When they put me, bleeding, into the back seat of my father's car, they moved a heavy box of records to make room for Grandma. My legs were short. I sat awkwardly around the records, stretched to keep from jostling them.
It was moving day. Grandma made me go with her to buy bread and milk and eggs for supper in the new house. I was only 4 and ran and ran down the sidewalk in front of her, forgetting the big crack in front of the house. I tripped and fell, my chin getting the worst of it. Blood dripped over my grandma's good flowered hankie and down the front of my dress.
At Children's Hospital, the intern, young and serious, said, "I'll give you a penny for each stitch if you don't cry" before he put a cloth over my face. It had a hole in it just right for my chin. He sewed four stitches. It hurt, but I didn't cry. He forgot my pennies.
Later my father remembered. He gave me four cents.
The moving van was waiting when we came, late, my face wreathed in white bandages. It hurt to smile. Our new house was waiting, my mother at the door. My cranky grandma said, "Now don't run! Watch where you're going!"
My father reached first for me and then for his records. He carried them up the steps, through the door and into the living room.
Our record player was in the corner on a table, its scratched cherry cabinet looking old against new-painted walls.
"Well," Dad asked, "what shall our moving music be?" Dad was sorting through the record jackets in the box. Some were dusty, smaller, holding records thick and heavier than they looked. The newer ones said "Modern Monaural." One, my favorite, was translucent purple plastic with a picture of a lady named Ella. My dad always said, "Old Ella really swings!" She looked funny in her glasses, not old; my grandma looked old, and she certainly didn't play on the swing set.
The strains of "Lullaby of Birdland" soared through the mostly empty rooms, and suddenly we were home again.
When I was 10 we moved again. "Too many children," Mother said. The new living room was large and airy, with space for a Magnavox stereo with diamond-needled turntable. "Real diamonds," my dad said. They looked pretty small to me.
My father measured the room and drew an imaginary triangle. "Acoustics," he said. He took a kitchen chair and placed it, just so, at the apex of the triangle, and he sat and closed his eyes, and listened to his records.
Now it was Miles Davis and the sweet trumpet of "Sketches of Spain." Or the Modern Jazz Quartet. Or the Swingle Singers, making Beethoven and Bach alive with human voice.
The Sundays of my childhood were filled with my father's records. We read the Sunday comics or drew pictures or finished homework to the music of saxophones and clarinets bursting with jazz. Or Count Basie, or Duke Ellington, and every now and then, purple Ella, scratched and old, but so familiar.
One day, somehow, my sister dropped the record, and purple Ella broke.
On my 18th birthday, my father bought me a portable record player for my college dorm room. He must have shocked the jazz fanatics at Radio Doctors, his record store, when he asked for a good selection of music for an 18-year-old going off to college. Wrapped in birthday paper were the Beatles, Buddy Holly and the Rolling Stones. He helped me load them in the car, in the back seat, carefully, before he hugged me and said goodbye.
In an old bookstore in the city, , down in the basement where yellowed newspapers and back issues of garden magazines and National Geographic are piled to the ceiling, I found an old scratched purple record -- "Ella Live!" -- beneath some Dinah Shore and Doris Day recordings. It was $5.
My father now has a compact disc player and Bose speakers and decibel recording and digital readouts and a programmable selection from now until next week. I don't think he has a turntable. The old records are stored carefully in the attic, in boxes, first replaced by cassette tapes and, as new "old" recordings were re-released, later replaced one at a time by compact discs.
And I have a purple record. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, a cloudy, quiet afternoon, after the papers are read, my children say, "Let's listen to Ella."
Jean Stein is a freelance writer living in Fairfax.