Last week, I had a little time to kill before an afternoon appointment, so I went to Fountain Square to hang out for a while. Sitting at a table, I listened in on a conversation two young girls were having at another table to my left.
“I haven’t seen Paul in over two days,” the girl with the dark hair said. “I miss him so much; love him so much, I can’t stand this much longer.”
I looked over and the girl had tears in her eyes. The girl with her laughed.
“He’ll be back this weekend!” she said. “You can survive a few more days.”
“I’m in love,” the girl replied. “I’m crazy in love.”
No doubt a smile came to my face. I’m guessing both girls were 16 or 17. Despite the fact I haven’t been that age in over 40 years, I can remember back to those kinds of feelings. I can remember being lovesick.
In June of 2009, I wrote a column here entitled “My Weird Life,” wherein I wrote about my brothers and I being kid Country music singers in the late 1960s and early ’70s. I don’t want to write on that subject again, but because of it I experienced what it was like to be in love.
For many decades, there was a Country music disc-jockey convention held in Nashville. Every October, DJs and recording artists would come together and record companies would put on huge stage shows featuring their artists. It was also a convention where newer unknown artists could promote themselves. That’s why my brothers and my parents made the trip almost every year.
Before attending the convention in 1971, through the mail and in telephone calls, we came to know the Johnson Sisters. They were presidents of Loretta Lynn’s fan club, presidents of the International Fan Club Organization and they also ran Tri-Son Promotions, promoting various Country Music artists. The Johnson Sisters became our promoters.
In 1971, we met them — older sister Loudilla, middle sister Loretta and younger sister Kay. All three were as nice as they could be, but Loretta was the one I was smitten with.
She must have been in her mid-twenties. I was a shy 17-year-old boy who knew nothing about girls, let alone full-grown women. Maybe Loretta could tell this as she gently poked fun of me for being so quiet.
Loretta was a blonde with brown eyes. I loved her husky voice. I think she told me she was part Indian, but I’m not sure of that. At some point during the trip my brothers and I had lunch with the sisters in a Nashville diner. I remember sitting directly across from Loretta and getting up the nerve to tease her a little, too. She loved it and had no problem giving it right back.
Tri-Son had an open hotel suite where artists would sing and play and promote themselves. My brothers and I took part in this, and Loretta became an honorary member of the group, dancing around and playing the tambourine while we sang. She was so alive. She made my bashful face smile with delight.
During this three- or four-day trip to Nashville in 1971, I felt something, and that something hit me like a ton of bricks on the way back home.
I remember being in the backseat of my parent’s car feeling down and helpless. I felt like I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up until I saw her again. I was thinking of Loretta. I was indeed lovesick.
That feeling didn’t go away. In the days and weeks and even months ahead, she was constantly on my mind and in my dreams. Letters and phone calls helped, but I knew I wouldn’t be seeing Loretta for a long time. In other words, I was probably feeling like that young girl I was listening to on Fountain Square.
For me, this wasn’t a sexual feeling. It wasn’t lust. It was genuine love for a girl — a woman — who was nice enough to pay a little attention to a shy, awkward teenage boy.
I saw Loretta and her sisters again the following October. Of course, nothing stays the same. I was starting to grow up and now had a girlfriend in high school. Still, for years to come, I was always in awe of Loretta. I considered her my first love.
She died of bone marrow cancer in April of 2009. The news made me cry with old memories racing back to my head. While I’ll always be sad that she’s gone, I’m grateful I got to share some of those memories with her.
Some months before her death, I called Loretta and her sisters. This was around Thanksgiving, around her birthday. It was fun to kick around those old days and I finally got around to tellingLoretta about that big crush I had on her so many years ago. She had no idea how I felt and got a big laugh out of it.
Sitting there on Fountain Square that afternoon and thinking of Loretta, I finally looked at my watch. It was time to head off to my appointment.
I looked over at the young girls. They were still talking about love.
As I walked past them, I almost said to the one with the dark hair, “I remember feeling the way you do. It’s a special time to be young and in love. Cherish it.”
Of course, I said nothing, but maybe I should have.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: [email protected]