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first person

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Illustration by Marley Allen-Ash

We had everything we needed that summer morning of Aug. 17, 1966. There were letters of introduction from the mayor of Sarnia and the managing editor of The Sarnia Observer, a four-foot-long key to the city, which we’d cut from styrofoam, covered in white lace and trimmed in purple ribbon, a card professing our undying love and tickets. We had red-level box seats for the afternoon concert and gold-level, fifth-row floor seats for the evening.

The Beatles were performing at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and my best friend Connie and I were on our way. We were 14, so my parents would drive. We’d ordered tickets for both shows as soon as the concerts were announced. Tickets for the afternoon concert arrived with a note that the evening concert was sold out. We knew there had to be some still available so we called the director of publicity at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Weeks earlier, the PR director had replied to a letter we’d mailed to the president of Maple Leaf Gardens asking if we could attend the Beatles’ press conference. He’d written that only full-time journalists over 18 could attend. Still, we reasoned he might take pity on us, and there was no harm in trying to secure tickets for the evening concert.

We called and we called and we called. Finally, we connected. We told him we were the ones who had asked to attend the press conference. We pleaded. He listened. He said he’d see what he could do. Days before the concert, two tickets to the evening performance arrived in the mail – no charge.

We’d seen the Beatles two summers ago at Maple Leaf Gardens but this time it would be different. We were pulling out all the stops to try and meet our beloved Beatles in person.

We had two letters of introduction. The first was from our hometown mayor, requesting we be presented to the Beatles so we could make a presentation on behalf of the City of Sarnia. Days prior we’d walked into his office with our four-foot-long key.

We told the receptionist: “We’re going to see the Beatles and we need a letter from the mayor.” She went into his office and returned, the mayor was busy.

“We’ll wait,” we said.

She typed. We waited. She went back to his office. Eventually, we could go in. He seemed amused by our request and wrote the letter.

The second was from the managing editor of our local newspaper, whom we’d approached in a similar manner. His letter requested we be afforded “all the necessary co-operation in the accomplishment of our duties.”

Connie and I did not tell our parents about the added evening concert as we knew they’d say that one concert would be quite enough. Our plan was to surprise them with the news following the afternoon show. “What could they do?” we said to each other. “They’d have to let us go!”

We were at the Gardens early to place the key on the edge of the stage. A St. John’s Ambulance attendant leaned it by an amplifier for us. There were opening acts, then a deafening roar as the MC began his introduction and the Beatles took to the stage. We were on our feet screaming, crying, blowing police whistles we’d bought reasoning the Beatles would hear the whistles and look at us. All too soon, it was over.

George had touched the key. We hopped over the seats and bolted to the stage. A girl was leaving with the key. “Stop!!” we yelled. “That’s our key!!” She ran to a phone booth, slammed the glass door, hugged the key and stared at us. We said we’d call the police. We hit the door. Many times. She opened the door. We grabbed the key and headed for the press conference at the Hot Stove Lounge in the Gardens.

A security guard asked if we had press passes. We showed him the letters. He directed us to a narrow, dimly lit room with rows of chairs occupied by quiet, well-dressed teens. There was a speaker attached to a wall. Then we heard their voices.

“We’ve been had!” we cried tearing out of the room. We spotted a door, yanked it open and there they were – seated at a table – a few quick strides away. We stood on a small landing holding onto a wrought iron railing crying and screaming, “We love you! We love you! We love you!”

In a flash, two policemen took us out of the press room and outside onto Church Street, where my father was waiting. He looked at us. He looked at the police. Crying, we told him we had tickets to the evening concert.

We never did get to that concert. I didn’t speak to my parents for a week.

But that afternoon something happened that Connie and I never anticipated. For all those years of looking at the Beatles in magazines, newspapers, films, on album covers, posters and on TV, for one moment at the press conference, the Beatles looked directly at us.

Christine Dirks lives in London, Ont.

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