Thursday, April 16, 2015

Christmas with Charlie McCarthy

I think this picture is from Christmas of 1976. It's clear, I'm sure, why I say it's from Christmas; here's why I peg it specifically to 1976: I was in fourth grade then, and for Christmas that year my best friend Bobby Py and I, by complete coincidence, both got jerseys bearing the number 42. (Was 42 the number of a famous player of the day? I have no idea, and I didn't know then, either. If Bobby knew he never said anything about it.) We spent the second half of that school year trying to orchestrate us wearing our matching shirts on the same day, but I think we only managed it twice.

The star of this picture, of course, is my cousin Scott and his Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist dummy (or "figure," as I believe they prefer to be called). We spent hours and hours playing with Charlie McCarthy, though I don't think either of us got especially adept at ventriloquism. I don't know that we even tried that hard. But playing with puppets of one type or another was part of childhood back then; we also had Bert and Ernie dolls, and Cookie Monster, and perhaps Oscar the Grouch. We would put on shows and charge our parents a dime to watch.

Behind my cousin Catherine, on the left side of the picture, you can see that the lid of the record player is open. I would love to know what record was on the turntable at that point. I would also love to be able to go through my grandmother's collection of records--mostly John Gary, I recall, though I can picture an Irish Rovers album in there too.

The nativity scene on top of the record player; the just-visible artificial tree on the table on the right, decorated with red doves and bows; the red skirt, under the tree--these things, subtle though they are in this photograph, speak to me of joyful Christmas seasons past. Everything else in the photograph--the framed pictures on the wall above the stereo, especially those oval Victorian scenes that I had all but forgotten about; the fern in the corner, fake, I'm pretty sure; the curtains you can just glimpse along the right-hand edge of the frame, which I think were paisley though I didn't know that word at the time—and all that you can't see in the photo, but which I know was there, especially more cousins and parents and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents—everything else, seen and not seen, speaks to me of year-round joy, and happiness, and reminds me of what a wonderful time it was to be a little boy.

But why, I wonder, was the Santa Claus figure on the floor under Scott's chair?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Me and My Les Paul, Lilburn Living Room, 1980

I got my first electric guitar in 1979, when I was twelve years old. It was a black Les Paul copy made by a cheap-guitar manufacturer called Memphis, and my parents bought it for me at the now long-defunct (but I suspect sorely missed by a lot of guys from my generation) Joe’s Music in Norcross. I also had a twenty-watt Crate combo amp; it was solid state, but if you turned it up all the way to 10 it produced a decent sounding distortion. Not quite what Pete Townshend got out of his Hiwatt amps, but not bad.

But when I look at this picture, me awkwardly fingering a D chord on a guitar I barely knew how to play is only a small part of what I see, and maybe not even the most important part, now.

Behind me, I see my mother’s Sears typewriter, on which Mom typed my grandmother’s poems and stories from Granny’s longhand drafts on lined notebook paper.

And look on the corner of the desk. There’s a baby portrait and a pair of bronzed baby shoes; my brother’s, I think. Do people still do that? I hope so.

Just above the desk, there are pastel or crayon drawings of my brother and me, which I almost remember sitting for when I was eight or ten.

Farther behind me, on the built-in bookshelves that my Uncle Wayne put in for us sometime in the mid-seventies, there’s a set of 1977 World Book Encyclopedias, and below that, a set of Childcraft encyclopedias. I spent hours poring over those volumes when I was young; perhaps I’m just romanticizing, but I swear they were better than Wikipedia or anything else the Internet has to offer.

And see those top shelves? A couple of bowling trophies that my Dad won in the Ingleside Presbyterian Church bowling league, back when such things existed. On the shelf below the trophies, there are a few books between a pair of sword-through-the-books bookends. I used to think those bookends were the coolest thing. On the shelf below that, there’s a painted clay vase that I made in (I believe) my sixth-grade art class.  It's unidentifiable in this picture, but I can see it clearly in my mind.

Beside the bookshelves there’s the fireplace, with a scattering of framed photographs on the mantle. The one on the right--you’d never be able to tell this unless you already knew it--is me in my Cub Scout uniform, circa 1977. On the left edge of the picture, right on the middle of the mantle, is an Olan Mills portrait of me and Jeff. I can’t tell from this picture, but I think in that picture we are wearing matching shirts that my mother made for us.

Every old picture is a treasure trove of sorts.

Addendum: My father posted this comment to the Facebook version of this post:

"The drawings of you and Jeff were done in 1978 by an artist in Silver Springs, which is in Ocala, FL. I remember because we were on our way to Daytona Beach, and I wanted to stop at Silver Springs to see where some of the underwater scenes from 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon' were filmed. That is my all time favorite horror movie I remember the year because I had just bought a brand new 1978 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and this was our first trip in that car. I remember the sticker shock I had when I had to pay over $7.000 for a new car! You're right about the matching shirts; Cherry made one for all four of us."