Donald’s home is half trailer, half homemade lean-to. He has two little dogs, but his daughter takes care of them. He’s too old to care for pets.
His daughter’s home is on the adjoining property. It’s a new-built home. She offered to move her daddy into her spare bedroom. Donald wouldn’t have it.
So, she practically lives with him. She sleeps in a back room. She keeps him fed. She keeps him moving. She encourages Donald to play his fiddle.
He’s the creative type. Donald used to build things, wood-carve, paint pictures, grow roses, tell stories, and bow a fiddle.
His house is a wreck. There are piles everywhere. Cardboard boxes, junk-mail, potato-chip bags, radios, guitars, clocks, and enough coffee mugs to construct a national monument.
Donald pitches a fit if ever she tries to clean.
He’s done a lot in his life. He was a cotton picker, a veterinary assistant, a crop duster, a house painter, a janitor, a hunter, he traveled with a band, playing gospel fiddle.
Today, Donald is slow-moving and half aware.
His daughter shows me photographs lining his dark hallway. Most photos are of a boy. The kid’s entire childhood is hanging on those walls.
A toddler on a tricycle. A boy holding a dead turkey. A young man with a Louisville Slugger. A high-schooler, playing guitar—his daddy on fiddle, smoking a cigarette.
The boy’s name was Daniel. He is no longer.
Donald’s daughter opens a book of poems. Her father wrote them long ago. She’s compiled them into a binder with plastic sleeves.
A few lines:
“…And the place below heaven, where suns and moons both rise,
“Is yet bitter and the same, without my little boy closeby.”
His daughter tells me her father isn’t the man she remembers. He was an artist, an outdoorsman, a creative genius.
Today, his mind is fleeting.
“He was so talented,” she said. “He used to do portraits of us kids. But after Daniel’s wreck, he kinda lost himself.”
I was lucky enough to hear him play his old fiddle. There are cigarette burns in the wood finish. The thing is older than I am. He tuned the instrument by ear.
“Daddy,” she said. “What’cha gonna play for your visitor?”
“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DADGUM PLAY!” he said.
Feisty. I like feisty.
He played a melody I recognized. “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” He hit more wrong notes than right ones, but glimpses of brilliance showed through the rust.
Then, he attempted another piece he wrote. It was rough. His fingers weren’t up to the job.
“What’s that song called?” I asked.
“Ain’t got no name,” he mumbled.
His daughter smiled. “That’s the song he wrote for Daniel. He played it at the funeral, didn’t you, Daddy?”
Daniel. That name does something to him. His eyes brighten.
“Daniel,” he said. “Daniel was so, so…”
“I know, Daddy.”
The old man tries to play the melody again. He balances the fiddle low on his shoulder. He’s a hundred years younger. And determined.
He doesn’t make a single mistake.
I almost told him how much I appreciated his playing.
But then, he wasn’t playing for me.