Opinion: Memories of Peter, Paul and Mary

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Commentary by Ward Degler

We got an Alexa for Christmas. It’s one of those internet-connected gizmos that will answer you when you talk to it, play music you request, and if prompted will give you interesting facts in history, the time in Tokyo and the latest weather forecast for Sydney, Australia.

I don’t ask for those things, though, since I tend to be a little shy around machines that are smarter than I am. But I do put her through her musical strides. Her repertoire is amazing, everything from Beethoven to the Beatles.

The other day I asked her to play music by Peter, Paul and Mary, one of my favorite groups from the ’60s and ’70s that was part of the folk movement that swept the nation. For the next two hours while I fiddled around in the studio, Alexa played every Peter, Paul and Mary song they ever did – some two or three times.

The reason I listened for so long was that their music brought back a warm memory of the time I heard Peter, Paul and Mary play up close and personal. It was on an airplane. It was sometime during the 1960s. I was on a flight from California to New York.

As we approached our destination, the captain came on the speaker and told us our landing would be delayed because a stubborn front had settled over the area and the airport was temporarily shut down because of the weather.

As we flew in a broad circle, the delay grew from minutes to an hour. Everyone got extra drinks and peanuts. Then, just as we were all were nearing insurrection mode, the curtains separating first class from coach swung open and Mary Travers stepped into the aisle. Behind her were Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey: Peter, Paul and Mary.

As we began our 300th circle in the sky, they began to sing. I don’t remember whether they had guitars or not, but they sang song after song for the next half hour until the captain finally announced we had clearance to land.

We didn’t get a chance to thank the trio for their music because they were already late for a gig somewhere in the city and had exited as soon as the plane rolled to a stop. I do remember being in the terminal waiting for our luggage and hearing at least a dozen muted voices humming, “If I had a Hammer.”

The group played together off and on for 50 years, broke up in 1970, had several reunions over the years that followed before calling it quits. Mary died in 2009 of Leukemia.


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