13
Dec
11

The 12 Ways of Christmas: the records

[Part 1]

Not long into December every year, when I was a kid, my mom and I would start digging out the Christmas albums. We’d play them on the quadraphonic sound system in the living room. (What suburban house furnished in the ’70s was complete without quadraphonic sound?)

You could set up two or three records at a time, resting on an arm that held them above the turntable. When one side ended, the tone arm would lift up and swing back to home position, a notch in the spindle would click, and the next record would drop into place. The tone arm would swing back, drop the needle into place, and new music would begin to play. It was like magic.

My mom had some ancient, dusty old records. Some were in heavy boxed sets. Must have been some Time-Life collections or something. I remember a Harry Belafonte record. Perry Como. Frank Sinatra. Andy Williams. And don’t think for a second we didn’t have “A Christmas Album” by Barbra Streisand.

I particularly adored “Christmas with Johnny Mathis.” His “Marshmallow World” is still one of my favorite seasonal gems, though I continue to be annoyed by his “Carol of the Bells.”

My favorite Christmas album of all time ever was from Up With People. (My parents took me to an Up With People concert in Detroit one year, and briefly they were an obsession of mine.) I can’t remember the title of the album, and I’ll probably never find it anywhere except my mom’s house. They did a rendition of “Sleigh Ride” that I have not yet heard equalled.

Mom and I, we’d fetch the artificial tree—the “nice tree,” we called it—the box ripping aart a little more very time we dragged it up the stairs from the basement. It was our job to assemble it under the careful watch of Mathis, Sinatra, Belafonte, Streisand.

I’d sink back into the fuzzy couch, my feet dangling off the edge of the seat, and sing along to the records with my mom, always my mom, only ever my mom. She’d sit cross-legged on the floor and sort out the branches into their colored groupings so I could stick their ends into the trunk.

Sometimes I’d stare at the lights glowing on the 8-track player, situated just underneath the turntable, wondering what the hell an 8-track player was and why we never ever used it.

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