Voices from the past

My son received a record player with all the bells and whistles for his 15th birthday this past weekend. It was a gift from us (his parents) and his grandparents (my parents).

It is a record player that also plays CDs, utilizes Bluetooth (so you can send music off your phone to it), and has an AM/FM radio. The record we ordered him hadn’t arrived yet but he wanted to try the sound out, so he plugged it in and sent a few songs to it from his phone.

In the meantime, my dad drug out a few old records he’d had stored away, and we decided we’d try those.

In the next couple of hours, me and my parents had more fun with that record player than my son did, although later he did say he was actually enjoying our delight. My dad found a couple of records that a cousin of his grandfather’s had recorded in the 60s in Nashville. He and my mom hadn’t heard these songs probably since the 70s or 80s, they weren’t sure when. They had record players over the years but don’t have one now and haven’t since I was a kid probably.

They also had records from a family friend who recorded some gospel songs and enjoyed listening to those too. And then I found an LP of With or Without You by U2, which my brother owned and we put that on for a listen too.

I ended up using my phone to record the songs by my dad’s cousin for my dad to share on Facebook. The player does have the capability of transferring from vinyl to mp3 but we have to install the software to a computer first so we decided to record a video on my phone instead.

The image isn’t steady because I’m dealing with vertigo again and it was really bad while I was trying to record it, but the music was recorded and that was what mattered.

The interesting thing was that my aunt called to wish my son a happy birthday and when I told her about listening to the music, she said she had actually found one of the records in a pile of papers earlier that day. We thought she might like to hear it as well, so we put the phone on speaker and she was able to listen in as well, hearing the music for the first time in probably 30 or 40 years. She turned 89 the next day so it was an early birthday present for her.

It was really a joy for me to see the joy the record player gave to my parents and aunt but also to those on Facebook who are related to the man who was singing and was also delighted to hear the songs.

The singer’s name was Bub Robinson. I wish I knew more about him and the songs. What I do know is that he did not hit the big time, though I wish he had because his voice was better than many of the artists out there today, but he did continue to perform locally, including with his son and I think occasionally with my grandfather, who was also a singer.

Now if we could find the records that feature my grandfather singing, I would be over the moon. He died when I was two and I’m sure I’ve heard recordings of him before because I can hear his voice in my mind somehow. He was sick with cancer when I was a baby and my mom said I was afraid of him because of his deep voice but that right before he died (in a bed at the home my parents now live in), I leaned over and kissed his cheek. She said he was delighted.

My dad has the records somewhere of Grandpa singing, he thinks, and he also has reel-to-reel home movies from the 60s of my grandparents which I really hope to see before the year is out.

If anyone knows where an old projector can be purchased, let me know in the comments. It would her nice to have another afternoon of delving into the past but this time we won’t steal my kid’s birthday gift to do it.

My Grandfather’s Pipe

I stole this column from my husband, which he wrote for his weekly newspaper column two months ago. I thought my blog readers would like it since a lot of you are like me and like the sentimental.

By Warren Howeler, originally published in The Rocket-Courier, October 2020

Everyone has those memories that are triggered by external stimuli.

It can be a glimpse of something, a taste, or, in my case, a smell.

The smell that I’m speaking of is pipe tobacco, specifically, the kind that my grandfather used to smoke while I was a child.

The smell of my grandfather’s pipe tobacco takes me back to my early childhood, before I moved to California and eventually, later, to PA.

One of my earliest memories stems from my grandfather’s pipe. I would always be greeted by that scent whenever I would enter my grandparents’ old home in Hinsdale, IL.

Since my parents divorced when I was extremely young, my grandfather was the only father figure I had growing up.

One of the most treasured photos I have is one of myself at two years old, sitting in my grandfather’s lap. He was smiling down at me, his pipe in his hand, and I’m looking up at him smiling, holding my (toy) pipe in mine.

That photo perfectly encapsulates my life—I always tried to emulate my grandfather because of how much I respected him— and I still do.

When I was younger, he was a towering giant—a man who could do no wrong. He cooked. He cleaned. He worked hard. He took care of my grandmother. He helped out my immediate family when we were struggling. He always spoiled both my sister and me when we were kids (later he would do the same thing for his great-grandkids).

My opinion of him never changed from when I was a kid. I was always in awe of him. He still worked hard in his retirement, growing a garden that was the talk of the town in South Waverly, and taking care of my grandmother, which became even more of a challenge as she got older and the Alzheimer’s ravaged her mind resulting in her becoming mostly bedridden in her final years.

My grandfather was always the first one I would go to whenever I had news to share or needed advice. In fact, my grandfather was the first member of my family to know I was engaged, and later, he honored me by serving as my best man.

My grandfather stopped smoking while I was in my five-year exile in California.

I didn’t think much about the missing pipe until several years ago when I went into his basement.

Let me set the stage—my son, Jonathan, was about five at the time, and, a couple of weeks earlier, my grandfather had drug out my old Legos to give to him.

On this day, Jonathan wanted to see if great-grandpa had any more toys in his basement. A kid can hope, right?

So, all three of us went down to investigate.

In one of the cases we opened there was a tin. Neither my grandfather nor I knew what was in it.

I opened it—and was blasted with a smell that I hadn’t encountered in decades.

The tin contained not only several of my grandfather’s old pipes but also some of his old tobacco.

I started tearing up at that point and had to settle my emotions before I asked him if I could keep what we had found. In his usual, short-on-words-style he said, “Sure.”

While my son was disappointed that we didn’t find any more toys, I was ecstatic by my discovery and couldn’t wait to tell my wife about it.

My grandfather passed away about a year later. During the funeral, I slipped one of the pipes into his sport coat.

I still have the tin and its contents today. One of those pipes is on my desk as I type this.

At times when I’m feeling stressed or can’t come up with the word I need when I’m writing, I grab that pipe and either tap the tip of it against my thumb or inhale the lingering scent of tobacco that still permeates the head of it.

The feel of it in my hand, coupled with the smell, is calming to me. But it also has another purpose— to serve as a reminder of some of the happiest memories of my childhood.

Next to the girl and her dog


I posted this photo of my daughter and our dog on Facebook recently and my dad commented the following under it:

Next to the girl collecting Easter eggs with her dog stands a pair of sawhorses that belonged to her great great grandfather. Just to the left of them is a gnarly maple with different bark than the other maples. Behind her is a beautiful tall always liked ash. It is yellowed pale and almost dead now from the ash tree bores that have destroyed most all of Pennsylvania’s ash. To the right just out of focus is a large stone over the grave of one of her mother’s cats.

There is also a small dogwood tree planted by her grandfather nearby. Beyond that are some rotted boards of the dog house he built when nine years of age or so he claims.  A shag-bark hickory stood near there and fifty yards above that spot stood a balsa tree, the largest tree in the lot. Seventy-five feet behind the girl is a hand dug well that is now covered with heavy steel plates. This well gravity fed the house and chicken coops. Another well hidden just over the stone wall property line has a large stone covering it.

Just beyond the fence once stood one chicken coop. Water would be hand carried to that one as it was not downhill enough for gravity feed. Hid in the brush 100 feet to the left of the sawhorse is the foundation remains of the spring-cooled milk house. Also, the corn crib was near there. The granary still remains in that spot. A week later as this is being written the buds are opening to vivid green leaves, the forsythia flowers are bright yellow and life goes on.