Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Life of Objects #5

This post will perhaps demonstrate that none of the ongoing series here at Robert Frost’s Banjo are ever entirely defunct, even if they’ve gone subterranean for some time—so any fans out there of Diners I Have Known & Happy on the Shelf, take heart: I know these haven’t appeared for some time, but they’re not forgotten, & I expect to post new installments in those series before March is over.

The object under consideration this month is quite old, & is by way of being a family heirloom on the Hayes side. It’s a box carved by my father’s father (also John Hayes, in fact) & I’m guessing it’s a good 90 years old. I believe my grandfather died when my father was 10, so that would mean he passed away in 1924.

My father’s side of the family is a mystery; he didn’t talk about his childhood at all, so what few details I know I learned from my mother who learned so
me of them from my Uncle Bob, my father’s younger brother (also deceased). From what little I know, it seems clear that my father’s childhood was very harsh. He lost his father when he was young, & his family lived in poverty. I believe my father & his older brother Jim were often left to fend for themselves; & of course, my dad & his brothers were teenagers when the Great Depression hit. I don’t know how Bob & Jim fared thru this time, but I do know my father worked with the CCC; in fact, he met my mother in Townsend, VT while working on the park there as a CCC project. We used to go on picnics to the park at Townsend Dam, & this was one part of his younger life my father seemed to look back on fondly.

I know even less about my grandfather, however, & perhaps this is why the box has an almost mystical aura to me. As far as I can recall, I’ve only seen one picture of him, which shows his National Guard unit in the early 20th century. I believe my sister Naomi has this photograph, which is appropriate, since she can share it with her kids. From what I remember of the picture, my grandfather looked a lot like my father, tho perhaps a bit more gaunt & angular.

So what we have is this remarkable box—remarkable because, while the joinery is quite basic (no dovetails or bridle joints), the carving & coloration is beautiful. The box lives in one of our music room closets, where it holds any number of musical treasures & tools: from a kazoo & a jaw’s harp to cymbal polishing cream & a small Phillips head screwdriver (for adjusting ukulele tuners); from tuning wrenches & a “silly putty” stick-on pickup to an old leather banjo strap & an electronic tuner.

It makes me happy that the box is in the music room, which is in the heart of the house in so many ways. The fact that this one keepsake from
my grandfather is a piece of woodworking is also wonderful, because he shared that skill with my father (who was a skilled cabinetmaker) & Uncle Jim (who was a skilled carver, a craft he maintained for many years when he could do little else following a paralysis); I’ve even done some woodworking in my time, tho in the past few years I’ve given this up (not without some regrets, but am mostly at peace with this) both because the sawdust, even with dust control & respirators, is a problem for someone with compromised lungs, & frankly, because I place more value on my musicianship & I don’t want to injure my hands & fingers.

At any rate, the box lives in the closet in the mu
sic room’s southwest corner, & it’s my favorite closet in the room, not just because it contains the box, but because it contains many delightful objects like percussion instruments & a Schoenhut toy piano & a washboard & microphones & a vast assortment of strings. Looking at the carvings it gives me some view—a view that can’t be shaped by words—of a grandfather I didn’t know.


  1. I got a real kick out of the series going subterranean. I have a few of those. I never forget them either and resurrect them long after readers have moved on and new ones have arrived and nobody even remembers them or knew a series ever existed. LOL

  2. Hi Jen:

    Yeah, but I'm always thinking somewhere about when & how to bring them back. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I enjoyed this post, John. It's so nice to have something like this that represents your heritage and ancestry. I love that you hold musical instruments and paraphernalia in it and that it is kept in a special space.
    Please tell me what the CCC is as I'm not aware of this acronym ( I don't think I am, anyway).

    I look forward to the unearthing of the "Diners I Have Known" series.


  4. Hi Kat:

    Thanks-- CCC stands for Civilian Construction Corps-- it was a public works agency during the New Deal, & it employed a lot of otherwise fellows like my Dad during the Depression. It's the sort of organization I'd hope President Obama may try to emulate in these times. I should have defined this as (happily!) RFB has several non-US followers.


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