A Bookcase and a Phonograph

My father, an excellent carpenter, crafted a beautiful wooden bookcase out of an old icebox. The icebox had been replaced by an electric Fridgidaire in the 1940s and came with us from Milwaukee when we moved to the farm. The bookcase, I remember, was stained a golden brown and had three separate shelves which held all our family’s small collection of books. It was located in the upper hallway: on the southeast corner of the second floor, at the very top of the stairs.

On top of that bookcase sat another treasure from my growing-up years: a wind-up phonograph that played cylindrical records.  My mother and her sisters had received the old Edison phonograph when they were girls growing up on a Minnesota farm. It had been a gift from an aunt who favored them, and for some reason it ended up with our family, though my cousin Joanne remembers having it at their home sometimes too. Today it belongs to another cousin, Judy, in Oregon whose mother Mae was one of the co-owners of this musical gift. Joanne and I hope that someday it will be donated to a museum for others to enjoy.

To play one of the scratchy-sounding cylinders, which were kept nearby in a fabric-lined laundry basket, I would first raise the lid of the wooden box, carefully position the needle at the outer rim of the cylinder, turn the simple switch from off position to on, and then sing along with one of the songs our whole family had come to learn by heart.

There was “Oh Katerina” and “I Laughed at the Wrong Time”; there was “Casey Jones” and “What Does the Little Dog Mean When He Says Bow Wow?” As the phonograph wound down, the tempo would slow until the last syllables died out and we would have to crank it up again.

I just located a similar machine being sold on Etsy for $350. Now I think I should pass that news along to Cousin Judy. If she decides not to donate it to a museum, she could probably make good use of money like that.

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