My mother had on her fur coat. They must have been going to the symphony, or maybe the opera, back in the days when they had season tickets to both, before my father put his foot down and announced that he refused to go any more and thereby broke my mother’s heart. They came into the living room to say good-bye to my brother and me, all gussied up and remaining at a distance.
We had a babysitter. Kathy Bates (nope, not that one, though having the always-a-hoot actress as a babysitter would certainly have been swell). At 10 and 8, Kathy was not all that much older than my brother and I were; but we were very much little kids, and she had crossed that treacherous threshold into Early Adolescence. Kathy looked, most unfortunately, exactly like her father. At the age of nearly 13, she was well on her way to her final height of 6 feet tall.
She was athletic and strong and awkward and rangy all at once. Her hair always seemed to be horribly greasy, and it was evident that she curled it, teased it, sprayed it and in every way possible fought with it to achieve what little détente she could. She had clearly outgrown her pants and not yet grown into her blouse. Because we were watching TV, Kathy had to reluctantly don her glasses – the narrow, black-framed, pointy-tipped specs of the time that everyone spent years making fun of before shocking number of hipsters across the country took up their cause once again.
I was, in every way, fascinated by her.
She must have gotten special permission from my parents, as our TV watching was Regulated. No more than one hour per night, and only approved shows. We were permitted to watch all the PBS we wanted; which needless to say meant that we watched absolutely none at all, ever, period.
Kathy was kneeling on the floor, her PFFlyer-clad feet tucked underneath her as she sat no more than three or four feet from our little old black-and-white TV. Her eyes were already glued to the screen as my parents said their goodbyes.
It was Sunday, February 9, 1964, and the Beatles were about to make an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. My brother and I had no idea what to make of the awed, rapt solemnity with which Kathy Bates seemed to be approaching this event; but we understood the fact of it, if not the reasoning, and so knelt on the floor beside her.
The minute Ed Sullivan says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beatles!” the girls in the audience break into cheers and screams and yells. Kathy Bates’ hands fly up to either side of her face, cradling her cheeks. She moaned in ecstatic agony for a second before crying out.
Kathy looked over at my brother and me as if suddenly remembering we were there. Our mouths were probably hanging open. I spent the rest of “All My Loving” pretending to watch –I thought Paul was the cutest thing ever. John scared me. Ringo had a great goofy crazy smile. And George? Well, at the age of 8, George who? – but secretly studying every single move that Kathy made.
It was one of those pivotal moments in life, when a brand new door opens and you get a white-light-blinding glimpse of a world that is so much bigger, and scarier, and more complicated, and more magnificent, than you ever imagined before. Thank you, Kathy Bates, for fanning a flame of curiosity and wonder.
Readers, may your 2014 be filled with such moments.