Oh Christmas Tree …

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Happy December to you! Maybe it is because Thanksgiving was so late this year, but it is hard to believe that we are less than a month from Christmas! The reality of that sunk in this weekend as I did a couple shifts at Cars 108 and we are playing all Christmas music.

One song always really sticks out to me each Christmas, mainly because it really isn’t a Christmas song – Linus & Lucy (AKA the Charlie Brown theme) from the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun song that immediately makes be think of Charlie Brown and the gang, but it is a song that is used in basically every Charlie Brown special. Personally, the soundtrack to the Charlie Brown Christmas special is one of my favorites.

O Tannenbaum is the instrumental that kicks off the album. Many know the song as simply “Oh Christmas Tree”. (In case you were wondering, a tannenbaum is a fir tree). It’s one of my favorite versions of the song. I had the chance to hear it over the weekend and it got me to thinking about the Christmas Tree. I recently had the chance to go through a bunch of family pictures and I was surprised at how many of them included the Christmas tree. This blog is sort of a “pictorial” blog featuring some of those pictures.

As I looked through the pictures, it was fun to see the various decorations and the toys under the tree. Bear with me, as some of the years I am guessing on …

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The above picture is of my dad in 1951. He would be 5 here. As I look at this picture, I see a little of me, my brother, and my oldest son in my dad.

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The above picture is my mom. Just a guess, but this is probably from 1953 or 1954, as she looks 5-6 years old here. Tinsel seemed to be really big in the 50’s! Wonder what that “Little Painter” set is worth today….

On Leave

The above picture is my dad, home on leave from Vietnam. The date is 1967. I really have no idea what that tree is made of. Eventually, my grandma had a ceramic tree that my mom made that stood about that high that she put there in the window. This one looks … fluffy. There are pictures of my dad with both his mom and his dad next to this tree too.

My folks told me that the local paper used to put names and addresses of servicemen who were overseas in the paper for people to send letters. Both of my parents were from the same city and my mom sent my dad letters. With letters, occasional pictures were sent back and forth, too.

mom at tree

I think the above picture is one my mom sent to my dad. I am not sure. I am not sure because I don’t know where this was taken. It would seem to me that this would be a picture that she would send to my dad overseas. At any rate, some things stand out, though. Note the “sunbust” clock on the wall – I know my grandma had one of those. Also, note the cool Hi-Fi with the ceramic cat on it. This was a record player and radio. It probably also played 8 track tapes and stored records. I know my dad, and my grandpa had one of them, so again, not sure when this is.

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I know for a fact that this was taken at my grandma’s house. I know this because of the fireplace and the huge wooden fork and spoon on the wall behind the TV. In my lifetime, I don’t recall my grandparents ever putting a tree on the TV, so I am guessing this is before I came around.

I was born in May of 1970. I was 7 months old for my first Christmas. I am thankful that my folks took lots of pictures. A few of my favorites all come from 1970, all for different reasons.

Great Grandpa Becker 1970 (2)

The above picture is my and my great-grandpa. He passed away shortly after this. It is the only picture I have of him and I.

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I am not 100%, but I believe this picture was taken in my mom and dad’s apartment. My dad can correct me if I am wrong. I remember that stuffed Bugs Bunny to my right very well.

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I am pretty sure that this is at my grandma and grandpa’s house. What I love about this picture is a little foreshadowing. One of my favorite sports to participate in is bowling. I love that I am propped up next to a balling ball bag in this picture.

7 mos with Mom (2)

This is absolutely one of my favorite pictures of my mom and me. It was taken at my grandparents house, probably Christmas Eve. I love this picture so much, because it reminds me of another … which I will share in a few pictures.

pam keith sam christmas 1970

The above is obviously from the same year. This time, I am with mom and dad. My grandma always kept her house hot, so mom took off her vest. Dad, who is ALWAYS hot, must not have felt it was too warm, because his is still on here.

GRANDPA PIZZO C (2)

One more from the same year (and you won’t have to look at that brown bowling ball bag anymore!), here is my and my grandpa. I always loved this picture of us. I was his first grandchild, and you can see just how happy he is here.

Grandpa and Grandma Davidson Christmas 1970 (2)

These are my mom’s parents – Grandma and Grandpa D. The date on the picture says 1970, but another scan from my brother says 1967. Not really sure. It could easily be 1970, though. It is one of my favorites of them. The tree is in the corner where my grandpa’s recliner used to always be.

Jodi and Keith Christmas 1972

The date on the above picture is October of 72, which means I am 1 here. This is at Grandma D’s house. That is my Aunt Jodi holding the bear. Note in the background, another Hi-Fi. My grandpa used to have big band records I used to listen to on it.

1975

The above picture was taken at our old house on Brandywine. I am about 4 here and my brother is probably just 2. The thing that stands out in this picture is the ornaments on the tree. See those diamond crocheted things? Yeah, my mom made them. She had many hobbies (I have an entire blog ready about her various hobbies through the years) and this particular year, she was crocheting everything! I remember a maroon vest that she made for me! At any rate, those ornaments were two squares, with a piece of an egg carton in the middle, and a tail hanging down. I am sure she made these for many people. I remember seeing them on other family members Christmas trees, too.

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A year later, same house, and same ornaments! You can see them a little better in this picture! I am probably 5 here, while my brother is 3. This would be the last Christmas at this house, as we moved the following year. A couple things (besides the ornaments) stand out in the picture. First, there is the organ I used to play, and mentioned in the blog about my music lessons. Next, I remember the Ernie and Big Bird stuffed animals! Then there is that picture above the organ – it’s two horses. I think everyone in my family had that picture!! Finally, and this should get my wife’s OCD going, note that I am wearing the pants from one pair of PJs and the shirt from another in this picture! Good Lord!!!

Mom, Chris, & Keith Xmas 79

The picture above has to be from 1977. My grandma bought us each a set of Star Wars figures that year. I think there were like 20 issued the first year. I remember my grandma having trouble finding the Jawa figures! This picture would have been Christmas morning, and we had gotten the figures the night before at grandma’s. If I remember right, we had the big Han Solo and Jawa dolls (pictured here) and Boba Fett and Princess Leia, too. What I love most about this picture is that my mom is in it wearing this yellow robe. I have written about her yellow robe in previous blogs. She wore this thing SO much that it was stained and had tears and holes in it. She loved this robe. Eventually we bought her a new one for Christmas one year and she wore that. We assumed that she threw this one away, but after she passed away, we found it in the back of the closet! I have a “memory bear” made out of this robe.

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The above has to be from 1978. If you can look past my brother’s golf pants and my wacky shirt, you will see a Tie Fighter and X-Wing Fighter. You can see the tree set up on the TV, but cannot really see the amazing display on my grandma’s mantel. Every year, she put up angels, Santa, reindeer, trees, snow and more. There was one piece that always stood out – a little mouse that was in a flower arrangement that I sent her when she was in the hospital. She put that up every year!

Keith Doctor Doctor game

It obviously took my folks awhile to develop film! This is from Christmas of 78, and was not developed until August of 79! First, I love how skinny I am in this picture! Second, I remember having the sliding wooden doors that covered the doorwall. I also remember the bad paneling in the living room! I can see the Polaroid camera on the TV, the candy jar, and the glass candle sticks that my mom had. I wish I could make out more of the presents under the tree, but I remember really wanting this game. I also remember that star on the tree. It was made of hard plastic and the ends were very sharp! It could probably be used as a weapon!!

Grandma and Grandpa Xmas 79

The above picture is of my dad’s folks, my Grandma and Grandpa P. This was in 1979 – I remember that was the year that everyone was taking Polaroids! At family gatherings, everyone took pictures and wrote their last name on the bottom, so they knew what pictures belonged to what family! A couple things I notice right away: The tree topper, I never understood just what the hell it was! It wasn’t a star, it was just this spaceship shaped thing that lit up! I remember the musical angels on the wall. They moved from room to room as I recall. Grandma’s beehive hair! She wore it this way for SO long!! I also notice the pack of cigarettes in my grandpa’s pocket – you could bet they were either Lucky Strikes or Pall Malls. It looks like he is wearing a bracelet in this picture. I don’t remember him wearing one, but he did here. Just love this picture!!

cousins

The above is from 1980. This is my brother and me, with my cousins Arin and Melissa. This is at my Grandma and Grandpa D’s. A couple thoughts on this one – I am holding the very cool Coleco Head to Head Baseball game which I loved! I do not remember that bear I am holding! This is probably the year that my grandpa bought me my cribbage board, too! What is sad about this picture, is knowing that my grandpa would pass away in less than a year after this picture was taken.

mom dante

Jumping many years ahead now for the above picture. Remember the picture of my mom and me by the tree? It reminds me of this picture. Here is my mom and Dante’. This may not have been her last Christmas, I think Dante is 2 here. She loved him so much and I see the same joy in her smile here as I do in the picture of her holding me.

boys at trailer

The above picture is about a year or so before my divorce. I just love this picture because these two guys (no matter how much they may fight) really love each other. This was such a spontaneous picture and it remains one of my favorites of the boys!

boys last year

The above picture is from last Christmas Eve morning. Christmas Eve was always bigger than Christmas on my dad’s side of the family. The fact that I get the boys every Christmas Eve Morning to open up gifts is so special to me. I cannot wait until they can celebrate it with their sister. They are going to be such great brothers to her.

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The above picture is from 2018 (on the right) and 2017 (on the left). When we first got Moe (left) he got up in the tree! When Maizey came along last year, the fact that she was almost in the same exact spot as Moe the year before made me laugh. So I put together this comparison picture. It still makes me laugh!!

sam at tree

This picture (along with the song I mentioned earlier) was the reason for this blog. As I mentioned, so many favorite pictures involve the Christmas tree. I took this picture of Sam just the other night. It was her idea. The silhouette of her baby bump against the lights of the Christmas tree is just beautiful!! I posted it on Facebook (she did, too) and mention how I cannot stop looking at it!

The reason is that it brings about so many feelings: Feelings of love for my beautiful wife. Feelings of joy and nostalgia – because it is Christmastime and the Christmas Tree. Feelings of excitement and anticipation – because the baby will be here soon. Feelings of happiness – because the picture brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

In the years ahead, I hope that more and more wonderful pictures will be captured near the Christmas tree … so I can reflect on them, too!

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My First Music Lessons

My love of music should be very apparent to those who read this blog.  I have written about some of my school band experiences, about some of my favorite musical artists, posted songs that hold special memories for me, and about my career playing music on the radio.  One thing I haven’t written about is my first musical instrument and the wonderful teacher who taught me.

When my boys were in elementary school, they each bought a recorder and in their music class, they learned to play it. I don’t recall ever buying one, but I remember in 5th grade, before we all got the opportunity to try an instrument, we all played a recorder.  We played Mary Had a Little Lamb, Hot Cross Buns, and other simple songs.  Eventually, we got to try out to be in band and I wound up playing the trumpet.  This, however, was not my first instrument.

Grinnell’s

When I was a kid, there was a store in Macomb Mall called “Grinnell’s Music”

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Grinnell’s was founded in 1879 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Their headquarters was eventually located on Woodward Ave. in Detroit.  At their peak, they had about 40 stores.  They sold pianos and organs.

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(Interesting note:  The Titanic was a ship on the White Star Line!)

I wasn’t sure, but I thought they sold band instruments, as well.  The following ad, confirmed my memory.

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I had to laugh because I really don’t remember seeing appliances like refrigerators and washers in there!

I probably should have got some clarification from my dad on this before I blogged, but I can’t recall if I asked to play a musical instrument or if they decided to have me take lessons.  I am sure he’ll let me know if he remembers.  At any rate, I remember going in to Grinnell’s and being signed up for lessons.  My mom took them, too.

I am unclear on the date I took lessons, but I can narrow it down to somewhere between 1976-1980.  Again, my memory is fuzzy on this.  I remember starting when we lived in Sterling Heights, so that had to be 1976 (we moved to Warren in winter 76-77).  I also remember it being before I started playing trumpet, which would have been in 5th grade – 1980.

Organs must have been cheaper than pianos, because that’s what I started out playing.  I remember my teacher was the sweetest lady – Mrs. Bostick.  She was so patient with me.  I remember she gave me stickers to put on the organ keys to start with.  I learned to play simple songs, and remember how hard it was for me to reach the pedals on the floor.  I remember learning some scales first.  I remember learning how to play chords (even though there was a cheat on the organ that let you play chords with one finger).

The organ we had was this huge Hammond, as I remember.  I tried to find a picture of it at the house, but couldn’t really find a good one.  It looked something like this:

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The white square above the top row of keys were for rhythms to accompany you.  It was basically a drum machine.  You could hit “Big Band/Swing” and it was this jazzy drum and cymbal lick.  There were other “styles” as well.  Here is an older model and you can see the different styles.

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The red, yellow, blue, and white “toggles” to the left on that organ picture were “Voice Tabs”.  When you pushed down one of these, you could make the sounds of a trumpet, cello, strings, and the tibia (a word which still makes my friend Johnny Molson and I think of Jerry Lewis in the Nutty Professor).

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The first few months of lessons were basically teaching me which fingers to use on which keys.  There were scales, and practice pieces that I had to learn. Eventually, we added songs to the practice material.  Naturally, we learned Mary Had a Little Lamb and Hot Cross Buns!  I remember playing Chopsticks, and a few other easy songs.  I remember playing Christmas songs and Amazing Grace, too.  The one I remember the most was “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”.  You may not know the song by name, but if you grew up with Bugs Bunny, you’ll remember it as the song that he keeps playing the wrong note on.

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It’s one of the few songs I can still play on the piano/organ.

Mrs. Bostick was always such a nice lady.  We became fast friends.  We made each other laugh.  She always told me how special I was.  She always told me I had a great smile and told me that I was a natural musician.  Most of the lessons were done at the Grinnell’s store.  I do, however, remember her coming to the house for lessons as well.  I remember she used to pray with me after the lesson was over and then ask for a hug.

I remember how sad I was when she told me that she was moving away.  Her husband was a pastor, and I am not sure, but I think he had taken a job at a church in Sacramento, California.  We wrote each other often for years after she moved.  She always sent a Christmas Card.  She wrote to me and my mother.  Mom wasn’t always good about writing back, when her dad (my grandpa) passed away in 1981, mom had severe depression.  The last thing she wanted to do was write letters.

As the years went on, Mrs. Bostick continued to write to me.  She loved that I was in band and playing trumpet.  She always told me to practice my scales!  She sent me such a nice letter when I graduated high school.  Sadly, that was misplaced in a move.  She offered many words of encouragement to me as we dealt with my mom’s breast cancer.  She always put my mom on the prayer list at church.

I remember how sad I was when she started typing her letters, because her hands hurt so bad.  Because of that, she could no longer teach music, and this made her very upset.  She always wrote and told me about her sons and daughters.  She came to visit them in Michigan every so often.  The last time she and her husband were here, it must have been about 2003.  I remember they were staying at an Extended Stay Hotel and I visited them there and had my oldest son (who was still a baby) with me. That was the last time I saw her.

One of her last letters to me informed me of her husband’s passing.  It was one month before my mom passed away.  When mom passed away, I called Mrs. Bostick to tell her. She was so surprised to hear from me.  She told me about how her husband passed away, and then I told her about mom.  We cried together.  She told me how much she loved my mom and me.  She said she could not believe that big voice was coming from her favorite student!  Before we hung up, she turned the tables on me.  Normally, she would be the one to pray, but this time she asked me to.  That was one of the hardest prayers I ever prayed.  Before she hung up, she thanked me for calling, told me she loved me and to keep in touch.

Letters continued sporadically, but due to changes of address for me and her, I lost touch with her.  Almost a decade later, I did and internet search for her and came up with nothing.  When I searched for her husband, I saw that he had an obituary on Find A Grave’s website.  It was there that I saw that she had passed away, too.  I wish I had some sort of contact info for her children, as I would love to reach out to them.  I tried to search for them on Facebook, with no luck.

She was a very special lady.  She made learning music fun for me.  She got such great joy teaching me how to play.  I really wanted to be in band because of her.  She told me that making music always made people smile.  I know that to be true.  I also know that making music made ME smile.  It’s one of those things I wish I could still do, but my schedule doesn’t allow me to.

Today, many keyboards are light and portable.  Many of them are so advanced that they  will play entire songs for you at the touch of a button.  Back when I was a kid, however, I learned to play music on what was literally a huge piece of furniture and was taught by one of my dearest friends!

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Somewhere at home I have a Polaroid of Mrs. Bostick and her husband.  She sent it to me in a Christmas card years ago. Sadly, I have no pictures of us together.  I am almost positive that she had her husband take one of us together when they were last in Michigan.  I wish I had asked for a copy of it.