Thursday, November 19, 2009

Big Jim Conners - My Fiddlin' Grandpa

I posted this two months ago when we brought my Gramps out to see the Rockies for the first time. He spent three weeks with us and got to know my boys- a gift not many great-grand children can say they have had. Sadly, shortly after his return to 0ntario, he had a fall that put him in hospital, where he has been ever since. Pneumonia and lung disease put too much of a strain on him and as I write this, my extended family are with him right now as he prepares to end an era. Life really won't be the same without him, for so many people.

Please keep him in your prayers.

My Gramps has been staying with us for the past few weeks. "Big Jim" Conners has always been this bigger than life personality. He was never a real constant in my life. Always there, but not the type of grandfather who made any effort to stay in touch. You could count on the fact that he would bitch that we should be the ones to call him. He never lived in the same city I did and if he came into town, you might not even know he had been there until after he had left. But when you did see him, he gave the best bear hugs around. He always had a dirty joke to embarrass you with and he'd say "don't pretend you don't think it's funny. You'll be telling your friends this joke as soon as I'm not here." His deep gravelly voice is from years of smoking. Legend has it that he's had a cigarette in hand since the age of seven. He's half Mohawk Indian from the Deseronto, Ontario area, never having known his father and he lost his mum when he was but four years old. Raised by aunts and grandparents, he only made it to the eighth grade. Spent some time in the army, then worked most of his life as a cement truck driver.

Gramps with Aunt Vickie at Spray Lakes, Alberta

Big Jim Conners - Hillbilly Calypso

Found at bee mp3 search engine

Gramps married my grandmother in 1950, they had six kids together, then he left in '68. Gramps fell in love with a woman named Jenny and they settled in the Ottawa area and later, in Aylmer, Quebec. It wasn't really until my university years that I really got to know my grandfather. I started making my own trips to stay with him and Jenny for a weekend here and there. Jenny passed away from cancer in '95 or '96 and shortly thereafter, he moved in with Uncle Tom. Fast forward another five years or so and Gramps and my Gram reunited and lived in Ajax, ON. This is the Gram, aka Gamma that I have referred to, who now lives 3/4 of her time here with us, in Calgary. Gram and Gramps split again a couple of years ago again and now dear ole' Jim is living with my own mother, in Bowmanville.

Big Jim Conners - Maiden's Prayer

Found at bee mp3 search engine

Now back to the man. It is said that you can't go anywhere with Big Jim where he doesn't know someone there. Especially in Ontario. He can keep you entertained for hours with stories of knowing Santa at Santa's Village, or of being pulled over by a cop but getting let off because he was recognized and asked to play a tune for him. You see, Gramps has a gift. He was one of the best Canadian fiddle players around. He never learned to read music, but was self taught on his grandfather's fiddle, before buying his own 1890's Collin-Mezzin violin off a bootlegger in 1955. Absolutely beautiful music came from his hands. He could do tricks and wow even a non-loving listener with his version of Orange Blossom Special. He recorded a couple of LP's; Fiddle Park Favorites and Reels, Jigs and Hornpipes. He also starred in a live tv show on Barrie, ON television.

Gramps has shelved his fiddle, too proud now to attempt a tune because his shaky fingers and "out of tune ear" are failing him. But our family members can't hear The Hillbilly Calypso, the Maiden's Prayer, Morning Star or Orange Blossom Special, without picturing Big Jim behind it. He's sitting right here beside me as I write this. I wish we could get a tune out of him now, but I'll settle for the dirty jokes and the cd that we are fortunate enough to have a copy of. And I'll always have this gem video clip to remind me of what a big personality my Gramps still has.


Anonymous said...

He sounds awesome! Enjoy your time while he's visiting!

Unknown Mami said...

Wow! What a wonderful tribute to such an interesting man.

ModernMom said...

What a great post about your Gramps! He sounds wonderful":)

otin said...

He seemed like a very wonderful man. Like someone who I would have lovede to meet!

Viv said...

Stace, I just checked for this post after reading Otin's comment. I too missed it. (((Hugs)))
I'm sorry for your loss, your grandfather sounds like quite a man.

blueviolet said...

This didn't come through my reader, why is that? Anyhow, what an interesting man. He really could work that fiddle over, couldn't he?

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