By the middle of August Mom returned to her place in Flanders Music. Musical instruments started to be delivered which was a healthy thing for the bottom line. Dad and I could relax and turn our attention to what kept the store an interesting lifestyle for us.
During the middle 60s the record world was in a state of flux. The ‘British Invasion’ was fun and fast paced. Every week you could be sure that ‘the beat goes on.’ The groups from England were kicked off the Bill Board Chart by a strange duo from California. Sonny and Cher stayed on the charts for a few weeks.
It was a different song from where music was heading at the time. It started with an almost exotic sound then Sonny & Cher sang simple and engaging lyrics. “They say our love won’t pay the rent, before it’s earned our money’s all been spent.” Interesting how it grabbed people and became so popular. As a Beatle and Rolling Stones afficanado it even had me.
Maybe it had to do with a subliminal feeling that it would be cool to have a long haired brunet girlfriend. But, at this point that was 5 years away.
That was the future, the now of music still was between The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The Fab Four put out another movie which put their music back on top. A Hard Days Night was silly and chaotic. Help had a storyline, sort of, and how could you not love Ringo goofing around.
The album had solidly good music. You could see them and have a visual image of what they looked like singing…or at least lip syncing. A life long favorite from Help was the song, “You’ve got to hide your love away.” I can still see them in that living room pit thing.
And then there was the other English dudes, the bad boys of the British Invasion. The Stones were channeling black R & B, and yet they weren’t doing a simple cover, they were inventing their own style.
Sales were not overwhelming in the ‘white bread’ town where Flanders Music resided, but the young hip record buyer grabbed every album ‘the boys’ put out. I also still had a curiousity about my old ‘folkie’ roots so I would always listen to Mr. Dylan. Lyrics became important to me and it was good to sit in the dark in my basement room to see if I could figure out what he was talking about.
Each week I would get a new shipment of 45 Revolutions Per Minute records and go about the process of putting them on display. I bought white cardboard from Tecumseh Office Supply, along with different color magic markers, to make the posters that went above the boxes. I decided the order I would put the records in. As a general rule the best seller was number one, unless I didn’t like it then it went into somewhere in the top ten.
It kept me occupied so that I didn’t need a girlfriend and never noticed when local girls came into the store to ‘check me out’. With compatriots like Ringo Starr and Keith Richards who needed anyone else? I am not sure when I became aware of it, someplace along the line a cast of characters began walking through either the front or back door of the store.
I once heard Phil Rosenthal, the creator and runner of “Everybody Loves Raymond” say that every family is a sitcom. For the Tecumseh Flanders, that sitcom included the strange and wonderful people who wandered into our little spagetti shaped building.
In late August I was standing at the counter and looked to my left to see a bizarre concoction of clothing with a curious head attached looking into the front glass door. As soon as she noticed that I saw her she toddled away. Two days later I saw her again. The next time she showed up my Dad saw her also. I always admired his ability to look past the obvious and see the person.
Dad had to sneak up on her the next time she appeared. He was in a spot where she couldn’t notice him. When she looked away he pulled open the door and said, “Hi, would you like to come in?” Gladys stared at him with the blank look of someone nobody talks to. Dad was patient and held the door for her to shuffle in.
Dad walked with her as she studied the inside of the place she had been checking out through the glass door. She finally stopped in front of the counter. Eventually she pulled out a beat up transistor radio. She finally looked at Dad and announced in a loud voice: “Bat Trees.” Dad gentley said, “sure, we have those right here.” From that day on for a few years Gladys would open the front door and scream, “Mr. Flanders…Bat Trees.” Gladys the Bat Tree Lady Was one of star members of our sitcom.
The next member of the crew could not have been more different. Instead of staring into the store from outside the glass door, Steve Kaiser burst into Flanders Music running and talking obnoxiously loud. He made strange noises grabbing his nose and gesturing like he was pulling something through his nostrils. He was post high school age, maybe 19-20. This was a strange dude.
His posture made you think he had a large broom stick like object stuck up his anis and a very tall person was lifting that broomstick. He never walked, he always ran. He had a bad habit of leering at any female. This might have made some girls nervous, but he was such a characture of a goof that many females could ignore him.
Mom had a friend from Ann Arbor who was a musician who gave music lessons. Joe Foder was a wind instrument specialist. He stood and sat ramrod straight. He had one of those thin mustaches from the 40s and had a miniscule sense of humor. Before we bought the building, our store was “Cal’s Tog Shop’, a dress store with pretensions of being a stylish boutique. They had two small dressing rooms where you could try on an expensive pair of shorts. We modified those dressing rooms and they became our ‘music lesson studios’
One day Steve Kaiser came jogging through the front door holding a battered clarinet like it was a fencing sword. Evidently it was something he had in the 6th grade and decided that Mrs. Flanders could show him how to play it. Mom quickly signed him up to take lessons from Joe Foder. That Friday at 5:30 pm Steve and Joe entered one of our tiny music studios.
The walls were paper thin so we all gathered around to listen in to find out if Steve was a prodigy on the woodwind. Steve completly dominated the entire 25 minutes. The lesson was supposed to be a half hour, but Joe stood up and walked about before it was over. “Mr. Folger, Mr. Folger, play something.” “It is Foder and the lesson is to teach you to play.” “Mr. Folger, Mr. Folger can you play the clarinut?” “It is Foder and yes, I can play the clarinet.” “Mr. Folger, Mr. Folger have you ever met Elvis?” Over and over until Joe walked out of the room fuming.
This was not the end of Steve Kaiser’s musical career. Shortly after the ill fated clarinet lesson, he became convinced he was, in fact, Elvis. He moved to Toledo and had a moderately successful stint as an Elvis impersonator at a strip club.
The final character was a man we all fell in love with and who stayed in our life long after the store closed.
Dad decided before the store opened that since we were going to be selling TVs and Stereos, we should have a repair department. He figured that he could handle this himself since he had been fixing TVs for close to two decades. He did not calculate two factors. First, as the store began to make some money and the initial curiousity of having a music store in a small town wore off – now people came in to purchase stuff. Second the electronic industry was changing like never before. Vacuum tubes were being replaced by transistors. Diagnosing a problem was complicated for those trained in the ‘old school.’ It took some self awareness, but Dad finally realized he could no longer be a repair guy.
For a small independent business to support the entrepreneurs was a dicey matter. For that business to support another person, and that person’s family, was downright scarey. The frightening proposition became a reality when a skinny young man walked in and announced he heard we were looking for a repairman. Dad asked him about transistors and Mom asked him if he could work for what we could pay him. It was at this point that Ralph Klanke joined the cast of characters.
I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Ralph when he first started working. He didn’t know anything about The Beatles and would joke that it was all a bunch of noise to him. It took me a while before I wised up to realize that Ralph was a brillant resourceful man. I learned more and more about him and his fascinating family history as time went on. Most of all Ralph Klanke was a genuinely decent person. He taught me a considerable measure of what it meant to live out your faith and to make your way in the world with what you have. We all knew that the world was a better place because Ralph Klanke was in it. More stories to come about our repairman.
In late August of 65′ all of the Flanders’ lives were moving at a dizzy pace. We moved into a newly built house. Van received a letter from a group of his peers that started with: “Greetings…” With his draft notice he faced induction into the US Army. Bonnie learned to hate the store and refuse to come in. Mom was trying to sell Gramma’s house and talk her into moving to Tecumseh. I had not given it a second of thought, but with Labor Day approaching, I would soon be starting a new school. That hackneyed expression that the only thing constant is change could not have been more accurate.
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