Grandpa’s Violin

Finding my way back again.

There are no words I could summon here to truly express how much I love my grandfather. Of course, we were very close. He was the patriarch for our family, but the way I feel about it is so much more intimate than that. Simply put, to me he was a roaring belly laugh. Thinking of it now, I can see him tilt his head back and let out laughter so deep and rich that the sound cascades from his mouth like a happy tuba. His belly rising and falling with the vibrato of his laugh. The chingching of the ice in his Manhattan (always with an extra cherry just for me) makes the sounds a chorus.

My grandpa was a musical man in every sense. He loved to hear music, play music and live in a musical himself. It was his voice that lead the hymnals at church, rich and booming, and his influence that propelled my cousins to take piano lessons or rather propelled their mother to insist on it. His house was littered with different instruments. He would have a harmonica in the bathroom, and a ukulele by the bed. Trombone, trumpet, violin, there was nothing he couldn’t figure out how to play a lick on. The violin, though, was his favorite. He had dreams of a real Stradivarius. He dreamt of that Stad’s sweet singing strings on a cherry colored body. My Grandpa would say he always did have a thing for red heads.

When I was young, I would pine to play his violin. Instead, my grandpa would rest my little hand on his shoulder, arm stretched out, tilt his chin into my wrist, and begin to sweep an imaginary bow across my elbow. His fingers making the notes on my upper arm would tickle. Humming and singing the notes he would play out entire symphonies on my little arm.

When I first had the opportunity to play violin in school my grandpa was adamant that I have a good instrument and private lessons. He handed down to me the violin I had pined over as a child. It was a German violin from the early 1950’s with cherry-colored finish and a hand-carved tail piece decorated with flowers, but most importantly it was his and now it was mine. The violin isn’t worth much money but nothing could be more valuable to me. He was thrilled to be able to share that violin with me and I was equally as excited. I would play for him often in his living room even though the songs were nothing more than nursery rhymes and textbook tunes. He attended every school concert and drove me to every private lesson. Each time I composed a new sonatina of my own I would race to his arm chair seeking approval. On the best of occasions  I would play my elementary composition and grandpa would let out one of those cascading belly laughs, pleased with my creativity.

I have very few memories happier than the one’s I have of him. This is why I have been compelled to start this journey. I was too young when he passed away to fully understand the impact that it would have, how my life would change.  I went to the viewing, but nothing more. I will never be able to rip from my mind the memory of him in makeup and a cold unforgiving suit laying in that cherry-colored casket. Everyone was crying. I had never seen so many people cry. I had never seen a dead man before.

More than a decade has gone by since my grandpa passed. I have never visited his grave. I have never left flowers, or read his stone, and all of that if forgivable. Visiting a stone in the grass isn’t important, not to me and not to grandpa. The music is what’s important. The joy that we shared over  that German, cherry-colored, flower decorated violin.

After my grandpa’s death though, I quickly became less and less enchanted with the violin. Lessons kept getting more difficult and it felt like I was alone in my endeavors. Suddenly the violin was so much harder than before. Everything was sharps and flats piecing my bones until I stopped.  I just stopped playing.

It has been a very long time since I last played grandpa’s violin. I have carefully taken it out of the case many times to look it over and feel the frog at my fingertips,but then I tuck it away again, along with my excuses. It’s too late, I would say or too expensive, or I’m too old to start again.

I have been disappointed for too long. I cannot let it stand any more. I want to rediscover  the gift that grandpa gave me. I need to play for him, for myself, for anyone who will listen.  I need more roaring belly laughs in my life and more music. The violin is my path to achieving that.

I am giving myself 1 year to choose a song, learn it bravely and play a show for my grandpa. This will certainly be an adventure to redemption. Ill likely be the only person in their mid 20s re-learning how to play hot cross buns and chop sticks on the violin. I don’t know where, but I will find the money for lessons. I don’t know how, but I will make the time to practice and in order to hold myself accountable I will be posting about all of it. I will keep updates here for anyone willing to help me stay on track.

Please leave a reply! Any tips or advice is appreciated.

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