20 September 2006

Two Black Crows

I was reading the Prologue in Studs Terkel’s book “And They All Sang” when an image flashed across my mind.

Grandma Goebel lived in a large two story house, well, two stories with a full attic and basement, with a large Dutch Elm tree in the front yard. From the sidewalk, you went up steps to the front porch, which held two rattan rocking chairs. Another step up through the large front door into the vestibule, then another door into the foyer, and you were finally inside. To the right was a coat closet. Also on the right was a stairway leading to the second floor. Straight ahead was another door into a dark hallway, with clothes hooks on the left, then straight ahead into the kitchen, then straight ahead again would take you into the pantry. Not just a small set of shelves but a full size pantry, with a refrigerator, that replaced the original ice box.

From the foyer, turning left were a set of glass doors that led to the living room. On one wall was a fireplace with a gas burner, the gas having long since been disconnected, but the false logs still in place. To the right, led to the dining room, every bit as large as the living room, but having a beamed ceiling. Off the dining room was a small room used as my Grandmother’s bedroom.

Upstairs had originally been four bedrooms, but by the time we moved in - in 1941 - one had been converted into a kitchen. Off the kitchen was a porch, open to the outdoors.

The attic is where my brother and I had our bed. Some of the original gas pipes were still to be seen on the chimney, which intruded into the middle of the attic.

But back to the dining room we go. There was a large upright Victrola phonograph machine in the room. There was a crank on the side of the machine to wind up the motor to turn the turntable. In the lower part of the unit there was a cabinet that held Grandma’s record collection. These were the old bakelite 78 rpm records, and very brittle. The machine used a rigid metal needle attached to a diaphragm to deliver the sound, so of course the extended use would gradually wear down the grooves in the records and produce an irritating scratchy sound.

I don’t remember all the music that Grandma had, but there were some classical pieces in there. The image that flashed across my mind, however, was a record of two men - the Two Black Crows - talking through a minstrel show-like routine which would make us laugh over and over. Corny jokes, to be sure, but laughable indeed.

Such a wonderful piece of furniture was that old Victrola phonograph machine.

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