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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Life to a Dying Willow Tree

Fiddler Jack of Harper's Ferry
Fiddler Jack of Harper's Ferry

Music continues to weave together many golden strands in the Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series. As we move through the narratives, by way of music, we learn about the characters and what they endured just to play a simple tune. In Down from the Tree, a fine old fiddle resurfaces. We know that Daidí—Samuel's great grandfather—brought his fiddle with him on a harrowing voyage from Ireland, but what became of it? Pedaling back through the generations, we get a glimpse into the past. Again, we return to the Old Country. This time reaching back to a young farm boy who tries his hand at fiddle-making, unaware of the future that lies ahead, giving new life to a dying willow tree. As music transports the characters through time, we make connections that resonate in our depths. History does, in fact, repeat itself. We know that music heals. Its ability to bridge various cultures, ethnic and socioeconomic classes, and generations, has withstood the test of time. This is evident in the story of young Samuel and his friend and mentor, Caesar, as their afflictions and love of music bind them. The following excerpt from Down from the Tree sets the stage and foundation for a future of sharing music and love for a man not known to either, as they honor his life and beloved fiddle. Harmony—the common roots that we share with others—will always prevail.


My first night with the men, boys, and lunatics, was possibly one of the best nights of my life in the world without her in it. I was able to sleep in the fiddle room—the room with the broken door. There was plenty of space. I would always be near the fiddle. I had my own crate, and all I had to do was stand on it.

Movin’ my sack, clothes, and a few important books to the other side of the house didn’t come without problems. Once Silas found out, right in front of everyone, he hollered at Moses.

“You know how bad it gets in there! Why are you lettin’ him do this?”

“Settle down, son. He’s gonna be fine. How else will he grow up? And Sarah will be here before long. He’ll get a good taste of somethin’ else and be thankful when he leaves.”

Throughout the day, I tried to talk to Caesar, but he was always either shovelin’ manure or takin’ a nap in a chair in the great room. I came to understand that he had at least three worlds. I was in the night world, where music came alive. And then, at times, I was someone else that he felt needed to know about a woman named Tempy, but we never got to the root of it. And when he was around the bosses or workin’, he kept his head down. I liked the world of music.

When he came in to play, he looked at me with his one good eye and smiled. “You are here now. It is time?”

“Yes, I’m here. This is now my place to sleep. I can play every night.” I smiled.

The screechin’ and moanin’ comin’ down the hallway was nothin’ more than another song. What used to scare me before, had simply become the other voices. Samuel Hodgdon II ~ July 9, 1878 EXCERPT Down from the Tree Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series, Book Three The Crows' Path (Four) is in the making. MjP


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