When I was seventeen. It was a very good year. It was a very good year for small town girls And soft summer nights. We’d hide from the lights. On the village green. When I was seventeen.
So reads the lyrics of the first of four stanzas from the song originally sung by Frank Sinatra. I like the Sinatra’s version but it was the Willie Nelson and Ray Charles rendition that nailed this song for me. So many times at work where I was employed by the public, I would encounter teenagers with all their youth and vigor and I had to remind them I “one time” I had been young, had hair on my head and did not wear eye glasses to help me see. Yes at “one time” I too had been seventeen.
I remember the small town girls and yes I thought “I” was the center of “their” world as we all evolved from Cowboys to Girls as one song writer said. I remember the soft summer nights as our little gang walked the streets. Later one of the guys was able to borrow his brother “deuce and a quarter” a pretty red Buick Electra 225 convertible. But most of the time there was not a car and most of our summer nights we spent walking the street or hanging out on the corner. There were no drive- bye (shootings) only drive-in’s (out door theaters). Our “village green” was a corner were there were plenty of plum trees. Not old enough to purchase liquor on our own, we would have this guy name “Cat” to buy our fifth of wine (Sweet Rosie O’Grady). His name was “Cat” for a reason as he worn his hair in a conk (process) which mostly he kept under raps so the curls and waves would stay in place. Cat sung doo-wop and was part of a group that hope one day to make it big, maybe to Motown, a dream that never materialized. Anyway Cat would have the first “hit” from the bottle and needless to say his one hit usually ended up drinking up most of the wine. My three friends and I would have to share the wine that was left as we “hide from the lights On the village green. When I was seventeen.”
Being born black does not mean all your friends and love ones are black. Not too long ago my wife and I was having breakfast at Cracker Barrel. I noticed in the next room all these guys and some ladies wearing coats and jackets that clearly announced they were part of law enforcement, and not only police but special under cover police at that. I got up from our table and went into the next room where I observed three tables buttress together were most of the law enforcement officers were sitting. One senior Caucasian officer was sitting at the head of one of the tables. I walked over to the guy “standing over him” with all the eyes upon me and I said to him.” You are ugly!” While still sitting and with the other officers observing and listening, he respond “Not as ugly as You.” We both smiled as the staged tension (on our part) disappeared. He got up from his chair and extended his hand towards me for a hand shake and a partial hug.
This was Gary. Gary and I graduated “three times” together. Once from jr. high school, once from high school and the third time from basic training in Columbus, GA. After finishing basic training the army sends you off for Advance Infrantry Training or AIT. Back in the late sixty’s your AIT duty station basically signal where you were headed. I went to Baltimore, MD and later to Germany and Gary went to Vietnam. After Vietnam Gary started his years of service in law enforcement and this “wimpy meek and mild” kid at seventeen developed an exterior that seldom smiled and was always serious. When asked about their boss they all nodded saying he was a “good supervisor.” I could tell that all the officers were highly “protective” of him.
Gary later came to our table and met my wife and said how sorry he was for “her.” We talked about another friend and Gary informed me this high school friend was suffering from PTSD. He also had went to Vietnam. As “we” looked each other over and continued our conversation I talk about my “hair” missing and Gary talked about his full head of hair turning all white. “At least you got some hair.” I responded, pointing to his belly that was beginning to protrude over his belt line like mines. I always reminded Gary of the one case we worked together where I knew I would be the “first” one shot as Gary and his co-worker and fellow detective, Terry assisted me. Gary and Terry were the good cop bad cop duo and both were outstanding detectives, but heck I am a little prejudice but it is true. Anyway the person of interest “boasted” about being able to shoot the bulls-eye from 500 yards away. This day, I was riding with Gary and Terry and the person of interest arrived at the house before “we” did. Thanks be to God all three of us lived through the experience but that’s a story for another day.
There are some words of truth I wish I had learned when I was seventeen and I will leave a few for the young at heart, the teenagers like we were once who may think they know everything. There was a wise old King who said, remember thy creator (Eccl.12:1) in the days of your youth. This same wise King pinned the Book of Proverbs that should have been “required” reading before leaving high school, especially the first three Proverbs. Then the WORD also says that Man born of a woman is a few days (Job 14:1) and full of trouble. The wise king tell the youth to enjoys yourself, have a good time but there is a time to be born and a time to die (Eccl.3:1). I never knew about the Sampson Syndrome, the Biblical Playboy who saw what he wanted and got what he saw… at a price.
When I was twenty-one It was a very good year. It was a very good year for city girl Who lived up the stair With all that perfumed hair And it came undone When I was twenty-one. Next Time…Hmmm.