customs/rituals, folklore

Donald Trump: Basher or Bashee?

Donald Trump has a way with words, a dreadful way. I even heard him say that John McCain was not a war hero because he had been taken prisoner. “I like people who weren’t captured,” he continued. And these reckless words came from a man who has never served in the U.S. military.

How crushing this must be to former POWs; how insulting to all U.S. military personnel and their families.

Trump’s remarks about Mexican immigrants are equally disturbing. He described them as bringing drugs, bringing crime, being rapists. Living here in Las Cruces, NM, the majority of my neighbors and friends are Mexican and Mexican Americans. I feel  embarrassed for them because of Trump’s crude words. How terrible they must feel when this xenophobic headline-grabbing fool makes such a sweeping indictment.

When Mexican artisans began creating Donald Trump piñatas, nothing could have delighted me more. What a perfect metaphor!

The purpose of a piñata is to smash it open with a stick and grab the candy falling from its innards. What fun for Mexican bashers to seek retribution this way? As an extra humiliation, Trump has been trivialized by being transformed into a children’s amusement, so fitting for this immature-thinking man.

Of course, I had to have one for my folk art and pop culture collection, so here is my Donald Trump Piñata. Imagine the joy of bashing it and being deluged by sweets rather than vitriol!

Catharsis! Donald Trump Piñata about to be bashed. Photo by Mariah Chase. Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2015.
Catharsis! Donald Trump Piñata about to be bashed. Photo by Mariah Chase. Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2015.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is delighted to have added the Donald Trump Piñata to her collection of Folk Art and Pop Culture artifacts.

folklore, music, Uncategorized

“I Can’t Stand the Competition!”

Few people might consider that watching one segment of an early morning television show could become a life-changing event.

But that’s what happened to me in 1954 when feeding my newborn daughter, Andrea, while watching the “Today Show” hosted by Dave Garroway.  He interviewed Jean Ritchie, a New York Settlement House worker who was originally from Appalachia and played a new-to-me-instrument called a mountain dulcimer that she strummed with a feathered quill.

Jean Ritchie holding her mountain dulcimer.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Jean Ritchie holding her mountain dulcimer. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

The haunting tunes she sang in a thin clear soprano voice struck me powerfully. Never before had I heard anything like this. Later, I discovered that it was the modal scales on which her tunes were based that created the plaintive quality that bowled me over. Immediately, I purchased one of her LP recordings, learned to sing these new tunes and started collecting albums of other folk music stars of the day: Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Rambling Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and dozens more.

Norine Dresser playing her own Mountain Dulcimer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Norine Dresser playing her own mountain dulcimer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Ultimately, Jean Ritchie became the Yellow Brick Road leading to my becoming a folklorist. First, I learned a large part of the American folk music repertoire. Next, I started playing folk guitar and later taught it; Then I attended UCLA where I earned a B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in folklore and mythology. Afterward, I utilized my new-found knowledge to teach folklore and pop culture at California State University Los Angeles, where I stayed for 20 years.

* * *

Flash forward 10 years from that 1954 “Today Show” segment. I found out that Jean Ritchie was scheduled to perform at the Ash Grove, the premiere Los Angeles folk music venue of that time. On a lark, I sent her a very homespun letter saying that members of my guitar club were fans and if, while in L.A., she would come over, we would be honored to meet her and “break bread” together. I mailed the letter and forgot about it – until the day she phoned. In her twangy voice she agreed to come over but with the proviso that I transport her to her evening gig at the Ash Grove. “Of course,” I excitedly agreed.

Jean was a delightful guest describing the role of music while growing up in her home. For example, she and her siblings sang specific songs while performing particular chores. After lunch she performed an enchanting dulcimer concert. This was a magical moment: from first watching her on TV in my living to now seeing her perform live in my living room. She mesmerized my guests and me.

After all the visitors had left, Jean rested in my bedroom while I prepared supper. During the meal, my toddler, Amy, who was in a high chair, took her spoon and kept banging it against her water glass while Jean was trying to talk. Exasperated, Jean loudly announced, “I can’t stand the competition!”

That shut us all up. We were so used to the dinner table din that we didn’t hear the noise. It took Jean to point out this disruption. And ever since Jean’s pronouncement, “I can’t stand the competition,” this commentary has become one of our family’s favorite sayings.

All these memories of Jean Ritchie and her influence in my becoming a folklorist washed over me a few weeks ago with news of her death at age 92. My last conversation with her took place in the car while we drove to the Ash Grove that night more than 50 years ago, and I felt remorseful. I never told her how her “Today Show” appearance had changed my life.

But it’s never too late. “Thank you, Jean Ritchie!


Norine Dresser is a “I Can’t Stand the Competition!”who shall forever be grateful to Jean Ritchie who led her down the wondrous path to becoming a folklorist.