Melvin Wine: Old Time Fiddler, Family Man and Soldier For Jesus!  

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Patty Floyd Johnson      

A few years back Cec and I wended our way across the Gilmer County line into Braxton County and up a hollow about eight miles to Copen where there lived a man by the name of Melvin Wine.  When we went there we expected to find an old time fiddle player and his mountain music, and we did!  We also found much, much more! 

We listened raptly to Melvin play “Hanna At The Spring House” and “On A Cold Frosty Morning”; a tune    with which he had won the fiddling contest at the Folk Festival in Glenville.  Melvin had played in New York City and many of the late and great had beat a path to his door but, Melvin was playing other tunes as well with his soul.  Melvin was a humble man, meek and mild belying the fame that had surrounded him for several years.                                                                                                                                                                               

The house fairly reeked with good spirits and the old hymn “Rock of Ages” (“Let me hide myself in thee.”) almost oozed from the wallpaper.  Much has been written about Melvin Wine and his music – I’d like to write about Melvin’s spirituality. 

The first thing that strikes you about Melvin Wine is his gentle warmth.  We were an hour late for our arrival, yet his first words were; invitingly, “Come in.”  It was a suffocatingly hot day, but Melvin’s living room was cool and comfortable.  The walls were adorned with awards and letters from such important personages as John D. Rockefeller IV and George Bush.  There was an oil painting of Melvin with a little girl and their fiddles, obviously in a lesson about music and; most assuredly, about love.  

Melvin had a lot to teach about love.  Melvin and his sweetheart, Etta raised ten children of their own and; technically, ten foster children.  These numbers do not take into account the numbers of other children and even whole families Melvin and Etta sheltered, fed and cared for over the years.  

When a need existed, Melvin and Etta filled it.  As it stands now, Melvin Wine is the richest man I have ever known.  It is trite, but true; you don’t get any richer than having the ability to give love and kindness to those less fortunate than yourself and be able to accept their love in return on their own terms.  The sharing of love by kindred spirits is, or should be, one of the most prized achievements in this life.  Melvin Wine had many mouths to feed.  He also fed their hearts. 

Melvin worked in the coal mines, drove truck, raised big gardens and worked hard all his life to provide the where-with-all to put food on the table, clothes on the backs and a roof over the heads of all his charges.  Etta was his staunchest supporter and she labored long and hard right with Melvin to accomplish this goal.  It only goes to shows what a good man with the right woman can do.  This kind, sensitive, gentle man loved Etta, his children, all his other children and the rest of humanity with such generosity he now had the “peace that passeth understanding.”  Melvin could neither read nor write; except his name, but he wrote on our hearts with his spirit. 

That evening we went along with Melvin to a sing at the Methodist Church in Burnsville and witnessed there the giving and receiving of love through music and Melvin gently placing his arm around the shoulders of his new companion, Lucille.  Melvin had explained at his house, “My wife has been dead several years now and so hasn’t Lucille’s husband.  She’s a good woman and it gets lonely here.”  Melvin owed us no explanation, but I had the feeling that Melvin had been giving these explanations to those he cared about all his life. 

When I called Melvin for permission to submit this article about him, he asked, “Whose daughter are you?”  “Jesse and Pauline Floyd’s.”  I replied.  “Ah yes,” he said, “I remember them.  One time I met Jesse in Clarksburg and I didn’t know my way around.  Jesse took me to all the places I was supposed to play.”  “Dad was good about doing things like that for people, Melvin but, so weren’t you.”  A gentle laugh and he said, “Yes, I hauled coal from Jesse’s mine a long time, too.”  Do you remember Uncle Matt and Aunt Lucille Self?”  “Oh yes”, he said, “I remember them, too.”  Melvin related fond memories of Jesse Marks, the shaped note singer and teacher of Gilmer County with the memorable tenor voice and Jesse’s wife, Phyllis, the Gilmer County folk singer, who also does recitations, poems and keeps audiences laughing with her wry wit.  The conversation continued on in this vein.  He told me Lucille, a good woman, had died of cancer, and a lady from Columbus had come down to learn how he played the fiddle and she is his lady now.  Her name is Martha.  Martha was alone and Melvin was alone.  They help each other.  A psychiatrist told me once that “love was the fulfilling of a need.”  Melvin Wine has filled many a need in his lifetime.  He told me I could submit the article and thanked me for writing about his spirituality.  He filled one of my needs.  I understand that Martha didn’t stay with Melvin to the end.  But, I’m sure that Melvin never held it against her.  Melvin wasn’t the kind to hold grudges.  Melvin was full of love and spread it around through his gentle warmth, his kindly smile, his sharing of his worldly goods with those less fortunate than himself and most of all with his fiddle.   Melvin taught many a youngster, not the least of which was the new young man on the scene, Jake Krack.  The likes of Melvin Wine, Lester McCumbers, Jake Krack and others will see to it that the old time traditional music will survive beyond their lifetimes. 

So, if “you’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places” it’s a shame you can’t go ‘round to Melvin Wines house, and let him tell you about the day “Jesus came into his heart!”  He didn’t preach!  He didn’t expound!  He just laid it out there in beautifully simple words and, though he didn’t say it, you heard it, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”.  

We remembered the strains of “Sourwood Mountain” and “Old Joe Clark” long after we left.  But, the thing that stuck with us the longest was the variation on the theme of John 3:16. 

The Appalachian Mountains have cradled the likes of Melvin Wine and tested his ability to survive during long, cold winters when the coal smoke drifted down the hollow and the babies had the colic and the rats had found their way into the buried potatoes, but they also protected a heritage he learned from his father and his grandfather and his father before him.  That heritage was a few tunes from a fiddle and a bow.  It was also a way to love, a way to live and; in the end, a way to die.

I tell you, folks, if Melvin Wine doesn’t get to heaven, there won’t none of us be there.   But, whether Melvin, or you, or I either one, get there, it sure is a lot easier living having known Melvin Wine. 

Melvin has won many awards, among them the coveted Vandalia Award and has been on the cover of GOLDENSEAL at least twice that I know about.  Now, I’m not judging, but deep in my heart, I think Melvin has won something much more precious; a crown filled with stars in a mansion prepared for him by the Savior in heaven.  “If it were not so, he would have told us.”  

Melvin Wine departed this life March 14, 2002 at the age of 93.  There were the usual plans underway for the celebrating of Melvin’s 94th birthday the second week in April.  It was in mine and Cec’s plans to attend this year.  It was always a celebration to end all celebrations.  But God called for Melvin and Melvin never missed a calling from God. 

I had hoped to go back up the hollow to Copen one day.  I had hoped for you to make it up there too.  

The last time we heard Melvin play was at the 2002 version of The State Folk Festival in Glenville, in June.  Of course, we own some of his tapes, but that’s not the same thing.  We met Melvin back stage and Cec, my personal photographer, took our pictures together.

Melvin was on stage backed up by several members of his family.  They played Melvin’s favorite tune, “I’d Rather Be An Old Time Christian Than Anything Else I Know,” “Going Down To Lynchburg Town To Pound My Tobacco Down” was in his repertoire, as was, “Billie In The Low Ground,” “Rabbit In The Pea Patch,” “I’ll Not Be A Stranger” and the list is endless.  One thing I’m sure of, Melvin is no stranger in heaven.

This final picture is of Melvin’s last wave goodbye from the stage of The Fine Arts Building on the Glenville State College Campus during the 2002 version of the State Folk Festival.  The people with him are members of his family and there were many more who are not in the picture.


Submitted for publication on The Glenville High School Alumni Association Web Site by Patty Floyd Johnson