The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Our Old Victrola

By Richard H. Minter © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

This poem is dedicated to my brother Robert, who bought this wonderful Victrola in the 1920's.

As age advances and oblivion nears,
My mind goes back across the years -
To a way of life that now seems like a dream;
When our only luxury was a talking machine.

All the good things we had back then
Have all blown away, like leaves in the wind;
The cruel winds of change blew hard and cold;
Blew away our youth; left us so tired and so old.

But there is sort of a way we can beat old age
That lets us return to the good old days;
With our memory we must peer through time's haze -
And remember when our tomorrow's were still yesterdays.

There is no material ship, no matter how fine,
That can sail back across the gulf of time;
But this voyage can be made - that works out fine -
If we sail into the past with the power in our mind.

It would be such a bittersweet thing
To return to the past, when every day was spring -
It would be so sad to see our parents once again -
And to know their sad future, that we could not change.

The past is still there, like the pages in a book;
We have to open it up and take another look;
At our way of life, that's gone like the wind -
Lest we forget how life was for us then.

I can see our family now - the way we were then,
Before we grew up into women and men;
The long summer days seemed never to end,
As we laughed and played with all our friends.

Our family was large, but our problems were small;
Our Mama and Papa took care of them all;
Our worries were few - life was a ball.
We never ever thought this all would fall.

We didn't have much of worldly things;
The one luxury we had was a marvelous machine:
A RCA Victrola, that played like a dream -
If the records were not cracked and the needle was keen.

Robert bought this with his small pay
Before he married Minnie and went his own way;
This machine was a pure joy; we played every day.
We were amazed at what the records had to say.

The records we played in those far off days
Were a mixture of joy and despair;
We were sad about the deaths of maidens so fair -
But we laughed at the story of the Preacher and the Bear!

The records we had were mostly sad songs -
As they told us of things that went wrong:
Of a ship so gigantic it was named the Titanic,
It's sad fate was the title of a song.

This giant ship was the largest ever built,
A triumph of money and of might;
But it was struck by the ice, was not water tight;
It plunged to the bottom on that sad April night.

This was the saddest record we ever played
On the old Victrola of our childhood days;
When death struck the ship, like a thief in the night;
And it sank to its grave - with a great loss of life.

These songs were sung by men long gone,
Their names today are almost unknown,
But a few are remembered, exceptions to the rule:
The Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers and the great Charlie Poole.

Charlie wrote some funny songs, some sad ones as well,
One about a mule that was ridden around the world;
"Budded Roses" was a sad one, about a man and his girl
Who had to part forever, at least in this world.

Many songs were written about wrecks of trains,
Or about a train robber who was named Jesse James,
Others were about prisoners, whose hopes were all gone
Of ever returning to the old folks at home.

Other songs were about murders or being trapped in a cave
Like the one of Floyd Collins - who could not be saved.
Little Mary Phegan was a tragic, sad song -
Of a pretty girl murdered who had never done wrong.

Of all the old songs we played back then
My favorite one was a lovely old hymn,
"In the Garden" was the title and this I must say,
I still am thrilled when I hear it today.

This song had magic and wonders for me.
It opened my eyes and I could almost see
This lovely garden, where the roses bloomed free -
And the birds were singing up in the garden trees.

Of all the old hymns that I ever learned,
This one is special as it made my heart yearn
To find this garden, where ever it may be
And to hear his voice, speaking softly to me.

"The Old Rugged Cross" was a powerful song
About this young carpenter, so sad and so strong.
He was nailed to a cross, a thief on each side
But he forgave his tormentors at the moment he died.

This song was so sad it brought tears to my eyes,
At the awful cruel way he was crucified.
The last words he spoke, I am sure they are true,
Was "Forgive them, Father, They know not what they do."

Many other old hymns were dear to me,
Of Christ of the Cross of Calvary,
Of people who were blind, but now could see,
How He gave his life for you and for me.

The old Victrola, on which these songs were played
Was an important part of my young days.
Both the records and Victrola are now lost back in time,
But they still do exist in the memory in my mind.

Another amazing invention of long ago
Was a marvelous thing named a radio.
We couldn't understand how we could hear
Voices from afar - that sounded so near!

In 1920's, this was the rage:
Everyone talked about radio wave,
What stations they could get, how far away -
Even Pittsburgh Penna, Station KDKA.

There were not many stations way back then,
But, my favorite by far was WSM.
To listen to Nashville was pure delight -
And they were on every Saturday night.

The Grand Ole Opry was all done live.
It began Nov. 28th, 1925.
The solemn old Judge George B. Hay
was the announcer on the very first day.

Radios were expensive, they were out of our range -
But Robert bought one and it was all fun and games
To visit his house many Saturday nights
To listen to the Opry until past midnight.

The people on the Opry chose some strange names:
Crook Brothers, Possum Hunters, Gully Jumpers, Uncle Dave.
Uncle Dave Macon was the star of the show
As he sang "Eleven Cent Cotton" and played his banjo.

The Delmore Brothers played guitars so smooth.
Their number one record was "Brown's Ferry Blues".
Deford Bailey played "the Fox Chase."
He made the harp bark, like the hounds in the race.

I listened to the Opry almost every Saturday night
To stay awake past midnight was not a easy fight,
But, if I did make it, till the clock struck one,
I'd hear the judge say when the music was done:

"The tall pines pine and the paw-paws paw,
The bumble bee bumbles all around,
The grasshopper hops and the eves dropper drops -
While gently the old cow slips away."

I can't recall all of the past,
But I can remember things that should last,
Plus some little things of long ago -
Like Robert's old Victrola and his radio.

Robert bought this Victrola; A machine that could speak,
For a dollar down and a dollar a week.
It must have cost him plenty when his wages were low,
In the 1920's, now so long, long ago.

So, we thank you Rob, for this fine gift -
That we played so much when we were kids.
It brightened our life, more than you know,
In the 1920's - Now a long time ago.

Now this trip is over - Back down memory's lane.
If I can do it, you can do the same.
So, take your own trip - back into your time.
I hope you enjoy it, like I did mine!

Editor's Note... The two records I remember most from my grandparents Victrola were "Hey There Young Fellow With The Yellow Umbrella" and "Whispering Hope," my Grandmother's favorite song.