The banjo was one of those objects in life that find their way to you at the point in time you need them most.
I was on a field trip for my course in Human Ecology on one of the small inhabited islands on the West Coast. For one of the days, we were paired up with another student and got to spend the day with an islander acting as volunteers. I was sent to a woman who lived very much at the fringe of island life. She was known as a difficult character, the island outcast, who had a lot to say.
While our fellow students planted willow and chopped wood, we listened to the story of a hard life in a beautiful place. We heard tales of the alcohol and violence that sometimes fills these remote, small islands. But mostly, we heard about a kind of loneliness that can eat away at your better sensibilities and force you to lose a bit of your humanity. We spent all day with her and were as tired as anyone who had spent the day engaged in manual labour.
Towards the end of the day, she talked about her love of music and played beautiful compositions on the piano, dedicated to the mountainous neighbouring island that filled her windows and the flora and fauna that completely surrounded her. She talked us through a variety of instruments that she kept and played. She showed us a banjo that had been left in the island lost and found. I mentioned in passing that I had always wanted to learn to play. She thought it was a sign and after much protest from me, I left that day with that banjo.
My remaining time on the island was spent learning to play chords and finger pick and remembering the music that I used to play and love. I studied piano for years and sang and played the trombone but after a traumatic event in my teens, I'd lost the ability to play and even read music.
That week, it all came back. At the field trip's final ceilidh, I sang to a group for the first time in 10 years. I had found a piece of myself again.
Other than the occasional rendition of Wind the Bobbin Up, these days Kevin plays the banjo more than I do. I keep it handy for when the mood strikes (and there is no antidote to a bad mood like bluegrass). But more than that, its a reminder about lost and found.
So no matter what, that banjo is with me till the end.
a photo of me and my banjo the day after I got it, taken by Jude. We joked it was my album cover