They were an elderly couple who had been at the ranch for decades and were now moving back into town. They decided to have a garage sale to get rid of their last few furnishings but mostly as an excuse to get together with friends and toast an era’s end.
They set out shrimps and cocktail sauce and stood on the deck greeting people, she in a brightly colored caftan, and he in a Mr. Rogers-style sweater. The sunlit house was almost bare within but for a few faded prints on the walls, a stray chair or two, and an enormous elk head above the stairs. In a shadowy corner by the staircase was the record collection, all of it up for grabs; I don’t own a record player, but I was curious. I perused with tenderness, sensing I was scrolling through the history of a family, an audio documentation of the times in which they lived, the soundtrack of their lives.
I came first upon an album—and here I mean album literally, a hard-covered book with pages holding separate 78s—of Big Ten College Songs. Underneath that, there was a Victor Musical Masterpiece collection titled Negro Spirituals Sung by Dorothy Maynor with Unaccompanied Male Choir. There were lots of LPs in random profusion: symphonies by Mahler and Tchaikovsky, Scott Joplin tunes played by the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, piano hits of Roger Williams, ballads sung by Burl Ives, and the same Broadway musicals I listened to as a kid, with covers as familiar as old friends. One glimpse of Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza on the cover of South Pacific, and I was hearing “Some Enchanted Evening” in my head. A glance at Mario Lanza on The Student Prince, and his dulcet tenor tones were serenading me about moonbeams and dreaming, and I could drift along forever.
Especially eerie was the sight of Whistle While You Work: Music with a Lilt to Lighten Your Housework and its whimsical illustration of a woman circa 1961 in a striped dress and white apron with a schmata on her head, dancing jubilantly with a broom. We owned this record, too. Didn’t everyone?
There was a kids’ corner, as well: The Chipmunks Sing Again, Bozo on the Farm, Songs of the Wild West, and Fire Station songs with a 29-cent price tag still on the paper jacket. I skipped a group of 45s and wandered over to the talking records of the early ’60s. Here I found The First Family by Vaughn Meader, when the Kennedys and Camelot were spoof-able. Here, too, was Tom Lehrer’s That Was the Year that Was, and Mort Sahl’s Look Forward In Anger. These were the artifacts of my youth and our shared history.
It was a time capsule, and oddly poignant, as garage sales always are. And when the lady of the house came up to me and sweetly said, “Just take them all. I want you to have them… ” I declined. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t play them anyway. Or that my husband would be furious if I came home with three or four big boxes filled with stuff. It wasn’t even the unexpected lump in my throat. It was just a very strong sense of being full, of already having more than enough.