Christmas 1971


This is the only photo I have of Christmas 1971: a really poor Polaroid of the tree in the living room. (Moving to a Polaroid Colorpack II as our primary family camera from the lowly Kodak Instamatic wasn't such a great idea!) Even though I heavily adjusted the levels and colors with Photoshop, it still looks bad. However, a few details emerge.

Using a zoom I can just make out several small presents under the tree - and I know what they were. Cassettes! I had just bought my first cassette deck (an entry level Panasonic) a few months prior and needed blank and pre-recorded cassettes to go with it. The format was rather new in 1971, and manufacturers were struggling with trying to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, technologically speaking. My first pre-recorded cassette is under that tree somewhere: the original cast recording of "My Fair Lady." I still have it! It still plays! Well, sort of... it drags in places. But I did, too, when I was 38.

I was first introduced to the cassette in a schoolyard, in junior high. Another kid had one and handed it to me to examine. I was at first unsure how to open the plastic case but figured it out and was pleased by the cleverness of it. So much more compact than an Lp... I had to have one of these!

Also under the tree are, and this is hard to believe, individual blank cassettes, individually gift-wrapped! They were Scotch 90 and 120 minute blank cassettes. (In those early days I didn't yet learn to avoid 120 minute cassettes because of their thin magnetic tape and consequent breakability, but I would.) As I recall these cost about $6 or $7 each. Honest! Can you imagine an individual cassette being such an investment? But back then, the better quality ones were priced high. When Memorex came out the next year with black-packaged cassettes with a far better high-end response and an unusual storage case, cassettes became technologically sexy. $7 was not too much to pay for a blank 90 minute tape.

The big Christmas gift of 1971 was our conversion of our one car garage into a pool hall. I spent a good part of the winter months nailing wood into place in the ceiling to prepare for it. When we finished we were proud of ourselves, and I planned for the day when I could install speakers in the room so we could listen to cassettes while playing pool. How recreational!

You can also make out some sprayed-on snow drifts on the window from fake snow in an aerosol can; I suspect this was the last year we did this. (Cleaning it off the window was a chore.) And I hate to admit this, but I think by 1971 I took over the responsibility for snow from Mom, who used to use the stuff like it was air-freshener. I am ashamed to say, however, that my snow effects were no more convincing than hers were.

As I recall, Christmas 1971 was the year we threw out all of our old stuff and bought new lights and ornaments. It's not a bad-looking tree, as far as it can be made out. And I can see that in 1971 deeply-hued Christmas wrapping was in, as was foil. It looks nice.

Behind the tree you can make out what looks like aluminum foil in the lower half of the window. This was my idea. It was my festive way of concealing the window-mounted room air-conditioner.

Over on the right hand side of the photo, one of Mom's dolls - dressed in clothing made from a festive Royal Stewart tartan - sits in her high chair and examines the gifts under the tree. But she was not a feature of the room's Christmas decor; Mom had her there year-round. It irritated Dad, but nowhere as much as Mom's final excess, in 1979, would.


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