When Dad played his fiddle, the world became a bright star. To him violin was an instrument of faith, hope and charity. At least a thousand times, my mother said, “Your papa would play his fiddle if the world was about to blow up.”
And once Dad came about as close to that as could ever be possible.
Everything on Nubbin Ridge—and on a majority of the small farms in Texas—was built around cotton as the money crop. But in the early years of the century, the 3)boll weevil began 4)devastating the cotton farms in the south.
And in May of 1910 folks all over the nation were in a space-age state of 5)turmoil over 6)Halley's Comet. There were all sorts of frightening stories about the comet, the main one being that the world would pass through its tail, said to be millions of miles long.
Between the threats of comet and weevils, the farmers were running low on optimism. One night, the farmers gathered at our farm to discuss what to do. When everyone had found seats, Will Bowen suggested, “Charley, how about getting down your fiddle and 7)bow and giving us a little music?”
“Aw, I don't think anybody'd want to hear me saw the 8)gourd tonight,” Dad replied.
“Come on, Mr. Nordyke,” one of the younger women urged, “why don't you play for us.”
Dad had a knack for getting people in the mood for his music. Knowing of the 9)scattered 10)prejudice against the fiddle, he eased into a song titled Gloryland. It was a church song with church tones, but it was fairly fast with some good 11)runs. He shifted from Gloryland to The Bonnie Blue Flag, a 12)Confederate war song, which created a big stir—foot stamping, hand clapping and a few rebel yells.
Will Bowen, apparently having forgotten Halley's Comet, shouted, “How about giving us Sally Goodin?” Dad played the old breakdown with vigor. Several men jumped up and jigged around. Children gathered around and gazed wide-eyed at the performance.
All our neighbors went home whistling or humming. Very few remembered to look toward the northwest to see whether the comet and its wicked tail were still around…
One evening, Will Bowen called dad on the telephone and said, “Charley, I'm downhearted and blue. Every time a 13)square forms, there are four boll weevils waiting there to puncture it with their 14)snouts. Just wondered if you could play a tune or two for me?”
“I sure could, Will,” Dad said. “Could you come over?”
“No. I mean play on the phone box.”
“The phone box?”
“Sure,” Mr. Bowen said. “I can hear you talk. Why couldn't I hear the fiddle?”
Dad took the fiddle to the telephone and thumped the strings. Putting the receiver to his ear, he said, “Hear anything. Will?”
“Sure can,” Mr. Bowen said. “Could you try Sally Goodin and play it just like you did the other night?” Dad handed the receiver to me. He stepped up to the mouthpiece on the wall box and 15)cut loose on Sally Goodin. I could bear Mr. Bowen whistling and yelling.
By the time the tune was finished there were half a dozen neighbors on the line, and they talked about how wonderful the music sounded over the telephone. They made numerous requests; I relayed them to Dad and he played the numbers.
Our party line broadcasts became regular features of community life. On rough-weather days of winter when farm folks were forced to remain in the house, someone would ring us and ask Dad to play, and usually it developed into a network affair. Our phone kept ringing with requests for music until radio came in.