By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 10/21/2017
Occurred: 3/1/1956
Topics/Keywords: #Autobiography #Music Page Views: 655
How my dad gave me the most precious thing I own.
Me and my toys.

My father worked the evening shift at Bendix, so he slept late into the morning after coming home around midnight. Even after he got up, he spent a lot of time that he was home sleeping or napping on the sofa, so I didn't see much of him. I didn't really think of him as a person I could play with.

However, when he came home from work, he and my mother would sit in the kitchen with its bluish fluorescent light, and snack before bed; and sometimes the light would wake me and I would join them. Or, the flickering light of the brand-new black-and-white television would wake me instead, and then I could sit on my Daddy's lap and watch with them, till I fell back asleep.

My father loved music, and one of the first things he got me was a wind-up, "portable" phonograph. That was followed by an electric combination record player and radio, and then an RCA player for the new 45-RPM records.

Every now and then, he would tell me to go look under my bed for a "surprise", and I would find a new (to me) record there.

Once I caught him in his bedroom, with the bottom drawer of his dresser open—and filled with records. Once I knew where they were, I had to have them, of course. And I played them: the Nutcracker Suite, Verdi's Aida, even a spoken recitation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And a Shostokovich symphony, which my mother hated because it was Russian and she was afraid listening to it would turn me into a Communist sympathizer.

Additionally, I had big band—Glen Gray, the Andrews Sisters (I loved Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree) but especially, Glenn Miller. Yes, I had a few of the little Golden Records supposedly appropriate for someone my age, but my tastes rapidly became too sophisticated for them.

Daddy's sister, Aunt Gene, gave me some other classical 78s, including Wagner's Ride of The Valkyries. Unfortunately, in addition to playing the records in the usual manner, I liked to play with them as toys (after all, I was only five). One of my favorite games was to sit in an armchair, jam the records into the cracks between the cushions and the arms, and to pretend that I was a jukebox. I would mechanically lift a record from the side and place it on my lap, then pick it up, return it to the crack, and "play" another one. Of course, not many 78s subjected to this treatment survived. It took awhile, but the loss of some favorite pieces—like Valkyries—eventually taught me to be more careful with records.

My father also introduced me to jukeboxes. We would sometimes go out to eat, usually to some pizza place where the smell of beer and wine would mingle with the aroma of pizza. I remember my very first slice. It was so hot I just about burned my mouth, but the smell of it had gotten to me long before the pizza ever showed up and the taste did not disappoint.

While waiting for the food, the ritual we developed started with my asking for a "qua'r" for the jukebox. At four years old, I could put the money in, select songs (by the appearance of the titles; I couldn't read them) and then watch, fascinated, as they played.

My favorite jukebox was at the bowling alley. While Mom and Dad bowled, I would stay in the bar and play it. It had a mirror at a forty-five degree angle, so that you could see the turntable from the side and from above. —Except, I didn't realize it was a mirror. I thought there were two turntables in perfect sync with each other, and I could not figure out how they did that. Hence the fascination. I would play Tony Bennett's Strangers In Paradise over and over, hoping to catch the one time the two turntables didn't quite start together. But, somehow, they always did.