In early February of 1964, I was in a hospital in Paris. The Paris part is not that unusual since my family lived there at the time. The circumstances of my being in the hospital were somewhat grossly unique since, a few weeks earlier, a gigantic wooden door in our old French apartment had slammed on my tiny 18-month-old-finger, rendering it even tinier.
That part was traumatic. Mostly for my mom who found me with my digit hanging off and had to bandage me and run through the streets of Paris, finally ending up at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of the city. I was born in that hospital, 18 months earlier, and with all my fingers intact.
The attack of the French door occurred around Christmas so by the time February rolled around, I was on a routine hospital follow-up visit as the doctors tried to coax the finger to mend, microsurgery not yet in vogue.
So, there I was, 18 months old with nine-and-a-half fingers, sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office in the American Hospital in France with my dad and four other patients. The four other patients were named John, George, Paul, and Ringo.
The Beatles had just played the Olympia in Paris and were set to go to America the following week to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. They had to get their shots to go across the ocean and the American Hospital was (and still is) a pretty good hospital.
My dad knew who they were and I suppose he wondered if they’d have any staying power. He was only in his early thirties at the time but, having fought in Korea a dozen years earlier and danced to the Big Bands as a lad, he was certainly a generation apart from these young rockers. At that time, he and my mom were into the French chanteuse Edith Piaf and the American singer/swinger Sammy Davis Jr.
The Beatles pretended to be very afraid about getting their shots and commented that I, on the other hand, was quite brave. They made a fuss over me and the huge bandage on my little hand and they played with me until I was called in to see the doctor.
My reaction to these men who were about to become four of the most famous people in history? I went back over to my dad and pointed at the nice young fellows. “Ladies,” I said. (Kids today, with their hair and their rock and roll!)
I didn’t hear much from the Beatles after that (actually, I didn’t hear anything from them after that). I guess they were busy.
Years later, as a preteen and teenager, I grew to idolize them along with everyone else, and formed a Beatles fan club with my sister. Actually, my sister and her friend Kerry were the co-presidents of the club and I was the first–and only–non-presidential member. There was a difficult entry exam consisting of Beatles trivia, which I luckily passed, but my sister took to blackballing me whenever I got on her nerves. In the beginning, all blackballing was Beatle-related. If she was, say, playing Sgt. Pepper for the 356th time and I suggested we listen to something else, she would become enraged and ask, “Are you asking me to turn off a Beatles record? Blackball!”
Sadly, the power that came with being co-president of a Beatles fan club drove my sister insane and her blackballing became increasingly irrational and capricious. If I didn’t want to fetch her a snack from the kitchen, for example: “Get me some cookies or you’re blackballed!” The majority of our Beatles fan club activities consisted of my sister throwing me out of the club, then reinstating me.
The 1970s brought a rash of other Beatle sightings. Well, near misses. My sister and I spent several weeks one summer sitting across the road from Linda McCartney’s father’s house in East Hampton, Long Island, hoping Paul would show up. There was a high hedge blocking our view but we could hear the sound of tennis balls popping off racquets on the other side.
One afternoon, my sister had been on a solo stalk when she came flying through the front door of our rental house, ran into the living room, grabbed her copy of Rubber Soul, and ran back out again. She breathlessly informed me that she had heard McCartney on the other side of the hedge. That famous Liverpool voice that had crooned “Michelle” and “Yesterday” was yelling at his kids: “Mary, Stella, get off the court!”
We squealed and jumped up and down. Then we hopped on our banana bikes and sped out to meet the Beatle. We never did see him but I was quite sure, if we had, he would have remembered me and asked me how my finger was doing. This would have most likely enraged my sister and resulted in me being blackballed again.
Other “sightings” (or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Beatles-style): We had a friend who lived in the Dakota on Central Park West in Manhattan and her kitchen window faced John and Yoko’s kitchen window and there had been alleged sightings of the Ono-Lennons in various stages of dress. Whenever we visited there was a lot of waiting for John or even Yoko to come into the kitchen and make a sandwich. Didn’t happen on our watch.
Our study-hall monitor in middle school had traveled in England and told us that she had tea with George Harrison’s mother. Miss Canning said that she would write a letter to Mrs. Harrison and tell her that there were a lot of 6th graders at the all-female Academy of the Sacred Heart in New York City who would love to meet her son. She may have written the letter–she was that kind of person–but we never heard back. (Miss Canning, if you have any more information on this, please contact me.)
Oddly, the most seemingly accessible Beatle, Ringo, has proven fairly elusive. Haven’t seen him in 39 years. But my seven-year old son did play Ringo in an original theater piece that he and my daughter wrote and performed in our living room last summer.
The half-hour in the hospital waiting room when I was a baby remains my biggest Beatle sighting. Perhaps I was the only American girl that year to have them all to myself–in a completely innocent way, that is.
It’s a famous family story. I don’t really remember, which is probably a good thing because then I would remember the pain of losing my fingertip. But the details of the incident are burned into my mind to the point that I can see my toddler self, my dashing father in a Savile Row suit, the Beatles joking around as we’ve all seen in those early press conferences and heard on the BBC interviews, all in a spare 1960s hospital waiting room as one era ended and another was about to begin.
–Susan Konig, a journalist, has just written a book, Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children), which will be published in 2004.