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GUNS FOR CASH, SEWING MACHINES FOR BANJOS Lew Stern Little Bear Banjo Hospital Staunton, VA

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 @2:36:36 AM

Earlier this June my wife Mary, a quilter and sewer, asked me to put a sewing machine of hers on eBay.  She wanted to sell a Singer Heavy Duty 5532 with Large Quilting and Circular Sewing Table, having decided that this machine was too heavy duty for the kind of sewing she does

That was code for “I’ve purchased another new machine.”

I’m used to machines coming and going, and I have been adept at composing eBay descriptions from the perspective of the beleaguered husband.  I’ve even become as familiar with the intricacies of packing and shipping sewing machines as I am with boxing up banjos. 

However, in this instance I had hit the wall. I had just done some major banjo packing work, and I was exhausted. 

So, apart from fleeing to a country that had refrained from signing an extradition agreement with the United States, I had few choices.

Until I remembered New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s “Guns for Cash” program, a buy back effort aimed at getting firearms off the streets of NYC.

So, in a potentially more lethal twist to this program I posted an advertisement on BHO asking whether anyone out there have the slightest bit of desire to explore a trade: sewing machine for banjo?

Almost instantaneously a BHO member, David, jumped on the ad.  He offered a range of possible trades, and explained that he had become hooked on sewing when he was three years old and his grandmother came to visit for six months.  As David explained, Grandma had made it to Israel after the War and spoke Hungarian, Slovak, and some Yiddish but no English.  She taught David to sew by hand.  His mother had worked as a seamstress when she first arrived in the US after the War and became “outrageously handy and clever” in sewing, making suits for herself and friends long after she no longer worked in the sewing shop.

My BHO friend started sewing for himself when he left home, mending and decorating, turning a collar on a worn denim jacket, camping gear, shirts.  Later in life, he traded a trusty old Singer (the morale equivalent of a high end Gibson) for a fancy Husqvarna (probably equal to a big ticket Recording King), but strong-armed it to the point that it ended up coming out of alignment – something that could never happen to a banjo.  After decades of this, the sewing machine went by the wayside and David started amassing an arsenal of banjos.  However, my BHO ad engendered an interest in straddling these two interests, and David decided to leverage his banjo collection to reclaim an interest in sewing. 

David and I seem to have a parallel life.

We’re in the same age cohort – I’m 61.  He’s got me beat by 2 or 3 years.

His grandparents were from Hungary.  My father’s parents were from Austria-Hungary.  I never met them. 

David’s Grandma came to the U.S. with her native language capability only, and David probably learned some interesting local idioms, and maybe the occasional curse word.   My mom’s father was from Russia; he arrived in the U.S. in 1905.  He whetted my interest in foreign languages by teaching me some Russian.   

Though I don’t sew, my wife does, and I’ve been known to tear things that she then needs to sew.

David and I share an interest in banjo repair, and though I’m partially recovered from a collecting obsession that took over my life in the late 80s and 90s, I had a modest arsenal of 25-30 vintage banjos I had “rescued”, like David. 

Got this:



For this:



The morale of the story: next time your spouse suggests putting a family heirloom on eBay, you should consider the option of exploring the barter economy that BHO has nurtured.

Play hard,




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Saturday, February 9, 2013 @9:33:01 AM 1 comment

A Brief Yet Helpful Guide to Packing a Banjo

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Notes on Skinning a Banjo

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Little Bear Banjo Hospital Workshop, Staunton, VA

Monday, January 23, 2012 @6:38:49 AM 1 comment
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