Few things are as powerful in a young girl’s life as her first celebrity crush. It’s something she breathes every minute of the day, emotions see-sawing between glee and hope and jealousy and pain. It’s so all-consuming that the line between reality and illusion becomes wonderfully fuzzy. When this phenomenon hit me in the summer of 1978, I was knocked into an alternate world-a world so incredible, so different than what I was used to, that I didn’t want to leave. I was eleven years old. It was the summer of Shaun Cassidy.
By now I had seen a thing or two. I had lived through the blizzard of ’78. I had completed my first year of Middle School, coming out of it relatively unscathed. I was growing up, trading Happy Days for the Hardy Boys. My beloved “Free to Be, You and Me” was shelved in favor of my new Shaun Cassidy album, “Shaun Cassidy.” Shaun didn’t need a fancy or clever album title. His smiling headshot was enough.
I spent hours staring at that album cover. I’m not exaggerating—literally hours. I’d listen to his songs and daydream about all kinds of scenarios, all ending with Shaun realizing that I was the love of his life. My favorite went something like this: I’m in my room and my mother calls to me. “Carol! There’s someone at the door for you.” It must be one of my friends wanting to go for a bike ride. I come tearing around the corner but stop with a jolt. There, standing in our foyer, is Shaun Cassidy. Why wouldn’t a young superstar from California be traipsing around my New England neighborhood?
Like a scene out of an Emily Bronte novel, we exchange nervous smiles. My mother excuses herself so that Shaun and I can talk. Perhaps she’s making sure my dowry is in order. I’m not sure. My memories of the imagined conversation are sketchy and, because I was eleven, are all hilariously innocent. Shaun couldn’t have been more of a gentleman as I talked about why I hated gym class or why panda bears were my favorite animal.
When it’s time for him to leave, I’m sad. We hug goodbye. At this point, I come out of the daydream briefly to play his song “Hey There Lonely Girl,” giving the story a more dramatic effect. There were many variations of the daydream, but in each one, he promises to stay in touch and that he’ll see me soon. The daydream finishes with me running to the phone, calling my best friend, and letting her know that I’ll probably be moving soon to live with Shaun and his mom, Shirley Jones.
Summers meant getting to spend time with my best friend, Jennifer. She is a year older and has a brother, Christopher, two years younger than me. Jennifer, Christopher, my 8-year-old sister, Wendy, and I were inseparable. Wendy and I lived in Massachusetts. Jennifer and Christopher lived in New Jersey. Summer was the only time we all saw one another. For years our summers looked relatively the same. We played in the morning, spent hours at the beach, and then rode our bikes until it was too dark to see.
The summer of ’78 was a little different. This was the summer we decided to start a Shaun Cassidy fan club. But where to start? Jennifer was older and wiser and explained we needed to collect pictures of Shaun. She introduced us to Tiger Beat, Teen Beat, and Sixteen magazines. Back then, we could ride our bikes into town. Each week, after my Nana handed us our hard-earned allowance, Wendy and I would meet Jennifer and Christopher at their house. The four of us would ride to town and head to the local pharmacy in search of the newest magazines.
I distinctly remember flipping through an issue of Tiger Beat and wondering who in the world could like Leif Garret, Scott Baio, or Willie Ames? “Eww!” After getting back to Jennifer and Christopher’s house, we’d devour the articles. “Shaun’s On-Screen Kisses! Is He Really Just Acting?” “He’d better be,” I thought, my heart tightening. “Shaun Stops Smoking! Don’t Let Him Start Again! You CAN Help!” Oh, I will!
After reading all the “news” about Shaun, we’d start cutting out the best photos of him. Naturally, they were all good. Still, we’d often trade the photos like baseball cards. Once we had amassed a respectable number of photos, we once again looked to Jennifer regarding the next steps. She explained that we needed a place to meet each week—preferably one that was private. We decided their basement was the perfect place. Jennifer also explained that we had to start paying dues. “What’s that?” we wanted to know.
“You have to pay money each week,” and then more seriously, “or you can’t be in the club.” The stakes were getting higher. “Then what happens?” asked Christopher? “What happens to the money?” Wendy and I looked over at Jennifer. “We put it in an envelope and save it.” Christopher wants to know what for. “The club will decide what to do with it at the end of the summer.’ That satisfied us, but now we had to figure out how much the dues should be. We were already spending a king’s ransom on teen magazines so it couldn’t be TOO much, we reasoned. In the end, we agreed fifty cents a week would work.
Almost immediately there were uprisings in the club. Christopher protested. “I don’t care about Shaun Cassidy so why do I have to pay?” “Well, then go upstairs. You can’t be in the club,” said Jennifer matter-of-factly. With no one else to play with, Christopher decided that Shaun was ok after all. Then, the unthinkable happened. Wendy started a mutiny claiming that she had never liked Shaun Cassidy and in actuality, she liked Parker Stevenson. There was a collective “Eww!” This was unacceptable!
Wendy was told she could stay downstairs with us, but she had to sit far away AND she was not allowed to participate in any conversations about Shaun unless she agreed with what we were saying. Finally, she still had to pay dues if she wanted to participate in whatever “cool” thing we were going to do at the end of the summer. Peace and order had been restored, albeit through questionable methods.
As summer drew to a close, we collectively decided that we wanted to spend our dues at McDonald’s. My Nana and Jennifer and Christopher’s grandmother, Mrs. Berge, were best friends. They agreed to drive us to McDonald’s. We made it clear that we didn’t want them to pay for the meal and that we were paying for it with our dues. We also didn’t want them sitting with us. They could sit near us. Nana and Mrs. Berge agreed to our terms.
In my eleven years, I had enjoyed my share of McDonald’s hamburgers, but this one tasted extra delicious because my Nana hadn’t paid for it. The four of us sat at our table, laughing and reminiscing about all the things we had done that summer and feeling just a little more grown-up. Funny thing, we didn’t talk about Shaun or the fan club once. The heart of a young girl is fickle. Still, that summer will always stand out in my memory as a time of transition, moving from little kid to big kid and paving the way for many crushes to come.