THE MAGIC OF MUSIC

The Las Cruces Ukes Performing Group. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

May 19 to 21, 2017, the Las Cruces Ukes sponsored our first Ukulele Festival. It was a stunning success. Over 100 ukulele fans, mostly from the Southwest came to learn from guest instructors,

By the time we dispersed on Sunday afternoon, the crowd was feeling mellow, eager to go home and start practicing the new tunes and techniques we had learned. What created an added a sense of community was a workshop led by one of our members, Gorton Smith, a retired Methodist minister. We played and sang songs in a session labeled “The Gospel According to Uke.” Jim Beloff, one of our instructors, followed leading us in the playing and singing of Beatles tunes These melodies have now become classics and in their own way made us seem blessed as we departed for home.

Music has always played an important role in my life. Growing up, we had an upright piano that my mother played. Later, she insisted that I take piano lessons. I was just a so-so player and did not enjoy it, but I found it beneficial in grammar school in the 1940s. I played in the orchestra and because we had a surplus of pianists, I learned how to play the marimba, bells, and triangle. I also joined the chorus and harmonica band, and the totality of these musical experiences uplifted and enriched me. I never forgot how that music made me feel. Consequently, I insisted that my own children have music lessons. Of course they all started out on the piano, but then they branched out to other instruments.

During the late 1950s the guitar captured my interest, and a neighbor loaned me one of her guitars for a weekend. I was hooked! Not much later, (August, 1958) I was pregnant with my 3rd child and my husband and I drove to Las Vegas for the weekend. We roasted in the heat outside, but a new well-chilled Stardust Casino had recently opened, and it was rumored that their slot-machines paid off more frequently than at other casinos. My husband wandered off to lose money in other parts of the gambling club, while I stayed at the nickel slot machines. Suddenly, I hit a $25 jackpot. Bells clanged and I began to feel faint, but I refused to give in to that sinking feeling until the cashier brought me my winnings. Then I succumbed to the collapsing.

Mysteriously, a gentleman appeared, identified himself as a doctor and tourist from St. Louis, MO. He laid me down on a couch, had someone bring me water and explained that the disparity between the scorching outdoor temperatures and air-conditioned cold of the Stardust plus my pregnancy caused me to feel ill.

Suddenly, Harold materialized. When I told him about my jackpot and he inquired, “Are you going to share it with me?”

Adamantly, I answered, “No.” Instead, I used it to buy a guitar from a Sear’s & Roeback Catalog. A Silvertone guitar cost $19.95 and its cardboard case was an additional $5.95.

That purchase changed my life. I met others with the same folk music passion; I learned quickly and began teaching guitar in my home and later at the YWCA; With another guitarist we played duos for different organizations; I became a music teacher at a Catholic girls school and gave guitar lessons to three nuns; My friendship with the Sister Superior persists until this moment; On the night before my son’s bar mitzvah along with my older daughter (age 11) who sang the lyrics, I played guitar, and my 13-year-old son accompanied us on bass. We recorded, “The Day After Christmas,” written by my supermarket checker and financed by a secret backer — the supermarket manager. Can you beat that for fun?

Music still enhances my life. Although I have switched to the ukulele because it’s lighter in weight, I still perform with others, and that too, has brought me great pleasure and lots of laughs.

 

The Las Cruces Chicks: (left to right) Marie Hughey, Roxana Gillett, Norine Dresser, Joy Goldbaum. Showing off our chicken leg stockings and wearing fowl hats, at the Las Cruces Ukes Festival we performed a parody of The House of the Rising Sun. Photo by Alfred Hughey. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

In a forthcoming weekend, the Las Cruces Ukes will be performing for Cancer Survivors and the following weekend, we will be playing for military veterans. Hopefully, these performances will bring pleasure to these audiences. For certain, the Las Cruces Ukes will feel enriched through sharing our music magic with them.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has passed the love of music on to her children. This makes her happy.

 

Q: WHEN IS A HAIRCUT NOT JUST A HAIRCUT?

 

A: WHEN A THREE-YEAR-OLD ORTHODOX JEWISH BOY GETS HIS HAIR CUT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Ari Schmukler at age 2, now one year older and ready for his first haircut. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

On March 1, 2017, Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler invited the Las Cruces Chabad Jewish community to witness and participate in the first haircut ceremony of their son, Ari. The event is called an Upshernish (shearing).

Many of you know that multicultural rites of passage, customs and beliefs delight me. And although I had written about this ceremony as observed in Israel, I had never had a first hand observer’s experience before this.

Witnessing and participating in the ceremony were Chenchie’s parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun who flew in from New York. Rabbi Bery and Chenchie’s four other children, Cherna, Mayer, Leba, Leah were the other key players enjoying the event.

Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler with her parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun with the grandchildren, Cherna (in arms), Mayer, Leba, Leah, and Ari.

 

Ari patiently sat on a chair as his father and grandfather offered words of congratulations. Then the congregation lined up to have a turn to cut a lock of Ari’s hair.

 

 

Ari Schmukler patiently sitting while a congregant cuts a lock of his hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

After cutting a lock of hair, the person placed it in a plastic container and then deposited a quarter in the yellow Tsedaka (charity) container. Eventually, most of the hair was cut except for the peot (side locks).

 

The yellow tsedaka container. Here hair cutters deposit quarters for charity. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Chenchie is a fantastic party organizer. She made cookies in the shape of scissors, in the shape of the aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter of Ari’s name. She created a donut wall where the children happily removed the donuts and provided a colorful and abundant feast for all in attendance.

Cookies in the shapes of the aleph, scissors, and the numeral three. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The 3rd birthday haircutting ceremony announces the beginning of the child’s Jewish education. He now wears a kippah or yarmulke (skull cap) and tzizit (fringed undergarment). An easel held the Hebrew alphabet that had drops of honey dabbed on it emphasizing the sweetness of learning. Overall, the celebration stresses the importance of charity and the responsibility of learning.

The Hebrew alphabet to demonstrate that Ari will now begin his Jewish education. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There is a rationale for having this ceremony at age three. The child becomes analogous to a tree that is prohibited from being cut until it is three, lest the fruit be underdeveloped. But if the tree is left untouched for three years, the fruit becomes sweet. Humans, too, should not be touched for the first three years. After that, they are ready to move on to the next stage of life.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not an Orthodox Jew. However, sensing that her son’s first haircut was significant, she took him to her maternal grandfather, Jacob Friesh, who had been a barber in England. He proudly gave Mark, his first great-grandson, the first haircut.

What Am I Going to Be When I Grow Up?

Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

When I first arrived in Las Cruces at the age of 80, I considered it a major transformation and probably the last big change I would make. Up to then, my life had been full. Professionally, I taught at California State University Los Angeles for 20 years; I wrote books, articles, and an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times. On the personal side I had been a wife, mom, grandmother, widow, great-grandmother. I thought I had completed both cycles, but life had some surprises for me.

Instead of settling into the New Mexico lifestyle and relaxing, I felt restless and began exploring new avenues. Today, at 85, I am more community-involved than I ever was in Los Angeles.

I joined the Las Cruces Women’s Press Club; I volunteer weekly at the Institute of Historical Research Foundation; I am producing a program for the brand new Las Cruces Community Radio Station (KTAL), that I will write about in a future blog. I perform with the Las Cruces Ukes.

Best of all, I have found a new dear friend and playmate, Roxana Gillett. Together, we have been writing song parodies and presenting them to our ukulele group and elsewhere. We are having so much fun with this new venture, plotting and combining mutual interests and talents.

Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Here’s a partial sample of one of our parodies, sung to the tune of “All I Want For Christmas.”

All I want for Christmas is my young body back,

Memory intact, my belly flat.

And if I could only find my new false teeth,

Then I could wish you Merry Christmas.

It seems so long since I could walk

Without a pain in my tuchas

Gosh, oh gee, how happy I would be

If I didn’t have toe fungus.

 

Roxana Gillett and I in our beards to perform a parody of "Hallelujah." Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Roxana Gillett and I as the Bearded Ladies.” Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Another one of our hit songs was set to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Our version is the irreverent topic of what to do about having cooties.

Did-ja know our beards are filled with dirt

Within these hairs cooties lurk?

But hygiene sucks, it doesn’t work, so sue us.

They sink their teeth into our scalps

Eat our flesh until we yelp

Give us some relief, some shampoo-yah.

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah.

Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween hats to sing a seasonal parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween regalia for an appropriate song parody.  Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

We couldn’t overlook Halloween, so we wrote a parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song.

La Cruces Ukes are kooky. On Halloween, we’re spooky

We’re altogether ooky, ukulele family.

We play at business lunches, and walrus fishy brunches

Bring smiles to gloomy Gus-es, ukulele family.

Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

This is a parody of  “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” as part of a St. Patrick’s Day medley.

Ukulele you’re the divil, you’re leading me astray, taking up my social life and even my        birthday.

The music from our strumming is spunkier than the tay, ukulele you’re the divil drunk or sober.

Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase, 2017.

Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

For Valentine’s Day, we parodied Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore” changing it to “That’s Divorcé.

When the love leaves your heart and you’re a-falling apart

That’s divorcé.

When you’ve run out of Prozac switched over to cognac

That’s divorcé.

Cell phone rings, ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a ling

It’s you ex’s fiancée.

Heart skips a beat tippi-tippi-tay, tippy-tippy-tay

She’s sending a selfie.

She is flashing a ring that has way too much bling

He’s replaced you.

She’s a gold-digging ghoul, you have been such a fool

You hate her.

You throw down the phone, you feel so alone,

You start crying.

‘Scusa-me, but you see back in our home town,

That’s divorcé.

Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017

Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the upcoming Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017

Now we’re aiming for the Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival in May. This parody is sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” Here is the first verse:

There is a coop in Las Cruces, they call the Rockin’ Roost,

It’s been a place where chickens can hide, to keep from being fried.

Our mother was a frying hen, in sizzling oil she died.

Our father was a uke-strumming cock, it saved him from the pot.

 

So what am I going to be when I grow up?

WEIRD AL YANKOVICH… MOVE OVER!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is astonished that even at 85, more exciting times are possible (If only her body cooperates).

How Do We Remember?

Harold working as an extra in a Pepsi ad with a chimp. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Harold Dresser with a chimp, working as an extra in a Pepsi ad, mid-1990s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

My husband, Harold Dresser, died on February 2, 2007. For the 10 year anniversary of his death, I wanted to commemorate the occasion in a special way.

I had his name and death date engraved on a gold plated marker that hangs on a Memorial Wall inside the Alevy Chabad Center, an Orthodox Jewish place of worship here in Las Cruces. On the date of his death, the light adjacent to his name will burn brightly. Then for the rest of the month the light will merely flicker.

Recently, when I went to see the marker for the first time, the rabbi kindly turned on the light so that I could take a photo to send to my non-local offspring. Harold’s name alone stirred sorrow within me, but with the adjacent glowing light, the sadness intensified.

Harold's memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Harold’s memorial marker with light on. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There are many ways to remember a deceased loved one. In Cruces, I often see memorial car rear windshields as exemplified below.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Windshield memorial in a random car in Las Cruces. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Commonly, fatal auto wrecks are commemorated with floral displays and crosses at the site of the carnage.

090126 - Kennesaw - Friends and fellow students of Garrett Reed, 16 gathered at the scene of roadside memorial Monday morning, January 26, 2009 at Sylvia Drive and Midway Road where he died early Sunday morning. Drive and hit another car about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Cobb County police Sgt. Dana Pierce said. Reed died at the scene. The other driver, Richard Reyes, 25, of Dallas, was taken to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in stable condition, Pierce said. The wreck happened less than a mile from Harrison High School, where Reed was a junior wide receiver and defensive back on the football team. Reed was the second Harrison athlete to be killed in a wreck in recent years. Luke Abbate, a junior on the school's lacrosse team, was killed, and four of his teammates injured, in a February, 2006 crash. The funeral for Reed will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Powder Springs. Visitation is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday at West Cobb Funeral Home. jspink@ajc.com

Back to the Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle (Yahrzeit candle)  that burns for 24 hours marking the death date. But with my night prowler cat, Sweetie Beattie, it is dangerous having an unattended burning candle while I sleep, so I have switched to an electric one that does the job safely.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Two examples of yahrzeit lights: traditional candle, electrical. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

What are the ways in which you memorialize a deceased loved one? I would like to know and share the information with others.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist feeling sad at this time of the year.

When the Lights Go On Again . . . In My Toilet Bowl*

 

Guess what my daughter, Amy, gave me for my 85th birthday?

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An illumibowl, a gadget that turns my toilet bowl rainbow colors as I approach it in a darkened bathroom. It’s not sentimental, but practical. It keeps me, a natural born klutz, from falling.

Amy is definitely her father’s daughter, for shortly after we met, Harold surprised me with a gift of a green plastic toilet seat. And did I ever tell you that he was in the plumbing supply business? That meant he didn’t even have to go out shopping for this non-romantic present.

Actually, he thought he was giving me another gift during our one-year courtship. I was studying overnight for final exams at the house of a UCLA classmate, and he offered to pick me up the next morning. When he phoned the night before to confirm the arrangements, he told me he was bringing me a surprise. Ah, an engagement ring I hoped.

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The next morning when he walked me to the car, I discovered no diamond; instead his beautiful blue-eyed three-year-old niece, Madge, waited for us. She was the surprise and we were taking her to breakfast. I stifled my disappointment.

This event took place during the mandatory seatbelt, approved children’s carseat era. That meant that Madge sat between Harold and me in the front seat, and we formed an instant triangle.

On our way to the restaurant, Harold stopped at a drug store to buy a cigar while we females waited in the car. As soon as he was out of sight, Madge pinched me hard. In turn, I lightly slapped her hand and warned, “Don’t you ever do that again.”

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The small vixen didn’t react, until her adored uncle re-entered the car. At that moment, she burst into tears and cried, “She hit me!” Luckily, a distracted Harold paid no attention to her.

After marriage, Harold continued to present me with unique gifts. During WWII, he had been in the Naval Air Force and was stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, NY. He frequently ventured into Manhattan and loved eating at Katz’s Delicatessen. Over the decades, he often repeated their slogan, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army.”

One day, he announced that he had ordered a present for me. You guessed it…a salami from Katz’s Delicatessen. Of course, the salami was really for him, and he ate most of it. However, I must admit that I loved its aroma as it hung from a string in the kitchen.

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For my birthdays, he went on a Timex watch binge. Several years in a row, he purchased the same gift. Of course the styles varied, but it was as if he didn’t remember from one year to the next that he had already given one to me. You can bet that I remembered. And so did the children. They thought it was funny. I was not as amused.

I guess I’m feeling nostalgic during this year’s gift-giving season. And if only Harold were still alive, I would love nothing more than another quirky gift from him.

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Norine Dresser is a folklorist who, at this time of year, wistfully reviews the past.

 

* For those younger than me, this title is a play on words from the song, “When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World,” popular during World War II. The words refer to the London blackouts.