A chum grinder is used to mix meat and other material into fish bait.

Image: Bob Wright

Heavy metal, rusty, ungainly, and seized up tight. A quick glance said it would probably stay that way. But when my Uncle George pulled an old chum grinder from the depths of the garage I was helping him clean out and asked me, half jokingly, if I wanted it I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I was astounded. I could not believe he had a piece, any piece, of my Uncle Bill’s legendary (in family lore anyway) boat The Amigos. As a kid, every Sunday afternoon was spent at my grandparent’s house mostly listening to my father and his four brothers joke, reminisce, and invariably tell some story about their many travels on The Amigos before WWII swept it, and the freedom (and fuel) to sail her, away.

I have some other old family tools and they are more than simple beat up old objects. When you pick them up your hands slip naturally into the worn spaces created by hard use and the oil from the hands that worked them. They are polished with my DNA and it is as close as I will ever get to physical contact with my ancestors. They are sacred.

The chum grinder surrendered to an oil bath and the first long throw of the handle took me back to the stern of The Amigos. I watched as bunker was dropped into its maw and a rich, oily slick spread behind us and followed us home.

Bob Wright is a Staten Island Arts Folklife Fellow. Staten Island Arts’ Folklife program (SIA Folklife) is dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and safeguarding of traditional arts, through programming and technical assistance. Folklife is found in living traditions, passed down through generations, within communities. These art forms are the fabric of cultural heritage and represent an important grassroots dimension of the cultural sector. In 2016, four SIA Folklife Fellows conducted research on an element of material culture local to Staten Island. This is the first of four features describing their findings.

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