by Cherokee Billie
In the fall of 1965 when I was fourteen years old I was invited to my first teenage boy/girl party in Los Angeles, California. Kenneth, a boy I had known since I was ten years old was giving it. Our parents had been good friends with his parents. Kenneth had always been crazy about me; I assumed I was his date for the party. When he told me to bring along anyone I wanted, I invited my friend Lois to join me.
Nervous about my first big party, I dressed in my finest outfit, black shirt and black pants with ankle length black boots that had a gold chain wrapped around the heel. With my shoulder length brown hair flipped in the current style I felt I looked very grown-up, even though I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup.
My father drove Lois and me to Kenneth’s house. When we got inside, Mr. Finley, Kenneth’s father greeted us from his hospital bed set up in the living room. “Come on in girls. Glad you could make it.” Mr. Finley was in his early 40’s, but was terminal with cancer. He had always been a very slim man, but now he looked emaciated. His dark hair exaggerated the paleness of his skin, and his eyes seemed larger than before.
There were many teenagers, a few years older than I, roaming throughout the house laughing and talking. I didn’t know anyone except Kenneth and his family as all of the teenagers went to the same high school as Kenneth. I was still in junior high school. His two younger brothers, Wayne and Jerry, were busy chasing after the girls at the party.
Lois and I went into the dining room to get some Cokes, potato chips, and dip. Kenneth was leaning his long lanky frame against the doorway arch in the dining room talking with an Asian girl. When he saw me he said, “Hi, help yourselves to whatever you want. I need to mingle with my other friends. I’ll catch up with you later.” Kenneth continued his conversation with the Asian girl, leaving me feeling abandoned.
Lois was very shy and stayed by my side. I sat down next to Mr. Finley’s bed and started talking with him about my love of music. He was very kind and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. He lit a cigarette, lay back in bed, and smoked, as I told him about seeing the Beatles, the first time a year before, and the second time a few months earlier at the Hollywood Bowl.
“Man, you wouldn’t believe how the girls never stopped screaming. I saw girls faint when the Beatles appeared on stage. I couldn’t believe all the chaos. I couldn’t hear a single note of music. I really wanted to hear them. It was wonderful to be there, but all I heard was screaming. Our seats were so far in the back up on the hill that even with binoculars the Beatles looked the size of beetle insects.” Mr. Finley couldn’t stop laughing. “It took me three days to be able to hear normally after all of that screaming.” I certainly didn’t want to talk about his health, as I knew it would be very painful emotionally for him, so I kept chatting about the Beatles. I sensed he was lonely lying in that hospital bed in the living room while a party was going on in the dining room and kitchen.
Even though there was rock-and-roll music playing I noticed, after a while, the chatter that had filled the house was gone. As I looked around I saw there was no one left in the house except Mr. Finley, Lois, and me. Curiosity got the best of me, and I excused myself to go to the bathroom. I took a look around the house and saw there was not one single teenager anywhere inside. I slipped out the back door, and I saw all the teenagers in the garage behind the house making out. Kenneth was busy shoving his tongue down the Asian girl’s throat. That was it for me.
I came back into the house and telephoned my father from the kitchen phone and asked him to pick us up. I returned to the living room and told Mr. Finley, “My father’s on his way over so we’ll be leaving now. I think we’ll wait outside. It was nice visiting with you this evening.”
I could see the sadness in Mr. Finley’s big eyes knowing that his son had been such a lout, but there was really no point in staying. I felt totally humiliated being ignored by Kenneth. Here I was at my first teenage party, and I felt like a hindrance to the obvious make out action. I had never kissed a boy and knew nothing about making out.
Once outside Lois and I stood by the curb in the cool evening air, and I kept singing out loud the Beatles song, “I Don’t Wanna Spoil the Party.” “I don’t wanna spoil the party, so I’ll go. I would hate my disappointment to show. There’s nothing for me here so I will disappear.”
After the party Mr. Finley really chewed out Kenneth for being so rude to me, my mother told me a few days later. Mr. Finley died a few months later. When I sat in the church pew at his funeral I kept thinking of his kindness to a young girl who felt alone at her first grown up party. Even when he was close to death he showed great compassion. This is a great lesson of how to live even under the direst circumstances.
Forty six years later when I hear that Beatles song I remember that party and the gentle spirit of Mr. Finley. I am sure his spirit stays with me just like the memory of him is always with me.