The Swearing Webmaster

My grandmother never liked nasty words. When I was growing up, my father cursed a blue streak from time to time and never cared if his colorful language offended anyone. I developed a policy on the utterance of profanity that is in the middle. I only use expletives when I’m around people who I know won’t be offended. Years ago, I discovered that some people speak a language I’ll call Swearese. The only way to effectively communicate with them is to speak their language.

For several months, I submitted poetry to a Web site that gave poets an opportunity to share their work with the world for free. Much to my annoyance, I discovered that this free service came with strings attached, or in this case, ad windows. These windows popped open when the curser hit particular links. Being visually impaired and using a screen reader, I found this to be a nuisance, and I was sure sighted poets didn’t like it, either.

One night in exasperation, I sent a polite e-mail to the Webmaster suggesting that he eliminate the pop-up windows while leaving the links on the page. That way, those interested in buying a new computer or obtaining lower priced long distance service could click on the links and those not interested would not have to deal with the pop-up windows. I wasn’t prepared for the response I received.

It was an extremely rude message garnished with colorful words and phrases. The Webmaster stated that he didn’t appreciate such comments from Internet users such as myself. He said that the ad windows could easily be hidden from view, a fact of which I wasn’t aware. He called me selfish for even suggesting that he remove advertisements from his Web site. He also said that he was once visually impaired but that his sight improved as a result of expensive surgery. He concluded by saying that if I didn’t like his site, I should post my poetry elsewhere for a price.

My first message to him may have come across as a bit harsh, but that didn’t give him an excuse to be so rude. I sent him a second polite e-mail saying that I didn’t appreciate his attitude. I said that the fact that he once had a disability and was able to correct it didn’t give him the right to be so arrogant. I also said that if he closed his mind to the improvement of his site for the enjoyment of others, he was the selfish one. Since he came across to me as someone who didn’t like his job, I concluded by saying that if this was the case, maybe he should quit.

The next day, I received another even more impolite message that contained even more colorful words and phrases. He said that except for dealing with arrogant Internet users like myself, he liked his job. He restated the fact that the adwindows could easily be hidden because to him, it was apparent I didn’t read that part of the message. He also threatened to remove my poetry and any reference to it from his site unless I apologized profusely.

I pondered this. It wouldn’t have been any big deal if I lost my page on this site. I wasn’t getting paid for posting my poetry there, and I wasn’t paying to do so, but I would have nothing to lose by going one more round with this arrogant fool. He liked fowl language, and I could swear with the best of them since my daddy taught me how.

I wrote him back one more time, and this message was full of nasty words. I apologized and thanked him for the information about hiding the ad windows. I explained that I didn’t thank him earlier because his negative attitude distracted me. I said that if I knew there was a way to hide those windows, I wouldn’t have bothered to e-mail him. I suggested that if he didn’t want Internet users contacting him with suggestions, he shouldn’t post his e-mail address. I concluded by saying that if he couldn’t accept this apology, “Then blank you, you blank blank son of a blank.”

After I sent this message, I wondered if I went too far. Maybe I should have left well enough alone. With trepidation, I checked my e-mail several hours later. Sure enough, there was another message from him. My first impulse was to delete it without opening it, but I told myself this was cowardly and double clicked on it instead. Am I glad I did? What I found was a complete surprise.

The note contained many colorful words and phrases, but the message wasn’t hostile. In fact, he said in a roundabout way that he accepted my apology and would restore my page. Although he didn’t apologize for his attitude, I think he was trying to express his admiration of me for standing up to him instead of falling to my knees. Sometimes, you have to speak a person’s language.

In those days, I was young and foolish. I didn’t realize that anything that appears on a Website or blog accessible to the public is considered previously published. A lot of magazines don’t accept previously published work. Nowadays, I think twice before posting a story or poem on this blog or my Website, and that swearing Webmaster has nothing to do with it.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

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They Call Me Baba Booey

Actually, that’s not what anyone calls me. It’s the title of a book I just finished reading by Gary Dell’Abate, the executive producer of the Howard Stern Show, now airing on Sirius XM Radio.

In the book, he talks about his life. He grew up in Connecticut with a mother who was suffering from mental illness. In college, he majored in communications and took an interest in radio. He worked a myriad of internships in the field during his college years as well as paying jobs at a record shop, a restaurant, and a radio station.

After graduating from college, he started out as a traffic boy at WNBC in New York where Howard Stern was doing his show. He was eventually hired as Howard’s producer, and that’s where he earned the nickname Baba Booey. In the book, he also describes how he lost one brother to AIDS and his father to lung cancer and how he and his other brother made the difficult decision to place his mother in a nursing home after a traffic accident that caused serious brain damage.

I purchased this book in a recorded format from audible.com. Narrated by the author, this audio book has a few bonuses that I don’t think are available in the print edition. After certain chapters, there are conversations between Gary and others he mentions in the book including his brother, wife, friends, and co-workers. There are sections where he talks about his favorite music and other interests. If that isn’t enough, there’s the audio portion to a videotape he made for Nancy, an ex-girlfriend, in which he begs her to take him back. This was broadcast on the Howard Stern Show and on youtube, much to the embarrassment of Gary and Nancy.

Although I never heard of the Howard Stern Show until I ran across this book, I enjoyed hearing Gary read and tell about himself and his adventures in life and radio. Even if you prefer a book you can hold in your hands and read, I think you’ll like this particular audio book better than the print edition. Frankly, he’s quite a comedian, and he should do his own show.

To learn more about Gary Dell’Abate, visit his Web site at http://bababooey.com/ To order this and other books in a digital audio format, go to http://www.audible.com/

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Teaching and Learning

“I signed up for your Braille class, but I don’t think I can learn Braille,” said Vera, who appeared to my limited vision to be in her mid seventies.

We stood on the porch of the recreation building of the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain where children and adults learned such skills as using computers, daily living, and orientation and mobility. New arrivals bustled into the nearby women’s dormitory with suitcases and bedding. Others were milling around and chatting. Tires crunched on gravel, as cars entered and left the nearby parking lot. An occasional breeze brought the fresh mountain scent of pine trees to my nostrils.

The next day would be the start of the two-week adult program, and although I’d attended the camp for years as a student, I was as apprehensive as students attending the camp for the first time. This was my first year as a teacher, and I was tempted to tell Vera I didn’t think I could teach Braille, either.

I’d originally planned to teach social problems, a class where students discuss challenges they faced because of their visual impairments. I’d taken the class many times, and because of my experience in facilitating a support group for the visually impaired in my home town of Sheridan, I figured I could handle the subject. But when Jerry, the camp director, told me over the phone the night before I was due to arrive at the camp that the Braille instructor was forced to leave due to illness and asked if I would teach Braille instead of social problems, what could I say? “You can do this, Abbie. You’re proficient at Braille,” he said.

I wanted to tell him that there was a difference between being proficient at something and sharing that knowledge with others, but he sounded desperate. He’d known me for years, and I figured he had more confidence in me than I had in myself. “I’ll give it a try,” I said.

When I arrived at camp the next day, Charlie, my former mobility instructor who used to teach Braille, showed me everything in the classroom. There were books and tactile and large print alphabet charts as well as Braille writers and plenty of paper. For a couple of hours, I went through everything and came up with a basic plan.

I still felt unsure of myself, as I stood on the porch of the recreation hall with Vera. As I tried to maintain eye contact with her, I found myself saying, “Why don’t you give it a try? You can always change your schedule in a couple of days if you don’t think it’s going to work.”

“Thank you,” she said, as she took my hand. “It was nice meeting you.”

In the classroom the next day, my heart sank, as my index finger scanned the Braille schedule. Vera was my first student. Why couldn’t she have been scheduled later in the day after I’d had a chance to practice my teaching skills on other students who didn’t exhibit a lack of self confidence? I realized it wouldn’t do me any good to dwell on that now, as the bell rang to signal the beginning of the first class period, and I put the schedule aside and got out a Braille writer, a stack of paper, and the first book in the Braille learning series.

Vera sauntered into the room and said with a sigh, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I said, trying to paste a smile on my face. “Why don’t you sit here?” I patted a nearby chair.

When she was seated, I asked, “What would you like to learn?”

“Well, I guess I just want to be able to make grocery lists and write down phone numbers and stuff like that.”

“Okay, let’s get started.”

I showed her how to insert the paper into the machine and explained to her that Braille numbers and letters contain one or more dots. I taught her how to write the letters A B and C, and instructed her to feel them with her index finger. When the bell rang to signal the end of the class period, I asked, “What do you think?”

“Well, I know how to write the letters, but I can’t feel them. My fingers aren’t as sensitive as they used to be.”

“Oh, I didn’t think of that,” I said. “Wait a minute. There’s a jumbo Braille writer that makes bigger dots. Let’s try that tomorrow.”

“All right. I’ll see you then.”

A quick consultation of my schedule told me that my next pupil was someone I knew. Emery was an elderly man from Sheridan who participated in my support groups. His wife Betty was also visually impaired. I realized that because of Emery’s diabetes, his fingers would be less sensitive. I put away the regular Braille writer and got out the jumbo machine.

Over the next few days, I discovered that different students required different learning methods. Betty found the large print alphabet chart most helpful. She could read the printed dots and write the letters in Braille. This meant she could work independently which was just as well because I had my hands full with another student in that class.

Michael was in his mid twenties, and although he was an advanced student, he didn’t always focus on the task at hand. When he failed to insert a piece of paper into the Braille writer properly, it became so tangled in the machine that I had to find someone with better eyes to remove it. Charlie had worked with him in the past, and she admonished me not to let him put paper in the machine again. He also had a habit of reading the Braille with his eyes. I kept reminding him to feel the letters, but when my back was turned, I suspected he was using his vision instead of his finger.

While eating lunch in the dining hall with Jerry and his wife Susan who taught public speaking at the camp, I told them about this. Susan laughed, and Jerry said, “Why don’t you try turning out the light?”

I thought this was a great idea. Since the room contained no windows, without the light, we’d be in total darkness, and Michael would be forced to use his finger instead of his eyes. But since Betty needed the light to read the large print alphabet chart, and Michael wore glasses, I did the next best thing.

“Okay, Michael, off with your glasses,” I said to the young man, as he sauntered into the room that afternoon.

“What?”

“You heard me. Take off your glasses and give them to me. I’ll put them in my pocket for safe keeping until the end of class.”

“Why?”

“Without your glasses, you won’t be able to see that Braille, right?”

“No, I won’t,” he answered.

With a sigh, he removed his glasses and handed them to me. He sat at the table where I’d already inserted a piece of paper in to the Braille writer and placed his finger on the page in the Braille book next to the machine. When I turned around after helping Betty, his finger was moving slowly back and forth across the page. “Wow, this is easier,” he said.

By the end of the week, I felt more confident. Vera was improving with the help of the jumbo Braille writer. By the end of class on Friday, she had mastered the letters A through J and was writing words and phrases containing these letters. I was impressed by the progress of this student who didn’t think she could learn Braille.

At the dance on Saturday night, Emery, who’d learned as many letters as Vera, asked if he could write something else besides “A bad babe hid a big bag.”

Laughing, I said, “I’ll see what I can come up with.”

As the next week flew by, all my students continued to improve. On Wednesday, Vera said, “Why don’t you write in Braille the rest of the letters and numbers I haven’t learned, and I’ll mark them with my black pen so I can see them. Then, I can continue to teach myself after camp.”

“That’s a great idea.” I wrote letters, numbers, punctuation, and contractions in Braille. Vera labeled each item next to where I’d written it.

On the last night of camp, everyone was invited to participate in a talent show. Students in the music and public speaking classes sang and/or played instruments or gave speeches. Emery gave a clogging demonstration, much to the delight of those who could see him.

The next day, all staff members were required to attend an exit meeting. When it was over, Dad was waiting to take me home. I hurried to the women’s dormitory to collect my belongings and found Susan doing the same thing. “Abbie, you did a great job teaching Braille.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I hope to come back next year.”

“I’m sure you’ll be asked back.”

This made me feel good. I’d learned that I could teach anything I knew as long as I developed effective strategies. As Dad and I drove down the mountain, I was already formulating ideas for my classes the following year.
That was over ten years ago. Since then, although the camp still offers a week-long session for children, the adult program has been canceled due to a lack of funding. The camp has been funded by the Wyoming Department of Education, the Lions Clubs, and the Montgomery Trust Fund for the Blind, but as of late, these entities show no interest in funding an adult program.

This is too bad since many visually impaired adults are senior citizens who once had sight but lost it due to age related eye diseases. They must learn to care for themselves, cook, clean, do laundry, and do the things they enjoyed in life with little or no vision. As far as I know, there’s nowhere else in Wyoming where people can learn these skills.

I still facilitate a support group for the visually impaired, and the majority of participants are senior citizens. A year or so ago, I invited representatives from local Lions Clubs to talk to our group. One representative showed up, and we were informed that the Lions are renting the camp facilities to other organizations when not in use for the children’s program. When we asked about the possibility of funding for an adult program in the future, the representative said he would bring it up at the next state convention. That’s the last we heard. Go figure.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Second Opinion

Several years ago during my monthly poetry group meeting, we read a poem about what a person would do if he only had the rest of the day to live and wrote our own poems about what we would do in such a situation. After I wrote mine, I decided it would work better as a short story so here it is. You can also read it on my Web site.

SECOND OPINION

“When you go to sleep tonight, you’ll die,” the doctor says.

“But I feel fine,” you say.

“Your test results indicate a rare form of cancer that acts like a time bomb. When you go to bed and close your eyes, the bomb will explode.”

“Oh my God! Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“I’m afraid not. I suggest you get your affairs in order. I know this doesn’t give you much time. I’m sorry.”

You walk out of the office in a daze. You blink in the bright sunlight and stumble towards your car, shaking your head in disbelief. When you manage to drive home, he’s in the living room, stretched out in his recliner, reading a newspaper. “Surprise!” he says, as he leaps to his feet and flings the newspaper aside.

“What are you doing home so early?” you ask.

“I was ahead of schedule for once so I decided to take the rest of the afternoon off.”

You fling yourself into his outstretched arms and you’re locked in a long, ardent embrace. When you come up for air, neither of you says a word. Arm in arm, you make a beeline for the bedroom.

After a couple of hours of the most passionate love making you’ve experienced in years, you snuggle against him and feel the reassuring closeness of his body. You doze, but remembering the doctor’s words, you jerk yourself awake. “What’s wrong, honey?” he asks.

“Oh, nothing,” you say. “I was just thinking how much fun it would be to go out to Dino’s tonight. Their shrimp fettuccini is just to die for.”

“Actually, I was hoping you would cook something here. I love your meat loaf and for once, I won’t be late for dinner.”

You sigh. The last thing you want to do on your last night on earth is cook meat loaf.

“But if you really want to go out, I guess that would be okay.”

Although the restaurant is crowded, you manage to get a cozy table for two in a corner. You order fettuccini, and he orders lasagna. You order salad, and he orders clam chowder and a bottle of red wine for the two of you. You don’t say much, as you savor your favorite meal for the last time. He keeps up a running commentary on work and other topics.

For dessert, you both decide on spumoni ice cream. As you enjoy this and a cup of strong coffee, you look around the room at couples, threesomes, foursomes, and larger groups of people, all laughing, chatting, and eating. Will Heaven be like this? Is there even a Heaven?

“How about renting a movie?” he asks, as you leave the restaurant.

“That’s a great idea. How about ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo?’I’ve always loved that show.”

“Actually, I was thinking of ‘Top Gun.”

You sigh. The last thing you want to do on your last night on Earth is watch a war movie.

“But if you really want to watch ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo,’ I guess that would be okay.”

At home, you snuggle on the couch. While Mia Farrell is becoming infatuated with Woody Allen, the two of you are becoming re-infatuated with each other. Afterward,, you head back to the bedroom for another round of passionate love making.

When that’s over, you snuggle against him. “Hold me,” you say, gripped by a sudden fear of the unknown. He does, and you’re at peace.

You open your eyes and see bright sunlight. You sit up and look around. To the right and behind you are the windows. Your night stands, chests of drawers, and closet are where they’ve always been. Your clothes are scattered on the floor where you dropped them the night before. He is lying next to you, still asleep. You are filled with a sense of relief.

He wakes up and looks at his watch. “Honey, why are you getting up so early on a Saturday morning?” he asks.

“Who says I’m getting up?” you say, as you cuddle next to him and nibble his ear. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Ducks on the Sidewalk

I love to walk this time of year, especially in the mornings when it’s cool. One day, I was strolling down a sidewalk that runs parallel to Big Goose Creek in my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, swinging my long white cane from side to side in front of me as I usually do. Ahead of me, I spotted a cluster of ducks on the sidewalk. I knew they were ducks because they were quacking. As I approached, they flapped their wings and flew away, voicing their disapproval with many loud quacks as if I were trespassing on their sidewalk. I was so taken with this scene that the minute I got home, I sat down at the new computer my husband Bill had just bought me and wrote the following poem.

This was the first poem I wrote on that computer. It was published in Distant Horizons, an anthology of poems produced by WyoPoets. To learn more about this organization, of which I’m President, visit http://www.wyopoets.org/page4.html. You can also read this poem on my Web site.

DUCKS ON THE SIDEWALK

Little black quacking shapes

congregate on the cement path next to the creek.

Rolling my long white cane in front of me, I approach.

One by one, angered by my intrusion,

they vanish in a flurry of wings.

Abbie Johnson Taylor,, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

Relationships

I just finished reading Yours and Mine by Debbie Macomber. Tanner and Joanna are two divorced parents with eleven-year-old girls who are best friends. Their daughters scheme to get them to marry so their families can become one, but Joanna has been deeply wounded by her ex-husband who cheated on her, and she’s not ready to marry again. In a fit of anger, Tanner tells her that maybe her ex-husband had affairs because she didn’t tell him she loved him. In another book by this author, Thursdays at Eight, a divorced woman realizes her husband cheated on her because she didn’t show him how much she needed him. At the time, I thought that was ridiculous, but now, I think Debbie Macomber is trying to tell us something.

I thought back to a time last year when I visited my brother and his wife in Florida before they were separated. In the two weeks I was there, I rarely saw my sister-in-law display any affection toward my brother. Half the time, she was yelling at him or the kids for this or that minor infraction or ordering him around when she wasn’t carrying on a pleasant conversation with me. As a matter of fact, in the twenty or so years my brother and his wife have been married, I rarely saw my sister-in-law display affection towards my brother. It was always him who initiated contact, putting his arm around her while they were watching television, calling her kitty cat.. I could be wrong.

It’s possible my brother’s wife may have been more affectionate when they were behind closed doors, but I don’t think that’s enough. In the five years that I’ve been married, I’ve always felt a need for reassurance that I’m loved, not just when we were in the bedroom. The words I love you have never come easily to Bill, even before he had two strokes, but he shows his love many times by putting his arm around me, stroking and kissing me. Although he can’t see, he knows when I’m near and reaches out to me.. I hold him, stroke his hair, kiss him, and tell him many times a day how much I love him. Now that I’ve come to the realization that lack of affection may cause marital problems, I plan to express my love more often.

Maybe some people cheat on their spouses because they’re not getting enough affection. It doesn’t excuse such behavior, but it explains why they feel a need to seek love from people other than their partners. Significant others need to know they’re loved every day in every way possible. I’m glad I didn’t learn this lesson the hard way.

Isn’t it funny how romance novels can provide true insight on relationships? For more information about Debbie Macomber and her books, visit http://www.debbiemacomber.com/

Now, click on the link below to hear me sing one of Bill’s favorite songs. It will be available for at least a few days. This is another way I show him how precious he is to me. I love you, Bill, with all my heart.

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/unchained%20melody.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

The Piano

It’s a myth that you’re born with perfect pitch. I found this out in college when I was studying music therapy. Perfect pitch is acquired through constant exposure to music.

When I was a small child, my parents often played records for me. At the age of two, they took me to a performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto, and I sang along. I’m glad I don’t remember that. It must have been embarrassing.

At home, Mother played a recording of Puccini’s Tosca, and I cried when the heroine sang her famous area lamenting the fact that she has been forced to have sex with a sadistic police chief in order to gain her lover’s freedom. When I was older, Dad played Fats Waller, and I stomped around the room in time to “Your Feet’s Too Big.” He put a speaker in my bedroom that was hooked to the phonograph in the den and played a record each night at bedtime.

When I was five, we got a piano. I delighted in running my fingers up and down the keys and inventing harmonies and melodies When Mother heard me play the opening bars to Bethoven’s fifth symphony, she called a piano teacher.

Mrs. Teska was a pleasant woman about Mother’s age with two children of her own. Her house had two pianos, and during my lessons, I sat at one, and she sat at the other. She started by teaching me fun pieces. She gave me a book of songs with food titles such as “Strawberry Short Cake” and “Banana Split.” Since Mother could read music, she taught them to me at home. I played them for Mrs. Teska during my lessons, and she helped me with fingering techniques.

I had to warm up every time with the dreaded Hannon exercises designed to increase finger dexterity. I got pretty good at these. When I grew older, I graduated to simple classical pieces like Bach’s Minuet in G.

At the Arizona State School for the Blind in Tucson, where we lived, Mrs. Berrand, an elderly blind woman, taught me piano, violin, and a little Braille music. I mostly learned to play by ear. What delighted me the most was playing songs I made up. A babysitter once taught me “Heart and Soul,” usually played as a duet. We took turns playing the top and bottom parts. At school, we kids often played that song.

I tried to teach it to Mother, but she said, “You need to work on the tarantella Mrs. Teska wants you to play.” Later, she got out a book of classical duets that were more difficult, but I managed to master the top part while she played the bottom, and that was fun.

I also enjoyed singing, and I often sang along with music I heard on the radio or on my eight-track tapes. When I was in the third grade, a boy and I sang Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” together during a school talent show. That was a glorious moment. At home in my room, I relived that moment over and over by singing the song with my Three Dog Night eight-track.

When we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973, Mother and Dad found me another teacher, an elderly man named Duke who used to play with Grandpa Johnson’s band. He taught me popular pieces, which I enjoyed, but Mother insisted I learn to play classical music. He finally gave me a few difficult classical pieces. Time and time again, Mother lost patience while trying to teach them to me. At one point, she said, “Maybe you can’t play classical music.” Duke was also crabby at times, and after a year, I gave up taking lessons from him.

It was then that I got the idea I could use my piano playing to accompany my singing. The first song I sang this way was “El Condor Pasa” from Simon & Garfunkel’s album Bridge Over Troubled Water, one of my favorite eight-tracks. I performed it at the Stars of Tomorrow talent contest, and although I didn’t win, it was a great experience.

Since Dad was in the coin-operated machine business which included jukeboxes, he installed a remote control box in my room, hooked to a unit in the basement. The print on the title strips was too small for me to read so I memorized the letter and number combinations that played my favorite songs. This was my way of playing records. I also had a cassette player, and I still used the eight-track machine from time to time.

After I heard a song several times, I went to the piano, picked out an accompaniment, and sang the words I’d memorized. I enjoyed playing and singing these arrangements which weren’t too different from the original recordings. I practiced these pieces more diligently than all the pieces I was ever assigned during my piano lessons. In junior high, I gave unaccompanied performances during study hall, much to the delight of other students and the teacher.

We soon moved to a bigger house, and the remote control unit in my room was replaced by a jukebox in the laundry room which my younger brother Andy and I both enjoyed playing with our friends. The house had a wide front porch, and I pretended it was a stage. I stood at the edge, holding a wood chip to my lips. Andy sat behind me and banged on an old paint can to accompany my singing. Neighborhood kids gathered and applauded.

I still used the piano to accompany my singing. Our parents bought Andy a drum set and placed it next to the piano. I was fourteen, and Andy was seven. He was fond of saying, “Abbie, hop on your piano, and I’ll get on my drums, and we’ll play.”

After several lessons, he became proficient with the drums. Like me, he did a lot of his playingby ear. In fact, he played drums along with his Beatles records. The house rang with the strains of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, augmented by Andy Johnson, the extra drummer.

When I was a freshman in high school, Dad and I took a jazz improvisation class at Sheridan college. We had to buy records containing exercises consisting of simple melodies that we played straight once or twice and improvised after that. The exercises were accompanied by a full band. No matter how long or often I practiced them at home with the records, I never mastered the art of jazz improvisation.

The instructor told me I needed to absorb jazz in order to be successful. “Don’t listen to anything but jazz. Get one of those record players that shuts off automatically, and put a jazz record on when you go to bed at night.” Being a teen-ager, I couldn’t appreciate jazz as much s popular music. I hoped Dad wouldn’t replace all the popular songs on our jukebox with jazz numbers, and he didn’t.

I continued performing whenever I had a chance. Andy often accompanied me. Dad bought a used string bass and tried playing with us but soon gave up. During my sophomore year in high school, after several years of competing in the Stars of Tomorrow talent contest, I finally won first place with my rendition of “You Light Up My Life.” After that, Dad started calling me a star.

I dreamed of being a singer, but others convinced me that I needed to do something else on the side to supportmyself. Since I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, my major in college was in music performance. After two years at Sheridan College, I graduated with an associate of arts degree in music. I transferred to Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, where I also majored in music and graduated two years later with a BA. By that time, I’d discovered music therapy as a career. I transferred to Montana State University, also in Billings, and after two more years of study and a six-month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota, I returned to Sheridan as a registered music therapist.

I found a job in the activities department of a nursing home. Besides the piano, I used a guitar I learned to play in college. I also used an electronic keyboard from time to time, but it wasn’t as portable as the guitar. Although the residents considered my activities performances, they were therapeutic in nature. We sang, played name that tune and musical bingo, and I often encouraged them to talk about their younger years. I also created an activity called singer-cize which combined singing and exercise. People often told me I should record a CD. Remembering past dreams, I laughed and thanked them for the compliment.

Besides the group activities, I also worked one on one with residents who couldn’t or wouldn’t come out of their rooms. I used the guitar to accompany my singing and often held their hands and sang unaccompanied. Most of these residents weren’t as responsive, and since I couldn’t see facial expressions, it was hard for me to gauge their reactions, but other staff members told me that my music brought a smile to their faces.

As part of my job, I had to learn a lot of old songs. Some of these I picked up in college during my practicum sessions and internship. I bought recordings of others and learned them by ear, as I did with the songs of my youth. Residents often requested songs, and I made every effort to find recordings and learn them. Besides my work at the nursing home, I volunteered at other senior citizen facilities and joined a women’s barber-shop singing group.

After fifteen years, I met and married my husband Bill. I realized I was tired of learning and singing songs for seniors and creating activities for them. I’d taken up writing as a hobby, and I decided it was time for a career change. I quit my job and volunteer obligations in order to write full time. I still perform with the women’s singing group, but when people ask me if I’m still singing at the nursing homes or assisted living facility, I tell them I don’t have time anymore since my writing keeps me busy. They think I’ve lost my true calling, but I don’t care. I’m happy.

I still have a piano in my home. It belonged to Grandpa and Grandma Johnson. Grandma gave it to me when I returned to Sheridan after completing my internship. I’ve sold the electronic keyboard, and my guitar sits neglected in a closet. I occasionally sit down at the piano and play for Bill the songs of my youth: “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Memory” from Cats, “The Rose,” “Unchained Melody,” “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” “You Light Up my Life.” After many years, I still remember the words.

Did you play an instrument while you were growing up? Did you take lessons? Did you learn to read music or play by ear? Please feel free to share your experiences below.

You can also click on the link below to hear me sing “Memory” from the Broadway musical Cats. I made this recording years ago when I was single and still had my electronic keyboard. The link will be available for about a week so enjoy!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15213189/memory_.mp3

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com