“His Master’s Voice”


My grandparents had a large 78rpm record collection. Grannie liked classical music, so her favorites were symphonies. In fact, after they retired to Chicago, Grannie had a subscription to the Chicago Symphony. Grandpa was no such classical connoisseur. He liked all sorts of what Grannie called “hillbilly music.” They owned a Victrola such as the 1920 model pictured above. You had to wind it up and carefully place the needle on the record. We loved winding the machine which seemed very old-fashioned to us after our little electric player.

When Grandpa would regale us with his music, my grandmother would mutter, “Oh Niles!” in a long suffering voice. We ignored her and listened intently. Grandpa was partially deaf, and he played the music LOUD which also delighted us. One of his favorites was “Hallelujah I’m A Bum.” If you have never heard it, this recording is the one he entertained us with.

My grandfather liked the almost risque, which was amusing since he was an Episcopal priest. We learned almost dirty limericks from him. My favorite was and still is:

“There was an old woman from Boston Mass–Who went in the water up to her ankles–It doesn’t rhyme now–But it will when the tide comes in.” “Oh, Niles!”

He also had a favorite recording of “Lydia The Tattooed Lady.” This video clip shows Groucho Marx singing the song. Of course as kids we didn’t get the double entendres, though we caught the drift that it wasn’t written for kids.

Unfortunately, I have never been able to find his very favorite record of “The Runaway Train.”(The runaway train went over the hill, The last I heard she was going still.”) I did, however, sing his version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” called “Mary Had a William Goat” to my child. It still makes me laugh when after swallowing TNT, “Mary’s soul to Heaven went, but William’s went to whoopsidoodle, doodle doo, William’s went to Heaven too.”

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