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Songs of Innocence


It's Saturday night at An Die Musik in Towson. The store'sneon light squirts peacock blue into the night while we flip through CDs.

An 11-year-old I happen to know well is fingering the Beatles collection. "I'd like to buy one of these. How about 'Rubber Soul'?"

I first heard the Beatles at a tea party -- in South America. Joy had come home from boarding school in England. Her mother served tea in painted China cups. A huge Christmas cake filled with rum, raisins and thick globs of icing, "just like snow," they said, was set on a silver platter by the tea things. Mrs. Jardine placed a Styrofoam snowman on the cake. I had never seen snow.

We were told to dance with some sailors who had been invited for tea. The poor chaps, explained Mrs. Jardine, are on leave from one of her Majesty's ships docked down at La Guaira.

The sailors had sweaty hands and red noses that were peeling from the tropical sun. I turned red when I trampled a sailor's feet. We danced to a song that kept repeating "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."

Joy proudly showed me the Beatles album she had brought from London. I stared at four smiling young men with proper English haircuts. I liked the Beatles' music. I also managed to consume two generous slabs of cake as I sat under a painting of mango trees done in thick pink and green oils. Outside the palm trees sighed in the bleached sunlight. Indoors the talk was of England, the Beatles and snow.

"Come on, tell me which is better, 'Yellow Submarine' or 'Abbey Road'?" said the 11-year-old.

By the time "Abbey Road" came out the world had changed inside out. The Beatles' music played on as the Vietnam war flickered across American TV screens and madmen pumped bullets through Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

It has been years since I've tasted any of Mrs. Jardine's Christmas cake or balanced one of her teacups on my knees.

"I might pick "Yellow Submarine" because I can play the tune on my sax," piped the 11-year-old.

His eyelashes are still too long for his eyes. The gray sweatshirt he wears is too big. Despite the tough-looking hightops, he is as innocent as the down on his cheeks. He stares at the Beatles CD as he totters into adolescence.

I wonder whether the Beatles music will play through his memories. How will he face the evil that grows like monstrous tropical plants round the orchids in today's jungle?

"I'm taking 'Yellow Submarine.' Did you like that one when you were young?"

Lydia Lewis Bloch writes from Baltimore.

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