General Non-Fiction posted September 15, 2022


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My first real possession that was all mine

The Victrola

by GARY MACLEAN


Winter had come at us in full force and the snow was deep. It was some small comfort that school was only minutes around the corner, no longer did we have to walk miles to get to class. The house in Holton was definitely a nicer house, but we still had electricity problems. Mom would say we were going to be romantic for a little while and live by candlelight. We knew when she said that there was no electricity. It was those nights that still sent us kids to bed pretty early unless we had to stay by the fireplace to keep warm.

Dad would come to visit us more often in Holton. He would sit in the driveway as Gertrude, Ginny, and I climbed all over his car, in it, and out again, and so on. He usually brought something for each of us, although he never had to and could not afford to since he was retired and living on a fixed income. There were 20 years between Mom and Dad. Dad was already retired and was drawing social security.

One time, in the winter of 1956, just before Christmas he brought me an old wind-up Victrola record player, the kind you set on a table and wind up to play 78 RPM records. It was really very pretty. The case was all wood and Dad had polished it up really nice. It was a very dark color with full wood grain running through it. I just liked to sit there and look at it because it was so pretty. The top of the case hinged open to expose the turntable and spindle. All you did is give it a dozen winds or so, slide a record over the spindle, bring the arm over, and set the needle down.

Dad had also given me about 10 or 12 records and a collection of extra needles. The needles were nothing more than short little pieces of metal wire with a very sharp point on one end. They made the record sound kind of scratchy;  but still, it was music and I loved it.

This was about the time when Elvis Presley hit the entertainment world. We had just seen Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show and I fell in love right away. I wanted to hear things that sounded like Elvis, I wanted to make noise that sounded like Elvis, and I wanted to be Elvis. My sisters were crazy about him too. Mom and Arnold were watching at the same time we were, but they were not as enthused as we were. They didn’t like his looks, the beat of the music, or even the fact that Ed Sullivan only showed him from the waist up. They figured if he had to do that, then there must be something wrong with what he does below the waist. Whatever the final verdict, Elvis got me loving music and I wanted to be a part of it; Dad made that possible.

The Victrola Dad got me had a metal crank sticking out one side that I would use to wind up the workings. The turntable would turn for about four or five minutes before it started to wind down. That was plenty enough time to get through any one of the 78 RPM records that came with the unit. For storage, I could pull the crank out and mount it on two clamps under the cover. The arm that held the needles and played the records was also clamped down on a bracket. The whole thing was simply great, and it was mine, which was something I had truly little of -- something that was mine, just mine.

I would play records quite often, at least once every day when I came home from school. One record in particular that I would play every day was called “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”. It was the theme song from the Walt Disney movie of the same name. The movie starred Fess Parker; he looked just like I would have imagined the real Davy Crockett to look. I didn’t see him at the movies. Seventh Day Adventists didn’t go to the movies. It was considered sinful. I saw him on the cover of my record. This record had what is called a “picture cover.” The picture was of Fess Parker holding a musket and wearing a genuine coonskin cap.

I really liked the song. I would sing along with it whenever I played it. I liked it so much that when we went to church I would sing “Davy Crockett” whenever we sang hymns. I couldn’t read the words in the hymnal and Mom held it too high for me to see anyway. So, I would just sing, at the top of my lungs: “Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free.” I would sing the whole song. As long as the congregation was singing I was singing, until Arnold told me I had to stop.  

Arnold was in the choir and was never seated in the congregation with my mom and me, so he didn’t know I was singing Davy Crockett until people started telling him and chuckling about it. Mom would even snicker when I did it. I didn’t do it to get attention though; I did it because I wanted to sing, and this is the one song I knew and loved. 

One sabbath on the way home after church Arnold scolded me in front of everyone in the car and told me it was disrespectful to sing a pagan song like “Davy Crockett” in church. I was not to do it anymore. The church was no place for Davy Crockett. He was not nice about telling me not to do it either. My sisters went to church with us as did Bill and none of them had a problem with it. My singing Davy Crockett during church is one of the stories that stayed with me all through life. It’s one that my mom used to tell often, and my sisters would kid me about. They seldom told the part about Arnold putting a stop to it though.

To say the least, I really enjoyed my Victrola and all the records. It was my most treasured possession. I came home from school, on one particularly frigid day, and ran to sit in front of the fireplace. I didn’t even go play records first; I was too cold. Arnold seldom had a job outside of the house; so he was always there to keep a fire burning if there was fuel for him to reach out, grab, and throw in. I sat there in one of my favorite spots in the house and just stared at the fire. Startled, I jumped up and looked again. I thought I had seen something in the fire that I just couldn’t believe.

I ran to my room and saw the empty top of the chest of drawers. I ran back to the fireplace and saw a crank sticking out of a bucket next to the fireplace. I looked back in the fire and saw melted globs of black plastic, curled-up pieces of wood, and charred remains of paper record covers. My Victrola and records were in the fireplace. Arnold had seen fit to turn my one and only prized possession into firewood for the fireplace. Rather than go cut some wood outside, he just took something much closer and disposed of it without so much as a grunt.

I was bewildered; I could not accept any explanation. I couldn’t even comprehend the thought of what had just happened. The Victrola that my Dad had somehow gotten me, my one and only possession, was now no more than a pile of ashes. He had even thrown my records in the fire. Even my special Davy Crockett record, the one with the picture on the cover, was in the fire. Arnold was so upset about me singing in the church that, either out of his general laziness or spite for my dad, he decided to put a stop to it once and for all.

I ran to him crying, looking for an explanation; and he wouldn’t even talk about it. The most he would say is, “We needed wood for the fire.” All those times I had collected coal, all those times I had helped gather wood, all those times he had the opportunity to stock up on fuel, and still, he decided to burn the one thing I owned and the only thing I looked forward to coming home to. As little as it may seem, this one act of hatred and envy was a turning point in my relationship with Arnold.

On the side of the fireplace was a coal bucket. It was empty but for the mechanism from the Victrola with the crank still in it. I pulled it all out and took it into my bedroom. I put it up on my bed and put my pillow over it. I climbed up on the bed and went to sleep, hoping I could dream this nightmare away. I eventually woke up, and, as I feared, my Victrola and all of my records were still gone. Mom was home now, and I told her about it through intermittent whimpers and sniffles. She would only reply, “I know honey, don’t worry about it right now. I’ll take care of it.”

The loss of my Victrola was devastating; it was so very painful. The most crushing part of it all was that it was a gift from my dad who just barely had anything himself. It was so much fun for me to play with, as well as for the other kids. It was beautiful; it looked so grand sitting there on the chest of drawers. I had a nice collection of records, one that was my favorite. Now it was gone -- forever.

One day, well into our adult lives, 30 to 35 years after the Victrola incident and just shortly before she passed on, my sister Ginny gave me a gift just for the heck of it. It wasn’t my birthday, and it wasn’t Christmas; it wasn’t a holiday of any kind. I was living across the street from her with my wife and two kids. She, Ginny, with her four daughters, came over one day to visit. She had this little present all wrapped up for me and she wanted to give it to me so badly. She said she just couldn’t wait for my birthday or anything. She was just trembling with excitement.

She handed me this flat little package that I thought was a magazine. Then when I touched it I could tell it was a record of some kind. I was a record collector; everyone knew it. I had 5000 LPs and 25,000 45 rpm records. I just liked music and I liked hearing it on vinyl. It was no big surprise to have someone in my family give me a record now and then. That’s why I was so sure that’s what was in this package. The prospect of that was exciting enough because I always welcomed any addition to my collection.

A little embarrassed, I took the package and between, “Thanks, Gin,” and, “Why did you get me anything?” I tore the paper open. I never took my time with presents, not as a kid and not as an adult. I like gifts and I love giving them. I like them wrapped up, but I like them unwrapped even better. There’s no reason to be polite when you are opening something someone has given you. I rapidly tore this one open. I just looked with this question in my eyes and my mind. It was a kids’ record. Then my knees buckled, and my eyes swelled. I put my hand up on the door jamb to steady myself and just stared with my mouth open. There staring back at me was Fess Parker aka Davy Crockett. He had his musket in his hand, and he had that genuine coonskin cap on. My sister had gotten me the 78-rpm record “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.”

She didn’t just get me the song "The Ballad Of Davy Crocket” on a CD or a tape. She actually got me the original, 1955 edition, 78-rpm version of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” complete with a picture cover. She knew everything, she knew me, she knew Arnold, and she knew the incident that had taken place some 30 years earlier. I wasn’t aware, I just didn’t know, she had it in her mind for all those years and she was carrying my pain. She wanted to help heal that void if only she could. She loved when I sang Davy Crockett and she wanted to bring those moments back. She wanted my heart to bring them back.

My heart burst open with love and gratitude for Ginny. My heart sobbed as I realized we were sharing one of the deepest secrets I held within me. I stepped back, turned around, and supported myself with both hands on the back of the sofa. I was out of breath. I was taken away by the gesture. I couldn’t find the words to tell Ginny how I felt. I couldn’t just say thank you; that didn’t come close to what it meant to share a person’s deepest pain. I could only say her name. She put her hand on my shoulder and simply said, “I know….” Then we embraced in a brother/sister hug that said more than words can ever begin to say.

One very small piece of a broken childhood had come home. With the thoughtful and generous spirit of my beloved sister, Ginny, one shattered upbringing was being put back together again, one small piece at a time. My sister Ginny was apologizing for Arnold. She was personally sorry something like that had ever happened to me and she wanted me to forgive Arnold for whatever he had done. She wanted me to be able to forgive. She knew it would be difficult, but she needed that for my peace of mind -- not hers, but mine.

That was my sister Ginny. She was the one everybody loved, and she was the one who loved me. Ginny did the best she could to give me back my Victrola and my Davy Crockett days, and I love her for it. Ginny went to meet the Lord no more than a year later. She died of lung cancer. No sadness is as great as the day she had to leave us, far before her time. The world was cheated when our Lord took her away; I was cheated.




A First Book Chapter contest entry

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We were poor, my dad was poor, my mom had left my dad and moved in with her black lover, and nothing seemed to be going right. Then a bright spot, my Victrola. The only thing I ever owned, and it was mine, all mine.
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Artwork by avmurray at FanArtReview.com

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