Medicine Man: 1
By MENASHE DAVID ISRAEL
1961 — It was the best of America, it was the worst of America. It was the waxing of the coasts, it was the waning of the heartland. It was the cool of John F. Kennedy, and it was the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe. It was the Summer of Washington Mall, it was the winter of Birmingham, Alabama. It was flower children in San Francisco, it was armed children in Vietnam. It was the epoch of information, and it was the fear of nuclear war. It was the infancy of free love, it was the shame of the iron curtain. We were aiming for the moon, and we were aiming at Russia.
When Christmas of 1961 became the New Year of 1962, February and Poppa’s birthday passed by. He was seventeen years old now, bright, charismatic, handsome, and in his junior year of high school. He had just finished his
last season playing halfback on the Abingdon Falcons football team. He was
a fast runner, like you. And like you, he was full of expectations about his future. He had plans to attend college. Maybe to study law at William & Mary like our great-great grandfather, Judge Massie, or, engineering at Virginia Tech, like our great grandfather, Captain Tice.
As any other young man his age, he was exploring his interests. He thoroughly enjoyed music: Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, and The Everly Brothers were some of his favorites. He read National Geographic magazine religiously. And when not looking for adventure in some way, he liked to see movies with his buddies, and to visit with the girls at dance halls. I am sure that if he had not already learned to drive, it was now that he started with his dad’s car.
Around this same time, his dad, Thornton Massie Tice Sr., had sold his newspaper in Abingdon, Virginia, and shortly after, moved the Tice family to Ashland, Kentucky.
In Ashland, Poppa joined the track team. His event was the 100 yard dash. He was also the anchor for the four by four relay. If you look through mom’s things you can find the red ribbons from his last meet where his team took second place in the relay. According to Poppa, they should have taken first, but when rounding the last turn, the anchor from the next team in the outside lane cut into Poppa’s lane for 10 meters before switching back out. When the race was over, Poppa decided not to bring up what would have been grounds for a disqualification. He thought there might be a riot if he did. The South was intensely divided in those days.
At the end of March, Poppa headed for the coast, crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains, rolling hills, and green valley plains to Virginia Beach, to visit the Atlantic ocean, and while away some hours with his aunts from his mom’s side of the family.
Virginia Beach was the largest city in the state. Right at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, occupying an area still known today as ‘America’s First Region’. ‘America’s First Region’ because it was the site of the first permanent English settlement in 1607, and of the first representative government in America. This bustling coastal city had much to be excited about for a young man: it was full of restaurants to try, a long boardwalk to wander, movies to see, girls to chase.
On the tail end of 1961,
a new movie came out,
one that was sure to have
interested Poppa. It was called,
Blue Hawaii. It was the first of many Elvis movies he would enjoy and it had all the ingredients young Poppa would have found exciting. It was a musical, starring singer and musician, Elvis Presley, in a story about returning home from military service abroad, family strife with plantation owning parents, and decisions to make his own way. There were also plenty of girls, sunshine, the ocean, comic nods to the South, and all of that set on faraway islands in the middle of the Pacific—our newly minted State of Hawaii.
So on some weekend night in the Spring of 1962, bright, handsome, seventeen year old Poppa was at the movies. He was eating popcorn, possibly next to a girl he had met on the boardwalk, enjoying a bottled coke and the crooning tunes of Elvis in Blue Hawaii, when all of a sudden, through the dark of the theatre, an attendant called out, “Mr. Tice…Mr. Tice! You have a telephone call…”
Poppa had to have been curious. Why was he receiving a phone call at the theatre? And why was someone calling his name in the middle of the movie? He got up from his seat, and walked toward the back of the room in the direction of the ticket office.
Now, I do not know exactly how the conversation went when he picked up that phone but I imagine it was short and to the point:
—Hello, This is Massie.
—Son, this is your mother. You’re going to need to head on home now…You’ve gotten somebody pregnant and you’ll be getting married.
Such is the way that life’s rivers find their courses.
Instead of sitting through to the last scene in Blue Hawaii, to witness Elvis floating down a tropical river, draped in plumeria and hibiscus flowers, singing “The Hawaiian Wedding Song”, Poppa returned to his seat, grabbed his jacket, and left the theatre to make plans for a wedding of his own. ☗
Menashe David Israel is the first son of Thornton Massie Tice II. He lives in Houston, TX where he is writing his late father’s biography in dedication to his youngest brother, Ephraim. He is searching for his long lost sister, Roxanne.
Listen to the Medicine Man playlist here.*
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