by Cathy Allie
At a recent garage sale at my parents’ home, I took an unexpected trip down memory lane. There on a rickety card table from my mom’s bridge playing days, was a stack of records for sale. I ran my hand over the well-worn covers and was instantly transported back to our formal living room in a typical 70’s home.
That living room was pretty standard fare in those days. Normally the first room you saw when you entered a home, it was kept clean for company. There was a separate rec room or den, now called a family or great room which got more use.
The living room was not a place for couch naps, or art projects like loom potholders, or playing Barbies. But our family pictures were taken in the living room, my sis and I in matching dresses and shoes, and if the church minister and his family came by, we sat together there.
The door to door Avon lady was still on the move back then, and when she would stop by, Mom and my sis and I would sit with her in the living room perusing her lipstick samples in adorable, tiny white tubes and sickly sweet perfume bottles. There was no Keurig coffee maker, but she might have shared a cup of Sanka with us, and even sampled a lemon bar or blonde brownie that Mom always seemed to always have on hand.
Visitors and special occasions aside, the main feature of that room was our stereo. Residing among the matching veneer coffee tables that flanked each side of our brocade couch, globed lamps with three click bulbs, and the tufted arm chairs, was the most glorious stereo of the time.
It had built in speakers, sides with hinges that opened to hold the albums, and a center section that lifted to expose the turntable and accessories. That stereo cabinet glistened, a recipient of the Old English or Lemon Pledge polish my mom buffed it with each week.
It was a source of pride and provided us with good entertainment many evenings, particularly on dinner party nights. We had many friends from the neighborhood and the university in those days, and dinner parties were all the rage.
As a kid, I could sense the excitement of the impending dinner. Mom would pour over a cookbook, selecting the menu as early as Wednesday or Thursday, and we would head to A&P for ingredients.
The day of the dinner, there were special, sometimes exotic smells coming from the kitchen. Or maybe my mom pulled out the avocado green fondue pot and began to slice the cheese or the bread which would serve as appetizers. We busily cleaned our room that no guest would ever enter that night, and Dad would do his part by dumping ice from the freezer trays into ice buckets, and then just before the guests arrive, selecting the records.
My parents had fairly eclectic tastes in albums and musicians in the late 60’s and 70’s, and they had the means to have a pretty good record collection as well. If our guitar playing friend Herman and his wife Nancy were coming over, maybe we spun Jose Feliciano or Chet Atkins. If out of town visitors came, maybe we heard the newest release, just purchased at Camelot Records at the mall.
Dad would carefully pull the records from their sleeves, holding them just by the edges and then wipe them down with a very soft, foam like applicator with a cleaning fluid. He would bend down and eyeball the needle and gently place the record on the spindle.
He would stand back from the stereo listening, and then step forward to adjust the bass or the treble as he saw fit. Looking back, I guess the length of the album was the time measure for serving dessert. About midway through the album, my mom would bring out the Baked Alaska or coconut cream pie for us to enjoy.
I listened to everything from classical music from my dad’s 78 collection to James Taylor, The Carpenters, Jerry Reed, The O’Jays, Chicago, Roberta Flack, Streisand, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Seekers.
Under supervision, my sis and I got to spin a few 45’s like Helen Reddy’s Ruby Red Dress, Frankie Valli’s My Eyes Adored You, and J. Frank Wilson’s Last Kiss, but our little records were mostly relegated to a portable turn table in our bedroom, and stored after use in a Caboodle like plastic carrier complete with a carrier handle, just waiting for our next slumber party invitation.
I remember as we prepared for a move to a new house, my dad purchased a Pioneer stereo with multiple components, for the latest in music: the traditional turntable was joined by an FM tuner, a place for 8 tracks and cassettes. I had moved on to Earth Wind and Fire, Peter Frampton, Lou Rawls, The Steve Miller Band, and Leo Sayre by then, a moody teen, listening to albums with friends in our rooms.
The old stereo moved to the den, no longer the center of attention, and then I am not sure where it went during the move. Today, it would be some millennial’s dream; tucked in among thrift store orange naugehyde chairs and mid-century coffee tables, the stereo would again be a showcase piece.
The garage sale rate for the albums was $1.00 a piece, but my memories of that time are much more priceless.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.