When Stories Take Unexpected Detours


"Shocking" unrelated revelations arise!

By Kurt Rump

The TightKnit Story Album had an appropriate title: 1969-70 Jam Sessions. All the photos in the album captured the party atmosphere that surrounded the five guys performing jazz and swing tunes from the 40’s and 50’s. Two of the musicians were my uncles – one playing trumpet and the other controlling the dynamics and providing the rhythm on drums. The piano, bass player, and vocalist were friends of the family.

The setting was the living room of the house I grew up in. On at least two different occasions, we had some relatives in town for a visit, and my folks would invite friends in for an evening of live music and refreshments.

The Jam Sessions album had been shared with quite a few people who remembered those evenings. As I paged through it, the conversations that accompanied the photos were pretty much what you would expect:

— Identifying the musicians and discussing their musical backgrounds.
— Reminiscing about the music. (It helped that my dad had captured some reel-to-reel recordings during one of the jam sessions, so we were able to digitize those recordings and include a few tracks alongside photos of the band.)
— Attempting to identify as many of the attendees as possible. Relatives were IDed pretty easily. IDing friends of the family was hit and miss.

And then it happened.

This story was about to take a detour. From talking about music and musical gatherings, we would morph into talking about… vacuum cleaners? What?

Here’s how it happened: my cousin Greg noticed a door in the background of a photo of people enjoying one of the jam sessions. Greg had been in our house a gazillion times, yet didn’t recall ever opening that door to see what was behind it, so he asked. Was it a closet?

Having grown up there, I responded to let him know that yes, it was in fact a closet that was tucked in below a staircase. We primarily kept coats in it, but we also stored the vacuum there.

Because little details can be fun to share in a story, I went on to say that it was an Electrolux cannister vacuum, which worked really well in our home because most of the flooring was hardwood or linoleum and we had very little carpet.

That little detail about the Electrolux sparked a memory about the cannister vacuum that Greg’s family owned. It was a short story, but a memorable one. A story that, in the moment, could have been terrifying… but years later, in the capable hands of a gifted storyteller who was ratting out a sibling… was hilarious.

It was the kind of story that likely contributed to the founding of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The kind of story that, if it happened today, might result in a lawsuit with the manufacturer.

A youngster… playing with a vacuum cleaner that had a detachable power cord… what could possibly go wrong?

Like I said before, Greg is a GIFTED storyteller – and he totally ratted out his brother.

It seems that one day little Eric (yes, THAT Eric) found the power cord, still plugged into the wall but no longer attached to the vacuum. “Hmm,” he apparently thought at the time, “I wonder what this will taste like?” And he proceeded to put the end of the power cord in his mouth.

Bzzzt.

OMG. Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously hurt (and has no memory of this incident, to this day). We have it on good authority that his tongue was black for a while, and he couldn’t taste anything for weeks, but the most important thing is that he survived.

What Eric DOES remember about the Electrolux vacuum was how we would take turns putting the end of the metal extension pole in our mouths and turning it on. Yep. I remember that, too.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission wouldn’t be formed for another 20 years… and somehow we all survived.

That story… that detour… had absolutely nothing to do with a Jam Session. But without that photo and the free flowing collaboration around it – questions, answers, memories shared, and stories told – we never would have known about the episode with the Electrolux.

The banter  – the memories… what unexpected detours will YOUR family come up with while you’re sharing old photos together?

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