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My Father’s Violin

by Nada Rothbart


Father's Violin


If you haven’t been to this year’s Cornerstone French Flea Market in Sonoma, you must place it on your calendar for next year. This past weekend Tom and I took it in for the first time. We’ve lived in Sonoma for years and have never taken a moment to play ‘tourist for the day’ and visit Cornerstone; just as many Parisians have never climbed Eiffel Tower or San Franciscans that have never been to Alcatraz. Last weekend we had a friend coming to visit from San Francisco and per usual, we showed them the local attractions that we have never seen ourselves. Isn’t it funny how this is always the case?

The weather was ideal for walking around Cornerstone – checking out all the beautiful French pieces was a true delight. Towards the end of the day, after seeing almost every object that was displayed, I suddenly noticed at the bottom of an oversized basket, tastefully placed, a little gray violin. I picked it up and asked the owner of the business to give me a little history of the instrument. They didn’t know much about it. There was no bow with it and it had no strings. Someone had painted over the whole instrument with grey paint. But still it triggered a thought in my head and emotion began to overwhelm me.  Immediately I was holding my father’s violin again.

My father was a violinist before World War II. I remember that it was chocolate brown, the richest color of chestnuts with a very shinny finish. I held it many times in my hands during my childhood even though I had never played it, nor any other violin. I heard from my mother that he was the first violin in our home town philharmonic orchestra at the age of sixteen. When he came back from the war he graduated from Law School and continued to play violin for his own enjoyment. He would rather have earned a living playing his violin but was more confident that perusing his profession as a lawyer would support our family better. What a beautiful feeling and memory.

Like most people in former Yugoslavia, we lived in a small condo in a ten-story building. During the week my father was very thoughtful of everyone else in the building and didn’t play his violin after working hours, so people could sleep. His violin was placed in its case and stored carefully on top of the tall armoire in the bedroom.  Sunday mornings were special. Right after mom and dad would come back from the local farmers market with food for the entire week, he would go to his room, close the door and start playing. Mom would stay in the kitchen preparing food. She was a full time social worker so the only time to cook for the family was her only day off, Sunday. Our home was quiet most of the time, however from the closed door I could hear my father’s violin. It affected every cell of my body. I enjoyed the music so much. The violin can sound like it is crying, dancing, celebrating and is capable of producing the feeling of tragedy with its sweet and sorrowful tones. All those emotions I felt then, I feel now. It was magic.

Among other feelings, dads playing the violin gave us that special sense of peace, order and calm. It would be interesting to ask my sister about her memory of our Sunday mornings. I am sure she would have to say something about me breaking those miraculous moments with being a overly fidgety little girl she couldn’t make sit still. When his fingers needed a rest, he would carefully place his violin on the soft surface of his bed and play classical music on the record player.

I will never forget the excitement in his eyes and how proud he was when he first brought home that brand new record player. His collection of records grew so quickly. From four years old he encouraged me to sing with the record and I took it seriously. I learned much later from my sister that just like my father, she had the perfect pitch and innate musical talent. I, on the other hand, couldn’t sing at all. My father figured that out by letting me sing with the record I could possibly improve my singing. Not sure why, but often I heard from my sister protesting to our parents in the middle of my singing (AKA almost screaming), “Mom, please tell her to stop. I can’t stand it anymore!” I never grew tired of listing to those opera records or listening to my father play his violin.

When I picked up the little gray violin from the bottom of the basket I didn’t anticipate that a typical weekend at the French Flea Market would open the memories of listening to the music of my fathers’ violin while growing up. I can hear it now, I can feel the effect of those magical notes. It is with me and it will always be. 

What perfect timing. I was a joyous feeling to be reminded of my father just few days before Father’s Day.

Thank you, Dad and Happy Father’s Day

Nada - black type



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