I think I was about 8 or 9 years old. I was visiting my grandparents, and Papa found a music box in his workshed. It wasn’t a proper box – just the mechanical insert that made the tinkly sounds, a spinning metal drum plinking away at metal strips to make a song.
Separated from its original box, it was silent. My Papa couldn’t even remember where it had come from, or what it was for. I was interested though, I wanted to see how it worked, and wanted to hear the music. So he dug around in the kitchen trash until he found a small tin can – the kind individual servings of canned fruit salad used to come in, I preferred the very cherry kind – and gave it a quick wash, removing the label. Then he drilled a small hole in the bottom of the can and inset the music box inside – this was to create an amplifier for the sound, the hole to allow the winding mechanism to stick out.
The winding post was a thick and square stub of metal, not delicate in the slightest. It couldn’t be turned by hand, was too tough and strong to give up its music so easily. My Papa dug around in his workshed some more and came up with a key, the kind used to tighten old fashioned roller skates, the kind that fit over your shoes and screwed into place. He used some tools to adjust the end of the key, making it square and wide so it fit the music box winding post.
Then he gave it a crank, and a plinky song came out. (Clair de Lune, although I couldn’t name it at the time.).
My Nana was horrified later when she saw me enthusiastically cranking and listening.
An old can! She said. It smells! (She wasn’t wrong. It never did quite lose the scent of rancid fruit salad).
Such an ugly way to make music. But I loved it.
Over the years I lost the key, and then eventually lost the music box too. What happened to the music it used to make, I wonder?
I wish I had it still, not to hold the memory in my hand, but to be able to pass it to someone new. I’d like to imagine this memory morphing and growing and latching on to new ears in a new mind. Without the object, it becomes ethereal – I will hold it as long as I can, but it ends with me.