Glamor portrait, 1953 in a borrowed gown.
The program Sunny and her students presented that October night broke all recent records for both attendance and enthusiasm. Most of the children she taught had never had any of the extra curricular music, dancing, or sports classes that are so common today. Performing for an audience was a first for them, while cheering was a first for their parents. Most who came that night to see their youngsters recite poetry, hadn’t even thought about poetry since learning nursery rhymes. But they drank in the words from their own children because they communicated emotions that had never been spoken.
So naturally, the principal immediately put Sunny in charge of the Christmas program, changing all her previous lesson plans.
For that occasion, she put most of the students into a Greek Chorus reciting passages from Luke to tell the Christmas story while others, in makeshift costumes, pantomimed the drama. On the other side of the stage, the school chorus presented Christmas carols at appropriate intervals. Once again the auditorium was filled with cheering families, creating the second major victory accomplished by a novice in her first semester of teaching.
Ever so slowly a new attitude toward school began emerging.
Probably the main reason for Sunny’s immediate success at this particular school was that while students and teacher shared the same financial status, Sunny staunchly maintained a totally different attitude. Her mantra since becoming the sole bread-winner for her family was, “I may be broke, but I refuse to be poor.” With that attitude she lived a lifestyle of great anticipation coupled with hard work far different from those who saw themselves as “I-can’t-do-anything much-because-I’m-so- poor.” While Sunny had reveled in developing her mind with good music, great books, and lofty ideals, most of these families had cheated themselves by considering such as frivolities only for the “rich people.”
But, as you recall from previous posts, Sunny reacted to financial roadblocks by looking for ways around, over, or through them. Such as:
Slowly stashing away enough money to pay for one year of college, so she could at least get a taste of higher education whether or not she got to finish a degree.
Choosing a college in a town where a relative owned a house that she could live in rent free if she fixed it up and kept it up, unlike many renters.
Taking advantage of every concert, play, and program that her Student Activity Fee covered. And insisting the kids take advantage of these chances for enrichment with her.
Cheerfully giving up owning a car while living in a small city, realizing that walking is healthful for the whole family.
Eagerly accepting any part-time or temporary position to make enough money to continue her degree program.
Completely understanding that attitude is far more important than bank account status. It’s never about how much money you have.
Seeing someone in the same boat financially as their own families, but with great energy and a can-do attitude, probably did more to help the student body that year than any subject matter she taught.
Unfortunately, January, 1954 brought a little known infectious disease to the school and Sunny was one of several victims. She was sick a week before her mystified physician put her in the hospital. There they diagnosed her problem as hepatitis, probably what we now know as hepatitis A. After a week at Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff, she came home for eight weeks of recuperation before returning to school in March.
Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.
Sunny and her children had spent four years daydreaming about the easy life to come — when Mother graduates. With no tuition bills or textbooks to buy and a steady income, everything was certain to come up smelling like roses.
And it did seem that way in the fall of 1953. Teachers were in high demand, so Sunny could easily pick the school district where she wanted to work. Ever the gambler, she selected Dallas, Texas, leaving some friends mystified and others angry that she didn’t return “home” to New Mexico. But having “conquered” college, Sunny was eager for new challenges. They found a small frame home in the South Oak Cliff section to buy and began life in Big D by mapping out nearby bus stops and grocery stores.
This unsuspecting newbie’s first assignment was in the same school in the same slum area that had produced Dallas’ most infamous young couple, Bonnie and Clyde, a few years earlier. Even worse, Sunny was to be the assigned auditorium teacher, rather than receiving the more usual classroom assignment that she had expected. It was her duty to teach speech/theater to groups of up to 60 students in 45- minute segments throughout the day. Most teachers who had gotten that assignment in the recent past, quickly declared a truce with the unruly students and allowed them to do whatever they wished, as long as they didn’t create a ruckus or cause trouble for her.
That particular solution, however, never occurred to Sunny. The first day of school she stood up as straight and as tall as her five foot, one inch frame would allow and assigned seats for each student for the rest of the semester, carefully leaving the first row empty in case anyone misbehaved and needed to move closer to her. Then she unequivocally announced they would study poetry and oral interpretation their first eight weeks. Furthermore, the best students would perform for a parent – teacher meeting in late October.
The students had wanted to like her because she was attractive and still fairly young, but poetry? They left those first classes shaken to the core by this unexpected turn of events. And none of them had ever performed in public before, even for a small group of parents and teachers.
She began their immersion in poetry by having all read Vachel Lindsay out loud because his powerful poetry is meant to be sung or chanted. As they gained familiarity, she added clapping, stomping, or drums to emphasize certain parts. Then some verses became solo recitations, or the girls chanted while the boys answered. And all during these days the students absorbed the emotion and the story in ways they would never forget because it became part of them.
The last verse of Lindsay’s General William Booth Enters into Heaven, one of the poems they learned during the first few weeks:
[REVERENTLY SUNG. NO INSTRUMENTS]
And when Booth halted by the curb for prayer
He saw his Master thro’ the flag-filled air.
Christ came gently with a robe and crown
For Booth the soldier, while the throng knelt down.
He saw King Jesus. They were face to face,
And he knelt a-weeping in that holy place.
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Later, they moved on to James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation. While all performed it in class, she chose only the older, bigger boys to present it at the PTA performance. Many of these kids had already failed a year or two, so she took advantage of the ‘problem,’ believing their larger size and deeper voices, would add gravitas to God’s soliloquy. Besides they needed a boost in confidence.
The last verse of Johnson’s The Creation:
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
And the last poet they had time for that semester was Langston Hughes, one of Vachel Lindsay’s proteges. Reportedly, Lindsay helped him get a better job than the busboy position he had when they first met, introduced him to a publisher, and assisted in several ways during those early days. Hughes became known as a Jazz Poet, a new art form in the early twenties.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.
While schools were still segregated in Texas at the time Sunny taught, both white and black reached out, offering understanding to the other; after all they lived together in the same slums.
Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather
This is a picture of a beautiful woman that everyone calls Sunny, because that describes her perfectly. She celebrated her one hundredth birthday this week on Christmas Day. No matter how feeble she’s become in the last two years, those who know her best still see only the smiling, gracious woman we’ve known all these years. Although time has certainly taken its toll on her face and body after 100 years of living on this often unpleasant planet, her personality still shines though with the cheerful sweater and stole she chooses to wear. No little old lady looks for her!
Sunny at Christmas/Birthday party in the Nineteen-nineties.
Growing up on a sheep ranch on the Llano Estacado, sometimes called the Staked Plain area of Texas and New Mexico, taught her that softies do not win in this life. Winning, or sometimes maybe just surviving, is only for those who work hard for what they want and need.
Being the oldest of three girls, she always did the “boys” chores while growing up. After she married her high school sweetheart and moved into town, she had to learn the “girls” chores like housekeeping and cooking. But she approached the new challenges with such determination and aplomb that she soon conquered unusual delicacies like home made doughnuts.
Her blissful life of keeping house and mothering her three children came crashing down around her about two weeks after they had celebrated the baby’s first birthday. Her beloved husband was killed in a plane crash, leaving her without insurance, but with debt from starting a new small business. At that time, she had never even written a check, much less balanced a check book. There was no time to grieve; she had to learn to provide sustenance immediately.
After an intense eight weeks of tutoring in typing and shorthand by a kindly Catholic neighbor (in an area so Protestant that there was only one Catholic church in the whole county), this twenty-eight year old began her new career. She became the secretary of one of the more successful businessmen in the area. Determined to make the best of every situation she faced, she absorbed the nuances and information of the new world of deals and legal transactions like a dry sponge placed under a running faucet.
But after a few years, she began to feel the need for a formal education and started searching her options. Her acceptance at a small college in Central Texas became the omen that the world agreed with her plan. With her usual grit and determination, she moved with her three children just in time to unpack before classes started.
Never one to tip toe in, unobtrusively, she jumped into the college life in the Fall of 1949 with all of the fervor of a small terrier that just found himself in possession of a meaty bone. On registration day, she eagerly signed up for 24 credit hours of work (8 classes) because she wanted to be sure to get her money’s worth out of school and she’d only saved up enough for one year.
After the white haired Registrar recovered from her fainting spell, she did manage to talk this ex-sheepherder into dropping one class. Still concerned about the 21 hour load for someone who had been out of school for fourteen years, she secretly contacted all the professors to look out for this crazy woman with three kids who expected college to be easy. The only problem with that tactic for the jaded professors was that each one of them was absolutely entranced by any student who was truly eager to learn, as opposed to just getting a diploma. And learning is easy when you’re excited about it. It was so easy for this beautiful woman that she graduated within four years with both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major and double minor. And at the same time, she provided for and reared her three children.
Stay tuned for the rest of “This Is A Beautiful Woman;” we have 64 more years to go.
Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather
When most of us think of music we think of it as a means of entertainment. However, the reality is that music can be so much more than entertaining, in fact, it can be used as a critical tool by medical professionals to help patients with a wide range of conditions.
Music therapy is basically the use of music to help patients with various physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. Music therapy can be of benefit to people with dementia, brain injuries, respiratory problems, chronic pain and many other problems.
Music therapy is not just given by random doctors and nurses there are professionals called music therapists who have rigorously studied this form of treatment. Music therapists work in a wide range settings including hospitals, community health centers, drug rehab centers, senior centers, nursing homes and schools.
Here are just some of the ways that music therapy can help patients:
Regaining the Abillity to Move
Music therapy is very useful for patients who suffer from brain injuries such as car accidents, assaults, gun shot wounds, falls, stroke, lack of oxygen to the brain, etc. Often these patients are left with limited mobility. Rhythmic entertainment is used to help these patients gradually start to move again.
Such patients are asked to listen to strong rhythmically accentuated music. Rhythmic entertainment works by locking the motor systems rhythm to an external auditory source. This works because there is actually a rich connection beteeen our auditory system and our motor system. We all have an “internal timekeeper” that helps us regulate our movements. When this “internal timekeeper” is damaged as a result of the injury the internal timing system can be retrained and the brain can gradually adjust itself and the patient can regain much of the lost ability. As an example the patient walks to the beat of the music starting off with slow tempo music and then gradually working their way up as their ability improves.
Regaining the Abillity to Speak
After certain types of brain injuries, some patients are no longer able to speak but music therapy can help them regain this vital ability. One prominent example of this is Gaby Giffords. As some of you may know Gaby Giffords was a member of the U.S. Congress who was tragically shot in the head in 2011.
Due to damage to the language pathways in the left side of her brain Gaby Giffords was not able to speak after the injury. The good news for Gaby was that music, singing in particular, accesses language in a way that is different from talking.
Gaby started seeing a music therapist on a regular basis and she started being able to sing the words that she could not speak. After many regular sessions her brain started to reorganize and she gradually started to speak again!
Music therapy is a great tool for patients with damage to the left side of their brain because it helps the patient regain the abillity to speak by helping patients retrain their brain to use the right side of their brain to learn language.
Reducing Effects of Dementia
Listening to music can help Dementia patients by bringing back memories and emotions. It can also reduce the stress of Dementia patients and it can help them more easily communicate with their healthcare staff. Listening to music can also help Dementia patients better interact with each other by discussing the memories and feelings evoked by the music.
With Dementia patients, songs from the patients young adult years (ages 18 to 25) are especially helpful because they’re most likely to evoke reactions and memories. However, unfamiliar music can also aid in relaxation and stress management.
Active participation in music can also be helpful for Dementia patients. Studies have shown that Dementia patients who regularly sing have improved cognitive abillity and an increased life satisfaction.
Easing Asthma Symptoms:
Active music therapy can be very helpful for children who suffer from asthma. One study compared the effects of asthmatic children singing to another group of asthmatic children who passively listened to music. The results showed that the group that sang had better breathing and overall more positive mood than the group that just passively listened to music.
Playing a wind instrument can be especially helpful for asthma patients. Studies have shown that playing a wind instrument trains and improves the muscles involved in breathing. Playing a wind instrument can help asthma patients develop a relaxed breathing rhythm that can help them stay calm and focused during an asthma attack. Other studies have found that students who play wind instrument are more optimistic about their asthma and are less likely to have an athmaic episode.
Helping Child Cancer Patients:
Studies show that music therapy music therapy has a positive effect on children who are hospitalized due to having cancer. Unfortunately, music therapy cannot cure cancer but it can improve the feelings of these young patients. Studies show that music therapy led students to have more positive feelings. Children who were more actively involved in music therapy (as judged by the music therapist) showed greater improvement.
Basically music therapy can be effective in helping a young child cope with a tragic situation such as cancer. Some studies have shown that music therapy can improve the overall quality of life in these young cancer patients.
Doctors and Music:
As a side note, in the healthcare field, patients are not the only ones who listen to music. A recent poll of 700 surgeons throughout the United States revealed that nearly 90 percent of them report that they listen to music in the operating room as it calms their nerves and helps increase the operating staffs morale. Of course, they do turn it down during the important parts of the operation.
It is amazing how much music therapy can truly help a wide range of patients without any of the negative side effects of some other treatments.
I noticed Yasmin’s post on music and healing, Here’s How Music Can Heal You, right about the time I became even more aware of the connection. Since ‘great minds run together,’ I presume that means we’re both geniuses. She graciously agreed to allow me to post her article so you all could get another view point on the subject. For more of her delightful offerings, go to A Bit Better: Curating Lifestyle Tips and Knowledge with the Hope of Making Your Life a Bit Better. https://abitbetterblog.com
Centerpiece of the Sistine Chapel ceiling painted by Michelangelo around 1511
Whether one believes in creation according to the Book of Genesis or not, hardly anyone find the chapters about creation riveting reading. It seems rather dry and too simplistic to be “real” to our 21st Century culture. We can hardly accept it, even as “head” knowledge.
On the other hand, beauty in the form of Michelangelo’s masterpiece of the Creation of Adam, still invites repeated contemplation from most viewers after 500+ years. The painting shows a man offering his hand toward God while reclining on a green and blue background representing the land and sea of earth. In contrast, God leans forward and forcefully reaches down to bring life to the solitary person.
As we continue to absorb the emotional meaning of the painting, we can hardly escape the fact that the shape of the cloud that God inhabits somewhat resembles a brain cut in half. Could it be that the figures surrounding Him are “in the mind of God,” although not yet present on earth?
The figure of God reaches toward His new creation with His right hand while His left arm embraces a woman who eagerly, perhaps even lovingly, gazes at Adam. It makes you think of Eve, created especially for Adam and from Adam – to be a helpmate for him, but not exactly the same as another man.
A baby sits in front of the woman, the only person in the painting who looks at the audience. God’s hand rests on his shoulder, as if He embraces man, woman, and the child who comes from their union. It’s as if Michelangelo believed God created mankind to live together in families and wants his audience to understand that.
Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather