aging, customs/rituals, folklore, music

“…And Many More…?”

Birthday cake with lit candles.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Birthday cake with lit candles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.


On May 27th, my late husband would have been 94. Automatically, I sang “Happy Birthday” to him and just as reflexively I included the tag line, “And Many More.”

Does it make sense to sing “And Many More” to someone who is deceased?  I laughed at the irony. What does that mean? Do I want him to continue being dead?

My parents always made a big deal out of birthdays. I remember a children’s radio show called, “Uncle Whoa Bill.” Without my knowledge, my parents sent Whoa Bill a message that he read over the radio. “If Norine Shapiro looks inside the washing machine, she will find her birthday present.” Thrilled, I ran to the back porch and excitedly opened the washing machine lid to discover my gift.

I tried to pass along the tradition of fussing over our children’s birthdays, but that didn’t always work out successfully. When Mark turned four, I made arrangements to take him and his nursery school pals to visit the television show, “Chuck-o, the Clown.” When Chuck-o popped into the room with his brightly painted face and flaming orange wig, a startled Mark burst into tears.

When Andrea wanted a “Pink Party” for her fourth birthday, I complied by asking her girlfriends to wear pink and in the dining room filled with pink balloons, I served pink cream cheese sandwiches. One of her bossy girlfriends asked, “Is that all we’re having for lunch?” When I responded, “Yes,” she called her mother to complain and requested that Mom immediately pick her up. Mom turned her down, yet her daughter’s reaction threw the proverbial wet blanket on the festivities.

When Amy was 12, she wanted to celebrate her birthday with a slumber party. We agreed and her girlfriends came over. We ordered a variety of pizzas for dinner and didn’t sleep much during the night because of all the giggling. We fed them breakfast in the morning and after all Amy’s friends had left, I asked, “Did you have fun?” Emphatically, she reported, “It was a dud!”

However, I had great success a few decades ago while still living in Los Angeles. Harihar Rao, the creator of the Music Circle, an organization dedicated to bringing classical musicians from India to Southern California, called me with a request. At the 75th birthday concert to honor internationally renowned sitar player, Ravi Shankar, would I lead the audience in singing “Happy Birthday” to him?

While secretly thinking of Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday song to JFK, I excitedly answered, “Yes!”


Ravi Shankar playing the sitar. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Ravi Shankar playing the sitar. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

At intermission, Ravi was on stage with his fellow musicians, family and me. I stepped forward to the mike and led the audience of several hundred in singing, “Happy Birthday.” Everyone applauded and his devotees then ascended the stage and kissed the bare feet of their musical guru.

Later, an Indian man approached me with a compliment. “You did that very well.” I thanked him and then explained, “I’ve been practicing for years.” He didn’t see the humor of that remark, and I wasn’t about to explain it.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who loves birthday celebrations and in spite of, or because of  the irony will continue to sing “And Many More,” to her deceased husband and parents.

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, independence, mobility, music

“My Dog Has Fleas”**

Novice playing the ukelele.  Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Novice playing the ukelele. Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.


Last weekend I had an “Aha!” moment while attending a ukulele concert given by the Las Cruces Ukes. While listening to the music, I realized a ukelele could solve my need for music involvement, so after the concert, I purchased one.

During the Folk Music Revival in the 1950s and 1960s, I played and taught folk guitar. I consider that era as the most satisfying time of my life. Musicians trooped in and out of our Los Angeles home; students came to take classes from me; guest guitar teachers gave lessons to me and my guitar-playing friends. We verbally contracted for them to come for six consecutive Monday nights to teach us different styles: Hawaiian, Mexican, Swedish, Jazz, Blues, and American folk music. But one teacher, Marlen Rabiroff, was so outstanding that instead of being our instructor for six weeks, he stayed for three years until he and his family moved to Palo Alto.

But that was then and this is now when lifting the guitar out of its case is cumbersome and hurts my arthritic shoulders. Transporting the instrument becomes problematic. Carrying it while walking with a cane in addition to my inherent clumsiness puts me at risk for falls. Because the ukulele is so much smaller and lighter than a guitar, it seemed like a possible solution for playing music again.

With osteoarthritis and age (83), I have had to make other adjustments. I used to feed the cat on the kitchen floor. That is too tough to do anymore, especially putting down fresh water without spilling it. Now, I feed Sweetie Beattie on the back counter of the kitchen away from human food. She easily jumps up to eat and to drink from an automatic water dispenser.

Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Currently, I keep my dishes on racks outside the cupboard. If I keep the plates and bowls inside the cabinet, I must stretch my damaged shoulders and torque my body – not good for artificial hips.

Dishes stacked on the counter.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Dishes stacked on the counter. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I avoid using the bottom drawer in my fridge because doing so requires that I drag a chair over to reach its contents. And safety bars in the bathroom and inside the shower are a must.

Back to the ukulele. I don’t know if regular practice for weekly lessons will fit into my already crowded schedule. Nonetheless, I am going to try and will let you know how I fare. Meanwhile, stay tuned!

**”My Dog Has Fleas” refers to the melody used to tune a ukelele.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who feels bereft without music.