September 14, 2011 EditionAlso in this issue...
My brush with The Beatles
September 18, 1964, must have been like any other Friday night, but to tell you the truth, I can't really remember. If there was a home football game I went to it. Sexton Field was the place to be during football season. Go Cats Go!
If there wasn't a game, I was probably at Mary Willmuth's house for a meeting of the Beatles Four Forever More fan club. We were a hardcore group of young Beatles fans who got together on a somewhat regular basis to talk about how wonderful the Beatles were, what was their best song and how much they were missing by not knowing us, their greatest fans! The meetings involved snacks, dancing in the living room and debating the burning question all young girls were asking at that time: who was better looking; Paul or John? It's a question I still ponder to this day.
At home later that Friday night everything went as usual. I spent a little time discussing the meeting with Mom and Dad. They always wanted to know who was there and how they were doing and if anything interesting had happened. Then it was time for bed. The house was quiet and everyone asleep by 11. It was just an ordinary Friday night. I went to bed expecting to meet my Beatle friends at Warner Drug Store on Saturday morning. We would have a 10-cent coke in a real glass and discuss which Beatle Bubble Gum cards we had gotten that morning. I was just expecting a normal Saturday.
Was I wrong!
In 1964 our home had one black dial phone located in the hallway. It never rang at night, unless it was terrible news. That night, about 2 a.m. the phone rang. Instantly, Mom, Dad, Charles and I were hurled into consciousness! Dad walked into the hallway and answered the phone on the second ring.
"Son, do you realize what time it is? You had better have a really good reason for calling!"
A short silence followed. "Don't you lie to me, Gene Matthews. If you are lying, I'll see that your father takes away your car for a month!" Another pause followed. "OK, if I don't call her to the phone and you are telling me the truth, she will never forgive me," Dad said. "Carrie Mae, it's for you."
For me? A phone call for me in the middle of the night; I couldn't imagine! "Dad, what is it?"
He replied, "Answer it and find out?"
"This is Gene. You are not going to believe who I just saw at the airport! The Beatles! I just saw them at the Walnut Ridge Airport. I wanted you to know that they were here, I saw them and you didn't! Bye!"
Dumbfounded, I stared blindly at the receiver in my hand. The Beatles had been here, in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, and I had missed them! I looked at Dad and broke into tears. "I missed them! The Beatles were here and I missed them!"
Somehow, about an hour later, following much pleading and many promises, Mom and Dad got me settled down enough to sleep a little.
Early the next morning, very early for a Saturday morning, Mom, Charles and I piled into the car and headed for the airport. It seems that mother had called Gene to find out the details of the unexpected visit of the Beatles. If she couldn't find the actual Beatles for me, she could at least take me out to the airport to see their airplane.
Fortunately for Mom and Charles, the mere sight of the airplane the Beatles had flown to Walnut Ridge on was enough to quell my constant crying! I was thrilled to be able to walk out on the tarmac and touch the wheel of the Lockheed Martin jet that had brought them to Walnut Ridge! Imagine, the very airplane that I was touching had once contained the Beatles. I was in Heaven!
In the meantime, Mother was doing her best Nancy Drew imitation. She had spoken with the people in the terminal and found out the pilot was staying at the Alamo Court. Our Alamo Court: the family business. She found Charles, drug me away from the plane and off we went to the Alamo. Nothing was going to keep her from getting her daughter a Beatles experience!
When we walked into the Davy Crockett, the first person we saw was the pilot. He was hard to miss, being the only person in the restaurant wearing a uniform. Mother grabbed the coffee pot and walked right over to his table. "Let me warm up your coffee." While she was playing waitress/detective, I was once again crying.
After several refills and dozens of questions he sat down his again full coffee cup. "I really can't tell you, Mrs. Snapp, but if I were you, I wouldn't go to church tomorrow," the pilot said with a smile.
That's all it took. Mom returned the coffee pot to its place and said, "Get into the car. It's time for us to go!" Off to the airport we went. On the way Mother told me, "Quit crying and enjoy this! This is going to be a weekend you will always remember!" I quit crying. After all, Mother was always right.
Charles, having had his fill of the great Beatles hunt, begged off and went to spend the day with his friend Charles Ellis. I know. It's confusing!
I spent the whole afternoon at the airport. Mom had packed us a picnic basket. At times there were quite a few people there and at others I had most of the airport to myself to explore and imagine what it would be like when the Beatles returned. I picked up a few cigarette butts. You could never tell, Paul might have been smoking one of them! The afternoon was uneventful until around three o'clock when I ran into three of my friends, who, for good reason, shall remain nameless.
We were walking around the airplane just looking it over. None of us had ever been on a jet. We wondered aloud about what it was like on the inside. When we walked over to the side of the jet facing away from the terminal we noticed the emergency door. Was it shut all the way? It didn't look quite right to us. We wouldn't want any of the Beatles falling out! Immediately, we knew it was up to us to save their lives by fixing that emergency door!
Taking a quick look around the tarmac, lest anyone misunderstand our motive for fixing the door, we climbed onto the wing of the airplane. Believe me; it was not as easy as it sounds. I was five feet tall, the wing was much taller. Accompanied by much groaning, pushing, stretching and sweating, the four of us ended up on the wing of the jet. Leaning against the door, breathing heavily, we began to inspect the emergency door.
With much pulling and prying we managed to get the door open enough for the skinniest of us to get into the plane! I was still on the wing. The three of us on the outside put our hands and noses up to the little windows and had a sneak peak at paradise! This is where they sat! This was the Beatles' private jet, and we were looking in it! Did life get any better? Not to a 14-year-old, Beatles-crazy girl, it didn't!
"Get me a pillow, please!" Who said it, I don't really know, but I knew at that time it was an excellent idea! I might not have seen the Beatles when they landed early that morning, but I had a chance to have a pillow that Paul McCartney might have laid his head on! Go for it! We took five pillows off the airplane and carefully shut the emergency exit.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent at the airport walking around and talking with the other fans just looking around. We all swapped rumors that we had heard about the Beatles foray into Walnut Ridge. At times we even sang a Beatles song or two. Mom let me stay till almost eleven that night. I suggested that I spend the night, but she quickly vetoed that notion.
When I got home that evening, Dad confronted me about what he termed, "Your new life of crime!" Truthfully, I don't know how he found out about the pillow from the airplane. In a small town word just gets out. I learned one of many life lessons; always tell your parents before someone else does!
My punishment was simple; I had to give the pillow back. I was crushed! My Dad, being soft-hearted, took pity on me and let me keep the pillowcase. Now that was a great Dad for you!
The next morning at seven we were up and around, getting ready to leave for the airport. Mom and Dad kept admonishing me to take my time. I was a nervous wreck! I had missed the Beatles once, but I wasn't going to do it again; I didn't care if I had to walk to the airport, I was going to be there when they came back!
Leaving the house about 10 minutes till eight, we went by the Ellis' home to pick up Charles. He and Charles were putting up a basketball goal. Dad honked the horn and Mom said, "Do you want to go to the airport to see the Beatles?"
"No. I want to put this goal up," Charles responded.
"Get in the car. If you don't go you will regret it the rest of your life," Mom replied. Soon the four of us were on our way to the airport. There were a few people there when we got there, but not too many.
Waiting for the Beatles to come back to Walnut Ridge was one of the most taxing things I've ever done. I learned a lot about patience. Time passed very slowly that morning. The jet that would take The Beatles to New York City was parked there on the tarmac. Dad kept a close eye on me to make sure I stayed away from the wings! My life of crime had ended!
About 10 o'clock we heard a noise in the sky! Someone heard the sound of a motor! There it was! The Beatles were returning!
The little yellow plane circled the runway and landed, heading in toward the terminal. Suddenly, the crowd of fans gathered by the jet took off, running full tilt toward the little yellow plane. Can you imagine what went through the mind of that crop duster when he saw a hundred kids on the runway screaming, waving their arms and running toward him?
We were herded back to the side of the jet to wait once again. Mayor Stewart was worried one of us would get injured if we tried that again so he climbed up on the stairs and told the crowd that if we were well behaved and let The Beatles pass through the crowd with no problems, they would sign autographs for us! I learned a lesson about promises and politicians that day, too.
We calmed down and waited for The Beatles. Dad was trying to pass the time by making a commentary about the crowd. He mentioned a red Suburban parked at the terminal that he didn't recognize. It looked like it was full of grown men. In 1964 you knew what everyone in town drove.
About a half hour later we again heard the sound of a small airplane in the sky. A little twin-engine plane landed and taxied toward the jet. Just as that was happening, the red Suburban pulled up right beside Mom, Dad, Charles and me. I mean right beside us. I remember touching the car and thinking the driver might have run over us.
Suddenly, it happened! There was John Lennon, all dressed in black and holding a box or something. Looking straight ahead, he went to the jet and up the steps. Then there was Ringo Starr in a light blue suit going up the steps, too!
There was movement to the left of us. The door to the Suburban opened and Paul McCartney jumped out! I remember reaching out for him, just to touch him for a split second. I was too late. Paul was too quick. Even Dad, the official family photographer, was too late. I have a wonderful close up of the back of Paul McCartney!
However, Dad and I were ready when George Harrison got out of the Suburban. For the past 47 years I've clung to all the pictures of the Beatles visit to Walnut Ridge, but especially to a wonderful close up of George Harrison. I was even able to touch him. It was just a glancing touch, but I TOUCHED GEORGE HARRISON'S ARM!
Other people have told me about the noise and screaming that was going on when The Beatles were here. I don't remember it that way. I remember an eerie silence that surrounded them and included us for those few minutes! We were all part of the aura that surrounded The Beatles for those few minutes. It gave us a special bond with them.
After The Beatles had boarded the airplane, Neil Aspinall came out to have a conversation with Mayor Stewart. Who knows what was said? The Beatles didn't come back out and sign autographs. George and Ringo were never seen by their adoring fans at the airport again.
Paul looked out the window and waved to us many times. If you talk with the girls who were out there, each of us will tell you he made eye contact just with them. They are all wrong; he made eye contact with me! John Lennon opened his sunscreen and waved to us once. I did see Jackie DeShannon, who was on the tour with them, standing at the top of the stairs looking out the door at us once or twice.
We waited at the airport as the jet taxied out for takeoff and waved goodbye to The Beatles. After we had watched the jet turn into a tiny speck in the sky, Dad herded us off to the car.
I felt like the luckiest 14-year-old girl in the world! The Beatles had been to my hometown, and I had gotten to see them in person. I had even touched George Harrison! How many other girls could say that?
I didn't know how lucky I was till the ride back into Walnut Ridge. We passed several cars headed out to the airport to see The Beatles, but they were too late.
The look of disappointment in their faces made me realize just how fortunate I had been.
The actual "sighting" of The Beatles took less than five minutes but, 47 years later, I'm still talking about it and still proud that Lawrence County, Walnut Ridge, and I are, even in the smallest way, associated with the legend of The Beatles!