Monday, May 20, 2019


My creative inspiration came from a man I never met, my Uncle John. I only knew him through stories Pop told me about him and faded old photographs.  Whenever Pop talked about his older brother, I could see the pride in his eyes and hear the reverence in his voice. It was obvious to me that my dad loved his brother and idealized him.

John aspired to be a civil engineer and, like all three of the McNeal brothers had an aptitude for math. I think John had a special connection with Pop. He didn’t write many letters, but in one of them written while he was away in college, he asked about “Jimmy” (my dad), and told his parents to encourage his younger brother with his math. They certainly did that.

John was a bit of a rebel. He rode an Indian motorcycle around the United States and canada when he worked for a traveling opera show out of New York City. He sent home plenty of pictures, but not much in the way of letters. I wish he had done more writing, but that was not his way.

He loved music and played the mandolin and violin. His violin instructor rapped him on the knuckles with a pencil for playing a piece wrong and that was the end of lessons from that instructor. Did I mention the McNeals had a bit of a temper? John, apparently, did not put up with disrespect or shenanigans from others.

In his youth, Uncle John contracted Scarlet Fever. Although he managed to survive, he had seizures from time to time. There was no real treatment for seizures back then except Phenobarbital which has the side effect of drowsiness. I can only guess from what I know about John, being hindered by a medicine that interfered with his active life was probably unacceptable.

In May 1927, John went fly fishing with some friends down at Roaring Creek near his home in Numidia, Pennsylvania. His friends moved downstream around the bend and out of sight of John. It was then that John had a seizure, fell face forward into three foot of water, and drown. He was only twenty-one on the threshold of a promising life when he died. A light went out in the McNeal household. His wake was held at home as was the custom in those days. Pop said people came from everywhere to pay their respects, especially young women. According to Pop, John had a particular charm that drew the affections of the ladies.

After my Grandfather McNeal died Pop, the only living family member, sold their family home, an old red school house, and auctioned off most of their belongings to pay for my grandfather’s funeral. But Pop saved a very special treasure for me—John’s violin. He had it refurbished for me and I began to take lessons. I loved playing that violin. In later years I played it with my great-niece Madeline who took a genuine interest in music. A couple years ago I gave John’s violin to Madeline because I wanted to honor the memory of John for generations to come. She named the violin Lola. In return, Madeline gave me her violin so I could keep playing music.

I always felt sad for John that he never had a chance to find love, marry, have a family, and fulfill his dreams. I wanted to write his story and I wanted to make as true to his life as I could, but give him the life I wish he could have had. I wish Pop could have lived long enough to have seen my fictionalized version of his brother’s life, and part of his own, in the book I titled THE VIOLIN. I think it would have made him happy. I dedicated the book to Uncle John and my father.
“This book is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, John Douglas McNeal, whose tale I have told here in the pages of this almost true story, and to my dad, James William McNeal, who loved and missed John until his own death in 1981.”

Livia Washburn Reasoner created the cover for THE VIOLIN using an actual picture of John.


by Sarah J. McNeal
Fire Star Press/Imprint of Prairie Rose Publishing

Can the heart live inside a violin case? Can a message reach across time?

Genevieve Beaumont is haunted by dreams of a drowning man she is helpless to save. When she buys a violin and discovers news clippings and pictures of its owner who died from downing inside the case, she realizes he is the man in her dreams.
She travels to the little town where he died 90 years before to investigate who he was and how he came to drown that day. Little does she know how her own life will be tangled in the mystery…until she steps through the threshold of time to 1927.


She heard him take in a slow breath before he spoke to her in a more relaxed, quiet tone. "I beg your pardon, miss, I didn't mean to curse. What's your name?" The younger man’s voice soothed her as he knelt beside the couch where she lay. He wrung out a cloth in the bowl of water beside his knee, folded it, and applied it to Genevieve's brow.

"My name is Genevieve Beaumont. I was just standing at the window and now…I'm here." She lifted a shaky hand to her brow. "My head is pounding."

"You bumped your head when you fainted. Is that a French name?"  He lifted a quizzical brow and smiled.

She lifted her eyes and got a good, close-up look at him then. Her heart almost stopped beating in her chest. She sucked in a deep breath. What was happening to her? How could any of this be possible? The man holding the cool cloth to her head was the man in the pictures she found in the violin case!
She would not have guessed he had auburn hair, or that his eyes were such a vivid, bottle green. He wore a collarless, khaki shirt with the sleeves rolled up and suspenders instead of a belt held up his tan, canvas trousers. Oh, but he was handsome—so much more than his pictures ever allowed. She didn't have time to admire the young man's good looks because her mind swirled round and round with the unfathomable implications of her situation.


Diverse stories filled with heart