celebrations, independence

Enablers Can’t Be ALL Bad

My friend, Kim, and I met for a 10:30 a.m. showing of  “On the Basis of Sex,” about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I dozed. When it was over, I asked Kim what I had missed and she commented, “What I got out of it was that without her husband, she never would have risen to her position. He definitely enabled her.”

Now most of us think of enablers as negative forces: they encourage our drinking, our dependency, our other bad habits. In this situation, Martin Ginsburg, a successful lawyer and law professor, empowered his wife to aim for the stars and become a champion for gender equality. He clearly respected her intellectual talents, and she didn’t disappoint. She admits that she would never have gained a seat on the Supreme Court without him.

I thought about my own life, and for the first time realized that my late husband, Harold, was also an enabler.  When I wanted to go back to UCLA in 1968 to finish my B.A. degree, he was excited and encouraged me. We both knew it would be challenging since we had two teenagers and one pre-teen at home, who needed my attention. Would I be able to balance being a mom and wife while being a student?


Professional photo for Harold’s career as a movie and television extra during the last 25 years of his life. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After experimenting by taking a few classes at Los Angeles City College to reach junior standing, I believed my goal was doable. I enrolled in the UCLA Anthropology Department and discovered that most female students were the ages of my children. I thought I could pass, after all I was only 37. Not so. When I sat next to a recent high school graduate in a very large lecture hall, she outed me: “My mom is going back to school, too.”

On campus, there were services for women undergraduates but only for the young ones. I approached the Dean of Women and asked her what could be done for the housewives and moms who were just beginning to return to campus. She suggested that I create a survey of married women to discover their motivations for being there, what roles their families played in supporting them, and what university services could help them?

Harold & Norine cutting their wedding cake, March 4, 1951. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Some husbands felt quite threatened. One student’s husband was a physician and resented her intellectual endeavors, especially when his acquaintances expressed newly-found interest in her ideas and achievements. At the same time, other husbands were helpful like the Dad who took the family out to McDonald’s once a week so that Mom could have a break from cooking. Still other women revealed that they were back in school to achieve an education before they left unhappy marriages and could be more easily employable.

Harold was so proud of me, he gave me a Senior Prom after I received my B.A.  Had I not dropped out of the university to get married, I would have graduated in 1953. Instead, it was now 1970, so I asked everyone to dress as if it were the original time. The two of us purchased appropriate formal wear from a vintage clothing store; our 17-year-old son, Mark, provided the dance music with his rock and roll band. Our daughters, Andrea and Amy, handed out homemade plastic flower wrist corsages to all the women. It was a joyous and humorous celebration.

Invitation to my Senior Prom created by dear friend and artist, Jan Steward. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After graduation, Harold continued to support me for two more years. He was content to stay at home with me on weekends as I turned out research papers or studied for exams earning an M. A. degree in Folklore and Mythology.

All these memories come flooding back at this time of year, the anniversary of his death on February 2, 2007 at age 85. He died one month before our 56th wedding anniversary. If he had lived, on March 4, 2019, we would have been celebrating 68 years of marriage.

Harold had a way with words. Weeks before he died, he said to Mark, “You know, I think Mom’s almost brilliant,” causing us to howl with laughter. When Mark retold this remark at Harold’s funeral, guests also found his comment amusing and endearing.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to one’s life partner, and even though he’s no longer with me on this plane, I will still say, “Happy Anniversary, Harold.”

Harold & Norine Dresser photo by Ed Keck taken circa 2000. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who greatly misses her enabler.

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



Recently, a friend with an unexpected life threatening physical condition complained that she might have to be on blood thinners for the rest of her life. Reflexively, I commented, “It could always be worse,” thinking insulin injections, chemo, radiation.

That same week another acquaintance mentioned that she had been just diagnosed with A-Fib and was now on blood thinners which she ruefully confessed might have to be taken for the rest of her life. Again, I responded, “It could always be worse,” thinking about those same alternatives given to my first friend.

Later, I wondered why I had made such automatic assertions. It could always be worse was something I even told myself when I had to perform unpleasant procedures, e.g., struggle while strapping on a back brace; wrap my left leg daily; pop in my hearing aids; deal with chronic and increasing back pain. Yet the “It could always be worse,” phrase helps me put my own physical state into perspective. And I recognized that the phrase was tied to Judaism.

Although I am Jewish, my parents were non-synagogue attendees and always spoke only English.  Because I was a sickly child, I missed a lot of public school days so I never even attempted religious school. Despite this, I obviously had absorbed Jewish attitudes and culture.

When I Googled the expression, sure enough I found a children’s book by Margot Zemach called, It Could Always Be Worse, based on an old Yiddish folktale.

As retold by Zemach, accompanied by her lively illustrations, a poor man lived with his wife, mother, and six children crammed into a small hut. With the husband and wife constantly quarrelling and the noisy children fighting and screaming, chaos reigned.

Overcome with frustration, the husband sought advice from a rabbi who counseled that he should bring his chickens, rooster, and goose to live inside with them. Obligingly, the man did, but it only made the household more frenzied. He returned to the rabbi, who then instructed to now bring his goat and later his cow inside the shack.

Their abode became even more unbearable, so the desperate man returned to the rabbi who told him to let all the animals back outside. That night, the family had a wonderful night’s sleep and, the message was clear: At least you don’t have to sleep with your livestock, and that is always worse.

To my regular blog readers: Several months have elapsed since my last posting, and I apologize. I have been sidetracked with chronic pain and reduced mobility that also decreased my ability to write. Although, I am trying a wide variety of treatments, so far I have been unsuccessful. Despite feeling sorry for myself, I must take my own advice and remind myself, “It Could Always Be Worse.”


Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who, like most people, unconsciously absorbed ethnic attitudes from her family.



able/disabled, aging, celebrations, disabilities, folklore, health, independence, mobility

Colliding with Reality

Grade School age, taken on Talmadge Street. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Grade School age, 1930s, taken on Talmadge Street, in Los Angeles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016



When my wheelchair attendant at El Paso airport introduced himself as, “Moses,” I mused, “Aha! He will lead us to the Promised Land,” but not exactly.




I was headed to the University of California in Berkeley for the 75th anniversary of the Western States Folklore Society. My dear friend and colleague, Mariah, generously volunteered to accompany me, aware that traveling alone had become much too challenging.

Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I thought I had properly planned ahead finding out which hotel or housing facility would be closest to the sessions. The University Faculty Club seemed the most promising with so-called accommodations for the handicapped. However, to avoid the inside stairs we had to go outside and down a steep path made perilous by the constant rain. Can you imagine my negotiating a cane in one hand and an umbrella in the other while trying not to slip just to reach the breakfast dining room?


Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

I also struggled with the hilly wet campus terrain sloshing from building to building for different sessions. And when I finally reached my destination, I ran into another problem. In my Las Cruces home, I take a nap everyday for about two hours. My body would not allow me to break that habit, so when I sat in afternoon sessions,I automatically fell asleep.How embarrassing! I missed hearing many great papers, or so they tell me.

Most of my colleagues from the UCLA Folklore Program were not present, some of them already dead. What compensated for that loss, however, was meeting a new crop of enthusiastic graduate students.That made up for everything.

So what was my take-away from this experience? I will no longer attend academic meetings. In addition, I have just purchased the next step in mobility devices, a rollator that will allow me to sit down when walking becomes too tiring and painful.

Still, I had a wonderful time including a quasi-romantic encounter at LAX with a bizarre beau, a coroner.

Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.



Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy's bike that I named, "Rocket." © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy’s bike that I named, “Rocket.” © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who despite her age and physical disabilities still looks forward to more adventures that don’t include academic meetings.



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.

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, independence, mobility

Jumping to Conclusions




photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

photo credit: seanmcgrath via photopin cc

The manicurist cautiously assisted me as I stepped down from the high-seated pedicure chair and escorted me by the arm as I slowly made my way to the drying station.  With sympathy, two younger customers studied my descent.

“Ladies,” I gently advised, “You’ll be lucky if you get to reach this stage in life.”

They nodded in agreement.


Fat Tuesday arrived and I yearned to hear some New Orleans jazz at a nearby restaurant.  I invited some neighbors to join me, but they were unable to attend.  While at first I thought I’d just stay home, I reconsidered.  The first set started at 5 p.m., so why not just go over there by myself anyway?  I threw on some shiny Mardi Gras beads, arrived early and introduced myself to the band members who were finishing their supper.  Afterward, I wondered why I did that but decided, “Why not?”

Then while sipping a glass of Merlot, two unexpected acquaintances asked if they could join me, and I welcomed them  The shrimp gumbo arrived as the band began their hot performance.

By the end of the first set, I had finished my wine and gumbo, so I left.  As I did, I noticed a young woman watching me: an 82-year-old woman alone, leaning on a cane, wearing brightly colored Mardi Gras beads and smiling in contentment as she climbed behind the wheel of her own car.  The woman looked amused.


In both situations I was perceived as an elderly less-than-top-functioning person without observers being aware of what I have experienced in life.  How could they know that I once wrote a book about vampires that resulted in a trip to Hungary where I appeared in a scene with George Hamilton staged in an ancient castle for an international network television show?  Could they even imagine that in 1995 I was the guest of the Romanian Tourism Bureau to attend the First World Dracula Congress that included a stay in the Dracula Hotel set in the Carpathian Mountains?

It is so easy to dismiss old people — I’ve done it myself.  Just because we don’t look too wonderful anymore and may depend on canes, walkers or wheelchairs, doesn’t mean that an eye blink ago we were thriving and creative participants in this world.

Oh, oh, please excuse me.  My hearing aids are beeping.  I must go change their batteries.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who despite her years still feels like she’s part of the game — the game of life.