In my household, quiet was the norm. No loud voices at any time. The volume on the “idiot box,” my mother’s word for the TV, was always on low. The first ever, brand new car my parents bought was ordered specially from the factory without a radio. A metal plate about ¼ inch thick was soldered over the void on the dashboard where the music would have been. My parents rarely listened to music. According to my mother, the children made too damn much noise, interrupting constantly, so there was use even trying to listen to music.
We didn’t have a stereo. We had a Garrard turntable, but the way it was set up, the albums played in mono only. When I was in high school, I got to listen to some records with a serious home audiophile. I heard music like never before. Harmony! Gorgeous voices, blending, melding, soaring. Instruments that simply didn’t register in mono sprang out at me. All music was new again.
Later on, in college, I found out the library had records and headsets. With good quality headphones on, the tracks were bouncing around in my brain between my ears and eyes, like psychedelic ping pong balls. My skin got goose bumps and I felt like crying, the sound was that overwhelming. The listening lab became my study hall.
As a child, before spinning a record on that old turntable, I’d check to see where my parents were in the house. And if they were not in ear shot of the living room, I’d slip a record down the spindle, lay the needle in the groove and put my ear right up next to that one speaker to listen, always hoping the extra sound would go unnoticed. I’d sing along (badly) and read the liner notes – over and over. Simon and Garfunkel albums were a frequent choice. “I Am a Rock” and “The Sound of Silence” were full of deep meaning, speaking to me especially, this sheltered, white, middle class disaffected teenager writing maudlin poetry.
The turntable was in a 2-door wooden cabinet, set in a space on the left. On the right, was another space for albums and above that a small shelf, about 4 inches high. The only thing ever on that dusty shelf was the menu from the Queen Elizabeth, an ocean liner in the Cunard White Star line. My parents had sailed to Germany on it within a few months of getting married. I always thought it was the most romantic thing ever, daring even. I’d read it, too, studying the picture of the ship, churning sturdily through the choppy sea, ever onward.
This menu was the only memento of that ocean voyage. My mother has no idea why it lived on the shelf for so long. When she got rid of albums, turntable, and cabinet, I was afraid it was just gone. But she had filed it somewhere in her study. For me, it is enmeshed into memories of listening to music in the living room, ear pressed up against a speaker, trying to keep it quiet.