Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fun Times with Aunt Dolores

     My Aunt Dolores has been visiting this past week.  I took advantage of her visit to get a few music lessons. She taught me how to play a calypso song, "Jamaican Farewell", with a very cool strum pattern. I also got a music theory lesson about transposing songs from whatever key they happen to have been written in to a more convenient key that better fits my voice range or that involves chords I can actually play.  We had fun jam sessions on a couple of evenings.  As we sat and talked between songs I learned some very interesting things. I failed to get any photos so I didn't include any in the blog post. Mom took a few videos or photos while we were playing so I should try to get one or two from her for the blog.

     I was amazed to learn that Dolores didn't get serious about the guitar until after my Uncle Dave died. I had always assumed that she had developed those skills when she was fairly young. While she had learned to play the guitar when she was a kid, she only knew about three chords for most of her life. I had mentioned seeing some cigar box ukuleles at Pikes Place Market in Seattle. That reminded her that Uncle Don had given her some sort of cheap guitar when she was a kid. It wasn't much sturdier than cardboard. She learned to play a G chord so that was the only key she would play in.

    Dolores told about having to spend one night by herself tending a fire in their fruit house. The fruit house was in between the wash house and the smoke house and had thick walls insulated with saw dust. It was where Grandma Sinor kept all of their home canned produce, that is, most of their food supply for the year.  If the weather turned really cold they would sometimes have to keep a fire going in the fruit house to keep all of those canned goods from freezing and breaking the jars.  Dolores was scared to be alone there and played her guitar all night hoping the racket would scare away the boogyman. I'm thinking she would have been around ten or eleven years old at the time.

    We talked about the dances they used to hold in their house in Arkansas.  Apparently they didn't have much furniture in the living room so it was a pretty easy thing to convert it into a dance hall. Local teenagers would sometimes come by and ask their dad if they could have a dance at their house the following Saturday night. He always seemed happy to do that. Realize too that a good number of the local teenagers were relatives. Uncle Estel Sinor played the guitar, his wife Dorothy played mandolin, while Uncle Don Haney played fiddle, and their dad called square dances.  They played mostly instrumental numbers and neither her or mom could recall the names of many of the tunes they played. The only tune she came up with was "Take me Back to Tulsa", an old Bob Wills song.  She remembered her Aunt Dorothy playing the mandolin with no expression on her face at all and wondered how anyone could play such happy music without a smile on their face.

     Dolores had the urge to learn to play the piano when she was a kid.  She once approached a piano teacher and asked about lessons. She got kind of an odd response when the teacher found out Dolores didn't have a piano in her home. She subsequently started saving her babysitting money until she came up with $25.00 to buy a piano.  $25.00 was a lot more money then than it is now, but it was still a pretty good price for a piano. I'm not sure how old she was when this happened but I think they were living in Detroit at the time. I'm also unsure how long she was able to take piano lessons.  Sometimes it's difficult to interrupt the flow of a story in order to ask about the details. Besides the stories mostly came in between songs so I was a bit distracted.

    We also had a good long talk about yodeling. Some of Dolores' favorite yodelers are Roy Rogers and Ranger Doug (from the musical group "Riders in the Sky"). Mom's favorite yodeler was Margo Smith. Mom mentioned how at the Ward Talent Show in my introduction I had credited Dolores with being my inspiration to learn the Hawaiian War Chant on the ukulele and added "And she can yodel too". Dolores has a friend in Oregon who introduces her as "This is my friend Dolores and she can yodel." It is a pretty unique talent these days. Since such a very small portion of the population can yodel any more it isn't too strange that such a talent could be used to help define someone.  Dolores gave yodeling classes some years ago when she was a member of the Central Coast Fiddlers. She describes yodeling as simply alternating between your chest voice (normal singing voice) and your head voice (falsetto). I think yodeling lessons with Aunt Dolores would be a fun activity at some future cousin camp.

     Speaking of Cousin Camp, we've had a number of suggestions for future themes. I really like Sarah's suggestion of a family history/pioneer heritage theme.  Beth and Lia suggested a pirate theme, with the possibility of putting on Pirates of Penzance. Although the pirate theme could be really fun, I have to confess to a few qualms. First of all, real pirates were not nice people and not the sort of role models I like to put before the grandkids.  I do, however, like the idea of doing a Gilbert and Sullivan play as part of cousin camp.

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