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Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2001 / 4 Teves, 5762

Bob Greene

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'I'm happy to know that he is really popular' -- BECAUSE, in these dark and sobering times, we would seem to need all the sweet moments we can find, please permit one final reflection on the passing of a musician.

For this, I am indebted to Natalie Canadeo, a reader who remembered this story from when I first told it many years ago, who kept a copy, and who reminded me of it and suggested this might be a good time for people's spirits to be warmed a little.

It has to do with a woman named Colleen Todd, who in the middle of the 1980s was 33 and was working at an advertising agency, and who one day went into an old footlocker. Her first corsage was in there, her high school yearbook . . . and a letter from George Harrison's mother. She had almost forgotten about the letter, and she picked it up.

In 1964, when she was 12 and when the Beatles made their first trip to the United States, she, like many girls that year, fell in love with them from afar. She didn't just want to buy their records, or collect their pictures, or join a fan club. She wanted to feel that she really had a connection with them.

She felt different pangs for different Beatles from week to week, but one week -- when she was especially enamored of George Harrison -- she got up the courage to do something.

Somewhere -- in a magazine, probably, or maybe on the radio -- she had come across what purported to be the address of Harrison's mother, in Liverpool, England. So she wrote Mrs. Harrison a long letter, informing her (in case Mrs. Harrison had missed it) that the Beatles were very popular in the U.S., and that she thought highly of Mrs. Harrison's son.

Soon enough a hand-addressed letter arrived back, from Liverpool. That's what she found in the old footlocker, all those years later. She pulled it out and read it.

Dear Colleen --
Thanks for your letter. I had a letter from Sydney, Australia, and this young lady said that George was her favorite there. . . .

So I'm happy to know that George is really popular there. Yes! We did go to the London and Liverpool premiere [presumably of the movie "A Hard Day's Night"]. Very enjoyable. Beatles were right alongside of us and Princess Margaret. I danced with most of the men from the film in the Dorchester Hotel afterward, and met and spoke to Her Royal Highness.

Best wishes to you --
Louise Harrison

There was something else in the envelope, something George Harrison's mother had sent along with the letter.

It was a postcard. And on the back of the postcard, Mrs. Harrison had taped, for Colleen Todd, a snippet of cloth from the lining of one of George's coats.

Now . . . think of that, in this era of ours in which the entertainment business is as regimented and layered with bureaucracies as the federal government, and in which the concept of "security" in public life has become almost a secular religion. Think of a young fan becoming entranced with an enormously popular musical performer, and not feeling she has to deal with entertainment industry functionaries . . . but simply writing a letter to the mother of the entertainer, saying she admires the mother's son. And think of the mother not only receiving the letter, but writing back in a warm and personal manner . . . and being thoughtful enough to enclose a piece of cloth from one of her son's old coats.

The young fan did it because . . . well, because she wanted the mother to know how great her boy was. And the mother responded because she probably didn't think to worry about whether the letter was from a stalker, or be angry that someone across the ocean had managed to obtain her home address. She was trusting, George Harrison's mother evidently was; she got out a scissors and snipped that piece of cloth for the girl across the Atlantic, just because it must have seemed like a nice thing to do.

It's time to go back to writing stories about our nation at war, and a world consumed by terror. Before we do, perhaps there is a moment to linger on the letter in the footlocker, and the world from which that letter arrived. The final words in the letter from George Harrison's mother to a stranger, words so seemingly simple:

"Best wishes to you. . . ."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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