Hot lunch hour on Scarth Street and I sat on the same quad of benches as the old man fiddling. He played the same four tunes again and again. I wondered how long he’d been playing and how he learned. So I asked.
79 years, he’s been playing, since he was 4 years old. Where’s he from? Grand View Manitoba, just over the border from Yorkton. His mother was born there, grandparents came in 1869. I asked from where, though I could guess the answer from his accent: Kyiv, Ukraine, he said proudly.
His grandfather worked for 12 cents an hour on the railroad. When he’d saved enough, he bought a homestead for 12 dollars: “it was all boosh, that country.”
His grandmother taught him to play, she played in the Symphony Orchestra back in Ukraine. He still has her violin, a Strad, he says, though he doesn’t bring that to Scarth Street of course. He brings the violin he bought at the junk shop, though it’s old, from 1604, he says.
He comes 2 or 3 times a week to Scarth Street, for it’s something to do, he says, since he’s been alone these 39 years and there’s no one to talk to at home but the walls, and they don’t answer.
Finally I asked his name: Bill. Shook his hand and tossed a loonie in his case, it bounced twice before settling into the worn velveteen beside a couple toonies, another loonie, and some scattered small change. It was all I had.
I don’t know if Bill’s tales were true or not, and it doesn’t matter. I hope he keeps on playing there on Scarth Street.