Friday, April 10, 2009

Mike Sylwester Remembers the Beck Family

Faculty Lane House 4 was occupied by the Beck family. Mr. Beck taught music. None of the Beck kids were in my class. The oldest boy, Toby, was in the class behind me.

Toby Beck, seventh-grade student at St John Elementary School in Seward, Nebraska

I remember that my brother Steve and I stayed overnight in the Becks' house our first night in Seward, because our room was not ready yet in our new house. I liked the name Toby, because there was a children's book about a boy named Toby who ran away to join a circus.

Toby had a lot of toy trucks. I think he collected them. He always asked for and received more toy trucks on his birthday, Christmas, etc. In general, I thought that playing with toy trucks was rather lame, but his trucks were really cool, because they were Tonkas.

Toby also collected records. Maybe because his dad taught music, he was one of the first kids in the neighborhood to have his own record player and his own records. At that time, he was interested mostly in military songs. He had one record of Army songs, one record of Navy songs and one record of Air Force songs. When I visited his house, we would listen to these same three records over and over.

[Army song]
Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas!
Nothing’s so delicious as eating goober peas!!!

[Navy song]
From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli,
We fight our county’s battles in the air, on land and sea!

[Air Force song]
Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder,
Climbing high, into the sun!
Here they come, zooming to meet our thunder!!
At’ ‘em boys, give ‘er the gun!!!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
Off, with one heckuva roar!!!!
We live in fame or go down in flame,
Hey, nothing’ll stop the US Air Force!!!!

Toby inspired me with the dream that I too might be able to own and play my own records in my own home. We had a record player in our home, but we never had played any records on it. Rather, we used it only as a piece of furniture onto and into which my Mom put a lot of knick-knacks.

Since I had a paper route, I had some spending money, so one day I went to the House of Davidsons (an odd, local retail store) and bought a couple of Smothers Brothers albums and brought them home. My Mom cleaned up our record player, and from then on our family too was able to play records in our home.

My initial idea was that I would just keep buying Smother Brothers records. Why would anybody buy anything else. Then, however, I discovered Bill Cosby records, so I bought some of those too. Then I got interested in folk music -- Limelighters, Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary and then Triny Lopez.

My musical tastes were very uncool. Toby's tastes were much more advanced. He bought the first Beachboys album on the block. I was skeptical, but Eddie Hackmann praised it, and so I gave it a second listen, and then it blew me away. I missed the Beatles Revolution completely, but thanks to Toby, I can say I was hip to the Beachboys during that period.

A response from Toby Beck:

I remember the toy trucks – I might even still have them! That was fun – we made roads by the big tree on the east edge of your front yard. One night we had I think every kid on the block around that tree with a truck or car.

I also remember the circus that we did one year on your porch – and the weekly Monopoly and Risk games.

I’d forgotten about Goober Peas, but we’ve still got that record. Haven’t played it in decades though.

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