When I was a young kid, in the early 1970’s, my parents had a Motorola console stereo. It sat under the window in our living room, and had my older brother’s and sisters’ framed high school graduation photos on it. Every now and then, not everyday by any stretch, but sometimes, my mother would take the photos off and lay them aside and put on a record.
I remember the long wooden creak of the lid lifting as she picked an album, the sound of the record dropping onto the turntable, and the rhythmic light scratching right before the music started playing. My mother would put on a record and could fill the room, the house, the neighborhood with rich, beautiful music.
I was never, ever allowed to touch the stereo. Or bump it while it was playing, or put anything on top of it for fear of scratching it. I never took the picture frames off, lifted the lids or put a record on. To me, it was the most important and special thing we had. We had a crappy black and white TV, an old unfashionable car, a house that was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, hell, I remember my mother washing clothes in the ancient wringer washer, but somehow we had this fabulous stereo. To say it was magical would be cliche, but it was.
My mother spent a lot of my childhood struggling with mental illness which meant we all spent a lot of time dealing with my my mother’s mental illness. Today we know she has Bipolar Disorder (Type I, I thnk) and is on medication and able to function, but in the early 70’s (and before) it was a mystery to everyone; to me, to her, to us, to the doctors. I remember a doctor making a house call and his prescription was “you need to pull yourself together”.
My mother swung between a depression that put her on the couch for endless days, to manic episodes of angry shouting, paranoia and 3 am vacuuming. But there were breaks as we drifted from one storm to the next, where things seemed normal. She would leave the house, bake, visit with friends, and sing.
My mother had a beautiful voice and loved to sing. She was a soprano who sang in church, in the community choir and all over the house. She would sing while she was making the beds. She would sing while she was baking chocolate chip cookies. She would sing while she stood on sheets of newspaper ironing the bedsheets in the basement. She would sing when we didn’t want her to sing and we would yell, “Ma! Please stop I’m…on the phone, watching TV, my friends are here…” Sometime she would stop, and sometimes she would just go back to the basement to iron and sing.
And sometimes she would put a record on the stereo, turn it up the volume and I would sit on the rug and feel the floor shake as I listed to my mother sing.