By Jim Hagarty
It had been kickin’ around the house for almost 20 years, an old family fiddle that just sort of ended up at our place.
Sealed in a sturdy steel case, it was brought out now and then to be admired, but quickly locked away again for the next time someone became curious enough to snap back the clasps. From one corner to the other, the charming little instrument spent its days and nights silently, within the darkness of its velvet-lined confines, ignored, if not totally unloved. It had gone into a temporary sleep around the same time its owner took up the rest of a more permanent kind.
Then one day recently, with some time on my hands, I thought I’d examine the old music maker to see what it was really like. I had heard somewhere along the way that it was just an inexpensive model, and so I never was able to work up much enthusiasm about it. I don’t play the fiddle, though I’ve always sort of wanted to and maybe now was the time…
Opening the slightly battered case, I breathed in a whiff of mustiness, and instantly wished that, cheap or not, the fiddle had been in the open air all these years. I took the shapely, little brown box upstairs and grabbing the bow, scratched away on its out-of-tune strings with all the precision of a novice skater, taking his first spin across the ice. It was not pretty and metaphorically speaking, I fell on my head and butt several times in quick succession.
To the relief of my family, I finally put the bow away and turned my attention to exactly what kind of fiddle I was holding. Knowing a bit about the heirarchy of acoustic guitars, I figured the same sort of importance is probably attached to when, where and by whom a fiddle was made. So, I took a squinty look through one of the wavy, musical-note cutouts in the top of the instrument and spelled out the first few letters I saw: “S-t-r-a-d…” I couldn’t see too well so I took it over to one of the lamps and holding it near the bulb, examined the details more closely. “Stradivarius” was most clearly written. “1713”
Now, I don’t know if it’s possible to take a stroke while looking through a hole in a fiddle, but I felt like one might be coming on. Had the Greater Power finally smiled down on my humble family with a plan to make the rest of our days on Earth a little bit easier? How many millions of dollars was I just then holding in my suddenly shaky hands? What should be my next move, in light of this discovery?
As if on cue, worries followed the jubilation. What if something happened to the “Strad” (as I have found out they are affectionately called) and we couldn’t collect? A house fire, a home invasion, other calamities.
And then there was the wider family. This being an heirloom of sorts, what portion of my good fortune should be shared with other members of the clan, people who obviously didn’t yet know about the riches I was about to be knee deep in. Was this even information that needed to be shared with relatives? Wouldn’t things be easier if I kept this to myself?
I took another look into the fiddles innards. “Antonius Stradivarius. facelbat Cremona 1713.”
This just kept getting better and better.
But in every crowd there is a spoiler. Someone just waiting to burst your bubble.
“Hey Dad, you might want to come take a look at this,” said my daughter, who had borrowed the fiddle for a look of her own.
I peeked again through the music note hole, this time looking just above the name of the acknowledged greatest violin maker of all time. There, looking back at me from their safe confines, were two other little words I had missed.
“Copy of” brought my dreams of riches and ease to an crushing end. As did the words just below the name of Anton’s hometown: “Made in West Germany.”
Now there wasn’t any West Germany in 1713 or even a Germany, for that matter. West Germany didn’t emerge until after the Second World War.
As usual, I am a wiser but sadder man.
Just once in this life I’d like to be the opposite – a foolish but happier man.
With a billion fiddle bucks in the bank!