Magical Music Box

I forgot about writing posts based on Dawn Raffel’s memoir, The Secret Life of Objects. Joey over at Joeyfully Stated reminded me, so I’m happy to be back at it. I’ve written about the magical bowls of my childhood snacking and the name sign from my grandmother’s mailbox, as well as some jewelry that holds meaning for me.

Maybe the object that I still have that carries my earliest memories is the music box I have had since I was a baby. I know it’s weird, but I am a person with very early memories. I apparently inherited this ability from my grandfather. If you wonder what toddler memories are like, they are exactly like memories from all the other times of your life: vivid and realistic.

When my mother put me down for a nap, she would wind up the music box and set it going. I still remember standing in my crib, looking over the white iron bars, willing the music box to start up again. It didn’t, of course, as it had to be wound by someone.

I think I must have been a hard kid to settle to sleep (undiagnosed ADHD or anxiety?), and I always felt I was missing something. But then again my parents wanted me to nap AND have an extremely early bedtime. As a child I used to play shadow games or read under the covers with my flashlight.

When I became a teen, it was the sixties and incense was very popular, so I used my music box as an incense burner.

Have you ever heard that music is one of the best triggers for memory? Well, my music box–after 60+ years–still works. (Take that you plastic parts in today’s merchandise!)

I did a quick search online for a vintage round metal music box, and there are quite a few that look very similar, even to the color. They are called “powder puff” style. It’s very possible that this music box is from the 1940s and predates me. It could have belonged to my mother or grandmother well before I was born.

Question of the day: what song does the music box play?

Anybody want to play along and write about the secret life of an object? If so, please post the link in the comments here!


On another note, my uncle has been visiting for two weeks and the kids (daughter and BF) are still living here, so for an HSP like me it’s been Grand Central Station over here.



Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing prompt

77 responses to “Magical Music Box

  1. My mother had a music box that I cherished. It played Brahms lullaby. I don’t know what happened to it. Music does trigger memories. My husband’s brother has dementia and his short term memory is gone. He rarely knows people but if you play music from the 50s he can sing along and has good memories of it.

  2. Good morning, Luanne! That is an unusual looking music box. What is it made of. I thought it was funny that you also used it as an incense burner. 🙂 I have a couple vivid memories from when I was young, but they don’t involve music–or really much sound.
    I like the idea of writing about the secret life of an object, but I’m not sure if I have time right now.
    I know how having visitors disrupts life and routines–but I hope you enjoy them anyway!

  3. I loved the story of your music box memories…for me, it is always the pictures that trigger mine. I could write a book from pictures. Oh, that’s right. I did.

    • LOL! Pictures are a big trigger. I feel as if pictures are more of a mental trigger for me, whereas music can be more emotional. Does that make sense. I wanted to let you know that I found out my music box is called a powder puff style and probably actually from the 40s, not the 50s. I added that info to my original post because I thought it was kind of interesting. We always think the world begins with our own lives ;).

      • Yikes! I just remembered my grandmother had a powder puff style music box. It was blue. I hadn’t thought about it when I read your post and saw the pictures, but now I can see it clearly…wow…what a memory maker you are, Luanne.

  4. I’ve never seen a metal music box before – all the old ones here are made of wood or glass. My aunt had a glass one, with a ballerina inside who pivoted around to Brahms Lullaby until the mechanism wound down. It is one of my earliest memories, standing endlessly before it, fascinated by both the tinkling music and the ballerina……….. I don’t know what yours is playing.

    • How lovely! So we were both fascinated by these music boxes as little tykes. I wish someone would know the name of the song in mine. It kind of drives me nuts not knowing! Your comment here made me go do a Google search. I put in vintage round metal music box and got a lot of images for VERY similar music boxes! It’s apparently from the 1940s, so it existed before I did. Maybe it belonged to my mom or grandma.

  5. I don’t recognize the tune, or even that style of music box, but I agree that music has strong associations to our memories. Is this the actual music box you had as a child or is it one that is similar? Also, I couldn’t tell the size of the music box – nothing to compare it to on the photos. Would be interesting to know the size.

  6. I love that it had another life as an incense burner! Patchouli? 🙂 I have a few objects that I’ve been meaning to write about, too. Maybe I’ll get to it this week. Maybe not. Deadlines are looming over me…

  7. I often wish I remembered my very early years … and then I think maybe it’s good that I don’t. How wonderful that you still have that music box after all these years and it still works!

    • With the way things made recently break constantly, it’s so hard to believe, isn’t it?! Haha, I might not be a writer if I didn’t remember that early stuff ;).

      • Good early memories probably do help a lot with writing memoirs. I have a poor memory overall so even if I start off writing something autobiographical, it quickly turns into fiction 😉

        • Well, I think early memories helps MY writing because it is my inspiration. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be memory for other writers. Hmm, makes you wonder if childhood memoir writers tend to be the ones that have earlier memories than fiction writers, doesn’t it?

          • Good question. I definitely think childhood memoir writers must be able to access their early memories, or they at least have confidence in what they remember. I’m at the point where I doubt some of my memories because I have no “evidence,” no witnesses or no one willing to witness. I remember my mother saying cruel things to me when I was little but she denies it (“I would never say that!”). I want to believe my memory, as awful as it is. Too bad I didn’t keep a journal when I was little. The only way I keep my memory (short- and long-term) intact now is to write in a journal.

  8. If we could have had more than 11 seconds we might be able to figure it out. I don’t have a clue. Wonderful to have though.

  9. If we could have had more than 11 seconds we might be able to figure it out. I don’t have a clue. Wonderful to have though. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Glad you’re getting back to it and happy to have reminded you.
    That’s lovely. I can’t name that tune, tried hard, but no.
    I have the early memories, too. I don’t know from whom I got mine, but I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

  11. We’ve been using music therapy quite a bit with my mother. Your post reminded me of my ballerina music box that I had as a little girl. Now, I have a collection of Boyds Bears music boxes, but sadly they know longer make them so I can’t add to my collection.

    • I hope the music therapy is working well for her, Jill. xo I’ve seen those music boxes before. Do you mean that you have all the ones they made so ebay has no use for you?

  12. Lovely post! I thought you were going to say, did you know that scent memories are very strong, after the incense burning. But music as well, certainly! I think I read that tunes help us remember things much better than merely memorizing something without music. Thanks for another view into your intriguing life, Luanne!

  13. I love this story, and cherished possessions and memories. I can’t make out the song your music box plays. Thank you, Luanne.

  14. I love music boxes, and I have some toddler memories too (that aren’t related to music, unfortunately). This one is so lovely.

  15. No idea on the tune, but this is a lovely thing to still have Luanne.

  16. Wonderful. And how lovely to remember things that far back.

  17. It is such an intriguing idea, Luanne. If I try it, I will let you know how it goes. What a delightful object to still have with you, and it is a beautiful memory. I do not have toddler memories, which I find frustrating! Amazing that you recall so many things from your earliest days.

  18. What a lovely memory to have, Luanne. What I have hung unto from my childhood is my “three bears” teddies given to me at birth from my god-mother and aunt. They are tattered, one has an eye missing and the baby bear’s legs are flimsy. Still, they are precious to me as your beautiful music box is to you. What a beautiful way to fall asleep.
    Oh, I too used to read under the blankets with a flashlight. 🙂

    • I imagine you did read under the blankets, Carol! Maybe that’s what makes a good reader?! I LOVE the sound of your teddy bears! How wonderful that you still have those! They must look very well-loved! XO

    • Gee, I remember responding to your comment about your precious bears! I hope this one goes through. It seems to happen when I’m on my iPad (like right now!). The books read with the flashlight were the best haha!

  19. This is the post where I got lost. 😉 I love the music box and anything antique. Listened to it and it sounds familiar but the tune is playing too slowly for how it should sound. If you sped it up a bit, it would resonate more, It’s like the whole thing is too tired to play properly. And old world craftsman would know how to give it new life, I’d bet.

  20. My Mum had a musical jewellery box. It played when she lifted the lid to get something from it. I loved to wind it up, and listen to the tune. Such simple things endure, because they retain that magic of memories.
    Thanks for following my blog, which is appreciated.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  22. Tammy

    Love your Powder Puff Music Box. The recording sounds like it’s playing slow. My mother-in-law just have me a similar one. It’s etched around the middle with petaled flowers. It has a gold ball on the lid that screws down a gold metal flower. The legs are three gold balls that screw into the bottom cover.
    The lid lifts up and there’s a very fine curved hook wire that lifts up and the music starts playing.
    It’s bottom does have a US Patent stamped above the winding mechanism. In digging I think we figured out this one plays Vienna Blood. I actually sprayed WD40 up the area the winding mechanism is set into and after several shots and some gentle shaking and turning of the box, ours now plays regular speed.

    • I just found your comment, Tammy. What a lovely comment, too! Your family’s music box sounds beautiful! And that you know the music is wonderful. I found your comment because someone else just commented below you and identified the music in mine, which is exciting. About yours, though, I didn’t know Vienna Blood was a musical name. I watch the show on TV and never knew! I’ll go look it up!

  23. Judi Bruckman

    The song is La Paloma by Sebastian Yradier, a Spanish composer, written in about 1863.
    My Grandmother had a very similar looking music box with a burdundy colored glass ball surrounded by metal leaves. I remember the ball was a bit loose and I could swirl it around.
    I couldn’t remember the name of the song but did a bit of research and found it.
    This brings back so many happy memories.

    • Judi, you don’t know how happy you made me identifying the song! Thank you so much. Nobody has been able to identify it before, no matter how many people I asked. Do you know if your grandmother’s music box played the same tune or was it different? And you had heard the song before, I guess, so that’s how you knew to research it?

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