Thursday, July 30, 2009

Grandpa's Violin

This isn't exactly a decorating post. Nor is it an organizing post. It's a post about heirlooms. One heirloom in particular. And music. And my wonderful grandfather. Come to think of it, maybe I should change my blog header:

This post does relate to decorating in the sense that I believe that we should fill our homes (but not stuff them) with objects that we love. Music is an important part of my life. I'm in a music group, and when I can find some free time, I like to sing, play guitar, and write songs. My love of music is definitely reflected in my home. On the wall of my family room hangs the guitar that my mom played when she was pregnant with me. We also have (though not all of these items are out on display lest our house look like a shelter for abandoned musical instruments) two other guitars, a harmonica, a didgeridoo, and a 1908 cabinet grand piano. And then, in a league of its own, there's Grandpa's violin.

My grandfather was 98 when he passed away peacefully in his sleep this past February. He was an amazing and inspirational man. A carpenter, he built over 14 houses with his own two hands. (Fifteen if you count the yellow dollhouse with the bay window and wraparound porch that he built for me when I was a little girl.) Grandpa's first car was a Model T Ford, and I have a great old photo of him sitting in that car grinning with his feet up on the dashboard. He was an avid gardener and photographer. He was tirelessly optimistic and had a great sense of humor.

When my grandpa was 13 years old, he found a broken violin floating in the Neawanna River in Oregon. He took the violin home to his father, who rebuilt it! I can't imagine having the skill to build--or rebuild--a musical instrument like that. I love the symbolism: something that was broken and forgotten that would learn to sing again. Grandpa learned to play a song or two on it, but he mostly loaned it out to friends who needed cheering up. He was just that kind of person.

When I phoned Grandpa on his 96th birthday, I heard festive music in the background. It sounded like a party in full swing, but it was actually just a local fiddler who had come over to the house to play the old violin for Grandpa. I can picture my grandpa--who was legally blind at that time--sitting in his armchair with his hands folded on his belly, listening with a small smile on his face. Grandpa had what you might call an "impish" smile. He always looked like he'd just snuck down to the bakery for a doughnut. (Which, most of the time, he had.)

Here's a picture of the violin:

I love how fingers have worn away the paint on the fingerboard and the finish is rubbed off where musicians have leaned their chins over the years. I don't play violin (yet), as evidenced by the fact that I forgot to include the bow in the picture, but I do love the sound of a violin.

The violin has a mysterious, spooky head on the scroll. I don't know what kind of animal it is. A monkey? A lion? Whatever it is, it reminds me of the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. It matches the screeches that emanate from the violin whenever I attempt to play it:

Even the case is cool. It's covered in peeling paint, a few gobs of old glue, and traces of duct tape! I imagine Grandpa, with his Scandinavian practicality, taping the case closed to protect the violin. I love it!

What heirlooms do you treasure most in your home? Are they tucked away in hermetically sealed boxes, or are they out on display? This post has been linked to other heirloom-themed posts at Emma Calls Me Mama. If you like to read about special family heirlooms, stop over for a visit!