But more than any other music, he enjoyed bluegrass. My earliest memories of television are those of watching the "Grand Ole Opry", "Porter Wagoner", and "The Wilburn Brothers" - all courtesy of Black Draught laxatives, and Bull Of The Woods chewing tobacco.
Mostly, Dad loved a good fiddle tune. He was a better than fair-to-middlin' player himself, and would often yell, "grab my fiddle" so I could run and bring his favorite violin just in time for him to join in for a few notes with whatever picker was setting fire to the stage on Opryland television. Didn't take much cajoling on my part to get him to play for me and I loved his version of Orange Blossom Special, a hard song for even very talented players.
It was his heartfelt dream to have one of his children really master this fine instrument. So, one day in 1961 Dad brought home a surprise present - a student-sized violin for baby brother and I to share while taking lessons from the local high school band teacher (with a bad case of halitosis, I might add - the teacher not the violin). Only problem was, I was left-handed while the sibling was right-handed. Guess who had to learn to play as a righty?
I have exceedingly large amounts of respect for those gifted individuals who can read bug-looking marks on a sheet of paper and translate them into beautiful sounds on any given instrument, but especially, I am humbled by violin players. After many longs hours of "fingernails on blackboards" screeching practices, and no small torrent of tears, Dad gave up any hope of seeing his progeny up on the great Opry stage. Later, I would take piano lessons in a blind belief my barely-defined sheet music reading skills could still be useful. Three years of keyboard instruction and I can only remember the opening rift to two recital tunes, "A Little Girl's Waltz", and "Waltz of the Parakeets".
Years passed, the Beatles disbanded, and the little student violin grew dusty; the fine horsehaired bow became disheveled and unstrung and the rosin under the green felt case lid turned to stone. A new generation came on the scene and Dad decided he would single-out his granddaughter, Lara, to be the next great violinist of the family. My little student violin was too small for her, so Dad bought Lara another used one.
A very close friend was a music teacher and a devoted fan of bluegrass music and he agreed to give Lara lessons and keep my Dad's dream alive, if only briefly. Lara did give it her full attention for, oh, about three months - which was a MON-YEW-MENTAL effort for her. Then, she discovered fast-pitch softball and the spotlights of a little league field at night. No contest.
Last Sunday evening, while watching O Brother, Where Art Thou for the fourth or fifth time, I caught myself closing my eyes, trying to "see" the musical notes in my mind for the mournful tune, "A Man of Constant Sorrows". Try as I might, I can no longer read sheet music, but my appreciation for a fine toe-tapping fiddle tune has stayed with me.
Dad would be glad to hear that.