Only moments earlier, she had been crying, shaking and screaming at the mere thought of seeing her idol -- just like a Beatle-crazed fan straight out of "A Hard Day's Night."
But now eight-year-old Ella provided a picture of poise for the dozens of snapping, whirring and flashing cameras, chatting easily and joking with the man whose right arm wrapped her waist: Paul McCartney.
"Hello, Dad," Paul said moments later, pumping my hand. But it wasn't my day -- it was Ella's.
And I was never prouder to be "Dad."
The dates that stick in the memory tend to be the good (birthdays and wedding anniversaries), the bad (deaths and catastrophes), and the not-always-so-good anymore (birthdays and wedding anniversaries).
Let's be blunt: the bad dates stand out on par with the celebratory ones, especially in the collective memory. For every July 4, 1776, June 6, 1944, and July 20, 1969, there's a Dec. 7, 1941, Nov. 22, 1963, and Sept. 11, 2001.
All of those dates, in different ways, altered history. So did Feb. 9, 1964, when the Beatles first played "The Ed Sullivan Show" -- the 50th anniversary of which CBS is commemorating with a special appropriately titled, "The Night that Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles."
That night also changed family life, even for those of us weren't yet around to watch the Beatles' U.S. live TV debut with a then-record 73 million viewers. The performance heralded ageless music we could all eventually share -- and gave birth to subsequent generations of Beatle Babies for whom the Fab Four always have been here, there and everywhere.
If you would have asked me a decade ago the most important date in the band's history, the honest answer would have been Dec. 8, 1980. For my adolescence and adulthood into fatherhood, the murder of John Lennon defined my life as a Beatles fan -- too young to have any memories of them together as a band, but old enough to feel the aching loss of something I would never experience.
But not for lack of trying: I read every book. I learned to play every song. I retraced the Beatles' footsteps in Liverpool, first on my honeymoon with a woman who shares my obsession, and later with our daughter, Ella, who has been raised a Beatle Baby since her birth in 1997. In some ways, we're a family of seven.
For Ella, Dec. 8, 1980, is an abstraction -- sad, but ancient history. The Beatles date that matters most to her is Oct. 3, 2005: the day she met Paul McCartney and took her mother, Theresa Wozunk, and me along on her golden ticket to ride.
In our humble Brooklyn home, it's a date that's greeted like a birthday or an anniversary that will never get old or dreaded. Oct. 3, 2005, represents an affirmation of what we love about the Beatles and marks a highlight in our ongoing journey as a family bonded by music as much as by blood.
It took me decades to realize the Beatles aren't about an unobtainable past as much as about finding unexpected joy in the moment -- and, as scary as the thought can be at times, embracing the future (because, after all, tomorrow never knows).
Our Beatles-inspired adventures have taken us to Rockefeller Plaza, where Theresa and I rolled 4-year-old Ella in her stroller before dawn in the August swelter to see Ringo Starr perform on "Today;" to Liverpool, where Ella became pals with the sweet elderly woman who lives in Starr's boyhood home; to encounters with Yoko Ono, who gave Ella perhaps the best answer yet to the question, "Why did the Beatles break up?" And, of course, to Ella's quixotic meeting with McCartney, a story that spread around the world.
Yes, we're a little crazy. But to paraphrase Lennon, we're not the only ones.
The Beatles are an experience best shared -- just ask the multigenerational throngs who flood The Fest For Beatles Fans conventions, make Liverpudlian pilgrimages or simply find their Beatle bliss is family sing-alongs.
More than four decades after their final walk across Abbey Road, the Beatles still matter. And they're still helping us come together: A 2009 Pew Research Center survey found group ranked in the top four favorite acts of Americans 16 to 64.
Seeing and hearing the Beatles through fresh eyes and ears is life affirming. Part of the responsibility of being a fan is keeping the group's music and story alive as new generations embark on their own Beatlesque journeys with the calendar not mattering as much as the road that stretches out ahead.
Leo Tolstoy, who famously wrote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," missed the Beatles' "Ed Sullivan Show" debut by 54 years.
If he had watched the Beatles' story unfold, Tolstoy might have changed his tune to my mantra: Every family is a magical mystery tour.
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