Tuesday, July 25, 2023

A Repurposed Violin

I remembered something fun from last year and just had to write about it.

So, one of the strangest things on my bucket list is "repurpose a violin."

"What does that mean?" Mike asked a few weeks prior.

"I just want to take an old violin that is broken beyond repair and make it have a purpose again. Make it look beautiful." I've had this on my list for many years, but it has special meaning now. Often, I feel so broken from cancer that I can't "play" like I used to. I don't know what God made me for, but it doesn't seem like I can fulfill that now. And yet, I still want to be worth something.

I thought about this before falling asleep on the couch one day because Mike asked about it again. I'd showed him different ideas and said I'd like to glue gears to a violin and replace the strings with chains and necklaces. "It could be so amazing to make it kind of steampunk."

I fell asleep after that, dreaming about violins that had keys instead of tuning pegs and decorative doorknobs instead of bridges. That's when I heard the door open before Mike's low voice drifted toward me. "Baby, I need you to put these on. I have a surprise."

He'd handed me a plastic sack filled with clothes that shocked me: a mesh white swimsuit top and a white pleated skirt. "This is… nice." I giggled, coming out of our room. 

Mike waited as I edged into the hallway. "It's your white outfit." He beamed.

"Oh, yeah? My white outfit." What in the world could he be up to? 

"Just wait here for a minute." Then he bounded out the back door and shut it. 

I'm not great with surprises. Mike and the kids even hide my birthday gifts because, like an evil genius, I will open and rewrap them. 

I put my ear next to the door and heard Mike chuckling.

"Can I come out now?" I stuck my hand through the doggie door and waved.

"Yes, you can!"

The scene shocked me as I took everything in. That exceptional man, Mike, had covered the entire back patio in painter's plastic. I spied cans of paint and a place to sit. He'd set a bunch of gears, yarn, and fabric on a table. Some old metallic odds and ends from his workshop rested amongst other art supplies, and I involuntarily squealed. "Wow!"

I'd never expected a day that started with fatigue and stress over medical expenses to change so drastically. 

"You've wanted to repurpose a violin."


"I got a broken violin." He motioned to a completely white fiddle propped on one of our wooden benches.

It didn't stretch very tall and looked so tiny and cute. "Awe! He's a little guy." Even from a distance, I knew this violin must've been a half to three-quarter size. 

"I sanded it down and primed it so you can," he handed me a flesh-colored ski mask, "repurpose it. You better put this on." He pointed to the mask.

I figured we'd be painting, but I didn't know why I'd need to cover my face. "Okay?" The fabric stuck tightly to my head, pushing my hair flat against my scalp. I only had a small cutout for my eyes, but I still caught my reflection in the house's back window. I snorted. "I look… ridiculous." 

"Take my money." Mike held up his hands in mock horror. "Just spare my life." He passed me a pair of goggles. "I figure since your face will be next to the violin." 

The situation seemed about as clear as my life expectancy until Mike positioned me on a wooden seat covered in plastic. "Okay. You try to play, and I'm gonna dump paint on the violin. I figure it'll splash around better if the bow is moving."

He set up a camera and dumped yellow, aqua, purple, white, and black paint all over the baby violin. I don't know what turned out better: my clothes or the violin. But part-way through, I realized Mike remained spotless. We eventually switched places, and I'll never forget how much fun we had. 

Onlookers never would've guessed the hardships we endured, and I think we momentarily forgot too.

It took a couple of days for the fiddle and bow to dry; we hung them by wires outside from one of our trees. Then the whole family got involved. Mike, the kids, and I invested weeks on that thing. Mike found a knob that resembled a bridge and screwed that, along with a couple of gears, into the top plate. We used chains to look like strings. The kids and I cut skulls and eyes out of fabric and Mod Podged them to the fingerboard as well as the back plate. In the same way my violin magnifies my soul and lets me speak without words, I found beautiful irony in using an instrument to make a silent statement.

"I've been so stressed," I said when we'd finished. "We don't have enough money to keep going on like this. We can barely afford travel expenses. I think we're okay this month but what about after that? I don’t think we can afford gas for me to keep getting treatments."

Mike looked at the violin. "You want to sell it, don't you?"

I nodded. "Even if we could make a few hundred dollars, that would get me back and forth to Utah for months. If cancer has taught me anything, it's about enjoying the journey. We made memories. That doesn't mean we need to keep the violin. What matters—time with you and the kids—is what I want to most."

"Then I think we should do it."

We took hundreds of pictures and posted a few of our favorites on the eBay listing. "I can't believe you did this for me." I gave Mike the biggest hug. 

"You think it'll sell?" he asked.

"I have a feeling it will." 

Weeks later, when I opened my computer and realized who purchased the violin, I could hardly believe it. Roberta, a nurse practitioner I'd worked with years before—a woman who also fought cancer—had made the final bid. I could hardly believe someone had looked past their own harrowing hardships and found the strength to help us.

Looking through the bidding history, I felt amazed to see that the violin got 14 bids. But what touched my heart more than anything was who bought it. It's not just this one action, but dozens built up over years of friendship. 

The violin sold for hundreds of dollars. That helped me travel back and forth to Utah for months. Although I've since qualified for Medicare and several other things have fallen into place for us, this story is a piece of my journey that all of us are grateful for. The time we worked on a violin, so I could continue getting the medical care I need.


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