The Day The Stars Fell

I grew up listening to tales about the television stars my dad met through his job as a carpenter and stagehand. I eagerly waited for my dad to come home from work each night to fill me in on happenings behind the camera. How I longed to meet some of those famous people. Just meeting one would make me happy, I thought as I'd drift off to sleep each night. Visions of Steve Allen and his crew, Milton Berle, and Mitch Miller danced their way through every dream. Arlene Francis became my role model. After hearing the wonderful stories of how Ms. Francis did so much for the stagehands in a tough but lady-like manner, I decided I'd grow up being just like that wonderful lady. One afternoon, my brother, Frankie, raced home from school with some incredibly interesting and exciting news. A local company comprised of young adults formed a small organization for children between the ages of 10 and 16. The purpose of this organization was to teach music and march in the neighborhood parades. It was as much to keep the kids out of trouble as it was to advertise the company. Frankie wanted to be the first to join. Now I'd have the chance to play something. The first band practice interested more than one hundred children. The elimination process lasted two weeks and among those accepted were Frankie and me. Frankie, for whatever reason, chose to learn the bugle instead of the drums and while I tried my hardest to get one note out of the bugle, it was all in vain., I found myself learning to play the bells. Soon, we were not just marching in parades but playing in movie houses when celebrities came to town to promote their latest films. Then it happened. That summer, in 1961, Troy Donahue along with his co-star, Connie Stevens, came to town. While adults ran the operation of the band, they felt as a children's band, a child should represent it. Frankie, being the oldest child in the group at age 15, seemed only natural to represent the band by shaking hands with the stars which never fazed him in the slightest. Since their arrival in town coincided with my 14th birthday, the band's owner arranged a surprise for me. As Frankie made his way to the stage, his friends hooted and hollered from the audience. To my horror and excitement, I heard that same manager call out, “And now, I'd like Donnie to come on stage. Today is Donnie's birthday and I can think of no better gift than to have her meet our guests.” I'd get to shake hands with Troy Donahue – my latest heartthrob! Connie Stevens gave me a hug while wishing me a happy birthday. Troy Donahue, then took both my hands and the crowd in the theater came to a dead quiet wanting to hear what he said to me. What seemed to be an hour, was probably no more than two minutes Mr. Donahue stared deeply into my eyes. He slowly leaned towards me and pulling me toward him, placed a huge kiss on my cheek and then whispered in my ear, “I hope your birthday is as beautiful as you are.” Late that afternoon, as I walked home with my brother, I felt as though my world crashed around me. My mother noticed a downfall in my spirits. “Donnie, what's wrong,” she asked. “I thought meeting Troy Donahue would be the highlight of your entire week.” “Oh Mom! I always dreamed of being like Daddy. Meeting famous people and having them greet you when you go to work. But this afternoon changed everything. Connie Stevens hugged me, and Troy Donahue kissed me. I waited for the star's to shine, their faces to glow or something special happen. But nothing did. Nothing! Her hug and his kiss were no different than a hug from you or a kiss from Daddy. Yours at least mean something. They're just like daddy said, they're as human as we are.” My mom smiled as she realized how much her daughter grew up in the short span of two hours. Calling her husband from another room, together, they handed me a small box. “We thought of giving this to you earlier but decided to wait until after dinner. However, now, while dinner is cooking, this seems like the perfect time. Happy Birthday, honey.” I opened the small box and found the prettiest little ring with a dark green emerald – my birthstone. I immediately put it on my finger, jumped from my chair and with both arms, grabbed my parents and hugged them tightly. “Oh, Mom, Dad! I could meet all the stars in the world and none of them could ever make me as happy as you just did.” All it took was one kiss from an adored celebrity to take the stars from my eyes and put my feet back on the ground. To this day, I will always remember that day as I laughingly call it, the day the stars fell.

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Mike Lyles

Author of “The Drive-Thru is Not Always Faste...

Staresville, United States