Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Getting in Tune, Part 2

A small coda to my previous  post:

 Music was the primary thing that Daddy and I had in common.  While there is a bit of musical ability on my maternal side, the real musical genes came down through my Grandmother Ivy.  She was the eldest in the William Henry Frankum family, which collectively was double, maybe triple, dipped in musical talent.  They could all play something - fiddle, guitar, piano - and most of them and their descendants did and continue to sing and make music at every opportunity.

The older I got, the less that Daddy and I had to talk about, but there was always music.  (And, to a lesser extent, Westerns.  We both liked reading Louis L'Amour westerns and watching John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies.)  We just did not have a lot of common interest and he was frankly baffled at the fact that both his children ended up working with computers, something that had him completely buffaloed.

So while other folks may fondly remember playing a game of catch in the side yard with their fathers or going to ball games or rebuilding engines or what-not, the thing I remember fondly are the Sunday nights we would go over to the church early and spend an hour playing hymns together before services.  We would switch around, one of us on the piano and the other on the Hammond organ.  He could play by ear and I could only play by note, so I would start something and he would join in and we would make our way through whatever hymnal I had at hand.  I learned a lot of old songs that way, some of them wonderful songs that have sadly faded into obscurity.

I inherited other things from my father - primarily half of my ability to write and a sad inability to understand math - but the love of music and the ability to make music definitely came from him.

Buddy Wilcoxen, tickling the ivories in the 1950s
At Aunt O's house, with me already getting ideas of collaboration,
Mother holding David in the background

Aunt O (Ora Lamb), my grandmother's sister,
playing their father's fiddle, 2003
Little brother on the guitar, left, and cousin Dean Frankum on fiddle


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Getting Back in Tune

One of the hobbies/activities that took a real hit during the period of time I was involved in caregiving for my mother was the piano.  When I was growing up in Smiley, from the 4th grade through 12th grade, I took piano lessons from Mrs. Bell and I spent a good portion of my free time sitting at the piano in the First Baptist Church sanctuary next door, playing and practicing, hours at a time.  I probably wore a rut in the sidewalk between the parsonage and the side entrance to the church, I made that trip so often.  

I had wanted to play piano for as long as I could remember.  Before we moved to Smiley, I can remember sitting and picking out tunes on the piano at the church annex where we lived in Victoria.  It was inevitable that I would take up lessons as soon as the opportunity (and the funds) permitted.  In 1964, the musical portion of my education commenced.

A 1971 musical program
Dress by Mother and orchid corsage by Daddy
Senior Recital, 1972
Dress again by Mother and I believe there is another orchid peeking out
courtesy of my father
I seldom went a day without spending some time at the piano.  In addition, I was drafted by the church, first as a backup and then as a regular, to play piano or organ at Sunday services and I regularly provided piano accompaniments at the annual school Christmas programs and piano marches at the 8th and 12th grade graduations.  Under protest, I also played for quite a few weddings and funerals.  

When I graduated High School and we moved to Bastrop, I continued to provide piano for church services, weddings and funerals on weekends and during holiday breaks from college.  Practicing was limited to time I could grab on those weekends and holidays and the odd occasion when I would borrow a piano practice room at the college.  We still had no piano at home and we no longer lived next door to the church, so it took more effort to get time at the keyboard, especially with so much of my time having to now be devoted to my academic studies.

When I graduated from college and began full-time employment, I resigned from my duties with the church.  There was just no energy or time available to devote to a second job, and so I lost my ready access to a piano.  It should be no surprise that the first big investment I made (after a car) was to buy myself a piano.  The first one was an antique upright that was gorgeous as a piece of furniture and lousy as a musical instrument.  Still, I had a piano with a full set of 88 keys that were not quite in tune but satisfied my need to sit down and touch base with my musical side.  A few years later, I gave up the antique in favor of a brand-new upright, which is still with me.

Unfortunately my job kept me busy and tired out and there was little time for the piano.  Then when Mother's health failed and we moved in together so that I could take care of her, it was hard to find any time to play and what time I did have available usually coincided with her sleep time, which I did not want to disturb.  For a good ten years, I barely touched the piano at all.  

It took a year or so after we lost Mother for me to regain the energy or the desire to sit down at the piano again.  I was appalled at how rusty I had become.  I could barely make it through the simplest pieces, my fingers could not seem to find the right notes any longer and my back would begin protesting in a very short period of time.  I was disgusted and frustrated.

But, I decided the only cure was to start spending some regular time every day at the piano like I did in the beginning.  I started with the old Baptist and Broadman hymnals.  I figured I had spent more time playing those old gospel songs than I had playing anything else and those would come back the easiest.  I was right.  The sense memory in my fingers would take over from time to time, adding in all those little chords and furbelows that we church pianists would tuck in to fill out the spaces between the sung notes (that "Baptist roll" as one of my uncles used to call it).  Whenever I got upset at my lack of ability to play that Beethoven sonata that featured in my Senior recital, I would spend a half hour pounding out gospel music.  Gospel music is always good for the soul.

It has taken almost a year of sitting 15-30 minutes a day at the piano, but I suddenly realized a couple of weeks ago that I was having less trouble grabbing those notes in the deep left end of the keyboard without looking.  I was having less trouble reading the notes in the upper and lower registers when the music would take off above and below the normal staff.  I was having fewer instances of suddenly forgetting what key I was playing in half-way through a song.  I was beginning to make my way through that Beethoven sonata (well, at least the first movement) slowly, without having a sudden temper fit in the middle and crashing my hands to the keyboard in frustration at the sheer volume of wrong notes coming out of my hands.

A few days ago I was watching an old Remington Steele program that ended with a lovely and simple piece of classical music.  I don't know how I knew that it was by Chopin (except I've always had a penchant for Chopin and Beethoven), but I was certain it was and I pulled out some of my classical collections to see if I could find it.  Oddly enough, I flipped right to a Chopin Prelude that turned out to be the piece in question.  I slowly made my way through it and almost made it through without messing up.  It has become my most recent practice piece that gets played over and over.

Maybe I knew what it was subliminally, but I don't think so because I had never learned to play that piece and did not have a recording of it.  I think I just recognized that it had to be by Chopin and maybe some friendly spirit or intuition led me to turn to that book and that page and find that piece like I was following a homing signal.  I took it as a sign that I was headed in the right direction as I try to rejuvenate my old love affair with the piano.

I'll never again rip off a Chopin Etude or a Beethoven sonata the way I did when I was 18, but maybe I can polish a few of the less involved favorites with this steady practice program I've taken on and maybe one of these days I can be relaxed and easy with the piano again.  It's one of my oldest friends and I am having a really good time getting reacquainted.

A quick reunion with the piano at the Christian Church in
Bastrop.  The Calvary Baptist congregation met in this building
when it first organized.  I spent many a Sunday playing in this beautiful
 Victorian era auditorium.


Monday, February 18, 2013

I'm Not a Poet and I Know It

My father wrote poetry.  He wrote a lot of poetry.  He wrote it for fun.  Just about everybody he knew would get an original poem for their birthday, their anniversary or any other date of importance.  I found it bizarre that anybody could do that.

I can't write poetry.

My mother occasionally wrote poetry.  She usually opted to write prose, but every so often she would dash off a bit of poetry.

I can write prose.  I can't write poetry.

Every time some teacher would get it in his or her head to throw out an assignment to write a poem, I would panic.  I would try to bribe one of my parents to fulfill my assignment and save me from the disgrace of having to admit that I can't write poetry.

I stink at writing poetry.

Today I was poking through a book where I keep odds and ends such as obituaries, comics clipped from the newspaper or a magazine, and the odd quotation.  I was surprised to come across a poem that I wrote while I was in college.  I think it may be the only example of poetry that I know that I wrote all by myself and that didn't make me want to apologize for doing so.

I can remember writing the poem in desperation.  I was taking a literature course and someone who had taken the course warned me that the professor was going to have us write a poem, using a particular rhyming convention.  I think I had a case of the vapors when I heard that I was going to have to write a poem, let alone a poem with a specific number of lines and a particular rhyming pattern.  I dreaded the day I would walk into the class and get that assignment.

So I decided for once in my life to try and get the task out of the way ahead of time instead of sweating it out under pressure.  I knew I would not be able to come up with a rhyme for "cat" under pressure.  I surprised myself and actually got a half-way acceptable stanza written and I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped worrying about the assignment that was going to hit me.

I can't remember now what this kind of verse is called.  What I do remember is that the professor never did give us the assignment to write a poem in this style.  All my worry was for naught.

But, I have one poem that I wrote.  And this is it.  Be kind.  I can't write poetry to save my life.  Those genes passed me by.

The weary man walked down the narrow road,
The pain was in his eyes for all to see;
Upon his back he bore the heavy load
Of all the things he once planned he would be,
In other days when youthful dreams were free.
The ways of life he doesn't understand,
The reason for his trials he cannot see.
He lives with his mistakes the best he can,
And now he finds himself an old and bitter man.

(Poem written in 1975, while attending Mary Hardin-Baylor College)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Knitting Up the Raveled Sleeve of Care

Obviously I'm not blogging much these days.  I never intended to stop blogging, since the whole thing started as a way for me to have a way to look back at the end of the year and remember the highs and lows and mundanes of the year.  For several years, I was pretty good about logging the various events in my life.  And then....

Facebook happened, for one.  It became easier to just dash off a quick note here and there about what my mood of the moment happened to be.  At first I still blogged regularly.  Then the blogging began to wane and the slapdash thoughts on my Facebook page gradually took over.

And then life got hectic.  The fire.  The remodel.  The various society (i.e., DAR, DRT, UDC) demands on my time.  I got tired, both mentally and physically.  When I get tired, I have a hard time writing.  

And when I get really, really tired, I have a hard time focusing enough to do anything.  Reading was the next thing to go by the wayside. The very idea of working on my dollhouses made the fatigue go into overdrive.  I fell into wasting my time on Facebook games and watching endless TV.  I felt guilty for wasting time, but so lacking in interest that I could not seem to fight my way out.

I desperately cast about for some more productive way of spending my time and the answer turned out to be a hobby that had been sitting in the background for years, just waiting for the right time to catch my attention.


Knitting is a great soother of ragged nerves.  I first learned to knit in 8th grade when a Home Economics teacher taught us the basic knit and purl stitches.  From there I was self taught, just as I've self taught myself other activities over the years - sitting with a manual and bull-dozing my way through the material until I understand it.  I got fairly proficient at basic knitting and made numerous afghans and a few sweaters (none of which ever really saw the light of day, but they did get made).  

My love affair with knitting ebbed and flowed over the decades.  My love affair with fine yarn never faded.  I amassed a large stash of good yarn (and a larger stash of bad yarn) and had the idea that someday I will use up this yarn.  Yeah, right.  I would get out the stash once a year, coo and admire the good stuff, and wrinkle my nose at the bad stuff and wonder why on earth I had acquired it.  Not much got made with any of it for a very long period of time, but I did enjoy my periodic visits with that good stuff.  I love the feel and smell and look of a quality yarn.

When the fire hit Bastrop County in September 2011, a local yarn store ran a campaign to ask area knitters to donate unwanted yarn to be distributed to knitters who had lost their yarn supplies.  I decided to go through my stash and donate all the yarn that I no longer wanted to the local thrift store.  I devised a way to keep track of the yarn I really loved so I would not forget I had it and could, in fact, see it daily and think about the lovely things that could be made with that yarn.

And at Christmas 2011, inspiration hit.  It started with a kit that was available at Hill Country Weavers in Austin.  I asked for that kit for a Christmas present and made myself a promise that if I received that kit for a present, I would make it immediately.  And, furthermore, I would set myself the goal to make at least one thing every month of 2012 and use up some of that lovely yarn I had on hand.  I had stumbled upon the thing I had been looking for to pull myself out of the dumps.

By the end of January, I had the Paintbrush Cowl kit completed and was on my way.

January's Paintbrush Cowl

The year's projects were heavy on the scarf angle.  I was rusty and needed to brush up on my knitting skills, and I figured that I should keep my monthly goals reasonable.  In the background I started the first shawl, hoping that I could finish a scarf quickly and get my month's goal out of the way and use the remainder of the month to work on the shawl.  As the weeks passed, I increased speed and sharpened my knitting skills and began to make more than one thing some months while some projects drifted along in the background for two or more months.

I actually lost track of what got completed in what month, but at the end of the year I had 12 completed knitting projects.

February's Flounce Scarf
March's Big Cowl

April's Long Beach Scarf
May's Kid Silk Ruffle Scarf
June's Fiesta Scarf
I even took a brief detour about mid-year to re-teach myself some crocheting techniques.

July's Queen Mochi Scarf (Crochet)

August's Shibui Shawl
September's Suede Oakley Shawl

October's Marble Capelet
November's Color Affection Shawl
December's Angora Citron Shawlette
By the end of the year, I was back up to knitting speed and was able to start and finish a shawl within the one month goal time frame.  I fell back into love with knitting.  I learned several new techniques that are of recent invention by truly gifted knitters.  I found a lovely online knitting community called Ravelry which has been a wonderful source of inspiration.  I used up some of my yarn stash that had been sitting there waiting for years for me to get my act together.  I bought more yarn - which wasn't the idea, but who can resist all the lovely yarns that are available now?  In addition to all those completed projects for 2012, I started 2013 with a half-dozen projects in various stages of progress and continue to knit happily in my leisure time.

Knitting pulled me through a rough year.  It helped me begin to re-focus my energy, although there is a long way to go yet.  Writing is still difficult and the genealogy research is still on the back burner, but I feel the embers beginning to glow brighter.

And I don't know if I would have made it through the massive remodel without the knitting to keep my hands busy with something other than strangling the odd painter or tile man.  There is great peace to be had in the rhythm of knit and purl and knit and purl and knit and purl....