My Grandma Newvine had an Edison phonograph in her home. As an elementary school aged grandson, I would always look forward to her cranking up the machine and playing the half-inch thick records. As I moved into my middle and high school years, she’d let me go into the back room of her house and play the records by myself.
I loved spending an afternoon cranking up the Edison with the arm on the side of the cabinet. I’d pull out a record from the cabinet, set it on the turntable, and start up the music. The scratches and skips on the records were part of the character of the experience.
I truly enjoyed the collection of waltzes, fox trots, sopranos, tenors, and lullabies.
The music was nice, but I enjoyed the comedy routines. Among the vaudeville era bits was a little ditty my grandmother called The Recipe.
The comedian, unknown as the record label has been long lost, begins with a recipe for a casserole. After commenting on the various ingredients and directions, the performer ends the recipe with the instructions, “throw it out and open a can of salmon”. He then sings about a woman named Ann:
Talk about Ann,
In her little sedan.
Who did we up in the tree-zies,
Hanging by their X-Y Zee-zies.
In her little sedan.
I was the only grandchild who had any real interest in Grandma’s record player. When she was in her ninety’s, she gave the phonograph to me. She passed away a few years later.
Before she died, I produced a ten-minute holiday video with my two daughters singing Christmas carols accompanied by a xylophone recording on the Edison. Grandma got to see how I intended to keep the tradition of the antique phonograph alive for future generations.
The antique phonograph was a great conversation starter for visitors to our home. It made several moves as we traded up to different homes over the years.
One of those moves resulted in something apparently getting loose within the phonograph cabinet. The Edison would no longer play.
We promised ourselves to get it fixed one of these days, but that day never came. It sat in the corner of our living room: still a conversation starter, but no longer a source of entertainment.
Then one summer night, we had several people over to our house for a potluck. Naturally the Edison again started a conversation.
As I explained how the phonograph stopped working in recent years, my wife demonstrated how the crank arm worked. She turned on the turntable, and the record started spinning.
We played several records for our guests that evening. One of them commented to us in a thank you note: “So nice when what was old becomes new again”.
I don’t know why the Edison started working again. But I do believe in small gifts of fate. And this was one of those gifts.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.