Thursday, June 25, 2009

lp's and Christmas

Part of the family environment was sound. Here are some of the sounds we listened to:

Sing along with Mitch - Mitch Miller was on tv in the fifties and sixties, leading a chorus of cheerful singers ("Bob" McGRath of Sesame Street was one of them) in old turn of the century standards such as "My Wild Irish Rose" and "Sidewalks of New York".

Tom Lehrer was a piano playing satirist (and a college level math teacher). His repertoire was just shy of naughty and skimmed the surface of above ground. He was never heard on TV or radio until the 70's when he wrote a few songs for the Electric Company, a public television show that encouraged beginning reading.

Stan Freberg The United States of America - The voice of adman Freberg was well known on the radio. His recordings of Broadway musical style numbers about United States history, still make me laugh. My parents and friends loved to sing "Take an Indian to Lunch" around Thanksgiving time.

West Side Story - Leonard Bernstein music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics were a huge part of my growing up. We listened to the Broadway musical record album, saw the movie, heard "Tonight" on pop radio stations, and I played the ballet from the piano score for my music school audition. Right now there's a revival playing on Broadway.

Frank Warner - Dad knew folk song collector Frank Warner because he was a fellow YMCA professional. That gave Dad some credentials with the local folk song crowd at Saratoga's Cafe Lena, a place which was pretty well respected in the folk song world. The Jolly Tinker became a part of my own guitar and singing repertoire. Our whole family liked to sing "Fod!" and "Away Idaho". I have a few LP's of his, still, and one is signed.

Christmas traditions

Generally, my family had a New England protestant heritage in which Christmas was celebrated with a tree and snow. After 1957, the tree, ideally a balsam fir, came from our own property. Christmas was a Currier and Ives painting.

We put up a nativity scene. I have looked without success for a replica of the creche that was destroyed in a fire in 1973. It was cardboard and the figures resembled the grave-faced figures I have seen in Tiffany stained glass windows.*

Dad would read "A night before Christmas" and we would attend Christmas Eve service.
Later, in the sixties we would listen to a recording of Dylan Thomas reading "Child's Christmas in Wales" and we would chime in during our favorite parts.
And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed Mr. Prothero -...
And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo!

Mom liked to put up a sugar plum tree which was a plastic tree which held gum drops.

Dad put up stockings which were found Christmas morning to contain tangerines, hard candy which only older people like, nuts in the shell and often a can of black olives (so Dad wouldn't have to share his).

Grandma always recycled wrapping paper, so we opened our presents carefully. Each recipient was the center of attention as a gift was unwrapped. That person would make a guess at what they would do with the present. If Dad said "I'm going to wear it." and it turned out to be swiss cheese, we would all enjoy that.

The ornaments were diverse and were added to over time. The idea of a monocolor or theme tree was completely alien to our family. We had many kinds of ornaments, lights, maybe a chain of popcorn, "ice" always placed one at a time by my sister who was the only person with patience to do it, and a star ornament at the top. We would sit and stare at the tree and make discoveries with our eyes.

The greatest loss was the disappearance of the family ornaments when Dad's vacation home, the Crest, was burnt to the ground. Two special ornaments that were destroyed in the fire have stories. One was a hollow alligator that was about four inches long that came from my father's childhood. Actually the story is that there was no story. It didn't look like a Christmas sort of ornament and there was no explanation. Story number two was a plastic angel that originated as a Cracker Jacks prize. My sister was given it by a kid in the park, in exchange for the chewing gum out of her mouth. That story was repeated every year when we hung it and long after.

No one every told us that there was such a creature as Santa Claus. We visited North Pole, NY and listened to the story from the book, but didn't believe for more than five minutes at a time.
Many presents had the name "Saint Nick" written on the "From: " line of the tag, but it was obviously in Dad's handwriting. We were allowed to believe if we wanted, and on a snowy morning when we could hear the jingle of the chains on the passing plow, we might get excited for a few moments.

*The window that we would gaze on from the choir loft of Saratoga's Congregational Church was Tiffany. Why did only the choir get to gaze on it?

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