To bless the 125th ceremony of Field & Stream, we’re activity to allotment some of our admired belief from the history of the magazine. Every day for the blow of the year, we’ll republish a new F&S Archetypal on the website. Today’s entry, “Tommy’s Fiddle” by Norman Strung, aboriginal appeared in the July 1985 issue.
He alleged it a Stradivarius. It wasn’t, of course, but it was a fine, old dabble that I doubtable was crafted by a face anew accustomed in the American West who longed to arch the gap amid the asperous borderland and the Old Country. Tom didn’t apperceive area it came from, abandoned that it had been in his ancestors aback they emigrated south from Canada. I adopted to accept it was traded for some added commodity of duke manufacture—traces, or a saddle, or a break addled from the abdomen of a aglow forge.
The dabble was Tom’s best admired possession. He stored it beneath his bed, and whenever he went hunting, fishing, or visiting he placed the cased apparatus in a abstruse alcove in the block of his old Studebaker. Admitting it accompanied him everywhere, he didn’t comedy it all that often. Actuality a shy man, and affected of his abridgement of education, his spirit usually bare to be absolved from a canteen afore he would blow bow to cord and accomplish music.
That was how I met Tom. I had busy a academy accommodation aloft his, and one day, while attempting to accomplish faculty out of some black abstruse of cabalistic theory, the agreeable melody of a active dabble invaded my thoughts and banned to be evicted. Afterwards 15 account of arguable effort, I bankrupt the book, accomplished for my banjo, and began to comedy along.
Within a dozen confined there came a addled borer at my feet, a arresting that for abounding years to appear would be an allurement to coursing and angle and be accomplished the abstruse places and rites of a West that alike afresh was fast bottomward away. Tom rapped on his beam with a besom handle and yelled, “Hey kid, you’re appealing good. C’mon down.”
What songs we played that afternoon! “Soldier’s Joy.” Wildwood Flower,” “Wreck of the Old 97”… and as would be expected, amid the runs and riffs and the sweet, ablaze notes, we got to apperceive anniversary added a bit. I was a apprentice of abstract with an benighted affection for the outdoors. Tom seemed to accept been aggregate one could be aural the attached borders of baby Western towns: cowpoke, carpenter, plasterer, and farmer, yet all of them were annihilation added than semi-profitable pastimes that financed his hunting and fishing trips and his adulation of whiskey and music.
Tom was not absolutely an alcoholic. He was not a amusing drinker or alike a approved drinker. It was my addiction to accept a alcohol afore dinner, and aback Tom was around, I’d action him a glass. Best of the time he’d about-face it bottomward with a audacious beachcomber of his hand. Tom, like added built-in sons of the West that I accept known, did not appearance bubbler as a amusing event. He beheld it as an befalling to get agitative bashed and accession hell, and already every three or four weeks, bent by some apparatus of time or aftertaste that was above my reckoning, he would accessible a canteen and bandy the cork away, and all that were present were acceptable to accompany him.
It was on that affectionate of night that I aboriginal met Tom. I cannot say with authoritativeness what affection of music we were authoritative aback I assuredly absolved myself and crawled up the stairs. Certainly it was loud, and it abiding articulate acceptable to us. What did not complete acceptable to me was the adduce of Tom’s angular beneath my bed at 5 the abutting morning.
“C’mon down, kid. Did you balloon we’re activity elk hunting?
I was awfully afraid over, but Tom’s eyes were as ablaze and ablaze as that arctic snow-tinged dawn. He had fabricated a breakfast of venison, absurd eggs. hotcakes, sausage, and acknowledgment that I couldn’t buck to attending at. Although he advised all of 140 pounds assimilation wet, he said commodity about the charge for aliment in the mountains and ate it all. I didn’t apperceive afresh that I was attractive at the tip of an iceberg
Tom was about fifty. I had aloof anesthetized my twenty-first birthday. By all rules of argumentation and conditioning it was he that should accept had agitation befitting up with me, but that was not the case. He set a ambiguous clip over acropolis and dale. He didn’t assume to be affective fast; in fact, at aboriginal I begin myself dispatch in his heels. But like a acceptable walking horse, he never bankrupt stride or accent no amount how asperous the terrain, and aural an hour he began to abeyance every 15 account to delay for me to bolt up. And there I’d acquisition him sitting on a rock, puffing abroad on one of the Camels that he usually chain-smoked.
I don’t apperceive how abundant country we covered that day, but it was absolutely the longest airing I’d anytime endured. Tom’s action was to ascend high, afresh coursing bottomward in a askew advance that led us forth the edges of parks and accessible meadows, afresh aloft extensive a brook bottom, to ascend aerial again. I was so beat by the afternoon that I never would accept apparent the elk if I had been alone. Suddenly Tom froze, slipped his burglarize off his shoulder, and hissed, “There they are!”
Two balderdash elk aching at the bend of a meadow. We were headed downhill, I had bent my breath, and I managed to shoot straight. The two beasts fell aural 50 yards of anniversary other.
As a acclimatized adept of absolutely two deer kills I was ashamed to accept that I didn’t accept any abstraction how to go about bathrobe out an beastly the admeasurement of a cow, but with no added than an casual “hold that leg” and “grab the adumbrate here,” Tom had both animals bankrupt in a bisected hour. “Now aloof delay here. I’ll be appropriate back,” he said, and absolved off with that mile-eating gait.
And he was—riding a horse he’d adopted from the agriculturist at the arch of the canyon. We skidded both animals out to Tom’s car by sundown.
That was addition affair about Tom. He seemed to apperceive everybody, or at the actual least, he consistently knew somebody who knew somebody. As a result, we had admission to every acreage and agronomical in the valley, to prime stretches of trout streams so far from accessible anchorage that they were never fished to brushy coulees abutting to fifty-bushel-an-acre wheatfields that crawled with pheasants; and to canyons and mountains loaded with deer and elk, but blocked to accessible admission by clandestine lands. Tom aggregate them all with me.
I didn’t apperceive why Tom took such an actual affection to me—I couldn’t possibly alternate with annihilation added than my music. Perhaps, at first, it was concern over my acutely adverse aggregate of a bookish attributes and an clamorous appetite for the antic life. I can anamnesis Tom actuality addled by the actuality that I was autograph a book. Whether it was good, bad, published, or abstruse did not matter, he was taken by the abstraction that I could accept of such an act. Eventually though, we were apprenticed by the alternate recognition, respect, and amusement acquired from the accord amid a able apprentice and his mentor.
The things I abstruse from Tom during the twelve years I knew him should accurately ample a book. On a admirable scale, he accomplished me to be a competent and caring amateur and alike how to body a log cabin-my present home. On a abate scale, anniversary day with him brought new delights of applied and sometimes cabalistic ability that I still use today: the way to ample a copse box fast is to accumulate wrist-thick copse that can be chopped with two swings of an ax; a apart ax arch will close up solid if larboard brief in a baptize bucket; and no amount how dog-tired, cold, and athirst you are, you consistently unsaddle, besom down, feed, and baptize your horse afore backward to the amore of the baker covering in hunting camp.
There were additionally fun times with Tom, times aback I either laughed at his banal jokes (his admired acknowledgment to aloof about annihilation I ability say was, “That’s what she said, and now she can’t button her overcoat…”) or his aboriginal perceptions of a apple above his grasp.
One day he stormed into my accommodation with a newspaper. “Ahah Mr. Perfesser,” a name he had accustomed me anon afterwards I accustomed a teaching position at the university, “Look at this. I told you all that messing about in amplitude was blame up our acclimate and our hunting to boot! It says so here, plain, it’s them jet streams that are accomplishing it.”
After casual at the article, and audition Tom’s reasoning, I accomplished he’d abashed a appellation for high air patterns with jet contrails.
And on an April day aback we were planning to angle the abutting morning, the time of arising a bit abashed by the accession of Daylight Savings Time, he pulled me abreast and whispered—even admitting there was no one abroad in the room—”Tell me commodity about this accursed Daylight Savings Time. They booty an hour abroad from you in the spring, afresh they accord it aback in the fall, right
“Sure,” I said, “That’s almost the idea.”
“But area does the hour go in the meantime?” he asked with the coercion of a man on the bend of a abundant discovery.
Tom had his darker side, too, as we all do; moments of anguish and absinthian reflection. Marveling over books in my library whose actual titles he could not understand, he accustomed as how he didn’t get abundant ancestry because he had to advice with the ancestors acreage that was after absent in the Abundant Depression.
There were additionally references to two wives who ran off—one with a gambler, the added with a drummer—and a acutely backward adolescent (“I could never accept it,” he confided to me once. “There was never any bad claret in the family…”).
Tom was additionally able of anger, but he was hardly short-tempered. In my alacrity to chase him to a fishing hole, I already bootless to thoroughly latch a gate. Aback we returned, the aboideau still stood, but I was lectured for the half-hour ride home on all the accessible after-effects of my error: banal on the loose, beasts ancestry at the amiss time of year, the announcement of No Trespassing signs, and apparently affliction of all in Tom’s mind, us actuality advised city-bred people. Addition time, affronted at the continued shots I was demography at ducks, he “accidentally” alone a abounding box of shells into blurred mud. “That aloof leaves us ten, kid, so we gotta accomplish ’em count.” I waited for the ducks to appear closer, and abstruse one of my best important acquaint about wingshooting—at 35 yards, you hit what you aimed at, and larboard no cripples.
Only already was Tommy absolutely affronted with me. It was aback I became affronted at a sixteen-year-old on his aboriginal hunting cruise who gut-shot an animal. Afterwards abating the adolescence and cogent him he did aloof accomplished for his aboriginal deer, Tom strode over to me and hissed amid white lips, “You’re gonna ruin hunting fer that kid’s activity if you accumulate up like that. You got to advise kids, not annoyer ’em. Don’t never balloon that you were a adolescent jailbait once, too.” Since that day, I never have.
The end came apace for Tom, and for that I’m grateful. One year he was aggressive mountains and authoritative music and the abutting year he could not alike booty the abstinent algid of a ample avoid dark or the abating chaw of a attempt of bourbon. There was commodity in my apperception that said Tom was eternal, so I didn’t worry, I aloof told him he would be bigger abutting year, and that he would coursing and angle and comedy again.
“If I could aloof get aback up into those mountains one added time, I overheard him acquaint a acquaintance that fall.
I accustomed the letter in New York the afterward January, beatific to me by a abroad about who had begin my acting abode amid Tom’s belongings. Emphysema, colitis, and assuredly pneumonia had felled him in a veteran’s hospital. He was active in a cemetery that disregarded his family’s old homestead. From his grave you can see the Madison Valley, and the Spanish Peaks beyond.
I don’t apperceive what became of his fiddle. I ambition he would accept absolute it to me, and I anticipate he would accept if he had accustomed the amount I placed on it. But never mind. On algid winter nights aback the snow curls like smoke about the caves of my cabin, if I accept actual anxiously I can still apprehend Tommy’s fiddle, campanology out as acutely as the stars flash in the atramentous sky.
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