Bye, bye to my impressionable heart

When I read in the newspaper that the Centennial School chose “Bye Bye Birdie” as their spring musical, I was thrilled.

I wish I could go, but I’m already booked.

The reason I was so excited was that it took me back to a magical weekend, many years ago.

It was the weekend of my very first crush . . . the weekend I said bye, bye to my impressionable heart.

Historically, Elgin Pope John High School has been famous for their spring musicals. It usually involves three-quarters of the student body and literally turns that gym into what I always perceived as Broadway.

Each year, the high schoolers would present a matinee for grade schoolers in the area. That even included us “farm school kids” who attended classrooms in our rural one-room buildings.

The moms would load us up and drive us to town for several hours of musical magic.

Oh, how I loved it. All of us kids would sit quietly in the dark, anxiously waiting for the curtain to open . . .

I loved the costumes, the singing, being transported to a land of fantasy on a weekday. I was probably a fourth grader when the production of “Bye Bye Birdie” was on deck.

I had no idea what it was about, but I knew it would be fabulous. Our school arrived first . . . even before the town kids crossed the street to be seated . . . so we were given the amazing privilege of sitting in the front row. My heart beat with excitement because we’d be even closer to the action.

The gym filled with people and the bright lights went out. It was time for my annual dream come true.

Even though I was as young as I was, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the musical had a lot of undertones related to Elvis.

It was easy for me to recognize, because I grew up in the presence of one of Presley’s biggest fans – my father. So I already loved Elvis and all things that even pertained to him.

I also remember my father talking about how Elvis (in real life) had been drafted into the U.S. Army – I saw that this musical mirrored that.

For those who have never seen “Bye Bye Birdie,” here’s the plot: a rock singer travels to a small Ohio town to make his “farewell” television appearance and to kiss his biggest fan before he’s drafted.

While the musical is really about the other characters involved in this endeavor, there is of course the teen idol, Conrad Birdie, who was revered for his ability to make young women faint just by the sight of him.

And nearly faint is what I did. I’d never been particularly fond of boys, at that point in my life. I’d never experienced a crush or had butterflies over such nonsense. Until that afternoon.

Until that beautiful Selting boy strutted onto the stage to do his rendition of Conrad Birdie.

If any Seltings are reading this, forgive me for I am not quite sure which one of you it was (there was a bunch of boys in that family). I’m pretty sure it was Jamie, so I’m going to go with it.

Oh, handsome Jamie. Dressed in that 1960s get-up, with greased-up black hair, perfect cheekbones, sparkling eyes and moves to match.

The rest of the musical is a blur in my memory bank, for the only parts I can still recall were when the handsome Conrad Birdie (aka Jamie Selting) graced the stage.

The girls in the play would sing “We love you, Conrad,” and I’d sing along because I truly did. He’d dance like Elvis and they’d fall to the ground – they were acting but I felt as though my legs had been knocked out from underneath me.

As I sat in the dark, falling in love with this teenager, I was beyond thrilled. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and the actors made their final bows. I was just sick. When would I ever see Jamie/Conrad again? It would be years before I got to high school and by then . . . he’d be gone and married to someone else.

That’s when I heard my Grandma Irene say she and Grandpa were going to go to the musical that Friday night.

I found a way to catch a ride to town so I could sit with them for another viewing of Jamie/Conrad. On Saturday, my mother agreed to let me go with neighbors who fortunately had another ticket.

As I sat among the audience members, I wondered if Jamie/Conrad noticed that I had attended every single one of his performances.

I wanted to ask him for his autograph after the final curtain, but I was far too embarrassed to even approach such a fantastic human specimen.

And then, the spring musical was over for another year and my love affair with Jamie/Conrad came to an abrupt end. Years passed by and as predicted, by the time I got to be of high school age, Mr. Selting had already moved on.

But his rendition of Conrad Birdie lived in my heart. Each time I’d hear a school was producing “Bye Bye Birdie,” I’d smile and remember my one-sided, brief relationship with the title character.

So here I am, three-plus decades later, still smiling at the thought. I highly doubt Jamie Selting knew he was burning such an experience into a little girl’s brain . . . if I could thank him, I would.

Because it made me smile then and I’m grinning right now . . . thanks Jamie, for the weekend I said bye, bye to my impressionable heart.

 

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