LISTEN TO THE
the late twenties we acquired our first phonograph. It was housed in a
nice console cabinet with the turntable and reproducing arm in a top
compartment and the winding crank on the side. The top opened and closed
and the record could be played with it either open or closed. It had a
knob that controlled the speed of the spring wound motor that turned the
This feature allowed you to choose the tempo of the song. The big horn
behind a nice looking grill produced a beautiful tone and the disc
records sounded as good as or better than the radios that were beginning
to appear here and there.
Among the dozen or so records we received with the phonograph was
one called “Pop Goes the Weasel”. I had heard of little animals
called weasels and of trying to “weasel” out of an unpleasant task,
but I had never heard of a weasel making a loud popping sound. I knew
that frogs croaked, dogs barked, squirrels chattered and owls hooted but
I couldn’t imagine an animal making a sound like the loud “pop” in
the weasel song.
I might never have known that weasels didn’t pop if I hadn’t
been playing the phonograph when my Grandmother Williams was visiting.
She was amazed when she heard a phonograph for the first time.
Apparently she hadn’t even heard that there were such musical
instruments. Of course she was familiar with organs and pianos and knew
about fiddles, guitars and banjos. But she was accustomed to seeing
someone play an instrument when she heard music.
She was even more surprised when I played the record about the
“We used to sing that song when I was a child!” she
exclaimed. “I remember it well since it was my job to crank the
weasel!” I was puzzled by
this remark. I asked her how you would crank a weasel. I knew about
cranking cars and phonographs and even ice cream freezers, but cranking
a weasel sounded almost as strange as a popping weasel.
She told me that the weasel was a big spool, or reel, that
measured the length of yarn or thread from a spinning wheel. She said
there were many different types of weasels but the purpose of all of
them was to measure the amount of yarn that the spinning wheel was
producing. Some of the big reels measured a yard per revolution and
others different amounts. Some of them made a popping sound with each
revolution and you counted the pops to know how much was on the reel.
When you had the amount you wanted on the weasel you removed one side of
the reel and removed the yarn. She said that they usually made one
hundred foot skeins.
Most weasels, like the spinning wheels, were home made or
purchased from someone who knew how to make them. Some were manufactured
and sold in the general merchandise stores. Some of the store-bought
weasels had an elaborate control box that could be set for different
length of yarn. The person turning the crank and winding the output of
the spinning wheel didn’t have to count the pops. When the selected
amount was on the reel there was a loud pop.
Grandma said that her family made all the cloth and clothing that
they wore. There were no cotton gins near where they lived and after
picking the cotton they had to pick the seeds out before it could be
spun. Each member of the family was required to pick one of their shoes
full of cotton seed before going to bed at night. I guess this was fair
since the smaller members would not be expected to pick as many seed as
the adults and larger members. In a situation like this a person would
be proud of small feet.
After the seed was removed the cotton had to be spun into thread
or yarn. The thread was entered by hand into a loom and cloth was made
for clothing. The yarn was used for knitting sweaters, socks and other
attire of this nature.
I am glad that I found out that little weasels don’t go around
“popping” like ducks go around quacking or old hens go around
If you are looking for fun in this tale you may have to go to www.youtube.com
and listen to the many versions of Pop
Goes the Weasel. Or you could just “weasel” out and forget it!