Mom and I made the trip home this afternoon, back through Kansas to Joplin. With us on this return trip were boxes of treasures: mementos of my aunt’s life, keepsakes that belonged to my grandmother, and great-grandmothers, all graciously given to my mom by my cousins. In a place of honor, alone on the middle seat in the van, swaddled in a protective blanket, rested a worn black music case. Nestled within that case was a violin.
I watched last night as my cousin gently placed that violin into my mother’s waiting arms. I watched, with teary eyes, as the emotions played across Mom’s face….grief, joy, tenderness, wonder. This is not just any violin. This gorgeous instrument, estimated to be approximately 100 years old, belonged to my mother’s dad, Bill Gregory. Made in Czechoslovakia, it is a ¾ size copy of a Jacobus Stainer violin. My mom doesn’t know how my grandfather acquired the violin or what he paid for it.
What she does know is, it has been at least 72 years since she heard her father play his violin. Tragically, Bill Gregory died in a truck accident in February of 1945, when my mother was just five years old. Her mother remarried later, and my mom and her sister and brother were raised by a fine man, who became the only grandfather I ever knew. But she never forgot her daddy, of course. The violin passed to her sister, Annie, who cared for it over the years, keeping it repaired and protected. With the recent passing of Annie, who has been reunited with her father, my cousins very generously asked my mother if she would like to have this beautiful treasure.
My mom, with her sister Annie
Such a tender offer has touched my mom, and indeed, my sisters and me, so deeply. My mother lost her dad at such a young age. She has cherished memories of him, but nothing tangible, nothing that belonged to him. To hold that violin, to care for it now, stirs such powerful emotion, tucked away in her heart long ago. The strings are silent, the bow still, but when she closes her eyes, she can hear her father playing. One of her great joys would be to hear a grandchild or great-grandchild cradle the violin and play, the spirit of her father alive within the music, within the violin.
I listened on our journey home today, as Mom told me stories of my grandfather…how he collected herbs in the wild, as a child, and sold them…how he was a carpenter and helped to build Camp Crowder, his induction into the Army delayed until it was completed…how he took his family to visit his sister Jane before joining the military…how he drove off into a blizzard, leaving his wife and young children with his sister, concerned about his animals at home…how he never made it home that night. I listened, aware that my grandfather’s violin was riding quietly behind me. Aware of my grandfather’s quiet presence as well.
“Do you think my father knows I have his violin?” my mother mused aloud, as we neared her home. I glanced in the rearview mirror, into the backseat. “Yes,” I answered….”I’m sure he does.”
Bill Gregory, playing the violin, with his brother Lloyd, on the mandolin