It’s time to tell a family story. My mother wouldn’t have approved of this story, but I think my dad would have. They are now both gone, and I like the story, so I’ll tell it. It’s a little long, but needs background, and has a good ending.
My parents grew up near the end of the depression, remembering how bad life in those times could be. My dad came from a large country family with a father who was an abusive drunk. There were no advantages in my dad’s life when he was young, and he was the oldest boy out of 7 kids, and had to look out for the others and assume somewhat of a father role. He turned into a kind-hearted man who would go out of his way to help people who he saw didn’t have advantages in their lives. He remembered……..
When I was 4 or 5, he came home with this……thing. I didn’t know what it was, but he said it was a violin, and that when I was older, I was going to learn to play it. It was fascinating to look at; pretty wood, in a case with soft plushy stuff inside, and some little things in plushy compartments that went with it. I wasn’t allowed to touch it much, cos I might break it. He said I would be learning to play it, because he had wanted to play a violin when he was a boy, but there was no money for a violin or lessons.
When I was in the 3rd grade, they talked to us in school and said we could begin to take music lessons. Did anybody know what they wanted to play, or maybe have an instrument at home? Well yes, I have a violin at home. Violin was one of the things they could teach us.
So I started violin lessons. I’m left-handed and had to learn right-handed; the teacher said it would work out ok, and when we started to play in the orchestra, nobody could have their bow going the wrong direction. After a while the teacher said I was doing very well with my lessons.
I took the lessons 3rd thru 6th grade. Then we moved, and the district we moved to didn’t teach instrumental music. My parents weren’t in a position to get me private lessons, so the violin went into the closet, and I’d get it out and play it sometimes.
Then when I was in 10th grade, our school district merged with another one and I went to a high school in a different town. There were no individual music lessons offered there, but there was a school orchestra. My dad announced that I would get in the orchestra, right away. All the other kids had had lessons for the years in between when I hadn’t. I tried, but I was so far behind them that I didn’t fit in and couldn’t keep up. So the violin went back in the closet, and I played once in a while. My dad didn’t like it and was sad, but he understood.
I grew up and got married and my violin went along and into other closets. I kept it, well just because, and sometimes after my dad passed away, my mother would ask me if I still had it. After a while she stopped asking.
She passed away a few years ago too. And I still had my violin, which I hadn’t now played in years.
A couple of years ago I was going to drive to Tennessee to see some friends. They live in a nice town, and have a good life, but she had explained that just 10 miles out in the Appalachian mountains, things are very different. People out there, she said, are very poor, typical Appalachian mountain people that we hear about; and she said those stories are true.
Music is an everyday part of life in the mountains of Tennessee; most people play musical instruments, mostly stringed ones, and my friends are no different. They live in a community where people go all around and play in groups. It’s hard to explain how much music in integrated in their lives if you haven’t been there.
I had an idea that the lady of the couple might play the violin, tho I didn’t know that she did. So a while before I was going there, I called her to ask. She said that was one instrument she had never played. She asked me if I knew the difference between a violin and a fiddle? Well no, I don’t. She said that one would always be very careful never to spill beer on a violin. (She passed away since that trip I made to visit them. She was quite a character and a beautiful soul.)
I told her I wanted to bring my violin along to Tennessee. She asked me what I wanted to do with it? Well, I’d like to leave it there and have it given to somebody who needs it. (I could have probably sold it, and probably gotten $100 or so, but I have a lot of my dad’s ideas in me as an adult.)
Then she told me a wonderful thing. Out in the mountains there, out where people have no advantages, there was a man she knew who played lots of instruments, and would go around teaching the poor kids for free. But most of those kids didn’t have instruments, so he had to take his own along.
I took the violin along to Tennessee. (She told me it became a fiddle as soon as it crossed the Tennessee line. Yes, she was a character.) My friends kept it at their house for a while, and then she developed cancer and lots of things in their life stopped during that time. She fought hard but died from the cancer. A few months later, her husband told me what had happened to the fiddle. That man who went out to teach the kids in the mountains knew a little boy who was learning to play but had no instrument, and he took it out there and gave it to him. Musical instruments are revered there, since music is such a part of the mountain life, so I know it is in good hands.
So, for most of my life I had a violin that started out ok but sat unused for so long. Now there’s a little boy out in the Appalachian mountains who doesn’t have many advantages in his life, but he has a fiddle, and it’s his own, and he’s learning to play it.
I believe that somewhere my dad is smiling about that little boy.