On Grandpa’s Fiddle


My grandfather, Harvie Montgomery, gave me this fiddle when I was a youngster. I adored him.

When I was about 25 years old, he developed lung cancer and died in just over a year.  I have kept this fiddle in its case all this time. My mother remembers him playing it on their porch surrounded by family, his brothers playing other instruments, some of them singing. It was a good memory for her. Every memory I have of my grandfather is a good one for me. Recently, after having not thought of it in some time, the fiddle started nagging at me. I got curious. What if I took it to a luthier (a person who makes and repairs stringed instruments), and get it back in working order? What if I learned to play it? What would that look like?

The thoughts stirred my curiosity for several days. I found a violin repair shop in my area and made an appointment for today. The young luthier seemed delighted and interested in the fiddle as a part of history. He asked about my intentions with it.

“Do you want it fixed so you can play it?” he asked.  

“I’m not the least bit musical,” I said to him, which is something I have said to myself my entire life. “But I might try to learn just to see. Just for giggles.”

Honestly, the past week I had been entertaining the idea of playing that fiddle for family and friends at some outdoor gathering, as a surprise.  What would that look like? Me, playing a musical instrument? The same me who was asked to join the hand-bell choir in church, not because of my musical ability but because there were not enough people for the Christmas show.  The same me who stood in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve ringing a single hand-bell whenever the woman next to me nudged me in the ribs. The same me who cannot read sheet music. What would it look like if none of the realities of the past hindered my present?

After careful examination, and treating my fiddle like a delicate work of art, the luthier gave his advice. He said the fiddle was worth more to me as a keepsake of my grandfather and part of our family history than it would be repaired as an instrument to be played. He would have to remove and replace almost every part of it and take it down to the bare bones. There would not be much of it left.  

“But,” he said, “if you really want to learn to play, I can help you with that. We have several for sale that would cost less than it would for you to fix this one.”

He did confirm that my grandfather had likely made the fiddle himself, as it was made from a variety of non-traditional woods.  He recommended I find a replacement for the missing bridge on eBay and place the fiddle in a shadow box for safe keeping and display. “In that way,” he said, “you preserve family history and honor your grandfather.”

My grandfather played this fiddle for his family, my grandmother, my mother, and her siblings. He made it from his own two hands, as he made many things. The story is told that Bob Wills once asked Grandpa to come on tour with him and the Texas Playboys. His responsibility to his family kept him home.  I always wonder if he regretted that decision. Would he have been able to provide better financially for his family had he taken the gig? Would he have enjoyed that life? I only know the man who raised six kids on not much money, the gifted gardener and arborist, the talented handyman and toy maker, the genuine and lovable man who made me feel more special that anyone.

As soon as I got home from the luthier’s shop, I ordered the replacement bridge from eBay and tried to find a shadow box large enough to hold the fiddle.  There were some, but I could not find the right one.  None were special enough. It looks like I may be making my own.

In this way, I can honor the man, honor the memory, without the added obligation of feeling like I have to learn to play it if we had been able to repair it back to working condition. But, who knows, maybe someday I will return to the luthier and let him help me with that.

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