Gramps’s Record Player

Best of the Boards
Mark Paxson


It was Gramps’s old record player that did it. In the end, it almost ripped us apart, which would have been ironic. In the end, it brought us back together again.

My first memory of the record player was from a day my parents left me with my grandparents. Back in the mid-seventies when I was probably five or six years old. My grandparents were supposed to watch me while my parents shopped for a car. Mama had wrecked the car the week before and Daddy was none too happy about having to buy a new one. The last thing he wanted was for “the sniveling little brat” to come with them.

When Mama dropped me off, I did my best to live up to Daddy’s view of me. I sniveled and cried. As Mama walked down the pathway to the street, where Daddy sat in Gramps’s car waiting, I screamed and stomped my feet. It did no good. Mama got in the car, closed the door, and blew me a kiss while I held my hand out and cried for her.

As Daddy drove the car down the tree-lined street, Gramps picked me up and kissed me on my cheek, his rough stubble a memory I haven’t forgotten. “Come, little one,” he said in his old country accent. “Let us listen to some music.” He took me into the front room and sat me down in his recliner.

While I tried to control my sobs, Gramps went to a cabinet in the corner. On top was his record player. It had fake wood paneling and two huge speakers on the floor next to the cabinet. Gramps lifted the arm and placed the needle down on the spinning platter, bringing forth a crackle from those speakers. My sniveling stopped. Through the opening seconds of hissing and snapping, Gramps walked to the chair I sat in. He leaned over and picked me up, a small grunt escaping from him as he did so. He sat down in the chair and put me in his lap as the music began.

I have no idea what the song was, but it soothed me. Within seconds I had stopped crying while the delicate sounds emanated from the speakers and Gramps rubbed my back. Every few seconds, he whispered, “Shhhhh.”

In the years ahead, Gramps’s old record player worked its magic. When I was grown, along with my brother and our cousins, our grandparents’ house was where we always returned for the traditional family get-togethers. For Thanksgiving, we ate Gramma’s dry turkey and drier stuffing. At Christmas, we enjoyed her baked ham and macaroni-and-cheese out of a box. For anniversaries and birthdays, weddings and funerals, we shared in potlucks and Gramma’s version of food.

Every time we got together there was always a point at which voices would rise, forks would be slammed to the table. Whether it was politics or religion, whether Aunt Suzie should have been invited or whether distant cousin Bill was a drunk, something always caused a stir that would end when Gramps rose from the table. “It is time for some music,” he would mutter to himself, but loudly enough for everybody to hear. Gramps, who was old back in the seventies when I was just a boy, would hobble to the front room. Soon, the crackle and hiss would make its way into the dining room and a few seconds later an orchestra filled with strings and woodwinds would follow.

When Gramps returned and sat back down in his chair, the creak of his joints overriding the music for just the briefest of seconds, he would look at his family reaching down the sides of the table. “Now, what were we talking about?” For the rest of the evening, whatever conflict had arisen was forgotten. The music did its trick.

When Gramps died, preceded only a couple of months by Gramma, he left no will. Just a house full of stuff accumulated over the ninety-one years of his life. We gathered there one Saturday afternoon. All of the cousins. My brother, John, and I. Chris and Chelsea. Our mothers, Gramps and Gramma’s only children, didn’t want to have anything to do with going through their stuff. It was too painful for them. “Take what you want,” Mama said. “Whatever’s left, give to Goodwill.”

The four of us were barely in the front door when Chris stated, “I want the record player,” and headed straight to it.

“Uh-uh,” John said. “Not so fast.”

Chris stood up and turned towards John. “What? You think you get it? You don’t even like music. You don’t own a CD, let alone a record. You wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

“Yeah, but maybe Chelsea wants it or Sherri,” John replied, nodding his head in my direction.

“I don’t want anything else. You can all fight over everything else in this house, but the record player’s mine,” Chris said, taking a step towards John. It was amazing how quickly his anger had risen.

“Chris, you don’t get to just march in here and order us around and tell us what you get and what we get.”

“John, it’s okay,” Chelsea said. “I don’t want—”

“The record player is mine.” Chris walked over to John and jabbed him in the chest with each word. “End of story.”

John didn’t back down, he batted Chris’s hand away and turned a bright shade of red. “Don’t do that again.”

I did the only thing I could think of to do. While the two men, acting like little boys, stared each other down, I went to Gramps’s record player and turned it on. Once the disc was spinning, I picked up the needle and placed it on the edge. I turned the volume up so that the crackle and hiss filled the room, followed a few seconds later by the sound of a lone violin eeking out a mournful melody.

By the time the first song was over, the four of us stood huddling together, wiping our tears and promising to do better.
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Mark Paxson spends his time toiling away as an attorney, filling the role of soccer and baseball dad, and writing when he can. He can be reached at mpacks[at]frontiernet.net

“Gramps’s Record Player” took third place in ReviewFuse.com‘s July Flash Fiction category.

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