Skeleton Key

Key: “a small metal instrument specially cut to fit into a lock and move its bolt.”

When I was a child of about five, the World War to end all wars had just ended. My father moved us to a small farm outside of a community called Crossed Keys, Pennsylvania. The farm had an old white house and red barn. The barn became my favorite play area. Entering the dark barn meant that I hid behind bales of hay piled under a loft from those nefarious pirates always stalking me. Next to the loft on the first floor were several empty stables and a tack room. The loft area had more bales of hay and some very old and musty equipment lying around. And there were pigeons … lots of pigeons who were never appreciative of my disturbing their roosting area. Their old eggs that never hatched and stank to high heaven when broken, became my source of ammunition at imagined invaders of my castle.

It was here were I developed a childish love affair with keys. I loved poking around that old barn. By the time I was six, I had a ring of them four of them … the old-fashioned kind that I knew were once used to unlock secret cabinets, dungeons and cellar doors. When God assigned my DNA, he gave me a large dose of imagination. That is why I knew possessing the  keys associated me with frightening and mysterious people. I knew that every one of the keys that I discovered held some old mystery that would be dangerous to uncover. Somewhere in a movie I had heard the term skeleton key and so that is what I called all of them. Just the word skeleton brought up intrigue and untimely deaths in my mind.

My keys were ornate in design and made of heavy iron. They generally had a long barrel with one end that unlocked something and the other end was the end that was held. As I grew up the keys morphed to the Yale lock type. Because they were boring to look at to my young mind, I knew that they were unimportant. My mysterious keys soon became lost as much of my childhood things did as I grew toward manhood.

The “skeleton” keys of my childhood soon became important again. Fast forward sixty-five years to 2007 when my wife and I moved to South Africa. I quickly discovered that almost all the locks on modern doors had this same type of key. The keys were shiny and new but it was still déjà vu back to my childhood!