OPINION

I Was Just Thinking: Learning a life lesson, the hard way

Bill HaglundBhaglund13@msn.com
I Was Just Thinking: Learning a life lesson, the hard way

We were still two years away from all the answers, two years away from the day we’d know more than our parents.

We were sophomores.

At 15 we’d gone through the awkward years of pre-adolescence, had discovered the opposite sex and had already had our share of “crushes.”

And, we were old enough to make our own plans, although those plans were still made knowing that parental approval would have to be secured before we could actually carry out those plans. But, that didn’t stop us from making plans.

As did many central Iowa sophomores, I’m sure, we copied many of the fads that we watched on our small black and white television sets. We envied the kids who danced on American Bandstand and we read newspapers daily to see what fads kids our age were following.

We were old enough, now, to dream and there were a few kids in our group who were 16 and had drivers licenses. The rest of us could hardly wait until that day arrived for ourselves.

So as January’s final days slowly clicked off the calendar, we had some big plans. At least, we’d begun to formulate some big plans.

We’d been to the Val Air Ballroom in Des Moines on a couple of occasions, traveling there to the popular weekly teen dances. There we did our best to keep tune and step lively to the latest dances, trying not only to impress our friends, but to meet new friends from other schools. Meet a girl, and dance with, a girl from Des Moines and you could earn instant peer recognition.

Halls were buzzing with excitement as a group of North Polk sophomores were making big plans.

We’d be heading off to the Val Air Ballroom on Thursday night, Feb. 5. Thursday nights were the regular teen nights at the ballroom, but Feb. 5 would be something special.

We’d be going to watch some of our favorite teen idols on that night. Not only was the great Buddy Holly going to perform, but we’d also get to see young Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson – better known as “The Big Bopper” – Dion and the Belmonts and Frankie Sardo, among others. The traveling group also included a young Waylon Jennings, who was a back-up guitarist along with Tommy Allsup, one of the original “Crickets” that helped launch Holly’s career from their hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

Knowing the group had performed in Fort Dodge just the previous Friday night (Jan. 30) did even more to whet our appetites for Rock ‘n Roll, much to our parents’ chagrin. So, we were all talking in small circles, beginning to finalize our plans for that Thursday as Monday rolled around – just four days before our big event in Des Moines. Two cars would make the trip and we had to decide who would ride with whom.

On Tuesday morning our plans came crashing down around us.

We awoke to the news that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Vallens and “The Big Bopper” had all died in a plane crash early that Tuesday morning, Feb. 3, 1959. Rather than ride in a cold bus, the three had hired a small plane to fly them from Mason City to Moorhead, Minn., for the next concert on the tour.

It was stunning news. The whole school, it seemed, was in shock that these three stars were suddenly gone.

Many of us, if not most, had not experienced much death in our yet young lives. We’d lost a classmate to drowning a few years before the crash and a friend’s father had died in a farming accident. But those deaths didn’t hit home like the deaths on Feb. 3, 1959.

It seemed that every radio station played music by the three stars all day long. We listened over and over to Holly’s hits like “Peggy Sue,” and “That’ll Be The Day.” We heard Valens over and over as he sang “Donna” and “La Bamba.” And, it seemed that “The Big Bopper” hit “Chantilly Lace” was aired several times that day.

I’m sure many of my classmates, like me, went home from school that day somber. I’m sure we all plopped down in our rooms with the radio blaring. We couldn’t get enough of the music that day.

In retrospect, it seems strange now that music would be such a big part of our lives on that Tuesday night, Feb. 3, 1959.

After all, that was the day “The Music Died.”