The day started out like any other. I awoke to calls from my father to “rally” and hurry up if I hoped to beat my sisters to the bathroom. It was a generic, top of the stairs warning to all three of us. None of us moved until we heard each other stirring, then the mad dash was on. After completing my 10 year-old ablutions, I pulled my long, frizzy hair into a ponytail, fastened it in place with a scrunchie, and headed downstairs for breakfast. I poured some Life cereal into a bowl, topped it with milk, likely had a shoving match by the cutlery drawer with my older sister, Kate, and headed to my designated spot at the table to shovel sustenance into my growing body.
The radio was on. My mom loved listening to the local morning show. It was a golden oldies station, hosted by a couple of men whose voices became the audio wallpaper of my youth. They played great tunes, the same ones that were featured on my Shell gas station Solid Gold Collection cassette tapes. Songs like Leader of the Pack and Duke of Earl and anything by Paul Anka. Maybe that’s why I still love the music of that era, because it instantly transports me back to a time when I drank sugary milk from the bottom of a cereal bowl. I was safe back then, in that kitchen, with those people.
That’s when it happened.
My mom put down her coffee cup and gasped, “Oh no! Oh, that’s so sad! I loved him!”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I knew it wasn’t good.
The voices of the morning men cut through my confusion and I heard them say, “Yes, it’s a sad day in the music world, Roy Orbison has died.”
Wow, I thought, that is just so sad. Roy Orbison has died. Wait…who is Roy Orbison?
I didn’t have a chance to ask. The news was ending, which meant we had just enough time to stuff our lunch pails in our backpacks, put on our snowsuits and get to school before the bell.
I was the new kid in grade 5 at St. Teresa’s Catholic Elementary School. I used to be an old kid in grade 4 at St. Paul’s. It was all the way over in the North End, but my parents decided, (in their infinite adult wisdom), that they wanted to move to a bigger house with more space for our growing family, and in the process, they ruined my young life! How could they do this to me? All of my friends were at St. Paul’s. My favourite climbing tree was in the North End. Meanwhile, our tree in the West End was small and unclimbable. And making friends with other 10 year-old girls was proving impossible.
I was in Mr. Hutchison’s class. We called him Mr. 83. He used to teach in Japan and “hachi” is the number eight in Japanese, and “san” is the number three. Brilliant right? Mr. 83 was nice to me. I think he felt sorry for me because I was struggling to fit in. He called me “Meggie McMuffin”, and I loved it. He was artistic and kind and reminded me of Mr. Dressup. We had a lovely friendship that endured more than twenty years until he passed away. All of this is to say, Mr. Hutchison was in my corner.
The bell rang, we left our coats in the cloak room, headed to our seats and remained standing for the national anthem. After a patriotic moment, we always said a prayer and then Mr. Hutchison would ask if any students wanted us to pray for anyone in particular. He’d write the prayees name on the top right hand corner of the chalkboard, so we could keep them in our thoughts. Johnny raised his hand and said he’d like us all to pray for his grandfather who was recovering from surgery. Emily put up her hand and said she’d like us to pray for her grandmother because she had pneumonia. Clare put up her hand and said she’d like us to pray for her dog, (“Sparky” had just had his manhood removed).
This is it, I thought. This is my chance to fit in! Before I had time to fully think it through, my hand shot into the air and when Mr. 83 called my name I blurted out, “I’d like to pray for Roy Orbison!”
He tilted his head to the side and looked at me quizzically, working hard to conceal the beginnings of a smile. He saw the desperation in my eyes. No one had ever been so excited to pray for anyone in the history of the Catholic Church.
“Ok McMuffin, Roy Orbison has been added to the prayer list.” He winked.
I did it! I really did it! This must be how we catholic kids make new friends, you just add someone to the prayer list.
I had never met Roy Orbison. I didn’t have his album, or know what he looked like or who his Pretty Woman really was. But I like to think we’ve played an important role in each other’s lives. If there is a heaven, Roy is there because a grade 5 girl in Peterborough prayed for him every day for three weeks straight. And because of Roy Orbison, a little girl named Christine came up to me and said “I’m really sorry for your loss. If you’re not busy with the funeral, maybe you can come over and play after school.”