Category Archives: Henry David Thoreau

(the other) MARY’S MUSIC

St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice."

St. Augustine: “He who sings prays twice.”

Hummel figurines of young children singing, blowing horns, and beating drums.

Hummel figurines of young children singing, blowing horns, and beating drums.

With only a few weeks until Christmas, I want to make it clear that this story is about my mother, Mary, and not THE well-known Other Mary. This is one of my favorite stories about how my mother used music in a surprising way to teach young children.

See the picture below of my mother in her 20s, weighing 98 pounds, and teaching kindergarten in a Kansas City school. Mom is in the top row, third from the left end. My cousin Beth, now a grandmother herself, was 5 and visiting my mother’s class that day; she is in the first row, left side at the end.

This story is about a young boy in Mom’s class, a very active, non-attentive, uncooperative, rambunctious boy. One day, after he’d pushed a child, punched another, and grabbed crayons from a third, my mother broke away from the expected discipline. She put her hands on his shoulders, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Oh, Tommy, you must be very tired or I’m sure you wouldn’t act this way. So I’m going to help you find a place to rest.”

She took his nap mat and spread it out behind the old upright piano that sat at an angle near the corner of the room. Tommy had plenty of private space to stretch out behind the piano, but he could neither see nor be seen by the others.

Mom seated all the other children on the floor and she sat at the piano. She began playing and singing nursery melodies about little hands that go clap! clap! clap! and eyes that go blink! blink! blink! and so on. One song, then the next, happy children singing loudly and laughing along with their teacher.

When they stopped to catch their breaths, a little voice behind the piano called out. “I’m all rested, Teacher. I know how to act now.” And he did. Tommy was very helpful after that. And any time he began to slip, she asked if he needed another rest. He didn’t.

Many years later, when I was teaching Transcendentalism to my high school English students, one of my favorite quotes by Henry David Thoreau was this: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

It was then that my mother told me the story of Tommy. She laughed, adding, “That works, as long as the individual steps to his own music without stomping on others.” She was very encouraging of individuality, of each person following his own inner beat of a different drum, as long as it didn’t hurt someone else.

This ends (the other) Mary’s lesson, for both children and adults, just in time for the push-and-shove, sugar-high, holiday chaos. And also, if it weren’t for her dementia, my mother would probably remind us to never give young children drums for Christmas. Or any time, actually, unless they live somewhere else and will take the drums with them.

Decades later, Mom's own great-grandchildren; Grace is about the age Mom's kindergarten students were in the big picture.

Decades later, Mom’s own great-grandchildren; Grace is about the age Mom’s kindergarten students were in the big picture.

Mom (top row, third from left) ~ a young kindergarten teacher.

Mom (top row, third from left) ~ a young kindergarten teacher.


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, kindergarten lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, special quotations


Norman Rockwell's "Marbles Champion" ~ if you think girls can't do certain things, you need to change a second look.

Norman Rockwell’s “Marbles Champion” ~ if you think girls can’t compete with boys, you need to rethink that.

Rockwell's "Big Decision" ~ the catcher has a different point of view than the coach

Rockwell’s “Big Decision” ~ the catcher has a different point of view than the coach. Below, the perspective from the “High Board” is different than from the side of the pool.

High board

“Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” isn’t just a simile for a frantically busy person. It’s also an actual description.

When I was eleven years old, a farmer knew that my mother had been raised on a farm, and as a gift he delivered to our house a fresh chicken for our dinner.  It was a very fresh chicken.  Still alive.

In our back yard, he quickly balanced the chicken on a board, lifted an ax and cut off the chicken’s head. The chicken body ran like crazy.  We had a tall picket fence enclosing our big back yard. It was painted white. By the time the chicken dropped, there were very few pickets that didn’t have streaks, smears or spatters of blood. (You can thank me for not having pictures of this.)

The farmer used our garden hose to spray the fence while my mother plucked and cleaned out the chicken. That night our family had fresh fried chicken for dinner, but I didn’t eat any of it. The fence still had faint stains, and my mind still saw the running chicken.  It was a long time before I realized what my mother tried to help me see: the chicken incident, like many things in life, was a matter of perspective.  To her, it was a generous gesture from a farmer bringing fresh chicken to a former farm woman who was probably tired of store-bought frozen chicken.  I couldn’t understand how my mother, who wouldn’t let me see THE BLOB movie, let me watch a chicken run with its head off.

Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”  And C.G. Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  I doubt they were referring to chickens, but possibly they were encouraging us to understand ourselves through our perspectives.

The quote I think applies most to Mom’s perspective about things that were thrown her way in life is by J.M. Barrie: “Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.”  My mother had the amazing ability to appreciate people and their good intentions, even if they caused her to change her plans or do more work.

Even before my father’s Alzheimer’s and then her own dementia, my mother was not a naïve Pollyanna. She was an intelligent, perceptive, strong-thinking realist who stood firm when necessary. She was also a good listener with a kind heart and open hands to help others. And she knew how to keep life’s chickens in perspective.

*     *    *    *   *

Tracy Karner has a superb post on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), effective for changing a number of problems by establishing a more hopeful perspective.

A replica of vanGogh's "Three Sunflowers in a Vase" on an easel.

A replica of van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers in a Vase” on an easel.

My husband Jim is 6'2"--and he is walking the path to the 80' tall art replica in Goodland, KS. (which should also give you a new perspective of the importance of art in small Kansas towns) These photographs by Marylin Warner

My husband Jim is 6’2″–and he is walking the path to the 80 ft. tall art replica in Goodland, Kansas (which should also give you a new perspective on the importance of art in small Kansas towns) These photographs by Marylin Warner


Filed under art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, Kansas, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations

AND ON THE 7th Day…

Summer Bing Cherries (all photos by Marylin Warner)

Summer Bing Cherries, perfect for seed spitting.  (all photos by Marylin Warner)



An example of SCUD comedy by a young Grace who understands the fun of "Savor the Comic, Unplug the Drama"

An example of SCUD comedy by a young Grace who enjoys  the fun of “Savor the Comic, Unplug the Drama”   


Rebecca Pavlenko wrote: “This day is a journey: this very moment is an adventure.”

With that in mind, let’s look at the significance of seven days in July, beginning today, the 6th.  Today is International Kissing Day. It grew out of the United Kindgom’s National Kissing Day, and it is not intended as a formal gesture but as a pleasurable and affectionate kiss. A chocolate Hersey’s Kiss is acceptable, too, as is texting kisses, but nothing beats a kiss and a hug from someone special.

Sunday, July 7, is International Cherry Pit Spitting Day. Since 1974, Eau Claire, Michigan has held a cherry pit spitting contest each year, and the current world record is 100′, 4″. But please refrain from spitting pits while in your house of worship on Sunday.

Monday, July 8, is SCUD DAY, which stands for “Savor the Comic, Unplug the Drama.”   Make it your goal to ditch the drama and appreciate the comic value of life. This is a day to laugh and encourage laughter.

Tuesday, July 9, is National Sugar Cookie Day. The American version of the sugar cookie originated in the 1700s with German settlers in Pennsylvania. This day’s sweet treat is a natural follow up for yesterday’s SCUD Day to keep you smiling.

Wednesday, July 10, is Clerihew Day, paying tribute to Edmund Clerihew Bentley (born July 10, 1875). He created the “Clerihew,” a 4-line light-hearted verse about a person.  The person’s name or nickname is the first line; all other lines are about the personality or talents. The last words on lines 1 & 2 rhyme, and the last words on lines 3 & 4 rhyme.  Come on, poets. Share you talent and write a Clerihew for us.  Please, please, please.

Thursday, July 11, is Cheer Up The Lonely Day. Visit someone, send a card, take in a meal, call and chat—choose one person who could use some cheering up—think of the impact if, all on the same day, each of us did this in a thoughtful, genuine way for one person!

Friday, July 12, is Simplicity Day, a reminder to look for ways to simplify our lives and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. This holiday marks the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, who advocated a life of simple and sustainable living.

July 12, the 7th Day listed on this post, is also—drum roll, please—the 95th birthday of Mary Elizabeth Shepherd, my mother, the woman who is the focus and inspiration of this blog,“Things I Want To Tell My Mother.”  Happy Birthday, Mom!  And in spite of the dementia, “…this day, this moment is an adventure.”  I love you, Mom.  Marylin

Happy 95th birthday, Mary Shepherd!

Happy 95th birthday, Mary Shepherd!


Filed under birthday celebrations, celebrations, Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for grandchildren, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, Things to be thankful for


Abandoned farm house. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

Abandoned farm house. (All photos by Marylin Warner)

detroit house

log cabins

Dear Mom,

During a trip to Colorado Springs many years ago, you visited my high school English classes.  In one class we were beginning Transcendentalism, and I wrote this quote on the board: “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau 

I displayed pictures of houses—very old, decrepit houses—and told the students to choose one and write for ten minutes about what they saw and what might have happened there.  Sitting in the back of the room, you lifted a little notebook from your purse, closed your eyes and thought for a moment, then took a breath and began to write.

When the students shared what they’d written, the usual responses ranged from eerily sad tales to creepy horror scenes.  Much later you showed me the beginning of the free verse you’d written that day. Eventually it became a full narrative poem, but here’s what you wrote in the early draft:

Gone from the warped and bare front porch

The soft weary voices of evening—

And the steady creak of the porch swing

As weary ones rest from their labors,

Relax from the plow and the washboard.


Great are the secrets you hold there,

And the love that was whispered in evening.

But gone are your voices forever,

As the broken glass of the windows,

And the rusted spring at the screen door.

                   From “Lonely House” by Mary E. Shepherd 

I post this for your friends and family, Mom, and especially for your great-grandchildren who would otherwise never know your feelings about farm life in the 1920-30’s, and the beauty you found in simple daily events.  What you wrote is a reminder of your gentle and hopeful spirit.


“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  ~Confucius

“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.”  ~C.S. Lewis

“What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”  ~ Sir John Lubbock, English writer and archaeologist

pink tree blossoms

pink house


Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Henry David Thoreau, lessons about life, Mary Shepherd's poetry, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises