Tom Rivett

Memories of the Phonograph

     

 

 By Cindy Lange-Kubick

Lincoln Journal-Star, July 21, 2013

A boy's voice from 1954 lost and found

AUBURN — “Hi, Cris.”

“Hi, Cris.”

“Hi, Crissy!”

Small voices caught in time rise above the crackling of the record player, the past rushing back to a friendly faced man in a striped shirt and slacks, a ring of white hair circling his shiny head.

The man is 62 now, a father and grandfather, semi-retired.

In 1954, when the record was made, he was 4, a quiet boy with a mop of dark hair falling over his forehead.

On the old 45, a woman calls his name, letting him know it’s his turn to speak.

“Tommy Rivett,” she says, a nudge in her voice.

“Hi, Cris,” a shy, high-pitched voice echoes back.

Tom Rivett rocks back on his heels and laughs Thursday morning. The first time he heard that voice, five days earlier, he wept.

“Hearing my voice, I teared up right away. I thought ‘That’s me 59 years ago.’”

Tom Rivett's July 13 trip to a thrift shop in Auburn yielded a high-pitched surprise: His 4-year-old voice on a 45 record, squeaking out a song about a Muffin Man for a classmate in the hospital back in 1954.

 

The woman on the record is Tom’s Great Aunt Helen, introducing the students in her Rhythm Class as they take turns greeting their absent classmate. Beth May.

Hi, Cris. Stevie Minchow.

Hi, Cris. Nancy Mercer.

Hi, Cris. Yvonne Forney.

Hi, Cris.

Grownup Tom has written their names down on a piece of white paper, sounding out the spelling. Mary Collings. Vicky Campbell. Janice Gossage. Stevie Crickshank.

He doesn’t know where most of them are now.

But six decades ago, they were timid performers in pinafores and hair ribbons, leather shoes and collared shirts, standing in line in Helen Boyce’s living room on North 43rd Street in Lincoln.

Helen Boyce’s Rhythm Class in 1954. Tom Rivett is fourth from the right.

 

They were making a record for a girl in their weekly music class, where every Monday they played the cymbals and banged sticks together and marched playing cardboard drums made of old Tastee Inn hamburger tubes painted red.

Crissy — Cris Bennett — was in the hospital, burned by a vaporizer at home.

The old kind, says, Tom. The dangerous kind that looked like a car battery with a chrome top, water roiling inside, a volcano of scalding steam escaping out the top.

He can’t remember exactly how the little girl who lived down the block from his family around the corner on Y Street got hurt.

“I don't remember,” he says, sitting at a long classroom table. "I think she fell out of bed and rolled on it."

He remembers that her neck was burned, her arms, her legs.

“She was in the hospital for a long time.”

Last year, Tom and Dorothy Rivett moved to this brick schoolhouse east of Auburn to be closer to their four grandchildren. They turned the basement into their living quarters, kept the school room upstairs — the big blackboard, pictures of the presidents on the walls, bathrooms for “Boys” and “Girls,” school supplies, rows of tables, perfect for family gatherings.

Dorothy wanted to get rid of the Audiotronics 304, the boxy tan record player that shut ups like a suitcase.

It’s a good thing they kept it, Tom says.

Because after their July 13 visit to St. Francis Gift & Thrift — down the highway in Auburn — they needed it to listen to those voices from the past.

And to one voice in particular, a little boy singing a solo, shaking in front of the big silver microphone.

****

Tom spent his career in food service. McDonald’s for 18 years, Cisco for 14 more. For the past four years, he’s been a food consultant.

It’s part-time work, easing into retirement.

He advises restaurants and talks to industry groups about the cuts and grades of meats, the nutritional value of seafood. Helps them make informed choices for their menus, serve what customers want to eat.

Growing up in North Lincoln, Y Street and then Greenwood Street — between Uni Place and Havelock — he was quiet.

“I was a shy kid.”

They were a poor family, his dad had some demons, Tommy went to work at 12 to help out.

In high school, he forced himself to take a speech class, and more speech classes in college.

He’s comfortable now speaking to hundreds at a time.

But he remembers that day in his Great Aunt Helen’s living room. His great aunt lived with his grandparents — an unmarried sister to his grandmother.

She was like another grandma to him. She made her living teaching piano lessons to older children and her Rhythm Class for preschoolers.

“She did it for years and years and years. All through the 50s and 60s and 70s, probably the 40s, too.”

The recording for Cris was the only one Tom remembers her making — a copy for her burned student and each child who wanted one.

Great Aunt Helen died nearly 30 years ago, and Tom was the executor of her estate.

And that’s how he recognized the handwriting on the grimy 45 at the thrift store that Saturday.

Dorothy likes to hit thrift stores, hunting for antiques.

Tom browses while he waits.

On July 13, Dorothy’s sister was in town and they headed west six miles to the big green awning of the Catholic Social Services thrift store.

While Dorothy scoured the store with her sister, Tom headed past the knickknacks and the baby swings to a rack filled with music — old LPs, CDs, a small stack of 45s, on the front row, facing out.

He picked up the pie-plate sized record on top, white with dust.

He recognized the blue label first: Silvercraft.

He picked it up.

“Hi, Cris,” it said on one side.

And when he turned it over, the same sloped cursive spelling out “Muffin Man.” The nursery rhyme Great Aunt Helen asked Tommy Rivett to sing for their missing classmate. Oh, do you know the muffin man, the muffin man, the muffin man...

“My hands were literally shaking.

I took it over to Dorothy and the first thing I said was ‘This is me on here.”

The Silvercraft record featuring Tom Rivett's Rhythm Class. Rivett found the record, made for a classmate in 1954, at an Auburn thrift shop July 13

 

His wife of 43 years looked at him.

“What are you talking about?”

* * *

He paid 25 cents for the record and brought it home.

“I worried it was so dirty it wouldn’t play.”

But the needle on the old record player in the one-room school lifted the grime as it spun around, spilling out a long-ago day at 45 revolutions per minute.

There was his Great Aunt Helen at the piano, playing the intro to his song.

And then a sweet, high voice, through the crackle of time.

Oh, do you know the Muffin Man who lives on Drury Lane...

Tears fell down Tom Rivett’s face.

“I’m kind of an emotional guy,” he says, sitting at the long table at this school house five days later.

“You just don’t stop to think about how fast time goes.”

He’s got the 1968 Northeast yearbook open to page 85.

There’s “Crissy” — Kristine Bennett — a somber, dark-haired girl.

They’d love to find her, Dorothy says.

They’d love to find the rest of Great Aunt Helen’s Rhythm Class from 1954.

“I’d love to have a reunion here,” says Dorothy.

“Wouldn’t that be perfect?”

And they’d love to find out how this record ended up on that shelf that day in the town they moved to a year ago on the day they came to shop — bringing a man back to his boyhood.

To one of his first memories.

“What are the odds?”