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'You all want to meet John Denver?'

By Melanie Vickers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At 30 years old in 1981, a junior high school teacher married with children, I splurged and bought tickets to the John Denver concert in Huntington. My mother Delma Brumfield, mother-in-law Pauline Vickers and sister Cindy Brumfield, visiting from college, went with me to see John. Yes, we called him John and in my old Buick Skylark we sang "Country Roads" all the way down to the concert.

From the nosebleed section of the Huntington Civic Center, we stood, cheered and sang along with John from beginning to end. Afterward, we danced through the parking lot. When I turned the car key, the familiar "clunkety clunk" sound was missing. Over and over I twisted the key; nothing.

"The car's dead," I announced.

"Oh dear," my mom said.

"We're stranded," Cindy gasped.

"Woo-wee!" Pauline yelled.

The Civic Center doors were locked. Cindy and I banged on the glass. No one came. The parking lot had emptied. At midnight, we all trekked in the steamy August night to the only lit building on the block (a beer garden, Pauline called it) where I phoned a tow truck and my husband.

An hour later, the driver arrived and put a giant hook under the fender of my car. "Won't be ready till morning," he said. "You ladies better find someplace to crash. Holiday Inn down the road," he offered.

In silence, we walked the few blocks to the hotel. My mom had the only credit card, which covered one room.

"Hold that door," a male voice called out as we dragged ourselves onto the elevator. A bearded man bounced in with a female over his shoulder, her bottom up in the air. Squealing, the girl playfully hit his back with her fists.

"Hey, you all want to meet John Denver?" At that point, I understood the meaning of being dumbstruck.

Maybe it was the heat, the exhaustion, or temporary insanity. "Sure," I said.

"Follow me." And we did, through the lobby and out to the patio by the pool.

Standing 15 feet away by the bar, all alone, was John Denver. He turned and gave us his famous boyish smile.

My shyness caused me to freeze. Not Pauline. She took off running. "John, I just love your songs." She had him in a bear hug by the time I unfroze.

I raced over and wrapped my arms around him. I breathed in the smell of leather from his fringed vest and noticed how my head only reached under his chin. My mom and sister had piled on behind me. I heard a soft laugh in his chest as we set him free.

"Would you ladies like a drink?" he asked. We sure did.

The next hour, I never spoke. I was star-struck. He said something about Annie and the beauty of West Virginia. Cindy talked with him about fate and something called kismet.

The bar closed. "Bye, nice to meet you all," he said. He was gone.

I floated to the room.

The next day I walked into the house, an exorbitant bill for a new starter for the car in my hand. The kids wore the same clothes as the day before and my husband looked exhausted. "Well, what did you do last night after the concert?"

"I went to John Denver's party," I said.

"Sure you did," he said. To this day when "Country Roads" is played, he pats my arm and says, "Sure you did."

But I remember the smell of leather, the sound of a soft laugh, a boyish grin and something called kismet.

Melanie Vickers is writer and educator who lives in South Charleston.


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