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Introducing Music

Posted by Phoeniceus on Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My first exposure to music, the earliest that I can remember, was in my grandfather's apartment. He lived in Ardmore, PA, on a block where the old world ethnic neighborhoods, the blacks and Jews and others, all met in a retail no-man's land. My grandfather owned a drugstore where he made pills by hand and sold candy. He lived in an apartment above it with my grandmother. My father grew up in there, mixing milk shakes for customers and going to Jersey shore during the hot summers. 

Years later, he would visit return to visit, bringing his own family, a long drive from the New Jersey suburbs of New York. I remember sitting in the far back of the wood-panelled station wagon in the fold up seat that faced backward, watching my past vanish into the distance. The car smelled of tobacco and carpet mold overlaid with a patina of car sickness. My three brothers and I, bored and fidgety in our good clothes, flirted with the dangerous border of my parent's patience, teasing each other quietly and trying to provoke an outburst. By the time we got to the city streets of the old neighborhood, rutted with old trolley car tracks, we were bursting to let out steam. I was not quite five years old.

My grandfather had a phonograph player, and enormous piece of furnture, a cherry wood box as tall as myself with a gold fabric front cover that hid the speakers. The lid lifted on hinges, like a car hood, and I would stand on my tiptoes to see the automated mechanical contraption inside. Three or four albums lay stacked, suspended above the turntable. One would drop, the needle would swing over and down, and a scratchy, rhythmic crackle and hiss, like firewood burning, would fill the air. Then the sound of music at the end of a long tube fileld the room. Amazing.

My grandparents were dancers, who did not start to learn their art until after the children had grown up and left the nest. When my father became engaged, his parents took it upon themselves to find a good band for the wedding, even though my father didn't dance. They crashed other weddings and hit the floor in their spats and heels looking for the right ensemble. Their black and white photo graced the wedding albums of strangers all over the city.

They had a dance floor made of polished pine wood installed in their apartment. It nealy filled the living room leaving a foot-wide border of blue carpet on which the furniture rested. I would run and clomp my dress shoes across that floor, a rare indulgence in my grandmother's house. Then Pop-Pop would call us children in and teach us to dance the Alley Cat and the Bunny Hop and other dances I cannot recall. We'd dance for what seemed like forever, but probably was only ten minutes. Today, I cannot remember a single step, but I can still hear the tinkling of the piano keys, the switch of the brushes on the snare drum, the slinky steps of the alley cat stalking and strutting his demense.

That was my introduction to music.


2 comments on “Introducing Music”

Rene Says:
Tuesday, November 4, 2008 @1:01:29 PM

What awesome memories, sorta makes me envious. Sounds as if you were truly blessed as a youngster with a very unique and fun family.

bj Says:
Tuesday, November 4, 2008 @4:44:58 PM

Oh wow, we grew up not far distant from one another. I can remember the player piano in the house of one of my grandparents' neighbors. We'd all go over to hear that marvel. That was on Mt. Horeb, in Martinsville NJ. And yes, a tiny ramshackle cottage bayside somewhere down near Wildwood NJ every summer . . .

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