John, Paul, George and Ringo in My Life

beatlesI can’t call the Beatles my all-time one-and-only favorite band. Not sure I am capable of musical monogamy, since I am so easily lured away by an irresistible hook, driving bass guitar, dangerous drumbeat or moody lyrics. I’ve been known to disappear with other bands for days, weeks or even months at a time. I dallied with the Stones and David Bowie in the early 70s; Cheap Trick, Dire Straits and the Cars in the late 70s; the Police and the Human League in the 80s; Radiohead and REM in the 90s; and the Shins and the Clientele more recently. I’ve had one-night stands with the likes of Chumbawumba, Men Without Hats, Fastball and Ok Go and haven’t regretted a thing.

My musical tastes are eclectic and will never be stuck in one era. But if my memories could be bound into a photo album, the Beatles would be the friends who showed up in every picture, looking different each time, sometimes a little dated, but somehow belonging there. In my life, no other band can awaken specific moments and the sights, smells and even tastes that accompanied those moments. So when WordPress asked its millions of bloggers to write about their favorite band or song, for their weekly writing challenge the choice was clear. While other bands have captured my passions and my listening hours, the Beatles have been my only long-term relationship – sometimes wildly exciting and other times unlistened-to and taken for granted, but always part of my soundtrack, long after they stopped making music.

So let’s take a look at some of my pictures through the prism of the Beatles’ catalog:

I Wanna Hold Your Hand – Picture the bus stop for my Catholic school, a Monday morning in February, 1964. My childhood friend Mike Graziola is thunderstruck by the Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan show the night before, when they sang this song and 73 million people listened. We can’t stop talking about it as we clutch our Jetson’s lunch kits and exhale vapor into the chilly morning air, shivering and eager for the bus to come but not for the conversation to end. Soon afterwards Mike would start dressing more like a Brit and learning guitar. At 59, he’s still playing.

Hello Goodbye – December, 1967. The song was at the top of the charts and my sister Julie and I have just unwrapped our Christmas gifts from Uncle Nicky: new transistor radios with fragrant leather covers. My dad rounds up a nine-volt battery and I plug it in and click and turn the volume button, then the tuning button, until the static disappears. This is the first song I hear. I hear it again under my pillow, where I’ve placed my radio on low volume before I drift off to sleep. The song always makes me think of the smell of leather.

Happiness is a Warm Gun – Senior year of high school, 1972. The cool and dangerous kids in our school, the ones with no curfew, are very much into the White Album. In the hallways I hear some classmates chanting: “When I hold you…in my arms…and I feel my finger on your trigger…”

Got to Get You Into My Life – Freshman year in 1973, a Theta Chi frat party with live music at Penn State. The band had brass along with guitars and they played this song and everybody danced drunkenly to it. This song makes me think of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on tap and its faint taste of parmesan cheese, and a floor that is sticky underfoot.

Twist and Shout – I’ve given up frat parties and joined the Daily Collegian, the student newspaper at Penn State, where I meet my future husband Bob and friends that I have kept to this day. Our frequent parties usually climax in a drunken clotted mess of friends hanging onto one another and singing loudly to Beatles songs, including this one. Sometimes we girls would dance on tabletops, like disco dancers. Later, as party-goers begin to stagger home and the rest of us lay around in a stupor, we’d switch to more soulful songs like “Julia.”

She’s So Heavy – In 1995, newly separated and fragile, I drove from my home in Pennsylvania to New England to visit with Bob, who was my steadfast college friend but nothing more at the time. We visit with other college friends, go out to dinner and share many laughs. At his home we listen to Abbey Road and slow dance to this song, with its heavy and hypnotic guitar that goes on and on, then ends abruptly when you are not expecting it. I’m in his arms when that happens and not sure what to do, so I break away and feel like an awkward middle schooler.

That Means A Lot – The Beatles never released this song, originally intended for the Help! Album, but it showed up in Beatles Anthology, Volume One, which Bob presented to me soon after we became a couple. It was not the Beatles’ best effort, but it reminds me of a very sweet time when our love was fresh and new.

Mother Nature’s Son 1996, a reunion at Penn State of former Collegian staffers and their families. We are at the picnic pavilion in Stone Valley, a park owned by the school. Our old friend Jeff is playing his guitar and singing this song. My daughter Rachel and I sing along to the “do-do-do-do-do-do-dooooo” part during the chorus. It is a sublime moment.

Helter Skelter – 2011. Our son John is discovering rock music and his own voice, which is strong and clear and on pitch. He is singing along to this song in the car and I realize how good he is. Through his eyes I start to appreciate the Beatles all over again.

In My Life – Perhaps no other song sums up Bob and me so well. We danced to it at our wedding. “Though I know I’ll never lose affection, for people and things that went before, I know I’ll always stop and think about them, in my life, I love you more.” I guess that sums up how I feel about the Beatles as well.

Goodbye, Wild Thing

The Troggs, in their prime.

The Troggs, in their prime.

BBC radio woke us at 5:30 a.m. today, and the first thing I heard was that Reg Henry, lead singer of the Troggs, passed away yesterday. He was 71 and had battled lung cancer.

Everybody remembers the Troggs’ oft-played garage anthem, “Wild Thing,” which shot up to number one and still never fails to stir, even 45 years after it first came out. But I thought immediately of their other song, one that captured the angst and longing of my middle school years: “Love is All Around.” The melodic bass of the initial bars, as soft and careful as a tiptoe, imprinted itself on me from the very first time I heard it. The words sum up the uncomplicated adoration of idealized love:

“You know I love you. I always will
My mind’s made up by the way that I feel
There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end
‘Cause on my love you can depend.”

What better words to capture the longing of a middle-school crush? “Love Is All Around” will always remind me of one of mine: Wayne, a handsome, blue-eyed loner who found his way into our tight group of friends in our blue-collar neighborhood. Every pre-teen girl in the neighborhood pined for him, and nobody landed him for years, until he eventually dated my friend Mary Lou in high school. I’d scribble his initials and the words “Love Is All Around” all over the brown paper cover on my science textbook, on the inside flap to hide it from the Catholic school nuns.

My sister Julie, who also secretly loved Wayne, and I would watch him out our back window as he played basketball on a neighbor’s driveway. We’d tune into the old Philadelphia AM radio stations, WFIL and WIBG “Wibbage,” to listen for the Troggs song that had become unsuspecting Wayne’s theme song. We’d be so bummed if we turned on the radio and heard its waning bars and knew we had missed it. This was 40 years before iTunes and we’d spin the radio dial like a roulette wheel, hoping each time we’d hit.

And then it would happen. Those first bass tiptoes would sneak up on us, then we’d hear the twangly lead guitar and Reg Henry’s voice, sounding vaguely southern:

“Ah feel it in my fingers; ah feel it in my toes
Love is all around me, and so the feelin’ grows.”

Eventually somebody in the neighborhood bought the 45 of “Love Is All Around” and we’d listen to it over and over again on a portable record player. Our little group would have “record hops” in a neighbor’s unfinished basement, where we’d fast-dance to Martha and the Vandellas, experiment with kissing and swoon over the Troggs.

Today I learned that Reg Presley retired only last year because of his lung cancer, but that the remaining Troggs members, Chris Britton (guitar), Pete Lucas (bass) and Dave Maggs (drums) planned to keep touring. That’s good. But can the group survive without that signature voice, the one that snarled for his wild thing and balanced coolness and plaintiveness in “Love Is All Around” when he asked his beloved if she loved him back?

“It’s written on the wind. It’s everywhere I go
So if you really love me, c’mon and let it show.”

A few months ago I visited Julie and we were heading out for some shopping, when she smiled and said she had a surprise for me. She pushed the button of her iPod Nano and I heard the first bars of that song we both loved 45 years ago and continue to love still. It brought us back to shared confidences in our twin beds before we dozed off to sleep; to longing glances out our back window at a blue-eyed boy playing basketball; to listening to 45s and dancing in our neighbor’s basement; to the sweetness of that first, unrequited love. Thank you, Reg.

Turning on With Don (Draper)

Last night’s episode of “Mad Men” ended with Don Draper listening to The Beatles’ psychedelic stunner “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and feeling his soigné sixties self slip away.

Anyone remember when that song first came out, when Revolver was released? Were you an adult, a teen, a tween? Regardless of your age, didn’t listening to that song – which allegedly cost the Mad Men producers $250,000 to use – make you realize the world was changing?

If you were an adult whose life soundtrack was Connie Francis or The Vogues, you probably could sympathize in part with Don, listening mutely and realizing that he no longer had the cultural zeitgeist figured out. If you were a teenager or pre-teen accustomed to the adorable Beatles singing poppy, danceable songs, “Tomorrow Never Knows” might have made you a little uncomfortable, as much great art does. It was a huge departure for the Fab Four. Consider that “Rubber Soul,” the Beatles’ previous album, included accessible melodies like “Michelle” and “Drive My Car.” Revolver – and its haunting last track — made us realize that the mop-tops who sang “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” were so Yesterday.

Accompanied by John Lennon’s fuzzy, far-away vocals, sitar music, haunting drums and tracks played backwards, “Tomorrow Never Knows” came from the book “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner. The song signaled that the era’s most influential musical group was moving forward, dragging pop culture with them, and we had no choice but to follow or become irrelevant.

I think that Don must have been thinking this while he listened to the lyrics, sitar, drums and distortion. While he listens, the scene cuts from the 40-ish Don, to his 20-something second wife Megan lying on a stage (after quitting her comfortable advertising job earlier in the day to pursue the bohemian life of an actress), to Don’s coworker Peggy getting high in the office with hunky colleague Stan (When will those two get together???? My guess is when Stan grows his hair and gets rid of the striped shirts.)

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream, Don! Or grab another hit from those bottles beckoning from your credenza.

While it’s been 46 years since the debut of Tomorrow Never Knows, its lyrics have a strange resonance for those of us struggling to tune out from the constant electronic disruptions of our plugged-in lives. Those lyrics are the perfect meditation for the rest of your day:

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing

And ignorance and hate mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing

But listen to the colour of your dreams
It is not leaving, it is not leaving

So play the game “Existence” to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning

Farewell to the Bagel Man

Great bagels are a transcendent experience.

Murray Lender, who brought bagels to the masses and made Lender’s Bagels into a national brand, died this week. What better time to reflect upon all the great Bagels We Have Known?

Murray Lender once presided over a ceremony featuring the World's Biggest Bagel. He would turn bagels into a food juggernaut by introducing it beyond the Jewish community.

Without Lender, we’d still be eating toast every morning. It was Lender who turned bagels from a strictly Jewish food enjoyed with lox into a breakfast staple — enjoyed by many millions of people of all ethnicities. He did this by freezing many of the bagels sold fresh at his dad’s New Haven bagel bakery and selling them at supermarkets. Lenders Bagels would eventually go national and introduce the treat to Gentiles everywhere. Without Lender there would be no Brueggers, Einstein’s Bagels, Manhattan Bagels, Finagle a Bagel and other national chains.

Those of us in midlife can surely remember those primitive years before the Great Bagel Awakening, when bagels were a rare specialty. When I was growing up in the 1960s, my mom would travel about 25 minutes from our home to the only bagel place we knew, Original Bagel, along City Line Avenue near Philadelphia. Fortunately, another bagel store opened in the 70s at the Bazaar of All Nations, a rundown department store about five minutes from us. A bag of piping hot bagels became the ultimate way to start to the morning.

In college at Penn State, a large bunch of us at the student newspaper staff enjoyed a bagel party one night after somebody brought back a hoard after a visit to a big city. Back then, in the days before digital photography, we had a photo dryer in the darkroom, which was perfect for toasting the bagels en masse. The newspaper staff’s late-night bagel feast, washed down by copious amounts of beer, inspired me to write a poem on the spot. Fortunately for you I can’t remember all of that beer-emboldened “Ode To A Bagel,” but it began this way: “O donut-shaped morsel, so tasty and chewy…without thee, what have we to see the night through-y?”

As a working girl in downtown Philadelphia, one of my favorite haunts was Bagel Nosh, located on Chestnut Street. That was the first time I had a bagel sandwich…my favorite was chicken salad and muenster cheese on a half-and-half bagel. Still, that was in the late 70s and bagels were by no means everywhere.

But as more people discovered bagels, the bagel chains would ultimately help spread what Lender began. Even after the food took off, Lender remained a cheerful evangelist for bagels for decades. He cashed out of his business in 1984 with a $90 million sale of Lenders Bagels to Kraft, but never stopped beating the drum for his products.

“I never met anyone who didn’t like bagels,” he said once.

I wonder what Lender thought of all the ways his signature product has been interpreted recently. Until bagels became a widespread commodity, one could buy them in only a few flavors: plain, poppy or sesame seed, onion, and sometimes cinnamon raisin.

Today it seems that the bagel has become any food that’s donut-shaped but not a donut. Even MacDonald’s sells them, although they are little more than Wonder Bread with a hole. Over time, Lenders’ many imitators would introduce abominations such as blueberry bagels, asiago cheese bagels and green bagels (for St. Patty’s Day). Perhaps these fusion bagels are an attempt to appeal to other ethnicities (Brueggers makes a wonderful rosemary and olive oil bagel, but is it really a bagel?) One can also buy salt bagels. Why not just twist the dough a few more times and call it a pretzel?

Brueggers even makes a square bagel. And our relatives on Long Island introduced us to “flagels,” which are flattened bagels. They are delicious but look like something that the Beverly Hillbillies would pick up from the road with a pitchfork.

Of course, bagels have joined the pantheon of bad foods for people who are eschewing carbs. My in-laws in California love going to a nearby bagel place, called I Love Bagels, and buying a hollowed-out bagel stuffed with chicken salad or another topping. I’ve tried it and liked it, but can’t help wondering: What’s the point?

A real traditional bagel, enjoyed in its full splendor, is a glorious experience…just the right resistance on its crust and the right density inside. Not soft like Wonder Bread, or hard like the “Jewish jawbreakers” that critics once called the early versions of bagels. A veteran bagelmaker once told the New York Times that “a real bagel fights with you.”

So in honor of Murray Lender, this weekend we are going down to our local family-run bagel joint, which owes Murray a debt because he made the bagel beloved everywhere. We will buy a bag of bagels, find some that are still warm from the oven, and eat them in the car.

Please comment about the bagels in your own lives!

We’ll Miss You, Davy

The girls in my Catholic school class daydreamed about Davy Jones (second from right) when we were not learning our Beatitudes.

For millions of baby boomers, part of their tween years died yesterday with Davy Jones.

Davy and The Monkees helped set the stage for many acts that would follow over the next four decades.  As a manufactured rock band – hatched not in a garage or basement, but in a television studio seeking to capitalize on “A Hard Days Night” – The Monkees were pioneers, clearing the way for “Glee,” “Smash,” and other television shows where the music rather than the plot is the real star.  Davy and his mates were thrown together by television, rather than hanging out in real life, but somehow they coalesced as a band.  Their best songs came from other people – Carol King, Neil Diamond, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart – but the Monkees made the songs catchy and shiny.

Unlike many other pop stars of the late 60s era, Davy occupied a unique place in our ‘tween girl psyches.  Elvis and Frankie Avalon were too old; Sir Paul was cute but already an icon rather than a flesh-and-blood guy; Mick was just too dangerous.  Davy could sing and he was famous, but somehow he seemed accessible and nice — like the older brother of the cutest boy in class, before he got shipped off to Vietnam.  He was The Beebs of the 1960s.  His cuteness quotient was off the charts.

The girls in my seventh-grade Catholic school class adored Davy.  We listened breathlessly for his voice in the Monkees’ songs – the “ba ba ba ba…ba ba ba ba” chorus of “Pleasant Valley Sunday;” his sweet English tenor on “Daydream Believer,” “Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow,” and “When Love Comes Knocking at Your Door.”  Mary Joan Fricker, whose desk was across the aisle in Sister Mary Boniface’s class, had the lyrics from Davy’s songs scrawled on the brown paper cover of her Baltimore Catechism.  We shared Davy stories from the latest “Monkees” episodes and swooned over him.

Davy was our crush during that fleeting period when we had one foot in childhood and one in brooding adolescence. We still colored within the lines, memorized the Beatitudes and worked on our penmanship, but we’d hike up the hem of our school  uniforms when the nuns were not looking.  A few of us wore fishnets and lace-up granny shoes with our uniforms; sometimes we got away with it.  We listened to the Temptations, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and of course, The Monkees.

“More of the Monkees” was the first record album that I ever bought.  It cost $3.59 at the Bazaar of All Nations in my hometown, a down-at-the-heels department store that is no longer there.  Davy’s smiling face greeted me from the display rack set on the ragged linoleum at the record store doorway.  I rushed home to put it on the turntable and let Mickey and Davy sing to me.  Two doors down, the O’Toole family would host record hops in their basement for us neighborhood kids and Monkees songs would be in the same mix as The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and The McCoys.  My sister Julie and I listened the 45 of “Daydream Believer” thousands of times.

A few years later we were too cool for The Monkees — who were on their way out anyway —  and we began listening to Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly.   We switched from AM radio to the FM “underground” station.  The Monkees were packed away with the repressed memories of our awkward preteen years.  But new generations would discover them years later, and appreciate their tuneful ballads from a simpler time.   And we jaded music lovers would rediscover them as well.   RIP, Davy.

For Presidents Day, a Jubilee of Cherries

I cannot tell a lie...this is the best pie ever, for President's Day or any time.

For decades, my Aunt Rita gave my dad a totally-made-from-scratch cherry pie every Washington’s birthday/Presidents Day.

Her pies had that classic, homemade character, without that machine-made look you get even in a decent bakery pie.  The lattice was pleasing but not precise; the thick crust around the rim bore her knuckle’s imprint; a crescent of cooked, dark red filling usually oozed over part of the edge and congealed.  We always hated to disturb the pie’s homespun beauty by cutting into it, but that fleeting thought usually lasted just a few seconds.

A culinary Olympian, Aunt Rita used only canned sour cherries, sugar, cornstarch and almond extract in her filling. The filling was sweet but not overly so. This commitment to making the filling from scratch never wavered, even when the supermarkets began offering jars of ready-made fillings — those cloyingly sweet, impossibly red mixtures with a few dozen cherries floating around like shipwreck victims awaiting rescue.

Rita’s crust was also homemade, and she always nailed that finicky balance of flour and shortening.  The crust was latticed on top, flaky but with a small core of chewiness under the thick rim.  That soft part under the thick circumference was my favorite part, especially when some pie filling stuck to it. I’d dip that thick crust in whatever filling remained, like using Italian bread to mop up those last drops of sauce.

While Aunt Rita was a purist in the old days, over the years she became more practical.  Partly in response to the jaw-dropping price for a can of sour cherries, she has tweaked her traditional recipe.  Now her filling is a happy mix of two cans of sour cherries — cooked with sugar, cornstarch and almond extract — and a jar or can of the pre-made cherry pie filling.  Can’t say it takes any less time, and making one of these will still set you back at least $12, but it is chock-full of cherries, sweet but not too sweet, and beats those store-bought pies anytime.  And while you can substitute your favorite homemade pie crust for this, I am happy to report that even Aunt Rita, who is now 90, has given that up for a good ready-made crust.   But after making my own (see photo here) with a Pillsbury ready-made crust, I suggest going for the full Monty and making your own…it does taste better.

So this President’s Day, bake up this pie for your first family, or for a cabinet of your dearest friends.

Cherry Pie

2 cans tart cherries, drained (save the juice)

1 jar (21-23 oz.) prepared cherry pie filling

1 cup cherry juice (from the canned cherries)

1 cup sugar

¼ cup corn starch

6 drops red food coloring

4 drops almond extract

2 prepared unbaked pie crusts (your own recipe or ready made)

1 T butter, unsalted

Milk, for brushing the crust (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix sugar and cornstarch.  Put in saucepan along with 1 cup cherry juice; and stir well and cook over medium heat until thick and clear.  Add red food coloring and almond extract and stir.  Let cool, then combine with tart cherries and prepared cherry pie filling.  Line a 9-inch glass pie pan with one of the prepared unbaked pie crusts, and pour in cherry mixture.  Dot with butter and make a lattice from the second crust (Weave the lattice on a piece of wax paper, then invert onto top of pie and peel away the paper.)  Crimp edges with your knuckles.  Brush top crust with milk if desired.  Bake 50 minutes to an hour, checking frequently, until golden brown.  Cover the perimeter with a strip of foil if the crust begins to brown too much.

Makes 8 servings.

These Songs Are Colossal Sellouts

This album cover from The Who in the 1960s was prophetic -- they have sold out more than any other classic rock band, shilling for several car companies.

The Superbowl comes in five days.  Along with anticipating the epic battle of the Pats vs. the Giants, we also look forward to the equally epic commercials.

No doubt at least one of them will feature a song from the 1960s or 70s, especially if the target market includes middle-aged people with expanded waistlines and wallets.  Watching the ad will take us back to a time when we were skinny and rebellious and cool, and we will feel wistful and nostalgic.

Does anybody else feel a little discomfited when a former rock/counterculture/youth anthem turns commercial?  It’s like seeing your high school crush walking the streets in the red light district, or working at Walmart.  Even Ferris Bueller, who epitomized coolness for those who grew up in the 80s, gets spoofed in a Honda ad on Sunday.  (The ad is brilliant, by the way.)

Indeed, most of these ads are brilliant – we watch because they dazzle us with 21st-century special effects, even as they make us nostalgic with songs from 40 years ago.  Michael Bay directed the Chevy commercial featuring Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” It’s impossible to stop watching.

Yet seeing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in a Cadillac commercial (which during Led Zeppelin’s heydey was a car for gangsters and 70-year-olds) feels sad and crass. Almost as sad as seeing Robert Vaughn (the actor who played “Napoleon Solo” in the 1960s TV hit “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) shilling for a personal injury law firm on late-night TV.  The Who – which had a 60s album entitled “The Who Sell Out,” have sold out big time, lending their songs to Nissan, Saab and even Hummer.  In a real ironic twist, their song “I Can See For Miles,” from “The Who Sell Out” was co-opted by Sylvania for a headlights ad.

Even one of my favorite songs from the psychedelic 60s – Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” a 45 record that became scratched from my overuse — showed up in an ad for Target last summer.

Maybe advertisers want to give their product some edge with people who are no longer edgy by reminding them of when they were.  The ads rewind us to the thresholds of our adulthood, when we had loads of time and anything was possible, and when we’d scurry to the record store and scan the cubbies of 45s for the latest AM radio hit.

So here’s a list of some of my favorite sellout songs, with a few links to the ads that have forever tarnished their memory…songs that stirred me as a teenager and young adult and that now remind me of how quickly the years have passed.  I’ve also included two sellouts from newer bands.  I first heard these on a commercial and liked them enough to download the entire songs.

So I guess it can work both ways.  Maybe the ads will introduce a new generation of listeners to some great classic rock, and give them one more thing to talk about with their parents.

Please add to this list!  And for more reading about the intriguing topic of music in TV commercials, visit this excellent blog, musicontv.

My List of Top Colossal Sellouts

“All Together Now” by The Beatles (Cover version, for Budweiser)

“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who (for Nissan)

“Do Ya,” by ELO (for

“Happy Together” by the Turtles (for Heineken and others)

“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf (for Chevy)

“Vertigo” by U2 (for Apple)

“Picture Book,” by the Kinks (for Hewlett Packard)

“Pictures of Matchstick Men,” by the Status Quo (for Target)

And two newbies:

“Chelsea Dagger,” by The Fratellis (for Amstel Beer)

“How You Like Me Now,” by The Heavy (for Kia)

Auto-Biographies: Our Vehicles, Ourselves

One does not "get out of" this Rolls; one "emerges" from it.

Going to the New England Car Show in Boston last weekend was like going to a huge family reunion. Within each clan – the Chevys, the Volvos, the Fords, the exotic relatives from Italy and Germany – one could see see how each bloodline has evolved over the years.

Some of these newborn models don’t look anything like the ancestors that I remember from my more than four decades of driving and noticing cars. (The Mustang is a happy exception). The car companies probably want it that way, as they tweak their designs and their marketing to appeal to a new generation of car buyers. Along with adding new features, they surely study the emotional attachments that people have to their cars and the psychology behind their buying decisions.

But as we grow older, does anybody else have a hard time shaking long-engrained images of a brand?

Sexy car; not so sexy brand name (Dodge).

No matter what kinds of sleek new designs the company unveils, the brand name “Dodge” still evokes the image of a car that your least-favorite teacher used to drive in the early 70s. It sounds too much like “stodgy.” Dodge had a sweet-looking retro version of the Charger at the auto show, and it did attract a lot of onlookers. But it is still a Dodge.

I think Dodge should create a brand new subsidiary to make cars with a cooler-sounding name and hide the fact that they own it, like Gallo did with their “Turning Leaf” wines.

Our son Jesse spent a lot of time around the Volvos, since he owns three vintage models. The brand attracts a large and devoted brand of aficionados like Jesse, who likes to tinker with them and can do most of the repairs himself. (Jesse has been a motorhead since birth, often going to sleep with a Matchbox car clutched in each hand.) But the Volvo will forever remind me of the middle-class suburban Philadelphia neighborhood where I once lived. When a new Volvo appeared in a neighbor’s garage, usually a move to a tonier swim club came around the same time, and the for-sale sign went up in front of the small house about a year later. The Volvo was the harbinger of a new, more comfortable financial stage, like a pre-teen boy’s jump in shoe size just before he grows taller.

BMW will always be the first word in the phrase “-driving yuppie scum.” My least favorite executive at the company where I once worked drove one. His second trophy wife was usually with him. Even though my beloved brother-in-law has one I can’t shake that first image.

Toyotas and Hondas seem to be the vehicles for the proletariat; solid, dependable and unglamorous. But I have a special attachment to Toyota because my dad drove them 20 years ago; they were more glamorous back then, especially the Cressida. It was a far cry from the old Pontiac Rambler station wagon that he once drove, later announcing that it was “the worst car I’ve ever owned.”

This car reminds me of the Calgon bath oil beads commercial when a lady takes a bath in a tub in her back seat.

The Hyundais, which a few years ago had a pretty tinny image, has been making cars that are both solid and stylish now (full disclosure: I drive one.) Their new luxury “Equus” is so big that the back seat includes an adjustable footrest. It reminds me of that old Calgon bath oil beads commercial when the lady takes a luxurious bath in a tub under the floor of her back seat. She presses one button to draw a curtain and give her privacy from her chauffeur; and another to retract the floor over the tub.

The Rolls-Royce Phantom, the nearly $500,000 car on display at the car show, reminded me of “King Joppi,” the James Earl Jones character in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America” film. King Joppi emerged from one of these (you don’t “get out of” a Rolls; you “emerge” from it) preceded by attendants casting rose petals before him.

“If you own a car like this,” remarked Jesse, “you don’t drive it yourself.”

Jesse’s girlfriend Stephanie was drawn to a tuna can-sized Fiat that looked like it could park sideways in a parking space. I was appalled at the back seat, which looked barely big enough for our guinea pig. But I could picture Stephanie, who looks a bit like the young Elizabeth Taylor, tooling around in it like a heroine of a Fellini movie. A Fiat makes me think of Rome, where my sister and I saw thousands of them when we visited decades ago.

Whether it’s a proletarian Honda or a stunning but repair-prone foreign sports car, our vehicle preferences are at least half emotional. Consumer Reports and J.D. Power may influence us, but our long-engrained memories will last longer than the new-car smell.

And speaking of which, does your favorite car name pass the “anal” test?

Jesse told us about this popular pastime, which involves taking the name of the car and adding it to the word “anal.” Try this with the Ford Probe, Fiesta, Explorer and Fusion.

My Ornamental Journey

Christmas tree ornaments are a reminder of the lives we’ve led.

Each year we pull out the big plastic box in our basement that serves as our Museum of Family History. Within its many cardboard galleries are Christmas tree ornaments that serve as four-inch tour guides, speaking warmly, knowledgeably and nostalgically about our past. Each is an essay about moments in our history, years that were good and not so good, people who’ve come and gone.

I’ve never understood why people wanted a tree with matching ornaments. I remember being at relatives’ homes each Christmas and seeing their tinseled trees filled with ornaments that all looked the same. I looked in wonder because they were dazzling and showy – especially the all-aluminum trees with lights that kept changing color – but as cold as an icycle. I remember being at my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house, where our cousins would join us in stealing tinsel from the tree to lay across the tracks on the model train set, making delicious sparks whenever the train ran over them.

Whatever happened to tinsel, anyhow? Is it even sold anymore?

When we were little my parents wouldn’t decorate the tree until we all were in bed. It was something they did with Santa. The ancient, brittle blown-glass ornaments came out of boxes, dusty from their year in the basement, with the brand name “Coby” on it. As years went by we added our own homemade ornaments to my parents’ collection. At 16, I made a swan from white felt; I think it’s still around here somewhere, more than 40 years later.

Don’t know what ever happened to those early ornaments, but my Mom gave up having a tree many years ago. Now she pulls a fully decorated tabletop tree out of a box and sets it on her dining room table. I can’t see myself ever doing that, but you never know.

My first tree as an adult was at age 26. I was newly engaged and we bought it at a hardware store near Spruce Street in Philadelphia. The apartment-sized fake tree had no ornaments, so I made some, clothespins decorated as members of my first husband’s family. When we divorced I kept some of them because I still loved his family. I got to keep my mother-in-law and sister-in-law; he took his Dad and himself.

When I was a single mom and then a remarried woman with a blended family, decorating our own tree was something that the family did together, sometimes accompanied by our kids’ boyfriends and girlfriends. But over the past few years our grown children have had busy lives in far-flung cities. So this weekend Bob and John and I will place the ornaments on our tree, and we will enjoy a journey through Christmases past.

It’s funny how each of these mute baubles can bring forth enough memories to fill a long essay. For that reason I seldom throw an ornament away, even after it’s broken. Instead, it goes in the back of the tree, away from public view and the need to explain, tucked away like a hidden, private chapel. The bottom of one of my Christmas storage boxes still has shards of spray-painted ziti, broken off from a cardboard tree that one of my children made decades ago.

Here is a timeline of just a few special ornaments. I hope that when you decorate your own tree – or if you’ve already done so – you will take a moment to meditate on these markers from your past, and to remember the people who’ve shared your life. Please upload photos and share memories of your own!

1978, self-portrait as clothespin. I was editing the employee newspaper at The Evening Bulletin at the time. My “dress” here was from a real evening gown I had sewn for myself.

1980 – My in-laws, Susan and Ita Flynn.

1985 — My daughter Rachel’s first Christmas. Ornament from brother Dan and wife Elena.

1987: Business trip to Park City, Utah. Pregnant with Ryan.

1986 — First Christmas in our new home in Broomall, PA.

1987 — Conrail ornament, from when I worked in their Public Affairs Department. Another version showed a steam engine, which some people felt was bad for the company’s image.

1988 — Bell by Jesse Buday, age 6.

1990 — Gift from my Aunt Chick, a woman of great faith and one of the kindest and bravest people I know.

1990 (Approx.) — handmade ornaments by Rachel and Ben Buday

1992 — Wreath by Rachel Flynn

1994 (approx) — From my husband’s former girlfriend, Jan.

Mid 1990s — Ornament by son Ryan, my worldly guy now living in London.

2006 — Ornament by John Buday. Very fragile and hard to hang but we find a way.

2007 — From my wonderful husband, Bob

2011 — Our newest ornament, a gift from my dear Aunt Marilyn. Bought at Martha Clara Vineyards in Long Island, owned by the Entenmann’s pastry family, where we spent a pleasantly buzzed afternoon.