The other day I was at my desk working on something or other when I found myself humming a tune I hadn’t heard in years. It took me a moment to remember where: an old reel-to-reel tape that my grandfather had given me, along with a player, when I was six or seven.
The tape was a recording of a comedy album from the 50s by a guy named Harry Stewart. The song was called “Yokohama Mama.” I’ve never heard it or anything about it or the comedian since the day, a few weeks after I got it, the tape and player melted in the back of my mom’s car after I’d left them there on a hot summer day.
I didn’t have the tape long — a few weeks at most —but I can still remember its blue cover, held on with chromed latches. I remember the clear plastic reels and glossy black tape wound between them. I even remember some of the words, which is how I was able to track down the song title and a little information about the comedian. And I remember feeling sad when it melted, and scared that my grandfather would be upset with me for not taking better care of it. I don’t remember if I ever told him.
I remember a lot about my mother’s father: how tall he was, and how thin; his huge hands and the way he folded them behind his head while he watched television, and the way I could see his heartbeat pulsing below his wiry biceps when he sat like that. I remember his voice, the slow cadence of his faded Arkansas accent, the creaky sound of his chuckle. I remember the way he’d leave his dentures all over the house, the way they’d grin at you from on top of a paper napkin he’d left on the kitchen counter. Humming what I can remember of that little song brings all of that back.
In my memories, there are many objects and places that are now much more than what they must have been at the time, and nearly all of them are things that I no longer have. It makes sense, I suppose, since it’s harder for me to see something as more than just itself when it’s right in front of me — it’s only at a greater distance that I can turn it into a symbol for the time or people I’ve come to associate with it.
And I guess it’s no surprise, then, that I can still feel such an ache for something like that old tape player, because what I really miss now is the man who gave it to me.
“AKAI GX-747” William A. Franklin @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“tape” altemark @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Feature photo, Revox-reel-to-reel.JPG, Public Domain