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.

 

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY! (Happy New Year)

L. A. Chinatown New Year's goods for sale.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

L. A. Chinatown New Year’s goods for sale. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Las Cruces, NM, supplies all my needs except one — GOOD CHINESE FOOD. True, they have a few Chinese restaurants here, but they mainly offer food that has been sitting in steam tables for hours.

Good Chinese food is always freshly made to order. That is why, when I recently returned to Los Angeles, eating at a Chinese restaurant was my number one priority. Gorging on fresh pork dumplings, pea sprouts, and beef rolls, I devoured the perfect fix.

I was also fortunate to have visited during the 2015 Lunar New Year. As I eyed all the new souvenirs I heard myself skeptically say, “Probably made in China.” Duh, I should hope so.

Chinese monk shopping for New Year's.  L. A. Chinatown.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Chinese monk shopping for New Year’s. L. A. Chinatown. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

When our children were young, we always brought them to Chinatown for the excitement, parade, and firecrackers. That was part of our family tradition, but I was reminded one year that I was an outsider.

During the festivities, I ran into a neighbor at a souvenir shop and when she left, I merrily said, “Happy New Year, Marie,” to which my offended salesperson retorted, “It’s not YOUR New Year.”

But ALL New Year’s celebrations are mine regardless of religion or ethnicity. I love the anticipation, the colorful rituals, the special clothing and colors, the feelings of hope that the new year will be an improvement over the last.  These emotions are universal and should be shared.

Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram.  Fake fireworks.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram. Decorative firecrackers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys celebrating holidays — everyone’s holidays.

Googling God

Googling God photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Googling God photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

Overwhelming response to a recent post: “God Laughs While Women Plan” puzzled me. Up to that point, 9,000 was the largest number of hits I had received on previous posts, so 31,000 hits was stunning.

Did I have so many hits because I used the word “God” in the title? That’s the only rationale that makes sense. In the past, I thought that by using “Martha Stewart” in a title would bring many hits. I was wrong. I miscalculated again when I wrote about “Marijuana.” I questioned my low number of hits then discovered that I had misspelled “Marijuana,” yet it was spelled correctly in the body of the post. Even when I corrected the title spelling, I had fewer than 2,000 readers.

Using the word “God” in the title is the only explanation for the popularity of my post.

Do you remember the old Groucho Marx show, “You Bet Your Life”? Groucho had a “Secret Word” that, if contestants inadvertently uttered, brought them a $50 bonus.

I have had personal experiences of saying a secret word that struck an unexpected response from another person. When my children were teenagers and I returned to take classes at a community college, I took an American Literature class. In one of my papers, I mentioned “Dostoyevsky.” How was I to know that the class reader, a graduate student from a local university, was a Russian Literature major? As a result of that one word, we became lifetime friends.

The night I met my husband-to-be, we were at a festival on the UCLA campus. While we were dancing, he made me uncomfortable because he held me too tightly. However, when he asked, “Do you like Latin music?” he totally disarmed me. He had spoken my secret words, referring to music I fell in love with at age 14 while mesmerized by a Mexican trio on Catalina Island. I had never discussed this with anyone, so Harold’s speaking these words instantly melted me – even more so when we left UCLA to go to a club to hear and dance to the captivating Cuban rhythms of Rene Touzet.

Latin Music became a motif throughout our lifetime together. And with Harold’s permission, as guests entered the chapel at his funeral, they entered to the Latin beat of the Buena Vista Social Club.

How do readers find blogs that interest them? By Googling a topic. God has a gazillion followers.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is curious about how readers discover her blogs.

 

A Turtle-Filled Life

Chocolate, pecan and caramel turtles.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Chocolate, pecan and caramel turtles. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Some turtles are for eating, like those scrumptious turtle-shaped chocolate candies with pecans and caramel made famous by De Met’s.   In 1950, right after I met my late husband, Harold, he took a trip back to Chicago to visit relatives. I wasn’t sure of his interest in me until I unexpectedly received a box of De Met’s Turtles from him while he was away. I interpreted that as a positive omen.

Traditional Native American turtle necklace.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Traditional Native American turtle necklace. Photo by Mariah Chase. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Some turtles are symbolic . For the bar mitzvah of my grandson, Zachary, I wore a necklace created by a Native American artist featuring a turtle. In creation myths of numerous tribes, they believe that the earth was created on the turtle’s back.  To me, it seemed appropriate for a folklorist Granny to wear a Native American traditional  symbol to a traditional Jewish coming of age ceremony.

Sign inside Tortugas Festival Pavillion.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Sign inside Tortugas Festival Pavillion. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Some turtles are the centerpiece of celebrations. This past weekend in Las Cruces at the Tortugas (Turtles) Pueblo they held an annual Tortugas Festival. Key to this event is a turtle race, where turtles of all sizes compete – from the small souvenir types that children keep in small bowls of water to giant desert tortoises that can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Small turtle racer.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Small turtle racer. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Giant desert tortoise.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Giant desert tortoise. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But for me, the highlight of my turtle- filled life has been the adoption of an adorable new cat, Tortuga, named so because she is a variety of tortoise-shell feline.

“Tuga” is about two years old and had been neglected by her original owner who lay dead at home for four days before anyone realized it. When the body was taken away by authorities, Tuga was taken to an animal shelter but later rescued by a concerned neighbor who thought this cat would be a good fit for me. Not only is Tuga a good fit, she is PURRFECT.

Tuga and I together at last.  Mariah Chase photo. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014. photo

Tuga and I together at last. Mariah Chase photo. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014. photo

Tuga has faced tough times in her short life. Consequently she is so hungry for love and attention, she snuggles all night in my bed giving me kisses. During the day, she trots by my side like Mary’s Little Lamb.

Tuga at play.  Mariah Chase photo.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Tuga at play. Mariah Chase photo. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Beautiful sweet Tortuga, my new furry companion.  Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Beautiful sweet Tortuga, my new furry companion. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Tuga is not a replacement for my dear departed Tom, the rescue cat who rescued me from depression after I became a widow.  Tom remains in my heart and will continue to be my logo in his Dracula cape.  However, Tuga represents moving on and my being able to make a welcoming home for another helpless and abandoned creature.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is grateful to have a lovable new furry companion.

♪♪♪ “One Meatball” ♪♪♪ ?

NO, THOUSANDS OF MEATBALLS!

© Photo by Daniel Zolinsky, 2013. Tortugas Pueblo, Las Cruces, NM.

© Photo by Daniel Zolinsky, 2013. Tortugas Pueblo, Las Cruces, NM.

December 11, along with dozens of other volunteers, I made hundreds of Mexican meatballs — albóndigas — to celebrate the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe at her shrine located in the Tortugas Pueblo, in Las Cruces, NM.

Some of you may wonder, “Why is this Jewish woman making meatballs for a Mexican Catholic holiday?”  Here is my response, “Why not?”

As a folklorist rituals are one of my passions, and I prefer to participate rather than just watch.  As long as the ritual is for a positive purpose, count me in.  Consequently,  I accompanied my comadre, Denise Chávez, who was the cultural leader for a tour of Colorado seniors.  She wanted them to experience this annual event from a personal point of view, so there we sat for hours making this annual treat that would be served the following day to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and her followers.  As we rolled the ground beef and chatted, a meatball captain patrolled  up and down the aisles to ensure the unwritten rules about the size of the meatballs — that they were not too big.  If so, he tossed them back into the pot to be re-sized downward.

On December 12, the actual feast day, we returned to the Pueblo to sample our handiwork.  There were hundreds of noon-time diners, two shifts worth.  The meatballs were served in their own juice inside a stainless steel bowl.  For each eight persons, we shared a bowl of meatballs plus three other stainless steel bowls containing macaroni and cheese, boiled pinto beans, and red chili beef stew.  Each place setting had a paper soup bowl with only a soup spoon and napkin by its side.  Servers also distributed big chunks of homemade white bread.  What a fabulous meal!

Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Tortugas Pueblo, Las Cruces, NM.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tortugas Pueblo, Las Cruces, NM. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.

I almost always have a tune going through my head, and while anticipating this meatball adventure, I couldn’t get that old song,   ♪♪♪ “One Meatball” ♪♪♪   out of my system.  I asked several people if they knew it and was surprised when most didn’t.  George Martin Lane wrote it in 1885 and titled it, “The Lone Fish Ball.”  In 1944,  Hy Zanet and Lou Singer revitalized and modernized the song renaming it, “One Meatball.”  Many singers popularized it including  Dave Van Ronk, Josh White, Bing Crosby, and the Andrews Sisters.  What’s surprising is that despite the song being popular in the 1940s, the lyrics seem more fitted to the Depression.  The song describes a hungry man with only 15 cents in his pocket.  He enters a restaurant, studies the menu and discovers that all he can afford is one meatball.  When he asks the waiter for a slice of bread, the waiter embarrasses the diner by retorting harshly, “You get no bread with one meatball!”

If that same man had been at the Tortugas Pueblo on December 12, he would have gotten more than one meatball plus not a slice but at least one chunk of bread.

Food served at the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Tortugas Pueblo, NM.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.

Food served at the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tortugas Pueblo, NM. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys participating in rituals of all kinds.