What is an antique fiddle?

Have you ever glanced through a classified ad section in the newspaper and saw an ad for an antique violin, mandolin or some other type of instrument?

When I see an ad of this nature I wonder how the owner values the instrument. Is it like a mahogany federal chair from the 1700s or a walnut pie safe from the 1820s?

These are both fine examples of antiques.

Does the title antique before an item make an instrument better or more valuable?

When a 200-year-old chair is bought it can be used to sit upon but can a 200-year-old fiddle be played?

I answered one of those antique violin ads once and found a beautiful instrument that had little or no practical value as an instrument because of a lack of a good sound.

Although I have seldom passed up a fiddle at a good price, and the lady assured me that it was a fine antique and worth every penny she wanted, in this case I did.

I did not take the time to suggest to her what I am going to share with you:

An antique is a car, piece of furniture, fine piece of glassware or china, not an instrument. To make an antique valuable several variables need to be in place, a group of people who want it, in most cases good quality workmanship and a general rule of thumb a three-digit age, with the exception of cars.

An instrument should improve with age if made well, but if it is junk now it will be junk 200 years from now.

An antique should retain its function of original intent. A chair should be sat upon, car driven and instrument played.

If an instrument belonged to Grandpa then it has a value, a sentimental value, but it does not make it valuable to outsiders, that is unless your grandfather was Fritz Kreisler, Stephane Grappelli, then there is an added value of celebrity and musical history.

Every musician would like to find that early Gibson Mastertone banjo under a bed or that original Stradivarius violin tucked behind the rafters of the basement, but not everyone will. Most will not even come close.

That does not mean you should stop looking. Just beware of those who think of old instruments as antiques to be looked at and not played. Some of the finest instruments played by professionals on symphony stages around this world would probably be found to be 2-300 years old, are they valuable because they are old, no, they are valuable because of the time the maker took to create them and give them an enduring sound that is pleasing to hear.

The best way to choose an instrument no matter the age is whether its sound is pleasing to you.

Who is going to have to listen to it more? If you can’t stand it no matter how old it is it’s worthless to you.

Wish we still had gas stations with garages

As I eased along a route I often took, I knew it was a straight shot
to my destination. I expected to be there well ahead of time, of
which I try to make a habit. As a sweet aroma permeated the car, I
thought to myself: “Why am I smelling a new tire inside my car?”

I looked around at the other cars while stopped at a traffic light
and realized that it could not be a new tire smell. Then it dawned on
me that it was the smell of anti-freeze boiling. As I glanced over
the hood at the puffs of white smoke easing from under my tire-well,
I knew it was time to give my horse a rest. I looked for the nearest
garage to pull off.

I’m sure some of you remember garages; in years past they were the
buildings sitting behind the gas pump. You pulled in and they could
generally fix any problem related to your automobile.

What ever happened to the gas station where they worked on cars? Now,
if you pull into the gas station, you are lucky if you can get a
bucket full of water to throw on yourself to cool your frustration
because nobody there knows anything about cars.

But they can appease you by selling you an ice cream cone, a slurpee
or even 50 cents worth of air for your tires while you wait for the
tow truck to come and take you away.

When did air become something you pay for? I wish I had thought of

You might even be able to get a book on CD to get your mind off
things, that is if you could only get the car radio to play.

It seems today all you can find are those little oil change places.
You know the ones where they do one or two things extremely well, but
unfortunately cannot go much beyond that scope.

Have you noticed lately there are more and more such auto businesses.
There is a place to get your oil changed, a place to buy a muffler, a
place to get tires and a place to fix your brakes. The car repair
business is almost like doctors — there is a specialist in almost
anything and everything.

So anyway, I tooled off and found my place in line at one of those
oil change places and waited for a chance to ask for assistance.
Usually, I expect to find someone who can provide little assistance.
Instead, I found someone at an oil change place who took the time to
look at the problem and say: “There’s nothing we can do to fix the
problem, but at least let’s put a Band-Aid on it by adding some more
anti-freeze so we can get you to someone who might help.”

He suggested going to the nearby auto parts store to see if they had
any suggestions to fix it with just a little expense.

There, the customer service person was courteous and helpful. He
looked at the problem and provided me with a part that he felt would
fix the problem. He even attached it. I thought I was home free, and
I am sure he did as well.

Unfortunately, as I returned to my journey to try to reach my
appointment on time, I happened to look in my rearview mirror. It was
then that a sinking feeling fell over me as I realized that line of
liquid behind me on the highway was not in front of me. I was rapidly
losing anti-freeze, and the problem was not solved. So, I immediately
began looking for my next course of action. Turning down another
street knowing that very little was ahead on my route, I found a
muffler shop which specializes in brakes and mufflers.

I went in, told them the problem and asked if they had time to help.
The mechanic said they would be happy to check out the problem if I
did not mind waiting. I asked if there would be any charge and he
said “no.”

At this point, I was too late to make my appointment, so I called to
reschedule. I waited while they gave it the once over. Upon their
return they gave me the bad news that it was not just a hose or
something simple, and it would require half a day to fix it.

Since they did not have time at that late hour in the day, I had to
get on my way, and they insisted no charge and assured me that if I
wanted them to do the needed work, they would work it in early the
next week.

While I chose not to return due to the distance of this particular
garage from my home, I feel all of these folks went out of their way
to help me that day. I can only figure they must do similarly for all
their customers. They should all be commended.

Even though you can no longer go down to the filling station and get
a bottle of pop while Goober or Wally works on your car and Gomer
checks the oil, air and fills up your gas, there are still folks out
there that take the time to make you feel like you almost could.

I hope you also find people like these along your way.

What’s happening to men and women?

Though I don’t consider myself a product of a different age, I look around and see how men and women, boys and girls, publicly act, dress, behave, treat each other, speak, and I ponder what happened.
My parents raised me with certain expectations of behavior especially in the presence of the opposite sex or anyone who is your senior. Respect was key. Now that does not mean you allow yourself to be maligned or used as a doormat, but you show respect in how you respond.
When you went to work, unless you were a tradesman or women, you dressed, as a man, suit and tie, unless the employer called for something more specific. For church, you wear your best as a form of respect in worship, whatever that was.
There were certain things you were expected to do, as a child or youth, you yielded to the discipline of the supervising adults, and you were on your very best behavior when in public or around strangers, or older family members or neighbors, always showing respect.
As a child, some of what I was taught that an adult male should do is:
not use a person’s first name unless given permission; not cuss; acknowledge people as you meet them at work or on the street allowing ladies to acknowledge you first, this can be done with a nod of the head since most folks do not wear hats for tipping anymore; remove your hat when entering a building and especially in the atmosphere of casual headwear, and never wear a hat at a table.
When it comes with interacting with ladies, a man should:
rise when a lady enters the room or stands in public or private social gatherings; open doors; offer an arm to a lady you know when entering or leaving a building or room or if the ground appears uneven; walk on the sidewalk with a lady away from traffic; give ladies your seat when none is available; assist with her chair at the table or help putting on a coat; and avoid impolite subjects.
Of course, the changes in the workplace and the social environment over the past few decades have changed what is being taught our youth and done by adults, and to conform in some situations, I have had to forego some of these teachings, so not to make other men uncomfortable in their lack of etiquette.
Still, I am blessed when in environs and among others in which these expected behaviors once again are shown and I readily fall back into these naturally.
With the outrage in the current status of the male-female relationships in the workplace and elsewhere, perhaps we need to return to the tried and true expectations of public interaction from several decades ago, so that opportunities for such behavior are eliminated.
Of course, many will scream that that is not the solution, that men and women should be treated the same way in all environments. Well, as the son of an early advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment, I can say from her teachings there is a balance that can be found. My mother taught me all that I shared while standing up for women’s rights.  From her prospective as a business owner starting in the 1950s, respect was the key, having equal opportunities and equal pay did not mean women had to give up being a lady in whatever environment they chose to place themselves, in the board room, elected office or in the home.

A voice that soared above the pines – Curly Seckler

Randall Franks and Curly Seckler in 1980s.

Curly Seckler

My New Year’s Eve show got me home about 3:30 a.m., and I quickly tried to get to sleep with a plan to rise early and head to Nashville. I awoke on time and aimed my burgundy Chevy Lumina towards the goal a little over two hours away. The trip had been made hundreds of times in my life, especially as my country music career was in full swing there.
I thought back to early trips which found me knocking on the door of a home off Dickerson Road when legendary bluegrass musician and singer Curly Seckler came to the door. I chose to emulate him as a child. He had done this many times and often told others especially as my star in music and TV rose of my initial youthful visit.
His door was always open to me, and he was always generous with his time, whether in person, on the phone or on the road. This trip was however not to knock on his door but to pay my respects to his family and join with his other friends and admirers as we said goodbye to the 98-year-old.
Seckler’s long career combined his talents with the majority of the genre’s first-generation legends from Charlie Monroe to “Doc” Tommy Scott, Jim and Jesse McReynolds to the Stanley Brothers.
He was most recognized by historians and fans though by his role as the tenor singer and mandolinist to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as part of the Foggy Mountain Boys. One of the key artists which infused bluegrass into the fabric of American culture through television, recordings and radio. It was those recordings that also drew me as a young boy, and his tenor that I tried to match as I sang.
As I walked towards the door of the Spring Hill Funeral Home the bitter cold chilled my cheeks. I followed in some of the musicians that were to be singing who made their way to the coffin storage room to practice. I said hello to one of their wives who was waiting and soon found his biographer Penny Parsons, who wrote “Foggy Mountain Troubadour” opening up the viewing room. I was the first to arrive, so after a brief visit with Penny, I was able to spend some time with my long-time friend, just he and I as all the memories flooded back. I reminisced aloud looking upon the voice “who soared above the pines.” I talked about the visits to his home, the first time I looked up at him and his Nashville Grass on stage after the death of Lester Flatt, and was mesmerized by his poise and style on stage, to later in my life when my country music fan club was hosting a Country Music Fan Fair party and in he and his future wife Eloise Warren walked in to support me as just another two of my fans. Soon I found tears rolling down my cheeks and I sucked up the emotions drying my tears. I stepped back in the hall as family members began arriving slowly, the other notable musicians, industry elites, and Foggy Mountain Boy offspring filed in and visited with the family.
As I stood talking to his son Ray at the foot of his coffin, I looked to my left and in came the musicians who had be practicing, the Grammy winning Earls of Leicester (Jerry Douglas, Shawn Camp, Charlie Cushman, Jeff White, and Johnny Warren), who continued the Flatt & Scruggs tradition. Each, all old friends, stopped and shook hands and moved closer to the coffin. In a few moments, I looked up to my left and there stood Vince Gill paying his respects to one of his heroes. We shared some Curly memories, until Sharon Skaggs came in and hugged my neck and Ricky reached over and shook my hand as he got in the viewing line.
Shortly, we all settled into the Chapel as the “Foggy Mountain Special” played and WSM Announcer Eddie Stubbs led the service sharing the pulpit with Brother Terry Clapp and Gerald McCormick.
Moving performances were shared by Ricky Skaggs and the Whites of “Gone Home,” Connie Smith with “Gathering Flowers for the Master’s Bouquet,” and the Earls of Leicester on “Who Will Sing for Me” and we watched and heard memorable TV performances by Curly with Flatt & Scruggs  “I Want to Be Loved” and “Precious Memories” and his mandolin player with the Nashville Grass – Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives with “Lord, I’m Coming Home.”
We laughed, we cried, we applauded and we paid tribute to someone we all loved as both a good man who gave his hope, his encouragement and his faith freely to all of us; and to the last link to the golden era of the Flatt and Scruggs musical legacy that will stand the test of time and outlast all of us. As we gathered in the single digit wind chill around his graveside, the Earls of Leicester delivered a song Curly loved singing – “Reunion in Heaven.” Though we were freezing, we all seemed to linger there after being dismissed holding on to the significance of the moment, shaking hands, slowly passing by his wooden coffin awaiting the day of that reunion.  Learn more at www.curlyseckler.net.




Refilling the well with love

Over the past few weeks, I have said goodbye to many friends and family, and I share this story in honor of each of them and those who gave tirelessly to care for each of them as they prepared for their final steps. Perhaps it will give us all something to carry throughout the coming year – to always remember that we are here to love one another.

As Pearl looked into the eyes of her father, Grandpa Bill looked back with a stare that was almost empty.

There was nothing more scary, more disheartening than looking into those deep blue eyes that had given so much throughout life, such caring, such love and on occasion a stern glance that made you know you were on very thin ice.

But now as he looked upon you there were moments that he did not know who you were.

Pearl longed for a chance once again to hear his gentle voice speak her name for no other reason except to be sure that he knew her.

Fear overcame her worrying that such a moment might not come again or perhaps his thoughts might land in a place of anger and frustration making him want to strike out at her and those who love him so much.

The family had seen the cycle again and again as the older generation slowly yielded its control to the next, albeit sometimes kicking and screaming along the way.

But that is only appropriate not to go quietly into that good night.

In the valley below the Gravelly Spur Mountain there is no such thing as a nursing home or assisted living. You found your assistance at home among your family and friends.

No matter your age or disability there was always some series of chores you could perform to keep a daily routine until you body rebelled and no longer allowed you to do them.

Then if your hands remained active, a chore that required only slight movement might be shared, peeling potatoes, breaking green beans, sewing on buttons.

But Grandpa Bill had reached the point that those days were behind him and he was giving comfort only in the brief moments of clarity as they came and went within him.

Pearl wondered what she might do to make the situation better, alas there was little she could do except be there leaning back in the woven seat oak chair holding his hand as it lay upon the blue and white cotton patchwork quilt. She tried to make each day as close to what he wanted as possible.

There was no doubt of the love shared between the father and daughter and yet that did not ease the fearful moments when the ravages of time seemed to wipe it clean like the swipe of an eraser across a school blackboard removing the chalk so no one could see it.

But she found her solace waiting for that next moment when the writing once again appeared on Grandpa Bill’s class slate perhaps not in all its detail but enough to hold on to. Enough to sustain until there was no more.

It makes one wonder where love goes when the board is wiped clean.

Perhaps that is the purpose of family caring for family. The well of love pours out throughout the lives of those contributing filling the hearts of those around them. When the well begins to dry up does that mean that the love is gone? Of course not, the love still remains within all those who have shared in it throughout that person’s life.

As the level of one’s well begins to diminish it is simply the job of all of those who have drank from that well to now bring some of that love back to that person.

Just because they may not be able to drink it in fully does not make the gift any less valued.

From the book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes