When We Were Young
Joy McLaughlin, Recording Genius
From the pen of Marsha L Burris
I grew up in Newell where Joy McLaughlin got the best Christmas presents of all my friends. Sometimes I already knew what would be under her tree before she did. So would anybody else who happened to be shopping in Woolco at Tryon Mall on Christmas Eve in the mid-1960s. If you were there, you heard Junior Mac singing Yuletide carols at the top of his lungs while pushing a cart up and down each isle filled to the brim with gifts. My dad, Jim, never shopped – that was Rusty’s domain. So I didn’t even know men were allowed to shop all by themselves. I was intrigued.
One particularly memorable Christmas present for Joy was a tape recorder. A little portable reel-to-reel device. My memory’s a little fuzzy on the make and model, but it looked a little like this:
Its function and the uses for which it could be employed were as clear in Joy’s imagination as the Christmas morning she unwrapped it. The year was probably 1966. Joy, who would have been about eleven years old (two years younger than myself) called me on the telephone as soon as she was free and told me to get myself up to her house as soon as I could. When I fulfilled my familial obligations I did just that. The reel-to-reel tape recorder pre-dated cassettes. Heck, it was even before 8-tracks. Some manual dexterity was required to feed the thin brown magnetic tape from the feed reel through the tape head to the take-up reel just so. But then when that step was complete, and the record-lever was clicked on, every word, every sound, every little peep within hearing distance of the microphone, could be picked up and preserved. With this technological marvel, we hit pay dirt and we knew it. We hadn’t heard of Karoke back then, or Lip Sync, but that didn’t mean we didn’t engage in the activity. The latest Broadway show tunes were always playing on the McLaughlin phonograph and a handy hairbrush served as a mic for our performances. The tape recorder meant we could capture those performances for posterity – something for which we somehow did not foresee any likely future embarrassment.
Another exciting utility Joy thought up for this gift included special interviews with members of the household. We asked thought-provoking questions as we interviewed Junior Mac, Jewel, Nanner… We asked the questions that were on everybody’s mind:
• Now Mac, tell the truth. Did you really like the M&M pancakes we made for you that morning at the beach? It’s my favorite pancake recipe ever.
• Nanner, what do you put in that pot of stewed okra to make it so tasty? Salt. Now, don’t mess around in here. I’m busy.
• Jewel, why is it we always pile into your bed when it storms? Go ask Nanner.
Joy and I (never short of exciting and fresh ideas) thought it would be brilliant to secretly plant the tape recorder and microphone in places where we hoped to catch her sister Denise doing or saying something incriminating. Our dastardly plan included the hopes of blackmailing big sis and therefore compelling her to do our bidding. That never really panned out. I must confess that Denise was much too smart for us. She spotted the machine every time, detected our ruse, and shut it down before we could capture anything useful.
We were not completely deterred. Together, Joy and I developed radio talk shows, radio dramas, and we even dabbled in a little faux sports casting. No Christmas gift had ever been used with such creativity before or since. Wonder where those old tapes are now.
Thinking of you this Christmas as always, my friend.