What a lovely story, Sharna! And a good idea for a discussion!
My first (and still only) dulcimer was a gift from my mom and sisters, who all gave me money for Christmas to be put toward the purchase of a dulcimer after they had learned of my desire to learn the instrument.I knew I wanted a standard McSpadden walnut dulcimer after trying several different dulcimers that my dulcimer teacher Larkin owned. (Well, she was my old-time fiddle teacher at the time. ) A few days later, Larkin, who is an authorized McSpadden dealer,spoke on the phone with the shop owners at The Dulcimer Shoppe in Mountain View, Arkansas, and told them to send her the "best standard walnut dulcimer" they had. One cold evening in January, Larkin called me telling me my dulcimer had arrived and I drove over to her house to pick it up. When I got there, she had it all tuned and warmed up ready for me to play. She said it had a beautiful sound and a very pretty woodgrain, and I agreed. For a Christmas present, she and her husband gave me a few packages of their strings and some Herdim picks (I still use those picks, four years later!) that they sellthrough theirmail-order business (Riverlark Music), and we arranged to have my first lesson the following week. I'll never forget that night!
If you're interested to read my story of how I came to be interested in playing the dulcimer, feel free to read about it on my personal blog: http://anormalweird.blogspot.com/2012/01/musings-of-musical-journey.html
I hope others post their stories of how they came about their dulcimers! I'd love to hear them!