This is the house where I grew up, 606 East Third Avenue, Roselle, NJ. We were there from 1962 to 1972, and it’s 2013, but whenever I think of the word “home,” it’s this one that I still think of first.
When I think of this house, I think of the music. We had a hi-fi that never stopped playing and we – my mother Mary, father Frank, and I – loved all kinds of contemporary music. My grandparents on my mother’s side had been in their 20’s when the 1920’s were roaring and my PopPop, in particular, always seemed to be singing a 1920’s tune. He was an amateur song and dance man. One of the first commands I ever allegedly gave, in front of the pediatrician who, in those days, made house calls, was, “Boom boom record!” I may have been running a fever, but I wanted my parents to put the record of marches on.
Most of the time we listened to the music of a Lester Lanin and his Orchestra. He played dance music, usually from about the 1920’s through the “current” times, which were the early 1960’s. My mother and father took ballroom dancing lessons one night a week. They’d come home and practice the dances to Lester Lanin’s wonderful music. We were in Atlantic City for the Teacher’s Convention one time and Lester Lanin was the entertainer at one of the dances for the adults. I was very mad that I was considered too young to attend it and had to remain in the hotel room with my grandmother. When The Twist craze hit, my dad came home from his teaching job one fine afternoon with a record full of Twist songs. Another time, he came home with the Louis Armstrong album that included his hit new song, Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! Whenever we went out to eat at a place with a jukebox after that, I’d beg for a coin to play it. I couldn’t get enough of that song, at home or while out to eat; it was more fun for me than having the dinner.
By the time I was two, I already had a favorite group. It was Alvin and the Chipmunks. My favorite song was “Sing a Goofy Song/Ree-Dee-Do.” Alvin was my role model. He was always doing something that got him in big trouble and he always somehow just rose above it.
My mother was mad for a show called South Pacific. I probably knew the entire score of that show by heart by the time I was four. She would tell me about Broadway when she gave me a bath. I wasn’t in Kindergarten yet, but I knew all about Mary Martin and Ethel Merman, stage plays versus movies, and about a duo named Rogers and Hammerstein. I loved their Sound of Music movie so much that my mother brought me to see it eleven times. The movie of South Pacific didn’t turn up in a local theater until I was eight. I still remember: it was the Linden Theater. I called their number over and over, to hear the recorded description of the movie, even though I already knew all about it, in the days before we went to see my mother’s favorite movie. I hadn’t known that the alien from a comedy television program I liked, My Favorite Martian, played the Marine who dresses up as “Honey Bun” until the movie started. I could hardly believe that was the Martian up there. That made viewing it even more fun.
We had fantastic neighbors, the LaBonias, who lived next door, in a house just a few feet from ours. They had two parents, three boys, and a ray of sunshine named Aunt Pauline who used to play games with me because, initially, there weren’t many kids on my block. Five kids in two families later moved in when I was about seven. Mr. LaBonia played a banjo in a “string band” with a group of the Mummers. I loved hearing him play. I think he bought us the Ferko String Band record of songs the Mummers played. It became one of our favorites immediately upon first playing.
Then there was another family favorite: the Hawaiian singer Alfred Apaka. He was a wondrous singer with a velvet voice that evoked a beautiful land far away – and a sad story. He had died in a plane crash in 1960. I wished he hadn’t. I wanted to meet him just like I had wanted to meet Lester Lanin. Years later I found the statue of Alfred Apaka at the Hilton Hawaiian Village while on vacation and was thrilled, but wished all over again that he might have lasted longer.
PopPop, my grandfather, died when I was not quite four. To this day, at 51, I smile whenever I hear 1920’s music – it reminds me, first and foremost, of the joyous personality that was him. I wish he could have lived longer. I always wonder if I could have been the song partner of my amateur song and dance man grandpa, at least at family parties, if only he could have remained with us for a few more years. We were inseparable when I was a little girl, and we’d have had a ball.
We moved away from the old house in Roselle when I was not quite eleven. I have always wished we’d kept it. The LaBonias always remembered how I’d left the house, sobbing, on our final day there as I went down “our” driveway for the last time, not wanting to leave my home. There hasn’t been a single day since, not one, when I haven’t thought of that great old house and wished I could go home. The hi-fi, at least, came with us, and so did all of the records. It’s still there in my parents’ new house. It probably doesn’t work any longer, but we can’t bear the thought of not keeping it. Now I’ve got most of the old songs on CD, and recently loaded them onto my new iPod Shuffle – which means they’re still with me. And if you want to know why I’ve loved the songs that once played on our old hi-fi for my whole life, here they are:
Lester Lanin and his Orchestra:
“The Chipmunks” in “Sing A Goofy Song,” also known as “Ree-Dee-Do:”
Mitzi Gaynor singing “Honey Bun” to Ray Walston in South Pacific:
Julie Andrews and the “von Trapp Family Children” in The Sound of Music:
The Ferko String Band playing “Alabama Jubilee:”
Alfred Apaka singing “Princess Pupule Has Plenty Papaya:”