Sitting in my kitchen in San Francisco this week, I stared at my television, gazing at the images of Katherine Jackson, and wondering if we really do resemble one another. Thirty-five years ago, her sons declared that we did. At the time, I didn't think we looked alike, but I do remember those five shy boys who performed at the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos during the summer of 1974.
The world now knows that Katherine Jackson's most famous son has died unexpectedly, leaving his affairs and his children in her hands for safekeeping.
The boys loved their mother dearly, particularly the "special" one, Michael. At the time, I presumed that the boys yearned for her presence, and so they saw her reflection in the faces of other black women they would encounter on the road.
Michael was the first to say, "She looks just like mama, don't she?" to his brothers, repeating himself several times. "Don't she look just like mama?"
A relative, I think perhaps an uncle, of the brothers Jackson, had made it possible for me to snag one of the few television interviews they would grant on this trip. I knew they were shy and were not noted for providing long answers to reporters' questions, so I stood to benefit if they felt kinship with me and were relaxed during the interview.
I teased them and replied, "Your mother would probably laugh if she heard you say I looked like her, because she is much prettier than I am." Then we drifted into the usual reporter questions, to which they listened more than provided answers. But I wasn't concerned about their reticence, because I knew their music would more than compensate for any missing words in my report.
When we finished the interview, I advised them to be careful whom they compared to their beautiful mother. She just might not agree with them, and they might get in trouble! We all laughed at the thought.
They had just completed an exhausting show, part of a seven-day run at the Circle Star venue, the long runs giving them a break from a previous pattern of one-night stands in cities across the nation and around the world.
I asked, had they had a chance to visit San Francisco? Their answer was, "We sure would like to go in and buy some jeans, but the stores are always closed when we get off."
I told them if they really wanted to go, I could help. My daughter had just been made assistant manager at Tops and Trousers, a store that specialized in jeans, right across from the Saint Francis Hotel on Union Square. The store was supposed to close at nine, but she always worked late closing the books. I called the store and sure enough, my daughter was still there. I asked if she could call security and get permission to change the alarm and wait for the boys to come in, so they could have a chance to shop for some jeans.
As much as she wanted to, she admitted being worried about calling attention to herself by asking for any special favors. You see, she hadn't been completely honest about her age when she was hired...but the temptation to meet the Jackson 5 was irresistible, so she made the necessary arrangements to keep the store open late that night.
Later, she called to tell me how nice they had been, that they had arrived in a big limousine and that she was profoundly sorry she hadn't had a camera on hand. So there are no photos of this special, once-in-a-lifetime encounter, just the memories.
So there you have it: one small story about a single encounter with a giant superstar. These days, it's nice to remember Michael as a child, with all the sweet innocence of youth; a boy who loved his mother and just wanted a new pair of jeans.