The Janitor

Today’s guest post was written by David Templeton.

Limber jack banjo jig doll

We went to a small, country school; four rooms, one with a small stage. When the fall festival was held, the room with the stage was cleared so that folks could set up food booths, get in a cake walk, or sit and enjoy singing or musical skits performed on the stage.

He was an almost hidden man, silent, always working. He was a kind man, gentle when he happened to be called on to help a child or teacher. He was the janitor, and he came to work every day, worked hard and left tired.

We seldom know the gifts people have; we see their perfunctory lives and know little beyond that about them.

Buck Byington was a skinny little man with dark black hair and a chiseled face; always in fresh over’halls and a clean blue work shirt.

That’s all we knew of him.

But we had this one fall festival there at Ross’ Campground School and while we cakewalked or ran around chasing each other or enjoyed the donated food, we paid little attention to what was happening up on the stage. We began to hear banjo music, not uncommon music in those hills, but this music was soon punctuated with laughter and glee. He played the old clawhammer style banjo music.

Mr. Byington had strung twine from his banjo strings, across the stage to a post and in the middle he had this little effigy, oh maybe a foot tall, of a loose-jointed, wooden figure, maybe like a marionette. And as he played, the figure would be moved by the string movement and seem to dance to the music; and dance very well to the music.

I think they’re called jig dolls. I haven’t seen a real one since. Maybe they’re common.

His banjo playing was superb; as good as any musician on the morning biscuit hours on the radio. His playing alone made the night one of fun and enjoyment but the dancing figure made his a top-notch show.

All of this from a man who never talked and we never knew, very much. And another homemade toy from the mountains.


I hope you enjoyed David’s guest post as much as I did! How I wish I could have seen the Janitor’s one man act.

David is so right-lots of times we’re surrounded by the most talented people and never even know it.


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  • Reply
    George Pettie
    October 9, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    “We seldom know the gifts people have…” said David. So true, and a brilliant observation. Surely David is one who can ferret out those gifts and talents from those too modest or self-effacing to show them. No surprise, Tipper, that David’s guest post drew so many responses. You just gotta love Buck Byington.

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 9, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Tipper, I enjoyed David’s story. he wrote it well and I could almost see the janitor. this story helped me recall my elementary grade Janitor Dillard King, Dillard knew I could out run any of the boys and out shoot them playing marbles. He would put the young boys up to catch me and get a kiss ,of course I outran each and every one, but one day I ran inside the wood house and Dillard said now you got her kiss her. I ran upon a rick of wood and then I was higher than the boy who had me trapped so he thought as he went to grab me, I placed my hand on top of his head and jumped over him and ran out.Dillard slapped his knees and laughed so ( I can still see him laughing at the young boy) I was never caught for a kiss. thank David for sharing your story, brought back memories of me being such a tomboy.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 9, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I have several jig dolls that work on a stick and board. Bought them about 45 years ago . Will bring them for you and the kids to see. I had forgotten about them so I am going out to the garage now and unpack them. Lots of fun memories when we would sit on the porch and with music from
    WWVA Wheeling West Virginia coming from our radio we would bounce our jiggers.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I enjoyed this post. I do remember seeing these little dancing dolls when I was growing up. You are so right about people we know having talents we never knew about. When my father in law died, Billy’s mama spent the next year making dozens of quilts for her children and grandchildren. She made me a lovely quilted and cross stitched star of Bethlehem wall hanging. We were all so surprised because we had never seen her do any type of handwork. Amazing!

  • Reply
    Gina S
    October 9, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Like you, Tipper, I wish I had seen and heard the janitor, his banjo, and marionette. I loved this story for the its joy as well as its reminder not to label or to quickly dismiss others. I remember Daddy, a quiet man who more observed than participated. I remember the night he stepped out of his dislike of being noticed to join a cakewalk with me. Even though we didn’t win a cake, he again won my heart.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 9, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    What a nice story by David Templeton about a janitor who
    surprised everyone. We all have
    known the quiet janitor who kept
    our schools warm and safe.
    When I was in Elementary school,
    I can remember Mr. Tatham who didn’t talk much and was very old. He worked hard too and was
    always busy doing something.
    Then, when I got in High School
    there was Mr. Posey, he was very
    friendly with everyone. These
    quiet men had a way of not being
    seen much. But late in the evenings after school and waiting
    on the school buses, we could see
    the janitor pushing a wide broom
    way down the halls.
    Thank you David for reminding us
    of a time long ago…Ken

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 9, 2014 at 11:07 am

    I envey anyone who can play a musical instrument. All I can play is a jukebox and then only if I have the correct change.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 9, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I remember two janitors from Almond School. The first was Jesse Davis my uncle. The next was F L Day. One day I was sitting in Mr. Cowan Wikle’s eighth grade class, when in comes Mr. Day. He said he need four of the biggest boys to help him. I was one of the chosen ones. So off we go around the building to a Quonset Hut behind the school. In front of the Quonset Hut sat a little car. Mr. Day opened the doors of the building and said “We are going to put that, “pointing to the little car, “in there.”
    Now, the building was a foot off the ground. “We need something to roll it up on.” “No we don’t, we are going to pick it up and set it in there.” And that is just what we did.
    Many years later I was watching a TV show called Family Matters. “And what is this?” Steve Urkel is driving Mr. Day’s Quonsett Hut car.

  • Reply
    October 9, 2014 at 10:29 am

    I went to a two room school through the 8th grade and served as janitor the last two of those. I got 50 cents a week to sweep, clean the boards, close all the windows in summer and burn the trash. During the winter I got an extra 50 cents per week to open early and get the fires going in two heaters. I filled them with coal in the afternoon and closed the dampers so the rooms would still be a little warm the next morning. I think the teacher may have paid me from her own pocket. Those last two years we had only one teacher for 8 grades. We had a stage in one room and had ‘talent shows’ on Friday afternoon about once per month.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    October 9, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Ah—The janitor,
    Over 85 years have passed by and
    You bring back long gone memories
    Of the most popular person in my
    School. Well maybe the second most
    Popular. The number one was that
    pretty little blond headed girl that had
    the desk in front of me. No, it wasn’t
    Fanny, the chubby girl that was always
    Eating. It was Nancy, the second smartest
    Girl in my class and the prettiest.
    Well, my janitor didn’t play the banjo.
    Bert, my janitor had a candy store in
    The boiler room of our school. If I was
    Lucky enough to have a few pennies
    I could buy what we called- Sugar Daddy.
    Or all day sucker that cost a penny. The
    Students who were from families that were
    Better off financially would splurge and buy
    A Butter Finger or a Baby Ruth.
    Tipper, thanks for bringing long forgotten
    Memories. There were many other memories
    About the most important person in my
    School of many years past. THE JANITOR.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    October 9, 2014 at 9:55 am

    and David…thanks for an old forgotten memory! When I was a young girl, (73 now), I was with my parents at a Fall Craft Guild, maybe it was the Highland one that used to be held in Gatlinburg, Tn. There was a man there making new old mountain toys, out of corncobs, sling shots, wooden wagons, etc. My Dad usually one to just wait patiently while Mom looked things over, was attracted to the toy guy! He asked to see a doll laying on the counter, he knew immediately how to work it and called us kids over to see it. He said, “This limberjack is what we played with when we were kids, watch him dance a jig!”, and then I saw him wipe his eyes. He said, “I wonder where that old doll is now?” We of course wanted one too!
    Back then the price was way out of the range of my Dads 1950’s
    You are right, about the hidden talent, everyone is special in one way or the other! Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we were all alike!
    Thanks Tipper, and David
    PS…When my Dad would hear “upbeat music” come on the old “hand channel changer” TV…he would jump up and “flat foot” dance…pulling his arms up at the sides, just acting silly and Mom in her “uppity way” would tell him he looked like a limberjack! LOL

  • Reply
    October 9, 2014 at 9:18 am

    That was very interesting. I plan to do a bit of computer research so I can see what a jig doll looks like. Nothing like finding such unknown talent that created a permanent memory from childhood into adulthood.

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    October 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

    David & Tipper: Thanks for a beautiful story about a gentle man who – in some ways reminder me of my father. Shy, reserved good ‘worker’ who loved people.
    Sincerely, Eva Nell Mull
    p.s. Tipper, this afternoon we will drive up to Rocky Top to meet and listen to some real mountain music. Rocky Top use to be Lake City – like a few weeks back!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 9, 2014 at 8:04 am

    Reminds me of my Granddad, Fred McLain, who worked for a while as the janitor for the Sylva (NC) schools. He wasn’t musically talented, but he was a very handy guy who could figure out how to make anything work, so he contributed a lot more to the school than keeping things clean and straightened. He and his family, including my Dad, lived in a house that was either on the school grounds or next to the school grounds. He was a kind and gentle man who died in 1954. I remember him fondly.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 9, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Yes, we often walk through our days and lives without ever knowing the people walking around us. Quiet does not mean inconsequential. Sometimes the most profound words and actions come from the quiet ones. I know this because I’ve known a few of them, I mean really known them.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 9, 2014 at 7:33 am

    Whazt a wonderful way to entertain

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