There are very few inanimate objects that I really care much about. I’ve had a few things that I’ve really liked a lot, but for the most part, I am not that attached to ‘stuff’.
In college, I bought my first car with my own money, a teal green, hail-damaged Chevy Cavalier for $4500, “The Cav”. I drove it for 8 years, and then donated it to the Salvation Army when it was time to grow up and drive something that was perhaps not, uh, teal. I cried when I gave it away, not because I would miss the car per se, but because of the memories that I had of every event it had taken me to throughout my twenties.
I have a few books that I treasure, but could probably live without.
Initially, after my mom died, I selfishly hoarded everything of hers, afraid to let go. Eventually though, as I healed, I found the few items that meant the most, the spice cabinet she always cooked from, her journals, my great grandmother’s china, and got rid of the excess that I didn’t need.
While things matter in everyday life, I know that I would be OK in a fire or other disaster as long as I had Mike and my dog and my cat. In the end, material things just aren’t that important. Except one thing. One thing that isn’t even mine.
Unlike any other kids we knew, when my sisters and I were young, we had a real live jukebox at my dad’s house. My dad had randomly come into it in his youth and had the wherewithal to hang on to it. My sisters and I were the lucky beneficiaries. Now, this wasn’t one of those pretty jukeboxes that you might see at a diner with the rainbow-colored lights arching over the bright, shiny, spherical window. This was simply a machine to play music. It was big and heavy and awkward and boxy with sharp corners and squeaky parts. While the chrome could take on a nice shine, you would never look at it and say, “Wow, what a beautiful jukebox!” In fact, most people looked at it, sitting stoically in its spot of honor in the family room, and said “What is that?” Still, no one else had one, and that made us feel cool.
If you looked in the window of our jukebox, there were about ten “rows” of about ten slots each. Each slot held a one-by-three inch piece of paper, A-side song written at the top, B-side song on the bottom, artist in the middle. Each little paper coincided with a 45 RPM record hidden deep down in the guts of the machine that you could miraculously bring to the needle by selecting the right combination of buttons. The buttons resembled small, pink piano keys, half with letters and half with numbers. At one point in its long life, the number one key on the jukebox had come off and been replaced with an extra seven key; it was an imperfection that seemed to make it perfect for our family. After you made your selection and pressed the keys, they would hold down for a moment making a sound like a drumroll, then they would pop back up with satisfying bing. The wheel full of records would begin turning noisily until it came to your selection, and then a metal arm would grab the the record and squeakily bring it to its home on the turntable. If you were about six or seven years old, you were the perfect height to peer through the glass and watch all of this occur. It was better than cartoons.
My dad generously gave us each our own row, and we could put whatever songs we wanted on it. We were allowed to pick from his collection of thousands of 45s, or we could go to Sound Warehouse down the street and spend our allowance on the newest songs that the 80's had to offer. He gave each of our rows catchy alliterative names, Amy’s Anthems, Cara’s Classics, etc. so that our taste in music was prominently on display for any friends or guests. Amy’s Anthems usually consisted of songs in the Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot genre, while mine tended to be her more mellow castoffs from the pre-rocker years, The Go-Gos and Rick Springfield. For years, we would hear a song in public and say something like” Oh, I love this song, I want it for my row” and anyone outside of our immediate family would think we were very odd.
You had to be twelve to turn on the jukebox. It was a house rule because the knob was fragile and in a precarious spot, and my little sister and I had managed to knock it off enough times to have the rule instated. It was decided that twelve was the magical age that brought with it the maturity and responsibility required to operate the switch.
Many times I would venture down to my older sister’s bedroom to see if she would come up and turn it on for me so that I could listen to music while I colored. Being careful to avoid eye contact with Gene Simmons and his tongue seeming to protrude from her wall, I would tap quietly on her door. “Uh, Amy? Uh, hi, I was just wondering if you could maybe---”
“GET OUT OF MY ROOM!” she would scream, completely aghast that I had dared to interrupt her in the middle of her very important work writing down song lyrics in a pink notebook.
She would narrow her eyes at me, sigh, and then turn her attention back to her boombox, pressing the rewind button for the eighty-seventh time. I would trudge back upstairs. The fun would have to wait. And man, was it fun. Even Amy would get into it sometimes, and we would all take turns playing songs for each other, singing into brushes and spoons, dancing like there was nary a care in the world.
Because of the jukebox, I learned to love every kind of music. I loved the old stuff from the 40’s and 50’s that my dad would play from his row, and I loved watching the green apple spin around while simultaneously experiencing a tiny bit of the sixties through the Beatles. I rocked out to jazz with my dad, fell in love with Stevie Wonder at a very early age, and thought Frank Sinatra was the best before my friends even knew who he was. While my friends were obsessed with Michael Jackson, I was listening to Motown. On top of the old, I saved up for the new ones too. To this day, I know every 80’s and early 90’s one-hit-wonder, not to mention every word to Islands in the Stream by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. We wailed Purple Rain until we were hoarse, clutching the edge of the jukebox for support. I actually have Runaway by Slade in my iPod rotation right now; not many people remember that one, but we played it until it broke in half.
Anytime I hear an old song on the radio, Satisfaction, Hey Jude, Sir Duke, New York New York, in my mind I am instantly barefoot in my dad’s family room, singing and dancing and being a kid, watching my dad and sisters do the same. I think that is why people love music. It’s pure nostalgia in five minute increments.
Amy has the jukebox now. My dad gave it to her because she is the oldest and apparently being the oldest allows you to steal your sisters’ memories from right beneath them. (In his defense, he has already given me box upon box of valuable sports memorabilia that I treasure. He would want you to know that he is very fair.) My dad said that he was going to will the jukebox to Amy when he died, but then he and my step-mom decided that they didn’t want to move that frickin thing around anymore, so Amy got it about four years ago. It is in her beautiful finished basement in a place of honor.
Whenever I go over there, we break out the wine and play all of the old one hit wonders on the jukebox. We sit on the floor in front of it for hours at a time, tipsy on wine and memories, singing at the top of our lungs into empty-bottle microphones to Paper Lace and Mungo Jerry and other random groups that no one else has ever heard of. These are old-people songs that make us feel young, songs that got us through bad times and created good times. It seems like we can never get enough of it. But eventually, we get tired, and the music starts to die down, and the wine is gone, and everyone else is asleep. Time to pack it in for the night. Then, Jesse’s Girl comes on and we scream like hyenas and start all over again. I feel like I might love that machine, even in all of its inanimateness. The noises it makes, the feel of its keys beneath my fingertips, the faint smells of WD40 and vinyl, the music that floats out of the tinny speakers. Some things can take you back to a time you never want to forget. That's pure nostalgia.