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?

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