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Madison Monday

Madison Monday: Excursions and going off the beaten path

By March 8, 2011No Comments

Oldest eleveated railroad and underpass
west of the Alleghenies in Vernon, Indiana

A day late for Madison Monday, but better late than never.  This weekend, my stepdaughter and I went on an adventure to parts north of Madison. Some of you may have been following my ongoing Quest for Fiddle. Or maybe not. But I’ve been scouring the land for an old fiddle (that costs less than $2600).

So my stepdaughter and I headed north up SR 7 to Vernon and North Vernon. I wish I could explain to you why there are two towns rather than one. Vernon appears to be the older of the two, founded in 1815 and still operating under their 1851 charter. It’s surrounded on three sides by the beautiful Muscatatuck River, so maybe they ran out of room to expand and had to create a new town? I don’t know, but I feel certain there was probably bad blood along the way.

Because of the 1851 charter, if you want to be the mayor in Vernon, you go to the courthouse and put your name in a tin cup. Vernon had the first elevated railroad and underpass west of the Alleghenies and the first all-women jury trial in the state of Indiana. I can’t really speak for the history of North Vernon.

We were looking for antique and secondhand stores, and we found a great one in Vernon at Old Flour Mill Antiques, tucked right up against…the first elevated railroad and underpass west of the Alleghenies! No sign, but it is in fact, the railroad and underpass, and it’s pretty cool (very steep steps). In North Vernon we hit Allen’s Antique Mall and The Antique Mall in downtown.

Window display at Ditto’s in North Vernon, Indiana

While wandering around downtown North Vernon, we discovered Ditto’s, and upscale consignment shop. This was about the cutest shop I’ve ever seen. I bought a lovely brown beret (I discovered I look stunning in berets) and we bought my stepdaughter a cute little red panda puppet. Ditto’s has a Wine Wednesday’s event with 10% off and wine which I just might have to head back up for, if I cannot persuade the proprietor to open a branch in Madison. Who knew such cools places were just up the road?

As you can tell, the search for a fiddle is an experience in and of itself, and that’s made me reflect on the process of acquring things. In our modern world, getting something, if you have the money and an internet connection, has become pretty easy. There’s probably very little you can’t find on eBay, and if not there, somewhere else. I love Marmite, a bizarre yeast spread made in England from the by products of beer brewing, but I can get it just down the road in Louisville, and failing that, I could probably order it online. Want. Buy. Have. It’s generally become that simple.

Finding an old fiddle to buy doesn’t quite work that way. Now if you just wanted any old fiddle, and were willing to pay whatever amount for it, and didn’t really care about seeing or hearing it ahead of time, you could pretty quickly find an old fiddle. But under the assumption that I don’t want to pay over, say $100 for an old fiddle, and that I’m not going to buy just any old fiddle, there’s not an internet site (or at least not one that I’ve discovered) called Old-Cheap-Fiddles-R-Us. Want. Buy. Have. Suddenly I realize that I’ve become quite used to this mode of interacting with the world and my desires.

Old Flour Mill Antiques in Vernon, Indiana

It’s nothing new to say that in our modern life we often become much more obsessed with the destination than we are with the process of getting there. In The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin discusses the way in which we spend a lot of time looking forward to events, milestones, and then often find them to be a let-down when they finally arrive. I couldn’t wait until I had finished the monolithic task of writing a sociology of gender textbook. Everything would be better after the textbook was finished. My life would become mine again after the textbook was finished. And now, it certainly is good to have accomplished that, but then I also spent a lot of time wondering what to do next.

A search for a fiddle seems uniquely poised to force you to encounter the world and enjoy the means rather than the ends. There’s no predicting exactly where a cheap old fiddle might turn up. There are guidelines, but no hard and fast rules. Don’t go looking around Asheville, North Carolina, or probably, Nashville, Tennessee. People value their fiddles there. Old fiddles are less likely to be cheap closer into cities and large towns, where I suppose, there’s a larger population of people looking for fiddles. They show up in places you least expect them…yard sales, auctions, the basement of secondhand stores. My teacher found her favorite fiddle in the basement of a secondhand store in Corydon, Indiana. It’s a beautiful reddish tone and plays like it’s just been sitting around waiting for you to pick it up. They show up unexpectedly…no fiddle on Tuesday, and then three fiddles on Friday. They demand that you go back to the same place over and over, talk to people and ask them if they ever get fiddles here, strike up a conversation.

Indiana is a good place to look for fiddles because there’s not a huge fiddle culture. At least not compared to Kentucky or Tennessee or North Carolina. To find a cheap old fiddle you must go to a place where fiddles are not valued. There’s an economics here, of course. Fiddles are worth what people believe them to be worth. If you saw an old broken fiddle sitting in a secondhand store, you wouldn’t think it was worth much, because it can’t be played, and, well, it’s old. But almost everything is fixable in the world of fiddles, and the older a fiddle is, the more it’s been played, the better it sounds. My fiddle teacher said there’s a point, usually about 10 years, when the wood a fiddle’s made out of forgets it’s a tree and becomes a musical instrument. How beautiful is that?

Dictophone machine at Allen’s Antiques in North Vernon

 When I first realized I was going to be taking a job and living my life in a relatively small, rural town, there were moments when I was filled with panic. What would fill my life in this desolation, I thought? Who would my friends be? Where would I go besides the Wal-Mart? And then with time, I began to think, no, a small town, a small place, gives you the opportunity to go deep. In a city, there are so many people, so many places. It’s hard to do much of anything but skim the surface there. In a small town, you can go deep into the fabric of life because of the intimacy of scale. You might sacrifice some breadth in a place like Madison, but you can have depth.

And I always meant to begin that exploration, peeking into the depths of my community. The quirky and interesting don’t always jump out at you in small towns the way they might in cities, which tend to celebrate the quirky and interesting, but it’s there all the same. Unless you lock yourself in your house, you encounter some of that depth with very little effort. But if you start searching for a fiddle? Oh, the possibilities!

It’s hard to fight the impatience. I want an old fiddle now. A lovely and generous friend just this weekend, in fact, offered me an old fiddle that’s been sitting in his closet for years. It’s blond and beautiful, and looks to be in need of only minor repairs. And so I have my old fiddle. Ends achieved. Want. Buy. Have. But my friend offered me the fiddle before our excursion to Vernon and North Vernon, and I decided we should go anyway. I’m glad we did. I see no reason not to keep looking for an old fiddle.

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