Grandpa’s Fiddle

Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are when he would bring out his fiddle and play us some tunes in his living room. I can still picture him holding the fret board with his nimble fingers, hunched over with his chin in the chin rest, foot stomping and mouth twitching in time as he would run the bow over the strings and make his music.

I called my mom tonight to get my Grandpa/Fiddle facts straight because I had them a little skewed. So here are the facts as Mom knows them:

Grandpa started his musical career when he was just a kid in Abilene, Kansas during World War I. He and a friend of his would hang out on the steps of the town square singing patriotic songs. Doesn’t that just sound like something out of a movie?

Mom said she thought he might have taken some fiddle lessons when he was about 10, but he had to sneak around to do so. Mostly he taught himself to play the fiddle and he couldn’t read music so he played by ear. When my mother’s family moved from Kansas to California, my grandfather forgot his fiddle in the attic so in 1942 he bought this fiddle at a pawn shop in Oakland.

When I was a teenager I asked Grandpa if I could try to play his fiddle. I knew a little something about music, being a fair to middling pianist and a dabbling guitarist, so I was able to pick out Ode to Joy and he said it was the prettiest his fiddle had ever been played. So not true. It was squeaky and screechy and there were a lot of wrong notes. But I was his granddaughter and I was “playing” a classical tune on his fiddle. What else was he going to say?

Several years after he died my nephew, Matt – an awesome fiddle player, loaned Katie his 3/4 size fiddle and she and I took lessons together. Todd and Taylor took guitar lessons together from the same guy and he would teach Todd the guitar part of some bluegrass tune and me the fiddle part and we’d ho down in the living room every now and again. We weren’t so great, but it sure was fun!

Every time I look at the fiddle it makes me smile. I get my love for music (and a slight bit of musical ability) from both sides of my family and Grandpa’s fiddle is tangible evidence of what was passed down from my mom’s side. But even better are the memories and stories it provides – not just for me, but for all my mom’s family. I saw a lovely bit of sunlight coming through the window yesterday so I decided to get some shots of this beloved fiddle. No doubt the pictures don’t truly show it the way I see it.

And his rosin. I loved the way the sunlight made it glow!


  1. Anonymous on January 20, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Jenster,Those are absolutely beautiful pictures!! You're amazing. Good story to go with them too.Glee

  2. Sing4joy on January 20, 2010 at 10:05 am

    LOVE this story AND the pictures are positively beautiful!

  3. shelli on January 20, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Hey Jen, great pictures! Too bad you, Katie and Matt aren't playing fiddle anymore; life gets too busy sometimes. I didn't know you had grandpa's rosin too, same name on it as Matthew's fiddle, hmmm.

  4. Jenster on January 20, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Thanks about the pictures! I had a ton of fun trying different things.Shelli – Does Matthew never pick up his fiddle? That's truly a shame because he was SO good. He does keep up with piano, though, right?

  5. Carpool Queen on January 20, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Great story – My grandparents didn't play any musical instruments, but when they died (within six weeks of each other), I took my inheritance and purchased a piano. I can't play it without thinking happy thoughts of the two people who blessed me.

  6. Gretchen on January 25, 2010 at 10:59 am

    This story brings a happy lump to my throat and moistens my eyes. What a wonderful tribute to him, and to Him. Love every letter. Every photo.

  7. Sarah Robinson on June 14, 2017 at 7:23 am

    We West Virginians are drawn to fiddle players! And your Martin Luther quote is spot-on.
    For a number of years, we lived near New Orleans. We enjoyed an eclectic mix of sounds, and a “twist” on fiddle playing. Not quite bluegrass, but I heard a resonance of both Celtic and Cajun all rolled into one, and that’s the beauty of our musical origins: our ancestral and musical heritage overlap.

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