Alright, you may need some explanation for how a chunk of wood jammed into my tire has a place in an article named “Pleasures.”

Don’t worry, an explanation will be forthcoming.

It’s the little things in life, really, that make all the difference.

I got that flat while returning home from helping a family member get health care from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the VA. My uncle, a veteran of the Korean War, was in a jam. Nearly ninety, with totally inadequate (and expensive) “care,” he was whiling away his days in a terrible bed, and my exhausted aunt was his sole provider.

Well, they finally decided to hand his discharge papers over to the VA, and lo and behold, he’s now getting the care he needs in less than 30 days from the start of the process. People cry about the VA all the time, and I don’t see what the problem is. They’ve provided me with world-class care, and now it’s my uncle’s long-overdue turn. I’ve helped the process a little, and it’s involved a bit of travel. No biggie.

The flat was a result of this. A chunk of wood flew from a contractor’s truck, and I didn’t have time to dodge it. A quarter mile later, and my “low inflation” display came on, with a helpful diagram to let me know which wheel and it’s current pressure. 27 psi, and dropping fast. There was a problem. I looked for a good place to park, right away. Fortunately, there was an Aldi with a generous parking lot nearby. I whipped it into there with ten psi to spare.

I got out and looked. Yep, a big chunk of wood was jammed into my tire, there was no way it could be patched. I scratched my head. It was raining, of course, and I had never changed the tire on this particular vehicle. The spare was stowed in an odd place, and there is a whole procedure to getting it out. Damn.

A lightbulb went off. Hey, didn’t I have Ford Roadside Assistance as part of the vehicle purchase package? I wasn’t sure, but there was a 1-800 number in my owner’s handbook (which I had been looking through to figure that spare tire thing out). I called it, and instead of speaking with an operator, I received a series of texts. Within five minutes, a repair dude had been dispatched, complete with a Google Maps display with an icon of the inbound repair vehicle’s location.

Easy-peasy, and it turned out I didn’t even have to fish around in the booklet for the 1-800 number, I could have used my Ford app. But I digress.

The fellow showed up, and I watched how he took out the spare- it could be that sometime I’d be in a place hours from nearby help, so I wanted to file that info away for potential future use.

He swapped the blown tire for the spare, had me sign a receipt, and he left. No cost involved. I followed Siri to the nearby Ford garage and they took my vehicle in and installed four new tires.

Within two hours from the time I hit that jagged chunk of wood, I was back on the road. Ford did an amazing job, from start to finish.

An unpleasant event turned into an unexpected pleasure; I now have full faith and confidence in Ford’s Roadside Assistance program, and new tires for a reasonable fee.

Today was violin maintenance day. Another pleasure.

Guys, there is nothing quite like getting your functional antiques out, along with polishing cloth and polish.

It’s a pleasure.

Holding these old girls in your hands, admiring the craftsmanship and obvious wear from their past lives. Smelling the wood, rosin and polish. Rubbing them down with a soft cloth and a thin layer of fragrant varnish restorer. Bringing out the shine. Tuning them and then giving them the first strokes of the bow.

Hearing them sing, at least as well as I can do.

It’s a great way to start off the day.

A pleasure.

Rose, Restored.

Hey, all.

A follow-up bit on the restoration of the nineteenth-century violin I scored at the local antique mall for USD 92.50.

The earlier articles are here (No. 1), and here (No. 2).

There are few things in life I enjoy more than finding an apparent piece of junk and bringing it back into service. I guess I’m a sucker for a good deal, and have an eye for an object’s potential. Rose the violin falls neatly into my interests.

All of my violins have nicknames, it’s how I tell them apart and they usually have something to do with their appearance, sound or origin. One of my favs, Twist the mountain fiddle, is called Twist because of it’s deformed peg box, a result of imperfect craftmanship or poor storage, hard to tell which. If you’re interested, there are a series of older posts about that particular resto, it was a fascinating process (to me).

So why did I name this violin “Rose?” Well, it’s an appearance thing. She has a very nice reddish patina, accentuated by the new furniture I got for her. Also, I grew tired of calling her “clone,” a temporary nickname based upon the fact that she is probably a German Stradivarius pattern copy.

It’s always a gratifying moment when these relics play their first notes after decades in storage. My instructor, Ryan, had the privilege of playing the first tune on this old girl after some minor tweaks. Rose didn’t need much to wake her up, which the antique dealer foolishly didn’t know (or care). See below.

Ryan says it’s not his best recording ever, but hey, it was meant as a quick demo, not a concert quality recording. He did a quick version of a song we’ve played often, “Good Old Mountain Dew,” a regional fav. Here’s another version of it, done by Reina del Cid, a personal fav, right up there with Rhiannon Giddens, another amazing musician.

For the pure hell of it, I decided to add a couple more versions of this song. Check this one out, or this one.

This. This was a successful restoration! One of the finest yet of a high-quality instrument that had been set aside decades ago. Another detail below.

The craftsmanship that’s on display here. It’s amazing and a little heartbreaking that this fiddle almost ended up in the trash or hanging on a wall.

Rose turned out astoundingly well, and I’ve played her a bit since I got her back.

The violin has that comfy feel of an old instrument and that wonderful old wood and polish smell. As a real bonus, it plays very well- it’s a quality instrument. Incomprehensible that it was set aside, but such is life.

Thanks to everyone involved in this process- my eagle-eyed daughter and Ryan.

This has been a good week- I needed a break.

The Potter’s Field

Hey, all. It’s been a busy past month, a lot of life events happening.

The image above is a section of a cemetery at the sprawling former site of an insane asylum located in Athens, Ohio. Note all the tiny white markers, most have a three-digit number carved upon them, the only identifier given to the poor soul who died while in institutional care.

Note the cluster of white markers- these were found randomly when they cleaned up the cemetery recently. The first time I saw this place, it looked like a hay field. I was walking the grounds looking for paw-paws, a banana like indigenous fruit, when I tripped over a marker. I asked my companion “WTF is this?” and she said “oh, this is a big-ass cemetery.” I had no clue. We did locate the small paw-paw grove, and the fruits were delicious.

However, I couldn’t get this place out of my head. A lonely place, full of forgotten people.

Well, at least they cleaned it up, as you can see. Note all the small US flags, there are a lot of them. The VA, the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, went through the effort of identifying the veterans amongst the anonymous graves and they placed stone markers at some point in the past. I’d imagine there was a dusty book somewhere full of names next to the three-digit numbers on the graves.

It says something about how seriously the VA takes the care of the departed that they went through the trouble of ID’ing the graves of veterans in a place like this. It must have involved some real sleuthing to figure all of this out. But they did it, probably in the 1950s.

In the years since, I’d imagine the cemetery has gone through waves of neglect and then clearing. My bet is that this latest round of cleanup was done before Veteran’s Day, the eleventh of November. A day that used to be known as Armistice Day. A lot of times veteran’s organisations or perhaps the local chapter of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps do these types of cleanups.

The dead matter. They are our ancestors, even if they landed in such a bad situation in life that they ended up here, in this semi-forgotten potter’s field.

I took a picture of the above grave because it caught my eye. This soldier, or inmate, had served with the 122nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, or the 122nd OVI. They had an extensive service record in the US Civil War, and, as was usual in those days, more men died of disease than combat. It turns out that I had an ancestor with the 122nd, he served with D Co. as opposed to C Co, as the corporal above did. It’s possible they knew each other.

My ancestor was captured in 1863, in Winchester, Virginia. According to my Grandma, he spent time in Andersonville Prison. Strangely enough, this was related to me second-hand from Grandma, who had heard the tale directly from the veteran as a child.

As she lay dying, I thought to ask an odd question. As a child, I had always talked with old people, they had the most interesting things to say. For example, I spoke with a very old woman who was born in my childhood home in 1888. She told me of life back then. Stories about the end of World War One, the transition from animals to machines on the farm. But I digress.

I asked my Grandma if she knew any stories about the Civil War. It turns out, she did. And that’s how I heard the tale of a veteran of the 122nd Ohio, and his bad experience at Andersonville.

This is a big motivator for me as a storyteller. If you share the story, these people aren’t truly dead. They live on. Alive in living memory, their worlds brought to life for those of us in the age of the iPhone.

A time before electricity. A time when teamsters weren’t members of a union, but people who handled horses for a living. A time when a simple UTI could kill you.

Contrary to popular belief, those times weren’t good. There was <zero> social safety net, and most people had to work as hard as they could from sunrise to sunset just to make ends meet, then they died in their forties or fifties for the most part.

It was a time before recorded music, a time when a book was precious gift.

It was a time when people with the “Soldier’s Sickness” were sent to institutions by their families, who were driven by desperation to attempt to help their soldier who came home, altered forever.

If you look at the image of the potter’s field, there are a lot of little US flags. Each and every one was a soldier once, a member of the line.

There they lay, along with the others that society didn’t know what to do with.

Pretty crazy.

Be thankful you live in the age of the internet, anti-depressants and fast food.

I am, all the time. Especially so when I visit this potter’s field.