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Memories of Patrick Bonner, from John Bruen



Memories of Patrick Bonner, from John Bruen

I enjoyed reading the information on your site regarding Patrick Bonner: http://www.michiganfiddle.com/patrick-bonner-history-and-interviews.  I had the distinct pleasure of watching him play his fiddle shortly before he died.  My mother's sister was married to Robert Bonner, Patrick's son.  I traveled with the Bonner family on a trip to the old Bonner farm on Beaver Island during one summer in the mid-1970's (76 or 77).  At that time, Patrick would have been in his 90's, and I remember him being a frail old man that couldn't hear and didn't speak.  He was also blind in one eye, I believe from a chip off of a railroad spike (one of the odd jobs he had during his life).

Watching him play was something I will never forget, and a story I have repeated many times in my life.   On one of the evenings after dinner, my uncle helped his Dad from the kitchen to the front screened-in porch.  He yelled into Patrick?s ear ?Dad!  Do you want to play the fiddle?!??  And a slight nod of the head by Patrick was the only thing that indicated there was still life in his frail old shell.  My uncle physically placed the neck of the fiddle into his left hand, nestled the chin cup under his chin and then positioned the bow in his right hand.  There sat this old man ? motionless ? with a fiddle positioned at the ready.  My uncle then yelled ?Dad!  How about you play ? (some tune name)??!?  Suddenly ? without warning ? Patrick?s foot started stomping and this statue came to life.  His bow hand was flailing left and right, the foot kept stomping and his fingers were dancing on the strings.  He would play until the song was over, and then just as suddenly as he started, return to his motionless but poised position.  Then, my uncle would yell another tune name, and the whole thing would start over again.  This was repeated many times until they felt he was tired, and they removed the fiddle and put him to bed.  I believe Patrick died later that year and was buried on the island.  I again accompanied my Aunt the following summer to Beaver Island to help get things prepared for moving Partick's wife from the island to a senior care center in (I believe) Grand Rapids.  Even though I was in my early teens, I remember this being a sad somber occasion.  This woman had lived her entire life on the island, and she was leaving now to never return.  The old farm is long gone, only the foundation remains.  But the memories remain.  The real question is this: What ever happened to the fiddle?  Please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions.

John Bruen


Note from Trae: the Bonner fiddle is currently in possession of Glenn Hendrix, on loan from the family, and often travels back to Beaver Island. For more information about the fiddle, see Hendrix' book of Beaver Island tune transcriptions. 

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