Lisa Loves the 70s: Wake up Maggie, I Think I Got Something to Say to You

The year was 1971 and I had just discovered that I was the luckiest kid on earth. My father was dying which forced my mother into the workforce for the first time in years – selling Avon at home didn’t count, which she did successfully for decades.

This time my mother Josephine, five-feet tall, mostly mouth, had landed a job at Grants department store in the record department. I was 11 and didn’t understand the concept of cancer. But this unexpected turn of events gave me two of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received.

The first was time with my father, who would take care of me after school because he could no longer work. Every day the two of us would watch his favorites, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore on our brand-new color television. I recall many days he served up Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup for dinner so piping hot – which is how he drank his coffee – that my Saltines would explode the minute they hit the bowl.

He had worked in a factory in New Britain, Connecticut for decades. Up until this point, he was a ghostly figure in my life, leaving for his job as a foreman before I was up, teaching golf after he got home and then reading the paper and watching TV before I went to bed.

He would magically appear though every time there was a parade, a fair, fireworks, taking me, the youngest of three, “the accident” my parents had in their forties, to each and every one. My siblings were 15 and 21 years older than I. In a move that only my mother could get away with, she chopped her voluminous belly (pregnant with me) out of each and every one of my sister’s wedding photos.

As you are about to find out, there were plenty of other moves that only Josephine could get away with. An expert saleswoman, she took her job at Grants seriously. Within weeks of her hire, she was showing up at home after work with every hit album of the day.

It wasn’t unusual to hear “Jesus Christ Superstar” blaring through the house at 7 a.m. I loved music, Aerosmith, “Dream On,” so bye, bye Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy, wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you.

I can’t recall how many times I replayed “American Pie,” carefully lifting and replacing the needle, so I could write down every single word. The Woodstock album, which I still have, holds special memories for me. As the record department salesperson, Josephine was required to use the loudspeaker to play the newest releases throughout the store.

On one particular day, she chose Woodstock. About 30 seconds into the “Fish” cheer by Country Joe McDonald – remember gimme an “F, gimme a U . . . ? – her boss came running over. “Josephine, what are you doing? The corporate heads are here today!” he barked. There stood my diminutive mother (in height only, of course) who casually responded, “What? It’s on sale this week.”

And let us not forget the new-fangled Polaroid cameras – which I also still have – that were on display at her counter. She’d chase us through vacations, holidays and special events making us dutifully line up for a picture that popped out in seconds. Who remembers waving them so the photo would appear more quickly?

Obviously by now, you understand that the second gift my father’s illness gave me, was an irrepressible love of music and the 1970s that still fills my life today.

My goal is to bring readers every scrap of memorabilia from that era and enough information to continue the legacy of that simpler yet glorious decade. Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Tull, you name it, I’ll be looking at them all for concert dates, reviews, merchandise and whatever else brings back the flavor of a time when Gran Torinos ruled the TV screen (Starsky and Hutch!) and “Hard Rock” was developing into an art form.

Offer up a comment here with your requests.

I’ll see you on the flip side,

Lisa Backus

Writer at large