In the beginning, my stay at Aunt Sis’ was just as awful as I expected it to be. Susan and Uncle Ralph were joyous to be reunited in their mutual appreciation. Aunt Sis was busy running her home. I faded into the upholstery.
Then Gene Alton Had to Run an Errand
I don’t know whether Gene Alton took an interest in me on his own or whether Aunt Sis made him. I do remember that he asked to borrow the car and his mother said, “Why don’t you take Jane Ann with you?” Now I can imagine that the last thing most teen-aged guys want to do is be seen with their gawky younger cousin, but if that was the case with Gene Alton, he certainly didn’t act that way.
I forget the errand. We met a few guys. We gave at least one of them a ride somewhere. Then we went back to Gene Alton’s house. What we did was unremarkable. How Gene Alton treated me during the ride was very remarkable.
The Ride of a Lifetime
For one thing, I rode in the front seat. I didn’t usually get that position. We rode along with the windows down. I remember the wind in my hair and my elbow propped up on the door. I also remember the music on the radio.
Like everyone else in the world, I’d watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964. I was aware of a phenomena called rock and roll, but Gene Alton was listening to something that was a little different and I liked it. Up until then, I thought rock and roll was the Beach Boys and the Righteous Brothers. There’s every chance in the world that I heard The Doors for the first time riding along with Gene Alton. My ears would never be the same.
Even if Gene Alton had been reluctant to allow his awkward teenybopper cousin to ride along on his errand when we left the house, something I said about his music turned us into friends. By the time we met his pals, I was cool. When they got in the car, I got to stay in the front seat. They talked to me just like I was a real person. They liked me better than I liked myself.
The other memorable moment of this trip was a visit to Gene Alton’s room to listen to some music. He was all about the Jefferson Airplane and Grace Slick. He played me songs from several albums, but it was the vocals of Grace Slick and what they brought to the Airplane that excited him most.
I remember being almost giddy to be getting this much attention from my very cool cousin, but I also remember really being interested in what he had to say. I loved the music he played for me. He helped me to listen to it and hear different things than I’d listened to before.
I’m an omnivore when it comes to music. I will truly listen to almost anything and find something to like about it, but I think the seed for that ability was planted by my Cousin Gene Alton. That my list of favorites has names on it as various as Leon Russell, Steppenwolf and Chuck Berry, can be attributed to his influence. Not that he likes the same things, but that he taught me to listen.
Meanwhile, Susan was about to eclipse me again. Come back next week and see what happened.