Sunday, February 3, 2013


It’s February and we’re learning to play the fiddle around here. It’s everything you would expect: scratchy, squeaky, fingernails on chalkboard out of tune. A’s motivation (she’s been begging us for lessons for months—years?) is that she wants to play in the MacArthur Family Band, the trio composed of my uncle, aunt and dad. She’s learning the words to all their songs. Like this one, the old logging tune “The Canal Song,” collected by Helen Hartness Flanders from Elmer Barton of Queechee, VT: Says I gosh darnit, listen to me well, you better go to heaven, before you go to hell. For if you go to hell you’ll have to sharpen up your teeth just to eat the rotten Johnny cake and second-handed beef.

(Mama, why does he say you better go to heaven before you go to hell? Cause if you go to heaven, you’re already dead!” (She doesn’t yet know what hell I?) “Mama, what is rotten Johnny cake and second-handed beef?” Hmm.)

And “Mary Shaminski I Love You,” a tune my grandmother wrote about a local story having to do with graffiti and train bridges and writing by the light of the moon.

When Avah’s friends come over she puts on the “MacArthur Family” CDs and asks her friends to not talk or sing or play while they listen to these songs. She gets a proud look on her face and rocks back and forth on stiff legs and says, “That’s my great grandma singing,” and “This part’s really good, here,” and “You should hear this part about the rotten Johnny cake!” Her friends don’t know what to do or think, or course. They just want to play with the dolls and the blocks. They want to do a puzzle!

Then Avah turns off the CD and pulls out her fiddle and asks that they listen to her inspired squeaks and squawks. She puts on my grandmother’s performing face (wide eyes, tilted head, closed-lipped smile) and rocks back and forth, her bow dancing a jig along the unfretted strings.

Lordy. She did not get this desire to perform from her mother, who quakes at the site of a stage. But I guess she still comes by it quite naturally. And so…fiddle lessons. This is our job as parents, right? To allow our children to follow their dreams?