If you’re lucky this week you’ll see something, or find something, that makes you remember days when the smallest of things meant the most. I’ll share with you here one of my own…this year’s Christmas miracle.
We say we love nostalgia – remembering those days past of Christmas with Mom and Dad, our siblings, and the year when you got that one special thing that meant the world…and still does, because I know people who have kept those gifts for life.
We like remembering. We get teary-eyed over the thinking of people no longer here – people who sacrificed all year long so that the family could have Christmas – gifts, food, friends. For my old neighbor Cliff Klase Christmas Eve meant having a case of Hudepohl 14-K delivered from the Question Mark in Piqua, and toasts door-to-door until they couldn’t toast no more.
Well, this week I had my own Chevy Chase moment. You know the scene…from the movie ‘Christmas Vacation’ where he gets trapped in the attic and amuses himself by watching old 8mm films of family Christmases past. You see, I had my own scene reminiscent of that this week. While up in my own attic looking for something…I came upon a stack of old 33 rpm albums from the days of my youth and our family growing up together in Piqua.
There wasn’t a lot of money to spare back in 1964, but my dad and mom realized that I had an interest and talent for music and one year for Christmas they anted up to buy a record player from Gentner’s Music Shop, in downtown Piqua. It was small, and it had scratchy sound, of course, as all record players had back then. But it emitted sounds that I listened to until my dad literally hid some of the records he grew tired of hearing.
But Dad also enjoyed music, particularly from artists that appealed to his sense of spirit and emotion. And when he had some down time he’d play those old LPs of Tennessee Ernie Ford, of Jimmy Dean singing Big, Bad John…and Walter Brennan, the old character actor from westerns who won three Oscars for best supporting actor.
Dad loved those old recitation songs from back then and one of his favorites was Brennan’s recording of Old Rivers, a tune about a poor dirt farmer that was humble to simply work hard and accept what life gave him in return for his efforts. The story line was about his hope someday for a better, eternal life in a land where the cotton’s high and the corn’s a growin’…and there ain’t no fields to plow.
My dad enjoyed that song. And when he’d play it his eyes would often tear up a bit, as if Brennan’s lyrics were a reminder of his own humble life’s journey. For you see, in the hall of fame of modesty, my dad would have had a front row seat.
In due time the record player wore out and it was never replaced as Dad grew older and technology advanced to 8 tracks, cassettes, and eventually CDs. He never had any of that, outside of a boom box that we bought him one year that he kept on the window sill beside the kitchen table. And the stack of family LP albums? Well, they got moved to the attic, never to see the light of day or a high fidelity needle again.
Until this week! I ran upon that stack of records, like Chevy Chase, and took some time to sort through all the sounds of my childhood. There was Al Hirt, Doc Severinson, recordings of the Ohio State Marching Band, Ernie Ford, and near the bottom of the stack was Walter Brennan, and ‘Old Rivers’.
There is no turntable at our house anymore, and like yours, there hasn’t been for years. But I held the album and viewed the well-worn cover, and the photo of Brennan wearing his trademark cowboy hat and that familiar smile…and I smiled. I remembered my dad, as if I could feel his very fingerprints on the disc. I’m sure they’re still there.
Owing to the miracles of this day, it’s easy to hear and relive the memories of your youth, and the times that bring a tear to your eye just like Chevy Chase sitting in the attic, watching those 8mm films. I went to my computer and YouTube, typed in ‘Old Rivers‘, and there was Walter Brennan. And there was my dad!
I listened to the lyrics and saw him, hands folded, leaning back in his chair reflecting on the day when he would at last “climb that mountain”. I’m sure my story’s unique, because I know that Dad had to be the only person in Piqua that was ever moved by Brennan’s personality and voice. That song, and that recording, was made for him.
For the sake of nostalgia, it’s probably the biggest thing that will happen to me this Christmas season. That is, of course, until the bills start coming in January.