Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Fiddling came in handy at J-school and dances

If "Granny’s Notes" is full of grammatical errors, it might be because Virginia Simms took four of us University High senior girls to a different classroom, gave us notebooks and said, "Write! Write anything. Write as if you are saying it to a friend. Above all, do write."

One of my first short entries in that notebook was about the differences between fiddles and violins.

My friend Hattie Page gave me her son’s violin after his untimely death in his teens. I took 18 violin lessons from Ruth Ann Houck, the University of Missouri-Columbia student who was U-High’s orchestra leader. I hoped to be in the orchestra some day, and I liked writing about fiddles and violins. The next year, as a freshman at MU, Lura Lewis asked us for a theme each Monday morning. She liked my treatment of "Fiddle Strings" made of steel, gut or with silver winding. She marked it "Excellent, Minus." The minus was for structural mistakes. She said that the idea was the important thing and that spelling and punctuation would come eventually.

Two years later, Roscoe Ellard said, "Get an idea. Research it. Put it on paper. Some $35-a-week copy reader will put in the commas."

During the years of talking about fiddling, I was actually fiddling at home with Mom accompanying me at the piano.

I observed good fiddlers at every opportunity. Chummy Turner, a U-High guitarist, and I practiced at noon times in the school hallway.

When I was a senior in the MU School of Journalism in 1936, Louise Grinstead stopped me in the hall one day and said, "Come by the office soon and let’s work on ‘Fiddles.’ We should enter it in the College Students Essay Contest sponsored by the Atlantic Monthly magazine."

She pointed out some rough places to trim. I worked on it until we liked it, and she sent it to the contest.

So much for writing. I had begun to fiddle for small square-dance parties during the Depression. I watched real fiddlers. They slid their fingers on the strings in a special way. The bow sometimes "jiggled" on the strings, and the horse hair near the middle of the bow did almost all of the work.

The first time I faced a floor full of square dancers was in Moscow Mills. I was watching a really good fiddler.

When a square ended, he handed me his fiddle, saying, "Here! You play one. I want to dance with my girl."

Off he went, and several squares formed before I could refuse. Squares go on forever, and I knew I could never complete a real one!

When pain crept up my back and I was within moments of dropping, a commotion on the dance floor stopped everything.

Two fellows, fighting, were ushered down the stairs before the dance could go on.

I stretched the kink out of my back and was able to pick up where I had left off.

Yes, I won second place in that Atlantic Monthly essay contest. And in the same mail I won five tickets to the Uptown Theater for winning first place in the Tribune’s weekly liar’s contest!


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