Growing up, special occasions were marked by family get-togethers, food, and best of all, good music. The one instrument’s sound that stands out in my mind is that of the fiddle. It was the main attraction and accompanied by accordion, guitar, or harmonica. My job was keeping time with a pair of old, scratched and tea-stained spoons taken out of the kitchen drawer. Trying to keep up with the ever-increasing speed of Orange Blossom Special or other favourites, my spoons would become a blur between my lap and open hand. I always joke that I learned to play the spoons before I could eat with one. When we visited both sides of the family, my grandpas were always ready, fiddle under chin and horsehair on strings.
I was only six when Grandpa J. passed away. My understanding of what was going on at the time was summed up at the wake when, looking at the open casket, I turned to my grandma and said, “This means I don’t have a Godfather anymore, right Grandma?” After everyone had gone, the old brown fiddle with its peeling finish was tucked away in its dusty black case on the top shelf of Grandma’s bedroom closet. I don’t know how many years it stayed there, but I secretly hoped that she was saving it for when I would be old enough to have it. I dreamed of some day learning to play it.
For many years, when spending time at Grandma’s house, she would ceremoniously place her little black cassette player right in the middle of the formica-topped kitchen table. With a smile on her face, she would press the “play” button with her crooked finger and gently hush me. When the recorded sound of Grandpa’s fiddle filled the air, she would close her eyes while her body started to sway to the sound of the music. She was transported back in time. A time when her legs were much younger, her joints were not swollen, and Grandpa was still around to play “une p’tite jigue” on his old fiddle. Sometimes she’d get right into it take my hand and spin me on the linoleum floor. Refusing to join her was not an option. I’d get a soft pinch here, a harder one there, until finally I would join in with her dancing.
With all this music in the family, there were always instruments to be found in our household. There was an old accordion with knobs held in place with elastics, my dad’s favourite, as well as a shiny chrome mouthpiece. These instruments were as sacred as the chalice and holy water in St-Anthony’s Church down the street; to my dismay, they were off-limits for my siblings and me. Yet, anytime I picked up an instrument, I always managed to play a little tune by ear, without any help. Yup, I was the musical one, but I always ended up singing since I could never be trusted holding more than a couple of spoons. How I wanted a fiddle of my own.
At one point, I don’t quite remember when, I learned that my cousin B. received the old fiddle. He was my grandparents’ Godchild, as I was, and in French Canadian Catholic families, Godparents are like an extra set of parents. His mother, my Grandmother’s twin, married an Englishman and never taught her children to speak French, but the traditions remained. On our birthday and at Christmas, we could always count on an extra-special gift from your Godparents. Even when my grandmother would introduce me to her friends, I wasn’t just her granddaughter – she always added that extra bit: “This is my Goddaughter, ma p’tite fiole, Carole.” As such, I felt special and reveled in the extra attention, but I was still disappointed about the old fiddle.
Though feeling selfish, I contained my disappointment until writing these words, as I still think about the fiddle on occasion. I wonder if B. has ever dusted it off to try to play it. I want to pick up the telephone and ask him what has become of it, but I fear the answer. Does he even still have it? You see, B. has never really settled down. He’s moved back and forth between relationships like a bow moves up and down its strings. He’s been unlucky that way I guess. Who knows if, with so many moves, the fiddle hasn’t gotten lost in the shuffle. On the other hand, perhaps he keeps the fiddle close to him as somewhat of an anchor in his tumultuous life, like a fiddler’s tapping foot that pulls the eye and keeps the beat as the notes escape and bounce recklessly around the room. Maybe the tapping foot is his, thanks to Grandpa’s old fiddle.