The Story of a Violin


The violin case was so old and battered that the entire joint where it used to be connected was open and that’s where I pried the violin out. Its strings were pretty much gone and the bow’s ribbon useless. The violin’s body had a lot of scratches. There was nothing to indicate the brand or maker of the violin. Our task was to clear out the house and this violin was sitting on the kitchen counter. My husband’s parents who stayed in the house last said that everyone in the family had already taken what they wanted and the rest was either our stuff or stuff no one wanted. I did a bit of research on old violins and thought that $20 was a fair price given its condition. Old violins even when restringed and repaired may not always sound good. I posted an ad on Craigslist. Soon enough, someone offered to buy it. He came to the house, took a look at it, asked us where it came from and said, “$20 is a fair price,” and paid for it. We asked whether he could guess when it was made. He said, “Oh, maybe the turn of the century.” And left. I felt bad. Turn of the century? Could we have gotten a better price for it? I shook out all such thoughts from my head. It’s gone. We sold it. Good for the man. Good for the violin if he can bring it back to life and uplift people with its music. The next day, my husband went to see his sister and casually mentioned the violin. She said that the violin was a family heirloom and belonged to my husband’s father and meant a lot to him. My husband’s mom was supposed to pick it up from the house but possibly forgot to get back to it. My husband drove home feeling dread in the pit of his stomach. He came home and told me the news. “But I thought you said none of your family claimed it? I even asked you if it was okay to post it on Craigslist.” “But I thought you said none of my family claimed it!” We realized with horror that we both thought the other person asked around beforehand. Maybe it was jetlag. Maybe it was just plain miscommunication, but the violin was gone. I never felt so sick in my whole life. I retrieved the person’s phone number and my husband called to explain the situation. The buyer said that the violin was being repaired at the cost of $160. We told him that we were willing to pay for whatever he has spent on it, plus the $20, and we will even it out for his trouble. He said he’ll think about it but it did not sound promising. I started to shake and hyperventilate and my aunt who was visiting at this time had to remind me to breathe. My aunt called up the man and pleaded with him to reconsider returning the violin as it means a lot to the family. The man emailed a little later saying that he will call the shop the next day “to make sure it is not some very expensive violin.” He said he didn’t think so and if this was the case, he will drop off the violin case and the bow, collect the $20 and tell the shop that I could pick up the violin. He said the shop opens at 1 p.m. and that he would call me afterwards. Although I had misgivings about his clause “to make sure it is not some very expensive violin,” I had some hope – he said he didn’t think it was and I didn’t either. I had a fitful sleep. My husband reached out to hold my hand and I pulled away. I wanted him to be angry at me and beat me up. I wanted to beat myself up. The next morning, I was literally sick. I doubled over with debilitating pain in my stomach. I had diarrhea, nausea and cramps. All the psychological anguish I felt over my mistake went straight to my gut and punished me. After two doses of Pepto-Bismol, my stomach calmed. I still felt miserable but told myself not to think too much until the man calls. At 10 a.m., he called. He said that the truth is, the repair actually costs $400 but that he knew the person at the repair shop and that was why he quoted $160. He also said that the shop appraised the violin to be a very good violin, possibly worth a lot. He ended the conversation saying “I’m not sure I want to part with it now.” I cried and pleaded with him to help me right this wrong by returning the violin to my husband’s father. It was not mine to sell in the first place and that it was an honest mistake. He just said he will think about it. I was devastated. I can pony up $400 if that was what it took but that he was not willing to part with it? That is a different story. I was so shaken but managed to draft an email telling him how I didn’t know how I’ll ever face my in laws again and tried to appeal to his sense of what’s right. What I didn’t know was that as I was writing my email, my husband called up the man to offer $500 for it. The man told my husband, “I don’t know, the shop says it might be worth $1200”. My aunt pulled me aside and said, “Sheri, this man knows he has power over you. He knows that you want the violin back so badly and he’s trying to see how much money he could get out of you. How much are you willing to pay for it? Just tell him you’ll pay him that much.” I desperately wanted to get the violin back but $1,200 was just not manageable. Plus I had the sinking feeling he could just raise the price forever. My aunt then told me, “Then Sheri, you have to let it go.” I could not stop sobbing. I was angry. I was scared. I felt so wretched I could not stop beating myself for it. She said, “There are lessons here for everyone. That man has a lesson to learn and he has a choice to make. He can choose to return the violin or he can choose to be greedy. That is his lesson. We have no control over that. You have a lesson to learn. Your lesson came to you now because you are ready for it. It is a hard and painful lesson, a lesson that will birth a new you, and birthing is never easy. Your lesson is to be humble and accept responsibility for your mistake, ask for forgiveness from your husband and his family. It is difficult because of your ego, your pride. Your husband’s family has a lesson too. Their lesson is to forgive and if they can forgive you graciously, they have grown. Your husband has a lesson and that is to accept his responsibility too and stand by you. But I think the hardest lesson is for you to forgive yourself and stop hurting yourself. Everyone makes mistakes.” With that, I told my husband that I wanted to talk to his parents. We trudged to their apartment with hearts as heavy as the feet we were dragging. In between sobs, I told his parents what happened. My husband’s mom laughed and said, “Stop, stop. Oh honey, it is true. Everything we left in the house are stuff we didn’t want. I wish you would have asked me yesterday! By how you were crying, we thought something dreadful had happened to the kids!” It turns out, the violin belonged to my husband’s dad’s sister. Their family was not well off at all – their father was a country doctor paid in eggs and chickens – and she happened to play the violin when she was in elementary school so it couldn’t have been an expensive violin. It got packed away and dragged from house to house as they moved. “I never knew why we were keeping it and was actually hoping it would disappear!,” she said. “Well Mom, you got your wish,” we laughed along, hundreds of times lighter. My husband and I reflected on the actual worth of things to different people. My husband’s sister thought the violin meant a lot to their dad. Had we known it actually belonged to his dad’s sister who was the first sibling out of six to pass away suddenly in her 40’s, we would have felt even worse about losing the violin because we would have assumed Dad would have wanted to keep something of hers. But Dad did not display any attachment to it – he just said yes he had memories of her playing it and that was that. Well, we know what the buyer thought its worth was and how he could use it to leverage his gain. That lunch, my husband’s dad led the grace before meals. He usually just says the standard “Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts…” but instead, in a rare moment of lucidity from his Alzheimer’s, he said a beautiful prayer thanking God for family and the opportunity to get together and have a good laugh over a violin. As for the man who bought the violin, who knows. We resisted the temptation to get back to him and say, “We hope you get a good price for the violin because that’s how much your character is worth.” Nah… maybe he might come to regret not returning the violin to us and carry that weight with him for the rest of his life. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I came away feeling like a new person, with a priceless story and a good laugh.

6 responses to “The Story of a Violin

  1. Great story!

    I think your buyer is not necessarily such a bad guy. Look at it from the violin’s point of view. 😉 A violin in that condition is not a loved one, and that should have been a big clue that no one in your family really wanted it. Your buyer could see that, and has now got it repaired, so that someone new can enjoy playing it, and maybe learn to love music! $1200 isn’t that much for a violin these days, so that price is not impossible for a student model.

    • You have a good point and I agree with you and that’s exactly why I wanted to sell it in the first place… Mottainai. However, if mottainai was the sole reason the buyer wanted to hang on to the violin, he need not mention $400 or $1200 no? Mottainai factor aside, would you be able to keep something in bad faith? He knew how distressed we were -we made that clear. Assume for a minute that Dad wanted to keep the violin – not to play it obviously – but as a memento of his sister who died early. Would you in right conscience be able to deprive an old man of this comfort? The buyer could have been the hero here right now given the twist of the story. 🙂 (My friend was able to buy a brand new violin for her son for $20. $1200 must be a really really really good one?)

  2. Your diko Lily would say that a Buddhist saying: U SHIH CHIA U TIH. ( there is a gain after a lost. Or lost something will make you gain something ). The material lost is replaced with the laughter n happiness. It’s PRICELESS. fs

    Sent from my iPod2

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