Posted by: Bill Tracy | December 23, 2017

Girls and Boys and White Christmas

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas

Just like the ones I used to know

Where the treetops glisten and children listen

To hear sleigh bells in the snow

-Bing Crosby

White Christmas

As another Christmas descends upon our collective psyche, I can’t help thinking back. While the “white Christmas” thing is a persistent mythical longing, it almost never actually happens. At least around here. Not an official flake was recorded for Christmas between 1920 and 1960 in the Philadelphia area. But, once in a while… Last year I wrote about the Christmas of 1966 when I drove through a blizzard on Christmas Eve to be home for the holidays from my Air Force station in Alabama. This year I’m thinking about the snowy Christmas three years earlier.

It was 1963, and I was age 16, soon to be 17. Christmas Eve was a Tuesday. I don’t think I had any great expectations, and having been a very bad boy that year, I deserved no more than coal, if that. The evening was usual for my family, getting the tree into the house and decorated, gift wrapping, preparing food for Christmas day. But this year, we had a guest in the house.

My sister, Kathy, was newly into boys, and a boy had come calling on Christmas Eve. David was from Audubon, a few towns over. I don’t know how they met since they were not school mates. But there he was, posted up in the living room wearing a sport jacket and tie. As the evening wore on, decorations were piled on the tree, and outside, snow began to pile up. That made for a festive mood, but it also raised some concern as David’s father was due to come by and pick him up at a certain point. Snowy roads were more feared in those days of poor-traction bias-ply tires and little road salts. As we watched snow pile up and drift outside our living room’s picture window, the time for Dave’s pickup came and passed. Surely, Dave’s father was just delayed in the snow. Time passed and our focus slowly settled on the expectation of a phone call.

At 15, Kathy had a bed time to observe, even on Christmas Eve. When the time came, she said good night and Merry Christmas to all and went to bed, knowing not the eventual fate of her suitor. That left dad and mom and me to entertain our overtime guest. I don’t know if Dave or my dad made the suggestion, but a phone call was made to Dave’s home. No answer. Stiff smiles matched the tension for the next few minutes. KYW news radio, the constant backdrop in our house, had no news of Dave’s father. No news is good news.

Predictably, the snow kept coming while just as unpredictably, word from or about Dave’s father did not. Every 15 minutes or so a call was made to Dave’s house. No answer. There was no public transportation available after midnight on Christmas Eve, and walking the three or four miles in a snowstorm was out of the question. The only other alternative became the elephant in the room. No one seemed to mention my father taking him home.

I think my father didn’t want to take him home. I suspect he felt some resentment about the whole thing anyway. Here’s this kid coming after his daughter — and on Christmas Eve! The sport coat and tie may have landed points with Kathy, but they didn’t impress dad. So we sat and smiled politely and talked about how the snow was falling and drifting in the wind… KYW news radio droned in the background.

Memory fails when it comes to the details of how it all ended. Seems like it went on until two o’clock in the morning or so. Somehow, Dave’s father was finally reached. Maybe there had been some misunderstanding about the pickup time or place. What I do remember is that Dave’s father and my father agreed to share the transport burden. They met on a snowy corner somewhere halfway between our houses. At last, the girls and boys were tucked in their beds on Christmas Eve.

Over the years this story has been told in our family anytime someone yearns openly for a “white Christmas.” We get a good laugh from it. And we wonder what happened to the boy who showed up with the snow that Christmas Eve so long ago.


Four years after this white Christmas of 1963 in New Jersey, my friend, Russell (Pop) Lewis and I were in Vietnam. Not a white Christmas there either.

Four years after this white Christmas of 1963 in New Jersey, my friend, Russell (Pop) Lewis and I were in Vietnam. Not a white Christmas there either.

Posted by: Bill Tracy | November 13, 2017

The Record Shop

I have my ship and all her
Flags are a-flyin
She is all that I have left
And music is her name

-Southern Cross

Crosby, Stills & Nash

It was a Monday, that November 19, 1945. A 34-year-old Howard Clements Horne had finished his Navy gig with the CBs. World War II had ended, and “the boys are home again all over the world.” Howard joyously trekked from the Philadelphia Naval Yard, where he was formally discharged, to his wife, Edna, and six-year-old son, Joel, in their South Philly neighborhood around 24th & Tasker. Then he got about the business of making a living in a newly peaceful and prosperous United States.

When the lights go on again all over the world

And the boys are home again all over the world

And rain or snow is all that may fall from the skies above

A kiss won’t mean “Goodbye” but “Hello to love”


-When the Lights Go On Again

written by  Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus and Eddie Seiler

Sung by Vaughn Monroe in 1943

Record ShopIn short order, Howard had himself a janitorial business. One of his clients was a center-city Philadelphia jewelry and novelty shop owned by Nancy Ferraro. Nancy and Howard both liked music; they talked about records. Being business oriented they both saw that records were a bright spot in the retail landscape, so they teamed up to get their share of the sales. For some years, they worked a circuit of flea markets, one-day musical events, etc around the Delaware Valley area. One of these flea-market sites was the Berlin Farmers Market. Things were going well in their little business. In 1948 the long play (LP) vinyl came to be, and that would be the mainstay of retail music sales for many years to come. The 45 RPM record was introduced in 1949. A new “youth marketing” was developing out of that. Howard and Nan hustled, but they dreamed of a day when they’d have a permanent retail location of their own. That day came in 1952, and Howard & Nan’s Record Shop became a reality inside the Berlin Farmers Market. Today, 65 years later, Howard and Nan are gone — but the record shop is still sailing — with all her “flags a-flyin.” And we have one man to thank.

Joe DiPietro had spent the summer of 1962 working on a cesspool cleaning truck. At summer’s end, he was starting his senior year at Sterling High School in Somerdale, NJ, and he was looking for cleaner part-time work that fit his school schedule. He wasn’t the most desirable looking candidate when he walked into Howard & Nan’s Record Shop — blue jeans and a white T-shirt with a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes rolled up in one sleeve. Maybe it was because his Mother worked in another store at the Market. Or maybe they sensed he would be a good worker. Whatever it was, they hired him. Joe works there still, 55 years later. His long journey through the Record Shop has been quite an adventure.

DSCF6060sDuring his senior year, Joe was working 25-30 hours each week at the shop. A lot of records were being sold in the sixties, and his job was mostly keeping the shelves stocked. After graduation, he kept working there in addition to another job. Joe was a hard working kid. In those times, a young man’s life in this land was not his own. In the summer of 1965, Uncle Sam came calling. The military was building up for the Vietnam war, and they wanted Joe to join their team. Instead of being drafted into the Army, he chose to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. After basic training and technical school in Texas, he was assigned as a jet fighter aircraft crew chief at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC. He worked the night shift, and his weekends began on Friday morning. He had to report back for duty on Sunday night. This left him free to work — yes, in the record shop! He could drive back to South Jersey in two hours and 20 minutes so by Friday afternoon, he was at work unpacking new records, stocking shelves and whatever else was needed to keep the store humming. This worked well for everyone until September, 1967 when Uncle Sam said Joe was needed in Vietnam. “Believing in the mission,” as he said, Joe went to Vietnam. He extended after his one-year tour, doing a total 18 months in the war. He was discharged directly from Vietnam in May, 1969.

Joe working with a customer

Joe working with a customer

Joe had not intended to come back to the record shop. He had found that he liked the Air Force. He was good at his aircraft maintenance job, and he liked the work. But Howard and Nan made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They wanted him to participate in managing the record shop, and they promised him an increasing ownership share in the business for each year he worked with them. It wasn’t an easy decision, but Joe took the offer. The following year, December 6, 1970, Howard died. Although the store name never changed, from that point on, it was functionally the Joe and Nan Record Shop.

Through the years the “record” store rode a roller coaster of audio format changes. The LP album had appeared in 1948 and became a mainstay of the music business. The next year, the 7-inch 45 RPM came along and fueled the youth market through the fifties and into the sixties. The compact cassette came along in 1963. Two years later, the infamous eight-track tape became the rage. Meanwhile, the LP album sustained the business, especially for hard-core music enthusiasts. In 1982, the compact discs revolution began, and things slowly started changing in a big way. This really started the end of the vinyl record business. The record shop did well making all these transitions through the years.

DSCF6231sIn 1990, compact disc and cassettes each had 46% of the sales market. The vinyl LP had been eclipsed. Over that decade, compact disc sales rose, and cassettes fell. In October, 2001 Apple introduced the world to their new iPod, digital music player. And that changed everything. Since then the music world has been mostly compact discs and ripping songs for portable digital devices, downloading music directly, etc. The idea of a “record” is a distant memory for most people. And the Record Shop had to adapt to this new world.

Around the time Apple was emerging as a dominant force in the “record” business, Nancy Ferraro died, age 86, on May 6, 2003. Since then, Joe DiPietro has soldiered on alone, still running the Record Shop at the Berlin Farmers Market. Today, the store still sells records, almost exclusively used LP records. Musical instruments are also a big part of the store. Electric guitars, violins, ukuleles, harmonicas, horns, etc. are all available. But today’s digital online world is no longer the world of a 1952 Record Shop. And such a record store will never be again.

Joe immersed in a repair job

Joe immersed in a repair job

Howard and Nan would hardly recognize the Record Shop today. In some ways, it is more music museum than supplier of modern music. In the 1950s, the store was flooded with young people looking for the hot new tunes, disc jockeys grabbing the latest music for their gigs, audiophiles shopping for the best new jazz, classical and other genres. Today, collections of used music are purchased; this keeps the shelves stocked. A lot of regulars come in looking to add to or complete their collections. Many have known Joe for years. With the new resurgence in vinyl music, a lot of new people are coming in. They’re looking for records they cannot get any other way. High schoolers come in looking for instruments they can play in their bands — horns, stringed instruments, percussion supplies. And no one escapes without explaining to Joe exactly what music is happening in their world. It’s a personal service and experience that cannot be found anywhere in the online world.

A customer makes a concert

A customer makes a concert

Selling a new instrument to a young person, Joe will invite them to come back and play for him once they’ve learned their instrument. Some actually do. If you buy a new guitar, you don’t leave with a cardboard box and a “best of luck.” Joe tunes the instrument, teaching the buyer, if needed. A guitar sale can easily take an hour. Regular customers offer updates on their bands — and their aspirations for bands. Music teachers seek out Joe for counsel and good deals on instruments. When something stops working, Joe’s Air Force technical skills come in handy. Horns, guitars, turntables, amps, etc. can all be diagnosed and fixed like nowhere else in this modern world.

DSCF3430sFor those willing to listen, Joe can tell them what music was like in the days of vinyl. One of his favorite topics is how a record album in the seventies was so much more than just a vinyl disc and a sleeve to store it in. The cover art was labored over as intensely as the music it was depicting. Inserts had stories about the origins of the songs, the band, etc. None of that comes with today’s digital downloads. But at the Record Shop in the Berlin Farmers Market, Joe DiPietro is keeping it all alive.

The Record Shop is a ship still sailing — and “music is her name.”



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