My parents are both from the Mid-West. They met each other in a little town called Independence, Kansas. Note that this is not Independence, Missouri, which at least is famous as the home town of Harry Truman. No, Independence, Kansas, is a little town of about 10,000 in the wasteland known as Eastern Kansas which probably hasn’t voted Democratic since Andrew Jackson. Yes, I know, Kansas was not a state during the Jackson presidency. It’s a joke, people.
My dad got a job at Boeing in Wichita, which ultimately led to him getting a transfer to Seattle. Periodically, relatives would fly up to visit us.
I remember one year, probably back in the early 1970’s, when my dad’s father came to visit. I think that my dad’s mom had recently passed away, so my dad didn’t want his dad to be alone, hence my grandfather came to spend one Christmas with us.
As with most children, Christmas was a big thing for myself and my 5 year older brother. We both made lists and then would eagerly await Christmas morning to see what we would get.
This particular Christmas, I was probably around 10 years old, which made my brother about 15 years old. He had previously made up a list and gave it to my parents. My parents, not being very culturally hip, must not have taken a very close look at what he was asking for.
So, Christmas morning, my brother and I tear through our gifts in front of my mother, father, and grandfather. OK, we didn’t actually tear through the gifts. My family had a very specific way of doing things. One person was always identified as the Santa. This person would carefully pick out one gift for each family member and then hand it out. We would then, one at a time, carefully open the gift, express some look of joy and amazement, spend a moment or two examining the gift, turn and thank the person who gave the gift, and then carefully put the gift aside so that the next person in sequence would open his/her gift. At the end of the round, ‘Santa’ would then get the next set of gifts out.
The Santa role usually was the youngest person capable of handling this responsibility. Since I was 10 years old at that time, although I don’t specifically remember doing it, I’m guessing that I was the Santa.
After all gifts are opened, then we have Christmas dinner. Almost invariably this would be ham, cranberry sauce (straight out of a can with the can ridges still visible in the outline of the cylindrical shaped sauce), red hot salad, and rolls. This was the classic Mid-Western holiday meal (plus this formed part of the very small subset of food that an admittedly very picky yours truly would eat).
This year, all proceeded normally. After the dinner, the family headed back into the living room. Not knowing what else to do, my dad suggested playing some of the records (and yes, they were LP records) that my brother got. He was into music at that time so got several new records.
My brother said sure and he offered up one of his new gifts. The record that he chose was George Carlin’s Class Clown.
I remember that my family had one of those huge record consoles. There was a reel-to-reel tape, a record player, and two speakers, all jammed together into one monstrous piece of furniture. It must have been at least five feet long and probably weighed something slightly less than a ton.
We all gathered around it. My brother placed the record on it and started playing it. It all started innocently enough with standard Carlin acts like the ‘Hippy-Dippy Weatherman’ and things like that. The last cut on the album was labeled Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.
Keep in mind that this was probably around 1973. My parents and grandfather were very conservative, very religious. Did I mention that this was 1973?
So, imagine, 1973, Christmas Day, my grandfather made a special trip to come see us, a Christmas dinner in us, several biblical verses had been read aloud, the family gathered around the console, probably looking like something out of a Depression era Normal Rockwell painting. And then…
Let’s just say that pandemonium commenced in the household. There was talk of destroying the record on the spot. My grandfather suggested taping over that part of the album. I remember my father saying that he’d seen the warning on the album cover, but he’d never thought that such words would actually ever actually appear on a publicly available product.
The whole time, my brother was sitting there, wide-eyed in wonder, proclaiming innocence.
That day I learned that acts of social disobedience can take many, many forms…