It once was lost, but now it’s found…

As my sister and I were working on our family home last year, preparing it for the estate sale, we were, naturally, overwhelmed by all of the ‘stuff’ in the house.  Stuff that needed sorting; stuff that needed to be thrown away; and stuff that needed to be saved.

The more we worked, the more we realized that the “saved” pile needed to be the smallest.  There was just no way either of could take everything; and frankly, neither of us really wanted everything.  So we had to pick the items that we REALLY wanted the most, and leave the rest behind for the sale.

As time wore on, we knew what we wanted.  We marked those items off and set them aside.  Beth took a few smaller items, and I took a table that was my Grandma’s that I really liked a lot, along with a number of smaller mementos and a few handy kitchen items.  It seemed pretty easy at the time, but in reality, it was quite overwhelming. And even during that time and long afterward, I kept wondering if there was something else I was missing.

When the sale came around October, I knew it was too late– I had to accept that whatever I took was what I got– everything else had to go to the sale.  And truly, that was the most important thing about it: every penny we sold went to Mom so she could pay for her assisted living care.  So whatever we could contribute to further that cause was the best for everyone.

After the sale, however, and after the sale of the house, I finally realized there was one item I wished I had kept: My Dad’s budding box.

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Roses by the house, 1974

Dad was an avid rosarian.  At one point we had over 250 rose bushes in our backyard, and that was largely due to his skill at budding and grafting rose bushes. Each summer, he budded close to 30 roses from bushes he either already had or that his friends had in their yards.  I’d watch him as he’d carefully perform the steps of budding new roses, and eventually he taught me how to do it.  It was one of those things that he and I enjoyed doing together– something we shared.

So this box meant a lot to me. But as far as I knew, it was long gone.

Until today.

My Aunt Rita held her annual family and friends picnic at Simmons Island earlier in the day, and we had just finished everything up.  I had my camera with me, so I decided to take some pictures around downtown Kenosha before heading back to Chicago.  I’d walked around for about an hour and was getting warm so I got back into the car for a drive around.  I was getting ready to “scoop the loop” down 6th avenue, when I suddenly turned onto 56th Street.  I saw the old Leader Store, where we used to buy our school, Cub Scout and Girl Scout uniforms when we were kids, and something caught my eye.  I hit the brakes and quickly did a u-turn and parked.  I couldn’t believe it… but it was my dad’s budding box, in the window, with his name clearly showing.  It was marked with a price tag: $20.

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Dad’s budding box in the window of the former Leader Store in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Dad built this box in the early 1970s, along with a few others for some of his rosarian friends. I believe he got the idea from another friend, or an article in The American Rose magazine; but in any case, he built it himself, painted it, and even painted the rose and his name in a distinctive script.  He used the box to carry all of his budding tools and supplies, so he could quickly set up shop when he was ready to work.  And use it, he did.  A lot.

It’s one of the last remaining items that showcases his art talents.  Many of them were lost or destroyed over the years, including a beautiful set of budding instruction charts that were wrecked when our basement flooded a couple years ago.  It truly is a one-of-a-kind, priceless item that we really cherish.  So to have it back would mean so very much.

There were no phone numbers in the window, indicating who to call if one had a question about one of the items.  The store was empty, so clearly someone was using the window space just to display these items.  I snapped a picture of the box in the window and sent it to my sister.  And then I posted it to a group on Facebook called “You Know You’re From Kenosha If…,” where current and former residents of Kenosha reminisce about things, places, and people they grew up with and remember fondly while living in Kenosha.  There have been some great, lively discussions and a lot of really great history shared in this group, so I figured it was the best way to find out some information about where the box was displayed.

Almost immediately, I started getting comments with ideas of who to contact, as well as a lot of support and wishes for me to get this box back.  By the time I got back to Chicago, the woman who placed the item in the window had sent me a private message on Facebook with her number saying to call her back about the box.

I called her once I got settled, and told her the story behind the box, and how I discovered it in the window.  She barely could recall how she even got the box, but she knew she liked it and thought it was interesting — and she wondered why nobody was interested in it or wanted it.  So in the end, she graciously offered it back to us, no charge.  I was moved by her generosity– even though it’s ours in heart and in history, it’s technically hers right now.  But I’ve discovered with people who deal in antiques or collectibles– it’s not so much about what you make on an item: it’s more about how the story is told, and what it means to someone.

Beth will pick it up later this week.  I’m excited to have it back in our family again.

A really nice example of the power of the internet, and specifically, the positive power of social media.  When good people are involved, it can do pretty awesome things.

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I’d like to add a plug for Janet Steinmetz at Black Sheep Mercantile.  Janet is the wonderful lady who has the box and offered to return it.  If you’re in Kenosha, please stop by and visit her store at 6227 22nd Avenue.

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This used to be our playground

Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Mom's crab tree, 1984
Mom’s crab tree, 1984
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Mom with Beth outside - 1973
Mom with Beth outside – 1973
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital - 1970
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital – 1970
Grandma on Dad's chair, 1970
Grandma on Dad’s chair, 1970
The family in front of the house for Beth's first communion - 1982
The family in front of the house for Beth’s first communion – 1982

Last night, my sister went up to Kenosha for the closing on our family home, where our family has lived since 1966. It’s the only home Beth and I knew from our growing up years until today.

Last year, after we moved my mom into her new home, we spent months cleaning (and cleaning) the house, getting the things we wanted out of it, and planning and executing an estate sale with the incredible help of The Balderdash Collection. In November we put the house on the market, and yesterday it was sold. Pretty incredible when you consider the market today.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in at the house and took one last walk around. Although it was completely empty, I still could see everything the way it was, and I could remember things that happened in every nook and cranny. Where I’d listen to my music. Where my mom would sit and look at the crab tree in the front yard. Where we sat at the dinner table. Where we’d sit and watch TV as a family after dinner. Where my sister and I played together and made up silly games. Where fights happened. Where good and bad news was learned. Where my Dad died. They all happened there.

It’s hard to say goodbye to a place as special as this… but it’s time. We have a lot of wonderful memories there, and we’ll never forget those. But now it’s time for new memories.  In new places.  And now, someone else can make memories in our old home.  I hope it has as many good things in store for them as it had for us.

Imagination

by Joe Raposo
Here in the middle of imagination
Right in the middle of my head,
I close my eyes and my room’s not my room,
And my bed isn’t really my bed.
I look inside and discover things,
That are sometimes strange and new,
And the most remarkable thoughts I think,
Have a way of being true.

Here in the middle of imagination
Right in the middle of my mind,
I close my eyes and the night isn’t dark
And the things that I lose, I find.
Time stands still and the night is clear,
And the wind is warm and fair,
And the nicest place is the middle of imagination
When… I’m… there…

Birthday Retrospective: Top 70s Artists and Songs

As Part 2 of my “Birthday Retrospective,” leading up to my 40th birthday, I’d like to take a look back at the music which shaped my childhood — which of course took place in the 1970s.

Music was a big part of my childhood.  It was ever-present, in the stereo in the living room, with its 8-Track player that we used constantly, and in my room with my own records.  I lived through the singer-songwriter era, and the disco era.  My mom clued me into artists such as Carpenters, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and countless others.  If the 8-Track or the record player weren’t playing, the radio was.  And I was singing along the whole time.

Anyone who has visited my blog over the 5 years I’ve kept it up knows that I have a special love for 70s music.  So here is a list of some of my most favorite artists and the songs I remember best from my growing-up period: the 1970s. (NOTE:  Many of these links, due to copyright restrictions, will take you to YouTube to view the content.)

1. The Carpenters

By far, the Carpenters shaped my life the most, musically.  They were a part of my earliest childhood, singing along with them to the “Singles” 8-Track constantly.  I memorized the words to their songs just as quickly as “Twinkle Twinkle” or “Hickory Dickory Dock.”  They’re ingrained into my fabric.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To pick just one or two significant Carpenters songs is like trying to pick a speck of dust out of a pile of salt.  There are so many that mean so much to me.  But I did narrow it down to two.

Sing
Written by Joe Raposo, writer of so many wonderful Sesame Street and Electric Company songs, this song probably means the most to me because it has, over the years, shaped my feeling about music, and has stayed with me ever since:  Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.  Just sing… sing a song. What a profound statement.

Top of the World
Just like “Sing,” this Richard Carpenter/Jon Bettis classic quickly became my favorite, and even at the young age of a 3, I would sing it up and down the halls of my parents’ home.  I called it “I Can Find” at the time, from the line “And the only explanation I can find….” in the chorus.   I guess that one phrase stuck with me the most.  In any case, “Top of the World” still remains a favorite, and every so often I listen to that recording me at 3 years of age, singing along with my Mom.

2. Barry Manilow

Daybreak
Before Serial Mom killed one of her victims while playing “Daybreak” on her car stereo’s tape player (one of my favorite scenes, I must admit), this song reminded me of summers in the 70s, with Barry Manilow playing and my sister and I messing up my mother’s living room with Little People sets all over the place.

Mandy
Another favorite– again, trying to pick just one or two Barry Manilow songs proved difficult.  All of the classic 70s tunes were part of the soundtrack of my childhood; but this one always stuck with me as a favorite.  Even though he didn’t write it himself.  (It was actually written and recorded by a singer named Scott English in 1971, and it was originally titled “Brandy.”  The song’s name was changed when Manilow recorded it because another song named “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” was popular at the time.  These days, that notion seems ridiculous.

3. ABBA

Dancing Queen
Oh Dancing Queen, what a long history you and I have.  You’d think it was the whole “gay” subtext that makes this one appropriate for my list, but you’d be wrong.  It actually goes back as far as when the song itself actually first came out.  My mom loved ABBA and had just about as many of their 8-Tracks as the Carpenters, and we played them just about as often.  My most vivid memory of “Dancing Queen,” though, is that it always seemed to play on the radio while my mom was carting my sister and I to the KYF (which was more or less the YMCA in Kenosha) for swimming lessons.  We’d both be miserable, dreading going to our lessons; but then ABBA would come on and we’d sing along with “Dancing Queen,” and everything seemed to be okay from there on out.  So I guess a song can have multiple meanings to a person over the years.

The Name of the Game
I don’t know what it is about this song, but it’s always been one of my favorite ABBA tunes.  I like the story behind it, the melody, the bassline, and even the video.

Interestingly, about this video, I remember seeing it on TV in the 1970s, probably on a “Midnight Special” show.  You may remember that show– it was hosted by Wolfman Jack and featured popular acts playing live, and was shown, appropriately enough, at midnight.  By the mid-1970s I was a pretty music-savvy kid, so if I knew one of my favorite artists was scheduled to appear somewhere, I’d make sure I saw it.  ABBA was one of them.  However, ABBA rarely appeared live, because they either couldn’t or weren’t willing to travel such long distances.  So instead, they recorded short videos of themselves performing their songs.  They were truly groundbreaking in the area of the short-form music video.

4. Elton John

Rocket Man
No 1970s list would be complete without my namesake– well, at least my nickname’s namesake– the Rocket Man himself, Elton John.  Elton was certainly present throughout my childhood, but he wasn’t among my parents’ 8-Tracks or LPs.  Elton was someone I came to enjoy a little later on, when I realized just how much his music really had affected me.  But I do distinctly remember Elton’s music being VERY present on the radio.

Rocket Man was always a favorite.  I loved the story of the song and the imagery employed by that awesome guitar effect of the “rocket taking off” as the song leads into the chorus.  It was haunting and, really, groundbreaking– and it’s stayed with me my entire life.  So much so that, when I first got online with the Prodigy service in the early 1990s, I chose Rocket Man as my online “handle.”  And it’s stayed with me ever since.

5. James Taylor

Fire and Rain
As you go through this list, you’ll see that singer/songwriters played as great a role in my musical heritage as rockers and disco artists.  In fact, as I’ve grown older, singer/songwriters have probably had a larger lasting effect on me, both for the style of their music and the simplicity of it.  James Taylor, by far, was one of my favorites.  I heard “Fire and Rain” constantly on the radio growing up, and while I didn’t really understand what all the lyrics meant at time, I knew it was a wonderful song with a special meaning to someone.  It’s still one of my all-time favorites today.

6. Carly Simon

Anticipation
I can’t help it.  Whenever I hear this song, I think of Heinz ketchup.  “Anticipation” was a mega hit for Carly Simon in the early 1970s, but many people my age will distinctly recall the Heinz ketchup commercials where two kids could barely wait for the ketchup to come out of the bottle.  Of course now-a-days, you just squeeze the bottle and end of story– but if you are like me and like old-fashioned glass bottles, the “anticipation” is part of the fun.

Nobody Does It Better
This song reminds me of a lot of things– it was on the radio constantly in the late 1970s, so there are many memories associated with it back then.  But I also used this song for a slide show that I created for my DECA state officer team in the early 1990s.  I wish I still had that slide show– might have to re-create it — but ever since then, this song makes me think of them.

7. Paul McCartney & Wings

Two of Paul McCartney’s hits with his second band, “Wings” play very important parts of my childhood, and to this day I still associate them with specific moments from that time.

Listen To What The Man Says
This song reminds me of my mom and our neighbors taking us to the newly-opened city pool at the end of our block.  When it first opened, they used to play music on the loudspeakers, and this song was among those played.  For some reason, ever since then, I have associated it with that memory.  It’s a very good memory, too.

With A Little Luck
Simliarly, and much later in the decade, this classic tune reminds me of playing outdoors in the summer of 1978 or 1979.  I had a little handheld radio then that I took with me everywhere I went, and this song was immensely popular at that time.  Every time I hear it, I can see myself playing in the backyard and laying on our lawn chairs in the middle of the cool green grass.

8. Carole King

So Far Away
This song not only reminds of many wonderful times where I heard the song; but the lyrics of the song also evoke memories of the wonderful people that have come and gone in my lifetime.  Nobody writes songs like this anymore.  It’s a shame.

9. Olivia Newton-John

Please Mr. Please
When I was a kid, I went through a major country phase.  I don’t remember exactly why– but I remember listening to country music on the radio a lot at one point.  One of my favorite songs from that time was this gorgeous tune by the lovely Olivia Newton-John.  This was, of course, pre-“Grease” and “Xanadu,” but I knew I liked what I heard right from the start.

Sam
Another great song from her early years… this one always touched me as being so very honest.  If you’ve ever seen her sing in person, you know how much she “lives” the song… she really interprets everything she does beautifully.  Also, you’ll notice that all of these performances are LIVE.  She rarely ever lip synched.  Oh yeah, and autotune didn’t exist back then.  This is called pure singing.

I Honestly Love You
I had to add one more, because Olivia is just so wonderful.  This one is from just last year, in 2009.  Not only is she still lovely, her voice has aged beautifully.  As a singer, this is what I hope for — to grow old gracefully and to be able to sing for many more years to come.

10. Bee Gees

Now, no list of 70s artists from my childhood would be complete without the Bee Gees.  In the mid to late 70s, they were EVERYTHING, and EVERYWHERE.  I had their poster up in my bedroom, and wore their LPs out so badly I had to get new ones.  The Bee Gees were quintissential 70s, and I still love them today.

Stayin’ Alive
Of course, this song was a HUGE favorite of mine.  When I got my “John Travolta Suit” for my birthday, I imagined myself on that lighted dancefloor, dancing to this song.  Yeah… was there any wonder at all?

How Deep Is Your Love
Man, this song was smooth then and it’s smooth now.  It never ages.  One of the most perfect love songs ever written.  And every time I hear it, I’m hurtled back 30 years to that time when I played it constantly on my turntable.  Such great times.  Such great memories.

BONUS: Michael Martin Murphey – Wildfire

As a bonus, I have to include this classic 70s country-rock tune.  This song was undoubtedly my favorite song growing up.  It’s still at the top of my list.  I never get tired of the melody and the story.  And I was just talking to someone about this — when I would hear it back then, I would create my own “video” in my mind from the imagery of the story.  I still think of those “images” today, every time I hear it.  That’s the power of great music– timeless and everlasting.  I love this live version, with an extended intro and solos at the end.  Still makes me wistful today.

My Top 10 Classic 1970’s Commercials

As I grow ever nearer to my 40th birthday (less than a month away!) I decided it’s time to start taking a little trip down memory road and bring back some things I remember from my childhood.

To start, I have assembled my Top 10 most memorable 1970’s commercials.  Growing up as a child of the 1970’s, I was glued to the TV more often than not.  So many of these commercials are just as memorable to me today as they were then.

Here we go!

10. Chiffon Margarine – “It’s Not Nice To Fool Mother Nature”

Oh how I loved this one.  Something about it just stuck with me for years afterward.  Maybe it was the way she said the commercial’s tagline, or maybe it was the thunder and lightning.  Either way, I once in a while will still use this line.  This is the only one I can find on YouTube— but I know many others were made.

9. Trix – Trix Ahoy!

I used to always feel so sorry for the Trix Rabbit.  Why were Trix just for kids anyway?  After all, grown-ups could eat Trix if they wanted to– why couldn’t the rabbit?  Anyway, his misadventures with trying to access Trix cereal were best in the 1970’s– when there were only three flavors: Raspberry Red, Lemon Yellow and Orange Orange.  Of course, they always tasted the same to me.

8. Slinky – “It’s Slinky!”

I think I went through at least 5 Slinkies in my lifetime.  I always tried to get them to go down stairs but for some reason I never could do it successfully.  That never stopped me from trying, obviously.  I went through so many of them because I’d eventually get them all tangled and bent out of shape so they didn’t work anymore.  I never got one of those plastic ones– I always wanted a shiny new metal one.  Oddly enough, I STILL have the last Slinky I ever bought.  It’s got to be over 25 years old by now, and it’s still in perfect condition.

7. Life Cereal – “He Likes It!  Hey Mikey!”

This one had major lasting power, running well into the 1980’s and possibly even the early 1990’s.  It even had a resurgence when they found the original Mikey (who did not die from a mixture of pop rocks and Coke, as was greatly rumored) and brought him back for an update of the commercial in the 1980’s.

6. Oscar Mayer – “My Bologna Has A First Name”

I was just singing this to myself at the grocery store at the other day, when I was standing in a VERY long line waiting to be checked out.  Next to me was the lunch meat, and a ton of Oscar Mayer Bologna.  I haven’t eaten the stuff in years (the though sickens me– I ate enough of it as a kid, and frankly I never liked it then!), but the song has never left my brain.  If it has left yours, see how quickly you’ll recall it by clicking below.

5. Toys R Us – “Christmas Commercial”

This one makes me warm and fuzzy inside every single time I hear the song.  I remember KNOWING that Christmas was coming as soon as I heard this song play.  I don’t know why, but it really affected me as a kid– and still does today.

4. Tootsie Roll – “How Many Licks?

Another one that ran for YEARS, this one probably was viewed by me and my sister more times than any other.  To this day, when I count to three, I say “One… Two-WHOOOO! Three!”  As a bonus, I’m including the FULL version, where the boy asks a cow and a fox in addition to the turtle and the owl.  The classic, long-running version just includes the turtle and the owl.

Original, extended version

Classic, shortened version

3. Coca Cola – “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing

What classic 1970’s list would be complete without this commercial?  Even as a kid, I knew what a great commercial it was– if only for the song itself.  I remember singing the complete, revised song in grade school around 4th grade or so.  Of course, that was in the 1980’s, but that just goes to show the lasting power the commercial had.  This one also ran for many years– and still makes reappearances now and then.  It’s considered one of the greatest TV commercials of all-time.

2. Calgon Water Softener – “Ancient Chinese Secret

OK, I know that by today’s standards this commercial is TOTALLY un-PC.  But any kid in the 1970’s knew the line “Ancient Chinese Secret, HUH?”  Regardless of the message it portrays, it is a classic 1970’s commercial which ran for YEARS (well into the 1980’s, in fact).  So it definitely belongs here!

Interesting to note: There were two different versions of the commercial.  The original version had Mrs. Lee calling Calgon “New Improved Calgon,” while the subsequent versions just said, “Calgon.”

1. Tootsie Roll – “Whatever It Is I Think I See Becomes A Tootsie Roll To Me”

Chicago-based Tootsie Roll gets two entries in my Top 10 list.  Both commercials had enormous lasting power (running well over 10 years each), and both were extremely effective because their messages were clear, clever and simple.  This song is one of those that hurtles me back 35 years or so and plants me in front of the TV watching “Bozo’s Circus” or “Ray Rayner” on WGN Channel 9.  I love this one.