One of my many special memories happened when I was about seven or eight years old. We had gone to my paternal grandfather’s on Christmas Eve, as was our tradition. Santa, as was his tradition, had come while we were gone. After we had opened the gifts the jolly old elf had left us, and the ones we had made or bought for each other, my father told us to sit tight, and went upstairs. Carrying a huge box wrapped in orange butcher paper, he struggled down the steps and into the living room.
He set it in front of my mother. She carefully unwrapped it. It was one of those new Motorola stereophonic record players! It played 78-, 33-1/3-, and 45-speed records, and had speakers you could put across the room! We were all so excited! My mother loved music, and although she knew it was more than they could afford and said so, she was happy with the gift. My father, who had used an unexpected holiday bonus to pay for it, was so pleased with himself for picking such a great present that he looked like the Cheshire cat! I remember sitting on the floor by the twinkling Christmas tree, and listening to records that night before we went to bed.
My mother, my sisters, and I played many records on that stereo over the next decade. When I was eighteen, my mother died of cancer. For the next few weeks, my father, who had seldom used it, repeatedly played “Um bel di” from the opera, Madame Butterfly. He had never been a fan of opera. Why that particular plaintive melody? He never explained, but it seemed to give him comfort. His gift to us that long-ago Christmas, which had given us hours of pleasure and a wonderful holiday memory, had traveled full circle, and become a gift that helped him to work through his loss.