by Joey Rodman
I can’t quite remember what I got for Christmas last year. Or the year before. And definitely not the year before that.
In fact, for the most part I can’t remember what I got for Christmas for the last ten years. (No offense to my husband I promise.) I can however, remember what I got for Christmas when I was six years old.
You see, those gifts changed my life. I remember finding them in my mother’s closet…
I had waited until she was asleep on the couch to go poking through her room. I knew my presents were in there because she had forbidden me from setting foot anywhere near her small closet about a week before. I might have been six, but I wasn’t an idiot; something was hiding in there.
I slowly pushed the sliding door open while trying to avoid the squeaking sound it often made and sneaked inside; I made sure not to close it completely behind me in order to utilize a sliver of light to help with my search. I poked and prodded and looked in bags. I moved clothes and emptied bins. I found nothing. Well, nothing I was interested in. Mostly, I found things that were old, dusty, or old and dusty.
Imagine my surprise when the really boring things I found in her closet were indeed my Christmas presents! I received a small record player, a blue typewriter, and a tape recorder. My six year-old reasoning deduced that I was being punished for something. These gifts were not what I asked for!
I knew the year was financially harder than usual for my mom, as evidenced by us not eating out as often and the generic mac and cheese that had replaced my beloved Kraft brand. At 6, even though I had been told that money was tight I was sure that Christmas was a time to splurge a little. I began to accept the situation; this year there was no Popple for me.
On New Year’s Eve, however, I received a glimmer of hope that my Christmas haul was not, as I had feared, a set of useless metal dust collectors. My grandfather brought me home two things: 1) a package that contained “toner” which at 6 was a mystery item; and, 2) a few pieces of typing paper. In the age before people had personal computers and printers at home things like typing paper were hard to come by for a child.
My grandfather owned what (for all intents and purposes) could be described as a junk store. The inventory included other people’s belongings left in unpaid storage lockers and items left over after estate sales. Grandfather was an auctioneer and once a week he would have an auction selling these ‘leftovers.’ Between auctions, the adults in our family would sort though everything and as payment for my contribution I would get to choose a few items.
Since I was stuck there after school most days with nothing to do between the time my chores were done and my mom got off work, I began to dig around looking for treasures. “Treasures” were cassette tapes I could record over, typing paper and records. I found less of the first two than you would think, and the third was sadly mostly country music of the Conway Twitty variety. Or worse, Christian “rock” circa the early 70’s which was unbelievably painful to listen to.
I began to make up stories about the people who left these things in storage. In my estimation the family who owned no less than 50 Christian disco records must have had a wayward teen that they were trying to reform via Jesus themed dance tunes. They failed of course, which is why the records were put into storage. I huddled myself in the corner and began sketching out story plot details scraps of newspaper that had been used previously to pack glassware from another storage unit.
As soon as I got home each day I raced to my bedroom and began typing up what I thought would be the next great American novel. My mother read my story after it was completed. She was not amused. I was being censored for the first time in my life, and it was horrible! She took away my typewriter for a full week.
Dejected and hopeless I began to focus less on finding typing paper for a little while…
A bit later in January, school was back in session and I was at my grandfather’s store every day one again. I earned money and merchandise by sweeping the floors and taking out the trash. When my grandfather said I could have the afternoon off one day I saw it as an opportunity to dig through the things from the latest estate sale leftovers.
I found a box of jelly jar glasses, some old sheet music, some letterhead printed on linen paper (score!) and boxes and boxes of costume jewelry. I was about to give up on my third boxful of crochet doilies when I found another box hiding behind a Bunkie board. I carefully held the board vertically while I used my foot to kick the box from behind it. I pulled my nail file out of my pocket (I wasn’t allowed to have a pocket knife because I was not only 6 years old but a girl) and slipped it under the packing tape on the edge of the box. I had a little trouble getting started but eventually I could poke my hand under the lid and feel the contents of the box.
It was a box of records! No wonder it was so heavy! My six year-old arms could not lift it so I scooted it, corner to corner, outside to a place where the adults weren’t hovering.
The box had about 20 records in it, many I had never come across before and one that was very exciting. On January 29th, 1988 – I found IT. I could tell by the font that this was NOT Conway Twitty or Lawrence Welk. This was something special and it wasn’t for children. This was Led Zeppelin.
I sneaked it out to my mother’s car sandwiched between ABBA’s greatest hits and a Sesame Street album. When I got home I immediately went to my room and shut my door. I stuffed towels near the threshold to try to muffle the sounds of what I was pretty sure was a sin. As I lowered the needle to the record I knew something big was about to happen…and I was right.
My mother’s seemingly innocent gift had corrupted me. I was exposed to rock music and not the Jesus-themed disco kind. Life truly hasn’t been the same since. I eventually got grounded from my record player and after an especially egregious offense (Alice Cooper) it got taken away.
It’s taken me a full 20 years to get another record player.
My husband bought me a beautiful console record player for this past Mother’s day and I’ve been trying to restore my collection since that occasion. I find myself in thrift stores and at estate sales searching through other people’s things looking for records. When I find one that I like, I feel like a kid again. Only this time I buy it, take it home proudly and listen to it.
And…I don’t even stuff towels under the door.