by Robin Lentz Worgan
“Mom, look?” My daughter, Winnie, pointed to the open glove compartment of our new Volkswagen. “You have a CD player!”
“That’s great, but we don’t have any CDs.”
From the back seat Lila peeled off her earbuds and added, “We will have to get some!”
I was on a road trip with my teenage daughters. We drove six hours west past cornfields and blue wildflowers while reading aloud “The Glass Castle.” Finally, we took exit 140 to Oberlin, Ohio. After buying Cokes and tacos, we spied a sign above that read: Hanson Record Store. On cue, we pounded up narrow steps to a small second floor and purchased two CDs: Ella Fitzgerald for my jazz-loving daughter, Winnie, and the sound track from “Romeo and Juliet” for Lila.
The next day, while cruising through Kentucky, we blared Ella Fitzgerald. As the sun set, we arrived in Nashville. We walked through the front door of our Airbnb bungalow, and there sat a record player with a few albums nearby. Winnie’s eyes widened. She thumbed through the records, pulling out the Flaming Lips, placed the needle on the vinyl and began to sing along.
The next morning on her 17th birthday, we shared biscuits, jam and tea. Winnie’s only birthday wish was to go to Grimey’s New & Preloved Music. It has been described by one travel book as “the holier than thou record store of record stores.”
We walked into Grimey’s, and I spotted a few 8-track tapes. The sight of them immediately reminded me of Thursday nights growing up and of my uncle Johnny. Every Thursday we went to my grandparents’ house in Germantown with our cousins. It was where my mother and her five siblings grew up, though her brother, Johnny, never left. After pot roast, mashed potatoes, stewed tomatoes and green beans, my cousins, siblings and I would run up the Victorian staircase to Uncle Johnny’s room. His room had large bookshelves that were covered in albums, 8-track tapes and cassettes.
We sat knee-to-knee across his tan bedspread while he put on various tapes for us to listen to. As soon as a song began, he would snap his fingers, wiggle his bushy, dark eyebrows, smile and say, “How ‘bout this song? Huh? It’s great; right?”
My uncle Johnny introduced us to so much of the music we came to know and enjoy. He loved the oldies and soul best, but he knew and collected all the newer music as well. He played us Gladys Knight and the Pips, Earth Wind & Fire, Donna Summer, The Commodores, Bob Seger, Blondie, James Taylor, the Eagles. Each Thursday night music session would end with one of us receiving a cassette tape. In 1980 when the Police album, “Zenyatta Mondatta,” came out, he played it for us, and then he handed it to me. Three years later, that would be my first concert.
Afterwards we would beg and plead with Uncle Johnny to play his guitar for us. He always succumbed to our pressure, and he always played “Midnight Special” by Creedence Clearwater. “Let the Midnight Special shine a light on me.” He had a deep, clear, steady voice that was reassuring. At the end of the song, he would jam on the guitar for a bit.
Years later when my grandparents passed away and Uncle Johnny moved to a small condo and later a retirement home, he gave away his albums, cassettes and CD collection. At Grimey’s I showed the girls a black 8-track tape, and they held it in their hands as if it were a baby dinosaur. “It is so big and thick,” Lila commented.
“Yeah, I know.” I explained to them how we played it. Later, Lila announced that she wanted to buy a CD player, “Like the old kind you can carry around.”
In Nashville CDs and records continue to bloom and sell. The allure is evident in my daughters’ purchases of CDs, records and, yes, a CD player. They both have Pandora, and one of them has Spotify on her phone, but there is still something about holding that CD or record, something about the cover art, something about having your own music collection in alphabetical order on a bookshelf in your bedroom that feels safe, grounding and gratifying. We amassed a few more CDs and albums at Grimey’s. Lila purchased Adele; I purchased Johnny Cash for the car, and Winnie purchased Stevie Wonder, another of Uncle Johnny’s favorites.
Later at the Bluebird Café, while sucking down her Shirley Temple, Lila struck up a conversation with a woman in front of us from Birmingham, Alabama. She mentioned her CD player and newly started collection. The woman, Mary, gave Lila her phone number and said, “You text me, and I will send you my whole collection.”
Back home now, Lila, rocks in her room at night to Taylor Swift and The Rolling Stones. She lines her bookshelf with CDs passed down from various family members while patiently awaiting those 30 CDs from her new friend in Alabama.
Robin Lentz Worgan is a freelance writer in Flourtown and is currently writing a Young Adult novel. Her articles have appeared in ADDitude Magazine, Brain, Child Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and she is the author of “Journaling Away Mommy’s Grief: A Book and A Journal For Mothers After A Stillbirth Or Infant Loss.” More information at www.robinlentzworgan.com