Sister Adrienne

Nuns by kalleboo, on Flickr
Nuns” (CC BY 2.0) by kalleboo

 

In Standard Two, which is like Second Grade, I had Sister Adrienne. I was 7 years old.

People said Sister Adrienne was soft, too soft.  She didn’t have a leather strap like Mrs. Corkery or plastic-coated electrical wire like Mother Gabriel. She was a happy woman who loved teaching children and was always kind to them.

In Sister Adrienne’s class, learning was fun.  We made miniature models of an Indian village. We made TV sets from old shoe-boxes, your story on a scroll wound around two wooden skewers.  Scene by scene you gave your report. Mine was about South Africa. I still remember the names of the cities, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In Sister Adrienne’s class we learned beautiful songs like Faith of our Fathers and memorized a poem about a flower seller.

blaas_fruit_seller_18 by Art Gallery ErgsArt, on Flickr
(1)

 

The flower seller sits with her hands in her lap
When she’s not selling roses, she’s taking a nap
Her bonnet is queer and she calls you “My dear”
And sells you the loveliest things of the year…

 

 

One day, Christopher O’Sullivan kissed a girl. The girl was upset and told Sister. Christopher was called to Sister’s desk.

“Did you kiss a girl?”

“Yes,” he said.

What would Sister do?  How would she punish him? She had no strap or instrument for hitting children, but she looked rather stern.

“Right,” said Sister, “then I’m going to kiss you!” And she did, right on the cheek.  Christopher, red-faced, shuffled back to his seat. It was the worst punishment imaginable.

Sister put us all in groups. Each group was made of three or more desks pushed together to make a large table. I so wished to be in the group with all the pretty girls, the ones with ribbons and ringlets, whose mothers took them to ballet class and elocution, who had fuzzy pink slippers and fancy pencil cases.  My hair was short and plain, my slippers brown vinyl, like boys’ ones. I wanted so badly to do ballet but my mother said No.

Sister put me in a special group with two boys. She called us the Genius group. Sometimes she said “Genie-Asses” but I knew she was joking.  We were the students who passed tests easily and got extra work to do. One day Sister told the Genie-Asses to write stories.  I wrote and wrote the longest story of my life, about some people who lived on a mountain.  We turned in our work and I still remember what Sister wrote in her red ballpoint pen: Wonderful work, Maree!  You should be writing a book!

 

(1)  “blaas_fruit_seller_18” (Public Domain) by Art Gallery ErgsArt

Christmastime

One of the high points of Christmas time is the annual recital for my piano students. Some plan ahead for months. About 20 usually sign up for it. We gather at Bear River, the local Middle School, which has one of the best pianos in town. Each student plays one or two songs. They can be Christmas songs or not; they can be solos or duets. Afterwards we enjoy cream puffs and eggnog while complimenting the performers on their good playing.

This year one student participated for the first time even though she’s a teenager who has been coming for lessons, on and off, for many years. Sweet, charming Lily was born damaged by the drugs in her birth mother’s system. Taken into foster care, she was eventually adopted by a wonderful, caring foster family. For most of her time as a piano student, it was hard for Lily to retain information. I would find myself repeating the same things week after week. She would frequently forget her beginner book. I would find another one for her to take home. She would forget that one as well. Sometimes we would print out Sunday School hymns from the Internet, but only the ones with special notation, where the letter-names are clearly written on the note-heads. Lily, her parents and I did not believe she was capable of reading music. It seemed too complex a task for her to master.

After summer break this year, Lily told me she’d been practicing out of one of her beginner books and was making progress. That day, I discovered she could read Middle C, Bass F and Treble G. She was able to distinguish each one and retain the recognition from one week to the next. Then I introduced her to the D, E and F in between C and G. She got that as well.

I sent an excited message to Lily’s mom. “Lily’s reading music! I think I have underestimated her. She doesn’t need pre-reading notation. She played to the end of Book A without any help from me! I’ll have Book B ready for her for next week.”

Lily plays “Jingle Bells”.

At the recital she played Jingle Bells a little nervously but did a good job. Her parents came and watched and were delighted with her performance.  Her posture was perfect and her smile radiant.

Lily and Mom

On a different note (no pun intended), this Christmas is bittersweet as our youngest child turned 20 in September and will soon be leaving home, leaving us with an empty nest for the first time. I reflected on that as I decorated the house for the holidays, contemplating the end of an era. Then I wrote this poem.

Christmas 2018

Take down the battered boxes from the back-porch shelf,

Take out the old snow-lady, Rosebud sled and elf.

Everything unspoiled by rat or moth,

Poinsettia oven mitts, the festive cloth.

Electric star that sits at awkward angle,

Strings of lights that tediously tangle.

Garlands made of music sheets, paper doves,

Swedish stars from scraps and glitter,

Painted owls from toilet tissue tubes, up-cycled with love.

Take down the popcorn tins from high atop the kitchen cabinets,

Take out all the memories.

All the pretty tiny things,

All the sweet and shiny things

That covered all our Christmas trees since we were young

And held little children on our knees.

_Maree Gauper 12-12-2018

 

Cast out of Paradise

We just witnessed the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.

I used to be a climate change denier, but no more. Part of my conversion experience (to climate change) has to do with living right here in California where the summers are hotter, drier and longer than ever and the fires just keep getting scarier. Governor Jerry Brown calls this “the new normal.”

The Camp Fire started November 8, about 60 miles from where I live. We followed updates closely, thinking of Toastmaster friends in Paradise (or “Pleasure,” as our President calls it) and a son in nearby Chico.  The inferno burned 153,000 acres and destroyed almost 14,000 homes. At least 88 are dead.

When President Trump visited what was left of Paradise, a.k.a. Pleasure, a reporter asked if he thought the fires had anything to do with climate change. He said, no, it’s all about forest management and went on to praise Finland for the beautiful way they rake their forests, which he thinks is a good example for California.

That started a firestorm of words on social media where diehards insisted the President was right, while amused Finns trolled the internet with funny memes involving rakes and the hashtag, Rake America Great Again.

Less than a week later, Trump’s own administration  released its National Climate Assessment, containing input from 13  federal agencies including NASA and the Department of Defense. The report contains dire warnings about the reality of climate change and its  adverse outcomes for the US economy among other things.

Trump’s response: “I don’t believe it.”

In between eye-rolls and Facebook debates, checking the news and choking on putrid air, I managed  to write a poem, partly inspired by a thoughtful post from Father George Foxworth, but also prompted by something Mrs Hak Ja Han Moon said at the November 12 Nassau Coliseum “Peace Starts With Me” Rally. She acknowledged the extreme weather events we have seen recently across America, and urged us to attend God. If we attend God we will know how to solve these problems (my paraphrase).

Here’s my poem, “Cast out of Paradise”:

It’s ashing in California.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

On Thursday morning the sky turned black and dead birds dropped like stones.

Some humans fled the flames. Others perished, strange clay shapes in Mother Nature’s kiln.

We fret about air quality, as sooty smoke covers town and country,

grimy and gray like the veil of a jilted bride.

The fumes we strive to avoid carry the cremated remains of other people’s lives.

Fire is a ruthless teacher. We have much to learn.

“Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust shalt thou return.”

-Maree Gauper

November 14, 2018

 

 

Interesting note: Those quotes about ashes and dust were embedded in my memory after years of attending Ash Wednesday services. Out of curiosity, I searched to find out which part of the Bible they came from. I expected the Book of Job, but I was wrong. It was the Book of Genesis.  God spoke the words “Remember, man, that thou art dust” to Adam and Eve when he cast them out of Paradise.

 

 

Don’t nuke your Nikes!

 

I’ve always admired people with guts. Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King and Sun Myung Moon come to mind.

It takes guts to kneel during a National Anthem when everyone is standing. That’s why I respect Colin Kaepernick and why I think you shouldn’t burn, or nuke, your Nikes.

In 2016 Colin Kaepernick, starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers football team, ignited a firestorm of controversy by choosing to kneel on one knee while the National Anthem played before the start of NFL games. He described the gesture as a protest against racial injustice and police violence in the US.

 

Recently, Nike opened a new ad campaign and chose Kaepernick, under contract with Nike since 2011, as one of its faces. The campaign includes giant billboards of Kaepernick’s face with the caption: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. Just do it.

Many are still upset with Kaepernick because they felt his protest disrespected the flag. Former fans boycotted the NFL. Now, some are calling for all of us to burn our Nikes because the new ad clearly supports Kaepernick.

To me, taking a knee is a sign of respect. In certain churches you take a knee when you enter the house of God. It’s called genuflecting. On the playing field you take a knee when someone is injured.

 

If you burn a flag, that’s disrespectful. If you urinate or otherwise defile a flag, that’s disrespectful. If a player were to turn his back on the flag, that would be disrespectful. But to me,taking a knee looks like a carefully considered, non-violent protest in the honorable tradition of Rosa Parks and MLK.

If you took a knee during a National Anthem in North Korea or Turkey, I’m guessing you would be arrested and end up in a prison or labor camp. But America, founded on an extremely gutsy gesture of protest called the Declaration of Independence, long ago made protest a part of its national DNA, with the right to freedom of speech and expression being embedded in its constitution, along with the right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So don’t burn your Nikes! Isn’t that just adding to the violence?

Over the Rainbow

 

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.”

Psalm 133:1

Converting to Rev. Moon’s religion at age nineteen, I felt a little like Dorothy landing in Oz, in that part of the movie where everything switches from monochrome to glorious technicolor.

Growing up in the South Island of New Zealand, I was surrounded by white Caucasoid people. My church was always full of white folks but no one ever called it a white church. It was just a Catholic church.

As a Moonie, my world went from being somewhat limited in scope to rather more colorful and exciting than I had ever imagined.

For example, I made friends with Japanese and Korean people. I worked alongside Australians who are colorful in their own special way. And, at twenty-four, I visited New York City for the first time and attended my first ever black church. I describe in detail in the Free Maree chapter, A Whirlwind Courtship how, one Saturday in late June, my handsome, barrel-chested fiancé Bob and I were visiting churches in the Bronx to invite them to our giant wedding that would be happening July 1st at Madison Square Garden. That’s when we met Pastor Joseph Worrell and the Mount Calvary Church of God in Christ, who were in the midst of a 24-hour prayer meeting on the sidewalk of a rough-looking Bronx neighborhood. People were singing, clapping and smiling. Rev. Worrell, a middle-aged, gray-haired gentleman, kindly invited us into his church building where we could talk above all the joyful noise. I told him I’d never heard of a 24-hour prayer meeting either in the Catholic church or the Unification Church. I was amazed.

“Yes, it is still going on!” he replied. “I see so much sin in this world, so much filth. And I can’t do nothing about it except preach holiness, praise God!”

The man was so sincere, so passionate about his mission, it made an impression on me.

The next day we returned to visit his Sunday worship service and heard Pastor Worrell preach a fiery sermon on Encouragement. It was truly encouraging; then we all sang “We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion” and from that day on, the song and the memories were stamped onto my heart like a heavenly tattoo.

When Bob and I settled in California many years later, I took a temporary job as pianist at another black church, Mount Olivet Baptist in nearby Olivehurst. Again I heard the fiery Pentecostal preaching that I first heard in the Bronx. Again the people were warm and kind. They called me “Sister Maree” and “Little Richard” and treated me like family. I loved them for it and still do.

It wasn’t surprising, then, when I first had the idea to invite Yuba County churches to gather for an inter-church choral festival on Martin Luther King weekend, that Mt. Olivet was one of the churches that responded. Mt Olivet Pastor, Dr Carl Dorn, gave a powerful message at the Wheatland Chapel of the Latter-Day Saints. Episcopalians from Grace Church were there to support whole-heartedly as they always do.

Wheatland LDS Church

It was probably the first time a black preacher had spoken in the building and although I can’t prove it, I could almost swear that God was smiling on us and that the Holy Spirit descended on the gathering, causing a general euphoria. Maybe it was a foretaste of beautiful Zion.

Occasionally I get homesick for my old monochrome life but, unlike Dorothy, I don’t want to go home to Kansas. I like it here.

 

Hello world!

happy birthday by mopsografie, on Flickr
Missing a few candles

Today, I’m having another one of those darned birthdays. Along with publishing this website, my husband is also taking me out to dinner at Justin’s Kitchen in Yuba City, California,  where I plan to read an excerpt from Free Maree during their Pizza and Poetry evening.

Soon I will be posting in this blog on a regular basis. Sign up for notifications or check back often.

 

 

 

When faith, family, and freedom collide.