By Melissa Face
“Whose birthday is it?” the woman at the bakeshop asked.
“Buddy Holly’s,” I said, as I handed her my credit card.
“Oh. Okay.” She smiled and passed back my card and receipt.
During the pandemic, my family and I held several interesting celebrations. We hosted a Hollywood dinner party where we dressed as celebrities. We threw our own carnival that included a homemade popcorn stand, games, and many, many prizes. I even gave my daughter a unicorn party when she completed kindergarten and read her first book independently. And in September, we had a party to celebrate Buddy Holly’s birthday.
“What’s your connection to Buddy Holly?” my friend Libby asked me. She had seen the Facebook pictures of the singer’s face on a round cake and wondered what and who we were celebrating. It was a fair question, but at the time I wasn’t sure how to answer it.
When I was fourteen, I was infatuated with Buddy Holly. I stood in front of my dual cassette player, waiting for the oldies countdown on 96.5. I pressed the record button just in time to get the first few notes of “That’ll Be the Day”, thus completing my homemade greatest hits tape. No one spoke to me in those years the way Buddy Holly did. His sweet, hiccupy sound drew me in, and I longed to know him and wished I could date him. I tried to make sense of how someone could be so quickly snuffed out of the world at such a young age. I didn’t understand it.
It became an obsession for a while. I watched La Bamba each time it ran on tv and always cried at the end. I memorized the lyrics to Don McLean’s song, “The Day the Music Died” and though I felt sad for all three singers, Buddy’s death affected me the most. I scrolled through websites in search of more information about Buddy’s life: his wife, his inspiration, and an explanation for the plane crash. I was fixated on a tragedy from 1959 until one hit much closer to home.
In 2003, my younger sister was killed in a car accident during an afternoon thunderstorm. She hydroplaned, veered into oncoming traffic, was hit from the side, and died instantly. For years, I have struggled with questions like “why her?” and “why did this happen to my family?”. They are normal questions to ask, but there are no answers for them.
What I have learned, though, in an attempt to answer the hard questions and make sense of tragedy is that there really isn’t a wrong way to grieve. It’s so personal and the loss of a loved one affects every family member in a different way. It is okay to find consolation and connections in unusual places.
Music offered me a coping mechanism that religion could not. Buddy’s music, in particular, bridged the chasm between life and death. Talking about what happened to him was easier than talking about my sister, but it still helped me sort those same feelings of unfairness, uncertainty, and disbelief.
My family and I are planning a road trip next summer. We want to take our children to Asheville, North Carolina, Memphis, Tennessee, and eventually over to Lubbock, Texas – Buddy Holly’s hometown. I’m looking forward to seeing his statue, taking a photo with his giant horn-rimmed glasses, and driving past some of his favorite hangouts. It will be a trip with a couple of different purposes – a way to honor someone whose life deserves to be remembered, as well as another step on my own road toward healing.