Another Fiddler in Heaven
Who among us can cast the first dispersion against such a noble art as playing a fiddle? I am not a fiddler player and do not claim such. But I knew a fantastic fiddle player. I knew him well. He was my dad. His name, Austin Avery, Hamilton, Ala.,
Dad passed in 2006, Sept. 19, to be exact. Among his many gifts, (all self-taught), carpenter, brick mason, auto mechanic, veteran, W.W. II, his most-amazing gift was his fiddling. Many have and may scoff at today's swift rising and fading trinkets of fame, but playing the fiddle is no trinket. Nor is it a gift taken lightly. A man (or woman) who plays a fiddle is sometimes, many times lonely. Not many master fiddlers have allowed a lover to part them from their fiddle. It's just not right. It's just too unnatural. The fiddler can and does have the heart of his companion, but not the heart of his fiddle music that is stamped on his heart forever.
My dad was a self-taught fiddler. Not violinist. Although there is no shame in being a fiddler being called a violinist. A race car driver who mistakenly says that this driver is a gifted performer is not casting dark visions on the driver. Sometimes the one looking from outside in can get words in the way. Outsiders will never understand. I am an outsider. And was an outsider for the entirety of my dad's life. When I was a kid, I used to beg him (in front of his music-making friends) to let me play that fiddle. And he would just for a moment. Then he would gently take the fiddle out of my sweaty little hand and continue to play some of the best fiddling music in the world--with sessions like this going from any friend's home on any given Saturday at early evening until the wee hours of Sunday morning.
There were times that my mother would have to shake me awake when I fell fast asleep on our floor while listening to dad and his musical friends literally playing the daylights out of some song, "Billy in The Low Ground," or maybe "Down Yonder." But the one who the crowds loved was "Sally Goodin.'" Dad knew more than three fiddle tunes, but would only play those who asked for them. Dad was not what you would call a smart alec. Or someone to push some struggling musician on his stage with the others out of the fun. It didn't matter to my dad. It did matter that he loved the music each time that someone mentioned a Saturday night hoe down and he would be ready and set to go.
Yes, my dad was self-taught in the art of fiddling. But not taught by a paying teacher, but by his mom at age seven. And how this came to be just had to be the hand of God for no one else could believe the music that dad was playing from his dad's fiddle sitting in the middle of his parents' bed. Truth. Strange. You ain't wrong. But if my granny Avery were here, she would tell you that she only put (my dad) on this bed to begin with was just to keep him busy so I could get my cooking done. With my grandpa and his daughters out somewhere picking cotton or pulling corn, left dad's mom all alone and she thought that (my dad) playing the fiddle was much like a new toy bought in some store in town.
Much water has ran underneath this bridge. A lot. But my dad when he was younger, and retired from a bearing plant in Hamilton, would tell me (or whomever was near) about his times when he was starting out to play the fiddle. And he not just started out, but met with a lot of success competing with various fiddling contests that were held in his community. He won a few. He lost a few, but I found out later that the winning for him was not as important as him getting to play his fiddle with other musicians and hearing friends and neighbors sound out their approval of his craft.
My mom, before she passed away, told me of several times that when dad and her were young married folks, he would finish his field work and do whatever she needed him to help her do in their house and set off to "make music" as she called it. Many times he would not return until late, say about 11 p.m., which to him might be construed as "laying out all night" some who didn't know the depth of his love for the fiddle music and making folks happy. It was a gift. A wonderful gift. And yet, I found it to me as being a gift of frustration for although I did try to learn how to play the fiddle, and him teaching the instrument, I could only muster a few scratches and broken notes. I didn't receive dad's gift for fiddling. I soon found this to be a plain fact.
During dad's long love for playing the fiddle, of course came a certain amount of disappointment and hurt, but not why you would associate with fiddling. Dad loved to compete in fiddling contests. He really did. But he found out early on that in a few of the biggest contests were somehow and obviously rigged. Sad? Yes, sir. Very sad. And when dad would finish his fiddling, the judges, who had predestined the outcome, would hand the trophy to a local "ol' boy" that would see that the judges were rewarded for their voting. No, losing a fiddling contest was not that hurtful for dad. Knowing later that he was a lot better than the "losers" (meant two ways) was the real hurt. But he kept on fiddling.
After these kind of contests, the ones who were rigged, and I had been gifted for some useful art to compete from and with all of my heart only to find that I had been shuffled out by some under-the-table monetary bribe, I know how I would have handled this brand of defeat. I would have quit right there. On the spot.
Not dad. He kept on fiddling even when he was nearing his darkest days of a sickness that finally took him to eternity.
And that was really what made my dad being such a good man and a great fiddler player.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery