Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A New Mix Tape

Last week, on the long drive to my parents' house, I grabbed a bunch of cassettes to play in the car. (Yes, my car is old enough to have a cassette player, but it works!) I have a whole bunch of children's books on tape that helps the time pass more quickly. (No, we don't have a DVD player in our car. WAH!) Mixed in with Tiki Tiki Tembo and Little Red Riding Hood were several homemade mix tapes. They had titles like Love Songs or Emily's Mix or Dance Mix. Some of the songs so carefully selected have not withstood the test of time; some were great songs that I hadn't heard in years; all delivered a treasure trove of memories. One tape was a particularly delightful find.

In the olden days, if you didn't want (or, more likely, couldn't afford) to buy an album, you would try your luck at catching the song on the radio and recording it on your cassette. Sometimes, one might record hours at a time, then dub the songs you wanted on a second tape--with a lot of rewinding and pausing and fast forwarding involved. The sound quality was terrible, but it was good enough for the likes of Wang Chung, Sister Christian or Hungry Like the Wolf. There were more advanced machines, but mine was the kind that you pressed record then put it up to the speakers on the family stereo. This particular mix was recorded in the kitchen. In the background, I could hear the noises of a big family, but not clearly. I knew Mom was doing dishes, the phone rang and I could hear one side of the conversation (because the phone was hooked into the wall). I found myself wishing I could turn the music part of the tape off and just listen to a day in the life of my youth.

There is an act in Our Town where Emily chooses to go back to her thirteenth birthday. She is aggravated by the commonness of the day with, "We never look at each other." While Wilder makes some good and valuable points, I think he misses an important idea: There is love in those common actions. As my mother patiently scraped and washed the dishes in the background of the mix tape, there was love in that. When someone was needed on the phone, the holler down the stairs was not done in anger, it was a familiar and exciting message being delivered. Mom let the crappy dance music blare into the kitchen so one of us could record whatever song to which we thought we needed continual access. That is love.

So, yes, we do need to stop and look at each other. We do need to take moments and sit quietly, but it's also okay to be busy doing all of those things that show our love so much better than constantly gazing at each other.

It made me want to give that gift to my children. Some time this week, I'm going to take the tape recorder, set it in the corner of the room and press record. I know how I loved those few glimpses into my past, I think they will love hearing a day in their lives. I will label it "Don't Throw Out" and let them find it at some random moment in the future. As they hear the normal sounds of our everyday life, I'll bet there will be a big smile on their faces as they marvel at how young they sound, how sweet the laughter of our baby is, and how this home was mostly filled with joy. I hope they will realize that, even though I'm doing the dishes and teaching phonics and not "just look[ing] at each other," there is love in that.


  1. Beautiful.....your post, mix tapes, the precious gift that is loving-family-life.....everything.

    Thanks, Emily.

    And I'm glad the trip went well!

  2. What a great post Emily. It sounds like your trip home was good for your soul. I'd better watch my tone of voice before I dare record a day in the life at our house.

  3. My mother did this when I was little. We found the tape when I was a teen and we laughed and had a good time. Now when I listen to it, I just appreciate my mother so much more for what she put up with (we were arguing/playing/brushing teeth on the tape).
    It truly is a treasure.