Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Violin, a Guitar, and a Sweet Potato

A violin and a guitar? My grandfather, William Carl Robert Meinzen, is on the left with bow to strings. The man beside him is his brother-in-law, George K. Harris.

Grampa was born in 1892, George in 1887. In 1910 George married Grampa's sister, Wilhelmina Elizabeth Meinzen. The photo is undated but I suspect it was taken in the early 1910s, probably at the Meinzen home in Steubenville, Ohio.

I never saw Grampa play an instrument during his lifetime. In the living room of my grandparents' home was a built-in, glass-fronted bookcase. Inside the bookcase were books and a sweet potato. Not the kind one eats, the kind one plays. The sweet potato was about the size, shape, and color of a regular sweet potato though perhaps just a little browner. It had holes. I think it was made of unglazed but polished (or burnished) clay.

Rumor was that Grampa could play the sweet potato. I don't know anyone who ever heard or saw him play it. Once, while I was there, the sweet potato was taken out and Grampa held it up to his mouth and blew through it but didn't play it. None of the living descendants know what happened to the sweet potato. We suspect that the aunt who disowned us either gave it away or sold it.

It is a change for my grandfather to have his sleeves rolled down. As a barber he usually had them rolled up to the inside. Grampa always seemed to wear this style of pants when he was young. They remind me of jodhpurs though Grampa was neither a horseman nor a baseball player. Had I seen this photo when I was a child I might have asked my grandmother about the pants, but it's too late to ask anyone.

Additional Note:
Tattered and Lost viewed this post and left a comment with a link to a post about an ocarina. It shows pages from and 1940s instruction book and a youtube clip of a Crosby/Hope movie in which they "play" an ocarina. As s/he points out, the sound is true ocarina but Crosby and Hope weren't the players.

. . . . . . . . . .
This is a Sepia Saturday. Click on the link to see who else is sharing old photos. Join in if you'd like. All you have to do is post an old photo and write some words about it.


  1. Well you learn something new.....I’ve never heard of the ocarina being called a sweet potato before. My daughter could play the ocarina and we still have one somewhere. How lovely that you have a different ‘view’ of Grandpa from this photo, but again how often do we all find ourselves saying it’s too late to ask someone?

  2. I never saw that style of pants for everyday wear before.

  3. I have never heard of an "ocarina" nor a sweet potato instrument. So that is something new...good photo...isn't it odd to know nothing of his musical talents, as though he gave those up and moved on along in life.

  4. I wondered how you were going to bring in a sweet potato. Never thought of an ocarina.

  5. The sweet potato had me puzzled too.
    Even the horseriding fraternity don't seem to wear jodhpurs any more - just what look like lycra leggings.

  6. I noticed your Grampa's trousers straight away - he must have liked them and had his own style. I've never heard of a sweet potato, or orcarina either. Off for a Google! :-) Jo

  7. The "sweet potato" is formally known as an ocarina. It's name comes from the fact that it resembles a goose egg. The music or tone that is supplied is a soft hollow tone. Believe it or not there are professionals who play this instrument. Probably in a Latin American band that plays traditional music.

    I heard Grandpa "play" it once or twice. He'd blow through it, finger the keys and get a few notes outs of it but I don't recall it being any sort of a tune or song.

    As for his pants. Look at his waist. It was narrow and the pants were cinched tight. I've a guess they may not have been his. He was never a heavy man weight wise so I'd guess what we are seeing is the gathering of the pants around the waist and the excess fabric was probably at the back and since there was so much, it didn't hide well. That's my guess and only a guess.


  8. Not only is this an interesting post, but I followed the link to the aunt who disowned you. Sad. Love how musical many of our ancestors were.

  9. Not only is this an interesting post, but I followed the link to the aunt who disowned you. Sad. Love how musical many of our ancestors were.

  10. Oh my goodness, they are a rock and roll team! great photo...and what ever the name I just enjoy sweet potatoes so much, and eat them as often as possible...they actually are better then potatoes for food value and such! Thanks for such an interesting post!

  11. It is times like this that I wish that You Tube had been around a hundred or more years ago. Wouldn't it be great to have the music to go with the picture. Great informative post. I'm off to look for ocarina music on You Tube!

  12. This reminded me of a post I did about the ocarina with a clip of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in a road picture. Love the sound of the ocarina. Always a happy sound.

    You can see the post with the video

  13. Very interesting story. I bet those pockets in your grandfather's pants could hold a sweet potato (both the one you eat AND the ocarina).

  14. How extraordinary. Before today I had never heard, seen or heard of an ocarina. And now, thanks to you and T&L I am an expert on the subject. Sepia Saturday has always the ability to surprise me.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...