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by Henna R. Armstrong, Getzville NY - 18 Dec. 2007
I was tickled to read on the web page about the trip down to Portsmouth to get
Jimmy on tape. You see, Jimmy Wheeler was my father's first cousin. Jimmy's mother,
"Aunt Em," was a sister to my grandmother, Nell Odell. I was raised
in Portsmouth but we rarely visited the Wheelers and I don't remember Jimmy and
his sisters at all. My dad told me about going there one time after I had left
Portsmouth and Jimmy had a guitar of Bob Dylan's that he was working on. He let
my dad play it a little. Don't tell Bob.
Jimmy didn't just repair instruments. He made them also. Jimmy and Dottie and
Pearl and Merle came by their "strangeness" honestly. Their father -
Uncle Jim - was also strange. For example, he had a pet crow that he had taught
to talk. He had a pet raccoon that sat at the table to eat with the family.
Although I knew that Jimmy played music in a dance orchestra and made and repaired
stringed instruments for a living, I had no idea that he was an old time fiddler
until I googled him a couple of days ago and found your website. When I listen
to the sample on the website, it sounds just like my dad playing. My dad played
the guitar and fiddle and mandolin, but his best instrument was the harmonica.
He called it a "French harp." In fact, I must have been in my teens
before I knew he was saying "French harp" and not "frincharp."
I did know that it was really a harmonica. Daddy played his harp on the stage
some, not only in Portsmouth but down in Cincinnati. He used to play with Cowboy
Copas, who was killed in the plane crash with Patsy Cline, and with Leonard Sly,
aka Roy Rogers, who was from Duck Run (Otway OH in Scioto Co.) All this occurred
before they were famous. We had other players in our family also, including Bill
Odle. (Some of our family spelled their name Odle, others Odell.) I'm now going
to quote for you something from an Adams Co. OH history bk. in which Dr. F. Cumming,
while touring "the western country," tells of stopping at an inn run
by Timothy Mershon near Locust Grove OR in Aug. 1807. Timothy Mershon had been
a tavern keeper in Hunterdon Co. NJ, where he had also served in the militia during
the Revolutionary War.
"Mershon is from the Jerseys, he has a numerous family growing
up, and is now building a large log house in which he means to keep
a tavern. Three of his sons play the violin by ear -they had two
shocking bad violins, one of which was of their own manufacture,
on which they scraped away without mercy to entertain us, which
I would have most gladly excused, though I attempted to seem pleased
and believe I succeeded in making them think I was so."
Timothy Mershon is Jimmy Wheeler's great great great grandfather.
The fiddle-playing sons were Jimmy's great great uncles and possibly
his great great grandfather.
Sadly, Jimmy Wheeler died in 1987 at the age of 69. My dad died in 1990 at the
age of 72. Bill Odle died in 1993 at the age of 67. The Wheelers were even strange
when it came to their deaths. Once during a phone call with my parents, I learned
that they had stopped in to visit Jimmy and Dottie and Merle on Mabert Rd. only
to learn that one of them had died about 6 or 7 months earlier. I don't know which
one it was. In any event, the survivors didn't publish an obituary or have a funeral
or even call relatives (and there were many right there in Portsmouth) to let
them know. I've been doing genealogy for the last 10 yrs. This CD is a great find.
Just wish there were more of the family left to appreciate it.
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