Fourth grade, Rochester Minnesota, public school, long ago. A teacher came around and asked, “Who would like to play a stringed instrument?” Little Mary raised her hand.
Bless my parents, who were willing to put up with my squeaky beginnings and pay for lessons. I quit violin at age 15, until I got sucked into folk music as a wannabe hippie young adult. Mom kindly shipped my student violin to California and, voila, it became a fiddle.
I began learning by ear rather than reading music, discovering that the world is full of friendly players who will show a newbie a tune or two. My first tune was Soldiers Joy, from Butch Waller of the San Francisco bluegrass group High Country. Then, while at a commune in Oregon, I learned Ragtime Annie from the Canadian guy who ran the gas station down the road. Back in Minneapolis, the scene was hopping. I joined an old time string band and a jug band, and I was hooked.