boy's voice from 1954 lost and found
AUBURN — “Hi,
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
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
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.’”
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
Hi, Cris. Nancy
Hi, Cris. Yvonne
Grownup Tom has
written their names down on a piece of white paper, sounding
out the spelling. Mary Collings. Vicky Campbell. Janice Gossage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
And that’s how
he recognized the handwriting on the grimy 45 at the thrift
store that Saturday.
to hit thrift stores, hunting for antiques.
Tom browses while
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.
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.
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
I took it over
to Dorothy and the first thing I said was ‘This is me on here.”
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
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.
— 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.
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
“What are the