a violin-maker

My mom was sitting at my table when I remembered I’d meant to tell her something. “Hey,” I said, taking my violin and a flashlight. “Look what I found.”

About a month ago, sitting in the sun with my violin across my lap, I’d noticed something written on the bass bar (which runs beneath the G string.) I’d tilted the violin so I could see through the F-hole into the interior of the violin, and stamped into the bass bar was “Giovanni Longiaru.”

Back when my violin got restored, the luthier had said something about that, so I googled the name and came up with who it was.

“That’s the name of a fairly famous violin-maker,” I told my mother. “He worked in New York in the 1940s or thereabouts. But the guy who fixed my violin thinks it wasn’t built by him. It doesn’t have a sticker saying he made it, but he thought the guy stamped it when it got repaired.”

I added, “I think the mythical ‘better violin’ actually must have been made by this guy, though.”

The ‘better violin’ and my violin both belonged to my stepfather’s grandfather. Years ago, my stepbrother played violin, and he was using the one that’s currently mine. When his great-grandfather died, though, one of the other family members snatched the ‘better violin’ and refused to let my stepbrother have it, causing a rift in the family and souring my stepbrother on playing violin ever again. The ‘better violin’ has spent the last two decades silent in someone’s attic or basement.

After I finished telling my mother about the name on the bass bar, she said, “You’re never going to believe this.”

Only a week ago, my stepfather had been talking to Mom about his grandfather. It’s a running joke in our family that my stepfather’s family is paranoid. “Greenland,” he’ll make fun of them. “They say there’s a Greenland, and they make maps with Greenland, but there is no Greenland!”

For example, my stepfather’s grandmother used to say of her son-in-law, my stepfather’s father (are you following this?) that he “had a woman.” Every day he left the house with a suitcase, and he wouldn’t come home until evening.

My stepfather told her, “Grandma, he teaches at {Redacted} University. That’s a briefcase. He’s the head of the {redacted} department. I’ve seen his office.” No, she would insist. He had a woman.

Last week, my stepfather said to my mom, “Who really knows what my grandfather was doing all those days? He used to say he went and watched the violin-maker for hours, but who knows?”

And here, decades afterward, a week after he wondered aloud, was our answer, visible by flashlight inside the belly of my violin, the signature of a violin-maker, and somehow also an alibi.

1 Comment

  1. Heather

    What a wonderful story. I love rich history…especially when it’s somewhat scandalous.

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