able/disabled, cats, disabilities, Dogs, health, loneliness, loss, pets, Uncategorized

TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY

The first thing I did when I got home from the hospital was to lie down and cuddle my girl. She seemed to enjoy it, too. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

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Many of you know that I have been incapacitated since mid-February. At first, the doc thought that my problems were respiratory– bronchitis and perhaps pneumonia, so he sent me to the ER.

My daughter met me there, and after I was finally admitted and assigned to a room, we noticed a couple walking two large therapy dogs down the hall. We invited them in. One animal was a Rhodesian Ridgeback and the other an Akita. It lifted my spirits just to have these animals near me. Nuzzling the furry ruff of the Akita and wrapping my arms around its neck brought me great pleasure. Of course, I know that when we pet an animal, our blood pressure goes down. Aside from the science, when embracing another living creature, it makes us realize that all’s right in the world, or more precisely, I was going to be all right. And eventually I was after surgery for unexpected two compression fractures of the spine and a one week stay in a rehabilitation facility.

Therapy dogs at Las Cruces Memorial Hospital. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

 

Decades ago, I wrote a paper called “The Horse Bar Mitzvah,” that became a chapter in a veterinary medicine textbook.* I presented examples and analyses of the relationships between humans and animals in different settings: horse bar mitzvah; cat mitzvah; dog wedding; festivals honoring the human/animal bond, for example, Blessings of the Animals. In addition, I researched the role of service animals: therapy horses, war dogs, rescue dog, therapy dogs.

Since publication (2000), dogs have increasingly played a vital role in our culture, e.g., at airports, sniffing out the taboo garlic and sausages, as well as drugs. And since 9/11, new roles have developed especially at airports, with the focus on explosives and terrorism.

Human/animal relationships keep evolving. Comfort dogs is a new title given to animals that  show up at scenes of disasters. I was moved seeing televised dogs disembarking from a van within 48 hours at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida. Who could not be cheered by seeing these eager animals there to be stroked and embraced by traumatized children and staff?

 

Doesn’t your heart melt at the sight of these comfort dogs brought to the school by a Lutheran Church Charity helping to dispatch K9 Comfort Boots and Paws on the ground?

 

New duties for dogs progress. Yale University has developed a program utilizing rescue dogs in New York low-income public schools. The dogs become reading buddies and foster social development. At my local university (NMSU), dogs are brought in at exam time to lower the distress students feel during this time of high anxiety. Courthouse Dogs allow specially trained service dogs to accompany children during testimony in a courtroom.

Since my return home from the hospitals, my cat, Sweetie Beattie, is never more than inches away from me. At first, I employed a caregiver to help me with pain issues during the night. Whenever, she came into the bedroom to take care of me, Sweetie Beattie lay at the foot of my bed skeptically eyeing all the caregiver’s movements. Or else she sat on the dresser warily watching the activities. During that time, I called her the Night Nurse for she acted as if she were supervising – definitely looking out for my interest.

The Night Nurse, aka, Sweetie Beattie supervising my activities. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2018.

As aloof as she may ordinarily be, Sweetie seems to sense that I need more of her attention now. Even as I am here at the keyboard, she is on top of my desk backed up against my computer, and with my extended pinky I can stroke the fur on her back. Can that compete with steroids and antibiotics? No, but she is a fantastic supplement.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is mad about her Sweetie Beattie.

 

*Companion Animals and Us:Exploring the Relationships Between People and Pets. Eds: Podberscek and Serpell. Cambridge University Press, UK., 2000.

Visit my online museum: Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture, https://flpcgallery.org

celebrations, music, religion, Uncategorized

“When You Get to the Word ‘Jesus,’ Just Sing ‘Hm, Hm”

Those were the instructions my mother gave me after I told her that I had been chosen to be a sixth grade Christmas caroler. She felt that I would be betraying my Jewish heritage if I sang the name of “Jesus.” I didn’t agree with her, so I didn’t obey.

Anonymous group of Christmas carolers. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Anonymous group of Christmas carolers. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

For me, music trumps all, and I’m not talking about Donald. Other Jews don’t have a problem paying tribute to the birth of Jesus. Look at Irving Berlin. He composed the iconic two tunes associated with Christian holidays: “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade.” High-profile Jewish vocalists have joyfully sung Christian holiday songs, such as Barbra Streisand with one album of Christmas melodies and Neil Diamond with three different Christmas albums.

In 1994, the First World Sacred Music Festival occurred in Los Angeles and was a spectacular event. Because Los Angeles has so many different religions, the event lasted for two weeks in many sacred as well as public venues. However, the most exciting program occurred at the Hollywood Bowl. First of all, the Dalai Lama blessed this gathering of almost 18,000 audience members. To protect him, all of us had to pass through metal detectors before being seated.

After his blessing, the performances ensued. Because there were so many musical acts, the concert began at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and ended at 10:00 p.m. As each group sang, the excitement heightened until we reached the last act, a renowned choir from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

The pianist slowly played some chords and then intoned: “You may have AT & T, but sometimes your call doesn’t go through.” She played some arpeggios and continued. “You may have Sprint, but they, too, have problems and sometimes you can’t get through.” After playing more chords and arpeggios, she dramatically mentioned more phone carriers, all with connection flaws, leading to the climax: “But there is one person who will always be there to answer your call, and his name is…” In the spirit of the moment the entire audience shouted, “JESUS!” Then the choir began and we rocked on throughout their set until we left the Bowl on a high note.

By singing the name “Jesus,” did that negate my religious or spiritual beliefs? Did it change who I am? I don’t believe so. For me, the music transcended the words.

Is it bad/evil/or disloyal to sing the name of another one’s God?

I have never felt so, but I speak only for myself.

Oops! I have much more to write about, but it’s time to leave for my Las Cruces Ukuleles rehearsal for our four upcoming Christmas concerts. And when we get to the word “Jesus” I will have no problem belting out his name.

The author in her Las Cruces Ukes performance costume. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
The author in her Las Cruces Ukes performance costume. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who delights in music of all kinds, religious and secular, Western and Eastern.

 

 

 

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.

customs/rituals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, Uncategorized

“Next Time, Order the Shrimp!” Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Bowl of opened fortune cookies.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Bowl of opened fortune cookies. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Even though most of us are aware that fortune cookies are a faux Chinese custom invented in the U.S., we wait in suspense to open these rice cake treats when dining in Chinese restaurants.

Especially for children.  For a while, my husband and I fooled our offspring until they learned to read.  The toddlers would excitedly hand Harold their cookie fortunes and invariably he would pretend to slowly decode them and then intone, “Honor your father and your mother, and you will have good luck.”  We couldn’t get away with that for long.

In Los Angeles, I frequently visited Chinatown and once stopped in at a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory.  The process intrigued me  — batter automatically poured onto small circle griddles and when the fragrant aroma indicated that they were cooked, they were mechanically folded into fortune cookie shapes.  The process mesmerized me, yet I can’t remember at what stage they inserted the fortunes.

Most of us are familiar with the old fashioned predictions, “You will soon take a long journey,” but fortunes like the irreverent one in my title, “Next time, order the shrimp,” cause a vision of Chinese fortune cookie writers going off the deep end.  Or perhaps, the new kinds of fortune cookie writers are simply more daring and realistic.

“There is no problem.  It’s only your stupidity.”

“Keep it simple.  The more you say, the more people won’t remember.”

Even though wer realize that the fortunes are just hokum created by some anonymous writers, more likely based in Brooklyn than Beijing, we have hopes that a startling pronouncement will elate us and renew our optimism about the future.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s why we scan our horoscopes, have our palms read or tarot cards interpreted.

Even on the brink of 83 years, I confess that I still look forward to reading my fortune and grab the cookie that conveys that it is destined only for me.  So far, I have avoided selecting this one of the contemporary variety.

“I cannot help you, for I am just a cookie.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that at almost 83, tomorrow still holds promise.