Once again, a confluence of thoughts and memories has resulted in a musical connection being formed in my holiday-addled brain. I was stumbling through my musical library and came across a tune that instantly formed a mental image of my dad, not only because it was one of his favorites but also because of the season, which inevitably stirs up family memories. The final catalyst though, was probably that I’d also been exposed to that movie being played continuously on TV — you know the one I mean, about little Ralphie and his Christmas memories?
I’ve always been a fan of Jean Shepherd’s stories of his childhood in middle America, even before they made the movie. His nostalgic humor was not only hilarious to read, but was also almost a perfect match for my own childhood. I suppose that’s the point of nostalgic stories – triggering memories – but in my case the descriptions and events so closely match my own memories that it’s uncanny. I had a little sister instead of a little brother like Ralphie, but otherwise I was Ralphie. I even had a Red Ryder BB gun. (And yes, my mother warned me it would put out my eye.)
One of the best parts of the stories (and the movie, which Shepherd narrated) was the obviously warm memories he had of his dad, AKA “the old man”. Watching that movie inevitably makes me think of my own dad, who died over twenty years ago. I never used the “old man” nickname for him, although I understand how it can be used endearingly by some folks, but otherwise Jean’s dad and mine were very much alike. I can’t possibly list all the similarities, which include everything from him cussing our old coal furnace to how he would eagerly take us to get our Christmas tree, but his dad and mine could have been twins.
My dad worked for the post office department for years, sorting and working the mail on trains as they traveled from city to city. It wasn’t exactly the most exciting occupation a kid’s dad could have, but it was steady and solid – as was my dad – and I did sometimes have a little fun with it when someone would ask me what he did for a living. At that time, it was still mandatory for railway postal workers to carry guns – a carryover from the days of Jesse James – and I remember that I used to tell kids that my dad worked for the government, had a badge and carried a gun in a shoulder holster. Their eyes would get wide and then they’d ask if he was in the FBI, but I’d just smile. (Eventually the postal service eliminated the guns.)
Dad loved music and somehow managed to always have a record player around the house, even in the early frugal days. Later, about the time I moved out and started my own family (hmmm), he bought himself a decent phonograph with a record changer attachment and would stack his albums up and play them for hours. I’d always thought it was a little funny that he wasn’t really that big a fan of swing music, which was sort of the music of his era. Instead, he was crazy about marches, polkas, and light classical, which brings us to the song that triggered my memory, and that was always a favorite of his.
It’s from Khachaturian’s ‘Gayane’ Ballet Suite, but it’s better known by it’s short name: “Sabre Dance”.
Dad, this one’s for you.