High School Yearbook Photo

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

"More than a place, the Shady Dell was and will forever remain a state of mind." - Shady Del Knight

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Extra! Pride and Prejudice (York Fair Memories, Pt. 2)

John and Helen Ettline are linked to the York Fair in a number of ways. For years, the Ettlines operated the Shady Dell food concession in back of the grandstand. Jim McClure has a dandy photo of their stand posted on his York Town Square blog:

If anybody knows the exact year that picture was taken, please post a comment. Otherwise, I’ll just say that it was during the 50s and leave it at that. Incidentally, the Ettlines also had a space at York’s Central Market where they sold their baked goods.

Helen and John were horse lovers. According to a family spokesperson, Helen was an accomplished equestrienne while John rode for pleasure. The barn that housed the Dell’s dance hall had an adjacent section where horses were kept. (Sure hope those hayburners liked loud music!)

When fair week rolled around, John occasionally entered horses in the harness races. Known to be a bit of a gambling man, it is conceivable that John placed a friendly wager or two on the outcome.

While certain old songs are permanently linked in my memory to the Shady Dell, there are some that immediately transport me back to the York Fair.

Whenever I listen to “96 Tears” I am reminded of the 1966 edition of the fair. I heard that Mysterians song playing at a ride on the midway one afternoon and, for whatever reason, that moment burned into my memory.

I think about the 1967 York Fair whenever I hear “Ode to Billie Joe.” Bobbie Gentry’s song was topping the chart and playing frequently on the radio during fair week, making it easy to understand why the song and the fair became joined together in my mind.

The song that most reminds me of the 1968 York Fair is James Brown’s “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud.” If you read the column on the right side of my blog you already know that I spotted Helen and John on the grandstand at the James Brown concert. There are a few more details of the story that I’d like to share, including a strange twist that haunts me to this day.

From the moment James Brown took the stage that afternoon “the hardest working man in show business" was forced to earn his reputation. During Brown’s opening song, an untimely cloudburst poured rain on him and the unprotected stage on which he was performing. The rain tapered off at times, but downpours plagued much of Brown’s concert. My girlfriend and I were seated far enough back to be sheltered by the grandstand’s overhang. John and Helen were even farther back, and they too stayed dry. James Brown, on the other hand, got soaked. I worried that he might get struck by lightning, electrocuted by the wet microphone, or that he might slip and fall on the wet stage while executing his high energy dance steps. Mr. Dynamite, however, didn’t miss a beat. Always the consummate professional, James Brown performed valiantly in the driving rain.

Brown whipped up the passions of the racially mixed audience when he sang “Say it Loud” a black pride anthem that had just begun climbing the record charts. During the call-and-response portions of the song, Brown turned the microphone toward the audience, inviting them to chant “I’m black and I’m proud” each time he shouted “Say it loud…” We all joined in. It felt good. It felt right.

John and Helen’s presence at the James Brown concert spoke volumes. It erased any possible doubt that they were young at heart. Moreover, by lending their support to one of our generation’s leading spokespersons and activists, the Ettlines demonstrated that they were tuned-in, socially conscious and involved. Simply put, John and Helen Ettline were part of the solution. They walked their talk.

By the time the show ended I was on a natural high. As my girlfriend and I left the grandstand and exited the fairgrounds, my mind was busily replaying parts of the concert and recalling the many powerful images it spawned. I felt proud to have been part of what had just transpired; infused with a sense that progress had been made that day toward healing the racial divide. It seemed like a pivotal moment in time, a glimpse of what America could be. Black folks and white folks had come together as one voice chanting a slogan aimed at advancing the cause of freedom, equality and justice for all.

Empowering thoughts like those rendered a state of tranquillity as I walked with my girlfriend toward the parking lot. What happened next, however, was a rude awakening that jolted me out of my blissful trance and brought me back to harsh reality. I suddenly became aware of a young black man charging at me shouting racial slurs. I was absolutely stunned. Speechless. What was unfolding in front of me simply did not compute. It took some time for me to comprehend that I was in the midst of a racial confrontation with a stranger. For a while, it seemed certain that the guy was going to throw a punch. Eventually, however, his lady friend was able to get him to cool down and back off. We went our separate ways, but that disheartening occurrence forever tarnished the memories of an otherwise perfect day.

In the forty years since that incident, I have often wondered what was going on inside that fellow to make him boil over and lash out at me the way he did. Was he filled with anger? Hate? Righteous indignation? How could he assume that I was the enemy? Obviously, ugly moments like that were a sign of the time. Books were judged by their covers and there were victims and offenders on both sides. How far have we come in four decades? Has the situation really changed all that much?

Although it is painful for me to go there, I must consider the possibility that a bitter irony played out that afternoon. Could it be possible that, only minutes earlier, that angry young man and I had been singing in harmony on the grandstand?

Have a Shady day!

No comments:

Post a Comment

You talkin' to me?