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Terry Woster

WOSTER: 16 going on ageless

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

In a few short days, it will be my wife's birthday. Six weeks after that, she and I will celebrate, quietly as is our fashion, the 46th anniversary of our wedding day.

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I don't need to give Nancy's age. That isn't important to the story. She is ageless, even after a career as a registered nurse and a second, part-time career as part of a team of daycare providers for a 5-year-old granddaughter. I can tell you, and this is rather important to the story, we were dating already, if only for a month or so, when Nancy reached her 16th birthday.

We came of age during an era, half a century or so ago, when 16th birthdays for young girls and the self-conscious teenage boys who loved them desperately were a very big deal. The teen years of a couple of high-school kids from Chamberlain were the golden period for pop songs about beautiful girls who turned 16 and turned the hearts of acne-prone guys.

A few examples. In full disclosure I will tell you that, while I did look up the years these songs were recorded, I knew -- have known for 50 years or more -- the songs and the artists who recorded them. The period of our "Young Love'' (I prefer the Sonny James version) was a time when teenagers listening to KOMA from Oklahoma City would hear:

--"She Was Only 16,'' by Sam Cooke, recorded in 1959.

--"16 Candles," by the Crests, recorded in 1959.

--"You're 16,'' by Johnny Burnette, recorded in 1960.

--"Happy Birthday, Sweet 16,'' by Neil Sedaka, recorded in 1961.

--"Next Door to an Angel,'' by Neil Sedaka, recorded in 1962.

Yes, I know. The title of the final song doesn't mention 16. However, the girl next door had just turned 16, because "That funny little face isn't funny no more. Sixteen and, oh, what a dream. Ain't it strange how she changed into such a lovely angel.''

You don't find lyrics like that in songs today. No wonder it was such a happy, clueless time. We all listened to the same radio stations that all played the same hit lists. The songs were simple, kind of sappy and sure to make a teenager want to sing along. Even the sad songs were so pleasant that it was almost impossible to feel blue when you were listening to the evening rock 'n' roll program from KOMA. I say KOMA, because that was the most powerful, most dependable station out in the Lyman County country where I spent my mooning-around-like-a-lovesick-puppy years.

When I got to town after work, I picked up the most beautiful girl in the world (It never occurred to me other guys thought the same about their dates). When one of the local places sponsored a sock hop, we kicked off our shoes and danced to music from typewriter case-sized phonographs that played 45 rpm records, the small ones with the big holes in the center that sometimes required a plastic insert to fit the center pin of a turntable. The volume must have been less than a baby's footsteps on a carpeted floor, but we somehow heard the words and caught the beat.

Sure, you're right. While the above lyrics are gems, the same Sedaka song includes multiple repetitions of the lyrics: "Do do do, doobie bop bop, Oh do bop she don don.'' Since my hearing has all but disappeared over the past 20 years, I can't promise you this, but I don't think you hear lyrics like that in the songs on the radio or the jukebox today.

I suppose by saying radio or jukebox, I'm dating myself in the world of iPods and whatever other digital musical devices exist. Well, I may be dating myself today, but back when the songs I prefer were new, I was dating a 16-year-old angel.

Now, as then, I can't say it any better than Neil Sedaka did back then:

"I'm feelin' happy, I'm feelin' so good. I'm the luckiest devil in the neighborhood. I'm livin' right next door to an angel, and I'm gonna make that angel mine.''

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