his bedroom. His younger brother, Michael, was lounging on Paul’s bed. The room was tiny, and had reddish cabbage leaf wallpaper. But what really struck me was that each boy had his own record player and headphones.
“What on earth?” I asked.
“My Dad doesn’t like us fighting over what music we listen to. My brother likes jazz, and I like rock ‘n roll. So he gave us headphones. That way he doesn’t have to deal with us.” I was having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of a father so cool that he got separate record players and headphones for his sons.
“He is okay with you listening to the rock music then?”
“Oh, yes. He was a jazz band musician for 20 years, and he likes that we’re interested in music.”
I found this to be a fascinating insight. “Is that how you learned about the guitar?” I asked him.
“No, dad doesn’t play guitar. But he taught me piano and trumpet. Those were his instruments in his jazz band.”
“How did you learn about the guitar?”
He looked at me in a kind of perplexed way, as if the answer should have already occurred to me. “I listen to the records, I watch the films, I ask the guy who sells guitars in the music store to teach me some chords, I read about it in books, and copy what they’re doing in the photographs. I learned banjo that way, too.” He then showed me a well-worn copy of Bert Weedon's "Play in a Day" book, and encouraged me to get one too. "It's dead easy," he assured me.
“You mean you’ve never had proper lessons?”
“No, we could never afford that. I had to teach myself, and it wasn’t that hard.” He looked at me in a speculative way. “Do you want me to show you some real guitar chords?”
“Yes!” I enthused.
“But first, I want you to listen to this song I’ve been working on – ‘I Lost My Little Girl’.”
“You’ve written a song?”
“Oh, it’s not a song yet.”
“How could that be? You’re from Liverpool!”
“So you think there’s some law that says you can’t write songs if you’re from Liverpool?”
“All the best music comes from America,” I argued. The look Paul leveled at me was overwhelming. If he ever gave you his fullest most focused attention, the effect was always overwhelming.
“I think I can write songs as good as Americans can,” he finally said. I stared at him in awe as he pulled his notebook out, and began strumming the chords of his own song. “You can write songs, too,” he added.
“Yes, you can help me with the words to my song.”
It was really the first time we were alone together, and within 15 minutes we were writing a song. I had never had so much fun in my life, honestly. We both lost total track of the time, we were talking about every song we ever loved, and he knew all the lyrics and most of the chords. He had it all transcribed in his notebook in very neat handwriting. We were jabbering a mile a minute, talking over each other, already finishing each other’s sentences, our voices getting louder and faster as our excitement grew.
At one point, Michael lifted one of his headphones up (he was lying on the bed listening to music) and shouted, “Keep it down you two! You’re like a couple of magpies. I can hear you through my headphones!”
“Sorry, Mike,” Paul said, and lowered his voice. Sorry Mike? I thought. Paul’s the older one! Why is he apologizing to this scrawny kid? It was a random thought, but it was probably the first time I received a clue - if I had been paying attention - to how important family is to Paul.
The time flew by so fast, that I hadn’t noticed that it was now dark and it was the dinner hour until Jim McCartney knocked on the door before sticking his head in. Mike, Paul and I all looked up. He said to Paul, “Is your friend staying for dinner?” Paul looked at me and I said, “If I’m allowed.” So Jim said, “Call your mother then and let her know, because I am sure she is worrying about you.” I didn’t want to explain my complicated living arrangements, so I jumped up and went to the phone and called Mimi. I lied to Mimi, and told her I was having dinner with a friend who lived in our area. She was not happy about the late call, since she had already made dinner. She wanted to talk to the boy’s mother. I didn’t see the boy’s mother, so I handed the phone to Jim. He may have lived in the council flats, but he had a very British accent, and spoke in a cultured tone. So he secured permission for me to have dinner there, but then I would have to go home.
When dinner was ready, Jim called us down, and we all trooped into the dining room. I noted a stand-up piano against the wall, and piles of music sheets around it. A trumpet was on a shelf over the piano. On the table, there was some kind of roast meat, but what I really loved were the peas – those were the best peas I ever ate, before or since! I’m still trying to figure out how Jim made them.
The meal was far less formal than dinners at Mimi’s. Jim and his sons talked freely with each other, and made jokes and laughed together. I felt a little weird, not knowing how to behave around a father who took his role so seriously, so I said very little, only giving G-rated answers to Jim’s questions about my school and home lives. I kept waiting for Paul’s mother to show up, but no one mentioned her, and no place was set for her. I wasn’t going to say anything in front of Mike and Jim, so I waited until after dinner when Paul and I went back to his room to collect my gear.
“Where’s your mother, then?” I asked him, shyly.
“Oh, she’s dead.” He said. It was like he had just said, “oh, she’s working tonight.” From the tone of his voice and his affect, I assumed she must have been dead for years, maybe even since he was a baby.
“I’m sorry. That must be awful. When did she die?” I was just trying to be polite.
“Last November.” He said. I was struck dumb.
“You mean – this past November?”
“How can you walk around all normal like, with your mother just dead?” I blurted it out without thinking and then was sorry I did. But Paul’s reaction puzzled me. I remember this sequence as if it were yesterday.
“How should I act, then?” This was asked in sincere curiosity. There was no sarcasm there at all.
“Well, I don’t know. If it were me, I’d be crying, and angry, and depressed.”
“But would that bring her back?” He asked, again in a kind of bland voice that seemed out of tune for the topic we were discussing.
“No, but it might make me feel better.” I suggested. Mainly, I was at a loss for words.
Paul seemed to consider my opinion before responding: “Well, it wouldn’t make me feel better.” And the subject was summarily dropped.
It gave me a lot to think about as I cycled back to Menlove Avenue. I had just rediscovered my mother in late October of 1956, and Paul had just lost his mother in early November of 1956: Less than a month apart. I couldn’t imagine having to lose my mother, or Mimi for that matter. I knew I could not have handled it the way Paul did; I would be a complete wreck for months and months afterward. Was there something wrong with this kid? Was he missing that part in his brain where you experience grief? These were important questions to me, because I had already fallen completely under Paul’s spell. Anything important to him was suddenly important to me.