Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good night, Mary

I first set eyes on Mary Travers in 1963. I was living in San Diego, Calif., at the time and Mary and her mates, Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, were just about the biggest thing going in popular music at the time. They had recorded two albums, an eponymous first album and a second one called (Moving), and they had a string of hit singles, Lemon Tree, If I Had a Hammer and most notably Puff the Magic Dragon. They came to San Diego on a concert tour and I remember having seats pretty close to the stage, so close that I noticed a scar on the inside of Mary's left leg. I decided that the scar was there just to prevent her from being absolutely perfect.

But I did not get to know Mary Travers until almost 15 years later and that came about through my association with the Kerrville Folk Festival, of which Peter Yarrow was a founding member and one of the festival's directors. I got to spend a lot of time around Peter during the three weeks of the festival and, even more important, Peter got to spend a lot of time hanging out with my then wee son who always called him "Puff the Magic Dragon Man." During mornings and afternoons the two of them would play hide and seek and some friendly wrestling games around the festival grounds. One year, Peter talked Paul and Mary into coming to Kerrville with him and on that occasion I got to meet and know Mary Travers through an introduction from Peter. We took to each other immediately, staying up late into the nights on the weekend they were in Kerrville solving all the problems of the world and trading war stories around a campfire until the sun began peeking into the valleys of the Texas Hill Country.

We began a written correspondence right after that and then a couple of years later David Card booked Mary Travers as a solo act at his Poor David's Pub. I picked her up at the airport when she arrived for that show and she asked if I could take the time to be her chauffeur because she had a number of errands she wanted to complete while she was in town. She wound up spending three days in Dallas during that time and we spent just about every minute of it together.

A couple of years after that Mary called me to tell me that she, Peter and Paul were getting back together for a reunion tour, but, unfortunately, the tour did not include a stop in Dallas. I wrote a story about the reunion, because it had not been announced anywhere else. The story ran in the Dallas Morning News and was later picked up by wire services and other publications. About a month later, I was notified by a Houston concert promoter that a revised schedule had been worked out and that Peter, Paul and Mary's reunion tour now included a Dallas date. It was years later, when I read the thesis that a Texas A&M masters student had written about me that I learned the story I had written had created such a demand for a Dallas show that a show was added. I was touched and Mary often kidded me about it.

I learned she was sick about five years ago. Mary didn't tell me. Mary, the tower of strength that she was, didn't want to put anyone in a position where they might feel sorry for her. But Mary had a number of very close friends, mostly female, and many of them knew that Mary and I had a 20-year friendship. We continued to correspond and I often talked to her friends and was thrilled at the news that through a bone marrow and stem cell transplant, she had licked the leukemia that had threatened her.

Perhaps it was because I had convinced myself that she had overcome the leukemia that I was so shocked and saddened this evening when one of those close to her called me to let me know Mary had died. "But I thought she had survived the leukemia," I said, hoping to reverse what could not be reversed. "It wasn't the leukemia that killed her," the caller said. "She died from the side effects brought on by one of her chemotherapy treatments."

Mary, the world is not as good a place as it was when you were in it. I will miss your compassion, your commitment, your loyalty and, perhaps most of all, your honesty. But I will always have my pleasant memories and a vivid mental picture of the scar that kept you from being perfect.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Beautifully written, Pete. We have lost a great talent.