Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Fathers Lesson and Elvis.

Let me quickly sketch a family outline.  We were living on the grounds of Dorothea Dix Hospital, a sprawling state institution in North Carolina for the mentally ill.  The hospital had housing for employees and both their families, but the campus ran much like its own entity.  Any given day I could be riding my bike past a working farm, a power plant or even prisoners behind barbed wire and guarded towers.  Didn’t faze me one bit.

 But, to the story at hand.  Mom and Dad were pinching pennies and had to find some crafty ways of keeping a young seven year old son a bit more occupied.  Dad brought into the marriage a massive stereo system – J.C. Penney branded no less, with speakers nearly half as tall as I was.  He also toted along an album collection that would have rivaled most DJ’s at the time.   I wasn’t much of a music kid at the time, but boy did that change fast.

My parents rotated first through third shifts and were not often on the same schedule.  The days that Dad was home were a real treat.  Early on, after he moved in, he would take some of those days to spin vinyl on the system and smoke Kool Filter Kings.  The house would fill with the sweet menthol and then the tunes ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Chicago to Crosby , Stills, Nash and Young.  But there was one artist that struck me hard and fast, and Dad saw a way to teach a lesson.

"Love Me Tender"  "Hound Dog"  "Return to SenderWe all know who this is.  Elvis Presley.  Dad would load one of the 33 1/3 or 45’s and I would instantly know who it was.   In a matter of mere weeks I was imitating Elvis, singing his songs and asking more and more about him.  Certain songs would elicit certain emotions and actions.  “Jailhouse Rock” would bring a goofy dance, “Hound Dog” would cause all sorts of singing and squawking, but Dad taught his best with one song. 
Just after the first week of August of ’77 I heard “Memories” for the first time.  I’m still not sure how I missed it as it was released in 1968, but as some of you may recall, it would be mere days before Elvis’ death.  The first time I heard this tune, Dad had played it and I became uncharacteristically still and quiet.  Dad observed me for a few minutes and asked me what was I thinking of.  I talked with him about my biological father and my Grandmother being sick and making her a big get well banner to hang in her hospital room and then friends and so on…Rambling as kids that age do.  But, I then started to cry.  Dad, being the great father he was, hugged me and saw me through it, and I then started to ask about why I felt happy and sad and mad all at the same time.  “It’s just like Elvis sang about son.  It’s Memories.  You will always have these feelings and some days you will laugh and some days you will cry.  But it’s what you do with those memories, that is most important of all.” “What do I do with them?” was my natural response.  “It’s tough to tell you now son, but as you get older you will know.  I promise.”

Two weeks later on August 16 of 1977, tragically Elvis died at the age of 42.   That evening dad took out as many Elvis records as he could and played them most of the night.  Again, I was much too quiet and Mom asked if I was okay. “I am working Mom.  Dad showed me today how to make memories of my own.  Like the Elvis song. “
To this very day music, not just Presley, does that for me.  New and old gives me an old thought, and I appreciate the years of musical variety my Dad gave me.  He’s now in his seventies,  I am now 42 – the very same age Elvis was at his death, and my Dad and I share that same love of music.  Although his mind and body are shattered some days, we can still load his wheelchair in the van and drive for miles, singing our souls out.  Still making memories. 

Joel Kilgore June 2012

Although not central to Joel's story, there was a mention of C,S,N&Y and this seemed to sum it all up for me. Here is to all of your memories you and your Father can make Joel...and all of you reading as well. Much Love. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kiddieland Memories-Schatzie Guerra

Kiddieland Amusement Park was one of the summer go-to spots we had on Sundays with my Father.
There was also the Indiana Dunes, various forest preserve bar-b-ques and Great America, but right now we're in Melrose Park in the mid to late 70s'.
The carousel, bumper cars and The Little Dipper.
I mostly recall these rail type cars that you got to squat into and then had to propel yourself around the track by cranking the oversized egg-beater style handles.
And, the puppet box.
Part of me thinks it a false recall, but I still have the haziest of pictures in my mind-and will swear it was real.
It couldn't have been more that 4 or 5 feet tall or so and maybe 3 deep.
There was a glass front with varicolored designs, maybe even a type of circus motif, but it was what was behind the glass that held me.
A small group of clown marionettes, puffed sleeves ending in those puppet wrists that remind you of the tied end of a balloon, hands down as if waiting to receive a slap.
Drop a coin in the slot and the edges of the glass would light up and the hidden wheels at the top would pull the strings, jerking the puppets to life for their twenty-five cent revue.
The music- Well, again, misremembering tells me it was some kind of calliope tune befitting the circus along with a small chorus of voices singing some happy circus-y song that really didn't match any of their movements.
It was odd and tinny, even standing right in front you really couldn't make out any words.
Like a drive through mountains where you catch the snippet of a song you think is familiar, you try and work the dial with a surgeon's grace, ranging between the static peaks to get it back.
I dream of the song.
Garbled but happy, the performers did as much as they could with the brief life a quarter gave them.
It mesmerized me and I had to see them every time we went to that park,.
My Father indulged but not before a look that told you you were not getting anything of value regardless how small the small expense.
There was also a slightly similar gimmick at Brookfield Zoo, maybe Lincoln Park? That I know for a fact existed.
It was a box with cut-outs of smiling animals and the money deposited was to help fund the zoo, according to the information on the front.
The concept was the same but the performance was nowhere near as captivating and if I had bothered, I'm sure I could have made out whatever it was they was singing about.
It's the Kiddieland marionette box that is the Grail of memories, partially due to it's surreal mien and because my Dad must have given up five dollars in quarters over the years so I could stand stock still for less than a minute and watch the show that never changed, unless you counted the increasing distortion from that speaker and the fading of their costumes.
I heard a song last year, it opens with a distorted warble that made me think of the puppet box immediately  and I have since tracked it down to add to my music.
I will occasionally play it and imagine the sun in my eyes from the angle of the plexiglass and picture a group of raggedy hanged men preparing to sing the only song they ever learned.