The hero’s holocaust

I dunno, guys.

Memorial Day weekend always leaves me feeling a little weird. Although for many it has lost its function, a remembrance for our 1.2 million war dead, I remember.

I reflect upon the real sacrifices made by fallen soldiers and their families. I remember growing up in a Gold Star family, torn by the loss of my uncle in Korea. It was a wound that never healed, vividly and painfully remembered by my grandmother. So what, really, that he won the Distinguished Service Cross on the last day of his seventeen year long life. He left behind a family that grieved for decades.

I think about Robert Leckie’s stunning poem, “The Battle of the Tenaru.” Such power in his words, written while his ears were still numbed by shot and shell. Verses such as this:

Speak to the Lord for our comrades,
Killed when the battle seemed lost.
They went to meet a bright defeat-
The hero’s holocaust.

Unbelievable, the coursing, draining power of close combat. Seeing the wounded, hearing men’s hoarse cries. Beholding the dead. Greeting the new dawn with thanks that it’s not you, lying in a heap.

False is the vaunt of the victor,
Empty our living pride.
For those who fell there is no hell-
Not for the brave who died.

The tombstone illustrated above is a simple veteran’s stone, typical of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. It belongs to my grandpa’s grandpa, a survivor of a vicious and mostly forgotten mini-civil war in Minnesota. I ask myself what his life was like. Was he happy. Or did he die bitter and mostly forgotten, to lay in St. Peter’s cemetery in the tiny town of Mendota, Minnesota.

I’ll never know.

So, this Memorial Day I think of the long line of those who have gone before me, who fought for all sides, for centuries.

The blue-painted Scot, who faced the Romans. The Swiss mercenary. The Dakota man who counted coup. The English peasant who stretched his bow at Agincourt. The French peasant who received his arrow. A German who marched with the Teutonic Knights. A citizen of the Crown, who marched with Washington. A man taken prisoner in Winchester, Virginia. A Dutch officer who sweltered in Indonesia. A kid who died on a hill in Korea.

They are all there, in the long, sorrowful line.

Readers worldwide: Memorial Day belongs to you, as well. We are your cousins, near and distant.

Many from the Han have fought beneath the Stars and Stripes. Descendants of the proud Zulu have worn the American Combat V. Suleiman’s children have bled out and died beneath the starry flag. Many a Spanish speaker has received the hateful, flying steel and worn the Purple Heart to their grave. Red Army veterans who fought in both Afghanistan wars. There isn’t an ethnicity on the planet that hasn’t marched with Uncle Sam, many to die while doing so.

You get the idea.

So as I ponder Memorial Day this year, I’d like for you all to give it some thought as well. Spare some thought as well to our brothers in the Ukraine, who fight and die as millions have a cheerful barbecue.

For some, Memorial Day is every day.

The Electric Future

Hello, everyone. As all of you know, the world is experiencing record energy prices, and we are by no means immune here in the ‘States.

Of course, in relative terms we are still paying low prices for gasoline where I live, we have some of the lowest prices for energy in the US. But still, 4.49 is pretty high. However, it is nearly half what friends are paying elsewhere. An Australian friend reports 2.49 AUD/liter (6.78 USD/gal) and a European friend reports local prices at 2.10 EUR/liter (8.49 USD/gal), so things could definitely be worse. Also, prices vary wildly here in the US, with rates ranging from California around 6 USD/gal to here in the Ohio Valley, at 4.49/gal.

The sticker price at the pump has me thinking that it might not be a bad idea for the next family car to be electric.

Now, our small fleet doesn’t have a single vehicle that gets less than 30 mpg, so we’re doing OK at the moment. However, economies of scale are finally happening within the EV world and I think the next couple of years will be the time to finally consider an electric car.

I’m kinda thinking the new Subaru Solterra, but my mind is far from made up. A problem is that all electric vehicles are still expensive, and at 45k the Solterra is a bit out of my reach. Of course, the Ford Maverick hybrid is quite affordable, but for reasons that I stated in my February Maverick review, we need AWD and right now the AWD Maverick doesn’t come in a hybrid.

Besides, why not make a clean break from gasoline altogether? With an electric you just plug it in at night- this is fine unless you are making road trips. I guess until the infrastructure is there we would just use the electric as a daily driver and we’d do long trips with either a gas car or a hybrid. I do anticipate that within the next few years Ford will make a hybrid AWD Maverick, and at that time I’ll trade in my gas burner for one of those- I have been pleased in all respects with my little Mav, an AWD hybrid would make the deal sweeter.

So, this seems doable. An electric as our runaround car, and a hybrid for off road and long trips. This seems to be a good compromise that should be attainable within this decade. I’m not seeing a drop in energy prices anytime soon, so now is the time to plan this out.

Now, if the car companies would just start to make more electrics and hybrids to drop the price down into the feasible range. Ford made a great decision with the hybrid economy Maverick- at base MSRP of 19,995 for the sold-out 2022 model this is affordable for most people. They simply need to expand their hybrid and electric lines out to other types of vehicles.

GM? Lol, they are the worst. I won’t consider one until they get their act together, and at the moment I am pleased with Ford’s offerings.

I see more and more electric vehicles on the road, the formerly niche market is going mainstream. Good. Gas burners are fine as hobby vehicles or in parades, but for daily drivers you need fuel efficiency. Better yet, you need no fuel at all.

This is where I’d like to be, and I think that this is where we are all headed.

My take is that by the time I reach Social Security age there will be few pure gas vehicles on the road. I’m really looking forward to the day when I’m not tethered to the pump station anymore. Promise you I won’t miss it all all; the grimy pumps, the hassle. Filling the tank in the freezing cold or the pouring rain.

Yeah, not so much.

I’d rather just plug in at night.

The Coffin Case

Today a bit involving my fiddle habit, and a wonderfully successful trip to our local flea market, where I went with my kid looking for nothing in particular. As usual, we split up and she went to look for her interests, and I dawdled about looking for mine. This flea market is pretty darn good, because you can always find something. This is what can make it dangerous.

But not this time. No, I found probably one of the best deals I have ever come across, and it came in the form of what is known as a “coffin case.”

I glanced about at a set-up of two guys who probably made a living tearing down houses and barns. Tons of junk. Those types of guys keep everything they find that might be of value, and they bring it to the flea market looking to make a quick buck. One of the reasons I like this flea market is that the booth spaces are cheap and there is a heavy concentration of average people just looking to unload…stuff.

This is in contrast to “antique malls,” where you will almost never find a deal. I don’t like antique stores or malls much. But I do like this particular flea market.

Well, amongst the junk at the two dude’s table was a violin’s coffin case, they are called that because of their resemblance to a coffin. They haven’t made them since the nineteenth century, so I looked closer. In the case was a bleached-out, heavily worn, apparently full-sized violin, complete with bow and what looked for all the world like a removable sound post (this is still a mystery). There was also a dead mouse and other gross stuff.

I said, too many problems. I walked off.

I got fifty steps away and it hit me. That was a real coffin case, how much did they want? I figured a lot. So I turned around and asked. I was pleasantly surprised.

“Fifty bucks.”

A steal for the case alone. But still, it was a flea market.

“Will you take forty?”

Done deal. Handed over the cabbage. I walked back to my truck and wondered what the hell I had done. I set the case (with an obviously split lid) upon the tailgate of my truck and looked hard at what I had bought. Within the case was an obviously old, but still straight, bow. There was an object tied on a cord, it looked like a removable sound post, hand-whittled (this is still a mystery to me).

Then I looked at the violin. Friends, I have never seen such a well-worn fiddle. Ever. However, it was apparent to me that it had not been abused, just used. A lot. I looked closely at the wood, it seemed to be a spruce top and a maple (update: probably native birch) bottom with <zero> varnish remaining. The scroll was obviously hand-carved and strangely twisted a few degrees, although the fingerboard was ruler-straight.

What the hell? I put everything back in the case and locked it in the truck. Then I kept walking. Found a pair of boots, it was a good day.

Later, I was itching to make a close examination of the violin. It also desperately needed cleaning.

So, I did so. I used a violin polisher/cleaning compound, I must have put twenty coats on the instrument, my rag was black with the dust of ages. Then it was time for some photos.

As I said, an honest spruce top. However, I discovered the purfling (the lines around the edge) was not inlaid wood, but hand painted. This is the first sign of an inexpensive violin. Then I looked at the bottom and I was confused.
The bottom appears to be a one-piece crafted slab of native maple (birch). I’m no expert, but this is not shoddy construction. Also, the fiddle is lighter than a feather. Cheap violins are frequently heavy. The mystery got deeper. Then something (besides the twisted scroll) looked odd, I set this mountain fiddle next to Clarence, the Maggini clone.
Notice how the body is significantly narrower than standard (by 3/4 in), and the bouts (the cups on the side) are smaller. The length is fairly close to the same. Could this be an old “ladies size?” Maybe, but I didn’t know.

I started asking myself what what going on here. The violin was obviously very old, probably Civil War era. I guesstimated that it had last been played in the fifties, due to the remnants of steel strings as opposed to gut (they came into widespread use during WW2). Whoever had owned this violin was a probably a person of limited means, but good ingenuity. I found several hand-carved pieces, including one of the old pegs.

Also without a doubt, this violin had been played a LOT for a very long time. I’ve never seen so much honest wear on a fiddle! Not abuse, sheer use.

So, my theory is that this fiddle must have, or did have, a pretty sweet voice. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been played so much for so long. But that’s part of the mystery for now, as I’m having my luthier put a new sound post in it. Also, I’m waiting for new furniture to come in the mail (I chose a new boxwood tailpiece, chinrest, and pegs. I think the boxwood will look great on this old girl, as opposed to ebony).

I have everything else already, strings, etc. It is possible that my luthier might find a surprise or two. But that’s why he makes the big bucks.

So, violin evaluated and cleaned, I decided to tackle the coffin case. Friends, this is where I started. See below.

Note: in the upper left of this image is the mystery sound post-looking thing on a piece of waxed string. What is that? But I digress.

The case was fixable, but it was a mess. I almost get hantavirus looking at this image, I remember the dead mouse and the numerous rodent droppings and general filth. With regret, I decided the ancient felt could not be saved. So, out came the putty knife and a little elbow grease, followed by a vacuum cleaner then a damp rag.

In the meanwhile, I bought some quality green felt and I glued the split and loose stuff with Elmer’s wood glue and I let it sit, clamped, for 24 hours. Elmer’s is great glue, by the way, I recommend it.

The next day it was time to play cut-and-paste with my new felt. I chose the traditional green color. It seemed right. Here is what it looked like as I started, the case was cleaned and ready.

I took my time. I measured and cut each piece carefully, and I made them all before I even thought about gluing them down. It took a while. Then I test fit them to make sure they’d work. I labeled each piece on the “down” side. Then when I was ready to apply the contact glue I laid each piece out in the order in which it had to go in the case.

Then it was the moment of truth. The spray glue came out. I made sure to do this part in the basement, that stuff stinks. I applied the glue, I assembled the new felt into the case. Then I walked away as it tacked up. If I would have hung around I’d have been tempted to fix minor imperfections. Experience has taught me that that is a sure method to create large problems from small ones.

Behold, the coffin case’s new look!

It turned out OK, for a layman’s work.

Managed to (probably) save an old mountain fiddle, did a quick rehair on the old bow (it plays just fine), and gave the coffin case a new lease on life.

All for under a hundred bucks.

Seriously? Yeah. You can’t buy the cheapest violin on Amazon for that kind of money. This means that for less than a brand-new, mass-produced, very inexpensive violin, I have saved a part of Appalachian culture from hanging on the wall of a Cracker Barrel. I do not doubt for a second that this fiddle played for some family for at least a couple of lifetimes.

Now it’s my turn. These relics, we never really own them. We are simply their caretakers. This is part of the fascination for me.

I’ll let you all know how Old Twist (my nickname for this fiddle) turns out. How it sounds.

The coffin case, though, turned out just fine. Now it’s good for another century.