The Fury of Hurricanes

When the media and press began breathing hard with the mention of a hurricane and began going mental with the possibility of another Katrina, I started thinking of my childhood in the late 30s, early 40s, and 50s.

We were also forewarned a couple of days before of the oncoming storms by radio, but it was just a fast “Flash.” We’d read in the previous day’s newspapers about its affects on Cuba or Florida and the direction it might go. All the information if I remember correctly came from ship-to-shore from barometric readings and of course paraphernalia the weathermen used at that time. They were incredibly efficient for that period. They also had records or long memories of previous hurricanes and the routs they had taken, sometimes dating back hundreds of years.

I always prayed a little harder that the hurricanes would come during the school week and not during weekends. We got off the day of the storm, as the experts knew their arrival time. The schools took no chances even though it was before we became a litigious society.

The day of each hurricane began normally with slightly blowing winds, birds chirping and the air-feeling crisp if it were fall. As the day progressed you could see the skies becoming overcast, with the winds lessening until the leaves on the trees were motionless. The surrounding area at this time was completely devoid of a single singing bird. The silence was overwhelming with the air totally oppressive. It was like the lights had gone out at the opera as the overture to the first act was about to begin. One leave would move, then slowly another, as you could begin to see them shimmer. A few more, then a flurry, with the entire tree entering to play its part as a full string section. The surrounding trees like woodwinds and brass came in forte, with the bombastic percussion and large cymbals clashing with a fury at fortississimo level, as the storm was now full-blown. The crescendo of wind and rain continued building until it had reached its peak, then the decrescendo began until it had finally descended to pianississimo at its conclusion, leaving in its wake ruin and devastation.

Living with the Gods

Every once in a while you have to get away from the drudgeries of life, and my son David and I did that last week. We went to the redwoods at Muir Woods above San Francisco. What an experience! About two or three miles before we arrived at the park, we saw cars parked on both sides of the road with people walking to the entrance. David drove past them and when we got to the entrance we saw the parking lot was full. As we were making the turn at the ticket booth to return to the end of the line of parked cars, a woman in the very first spot pulled out and we zipped right in. David joked she made his day more than the thrill of seeing the trees. This had the makings of a good day!

There was quite a bit of noise and clamor, especially from children as we began walking into the tree area. The further we went in amongst the gigantic trees the quieter it became. I noticed I began whispering, as were others around me, including the children without being told. We were experiencing a spiritual moment, an aura surrounding us similar to feeling the Holy Spirit, giving us a sense of calm and security. Just having that feeling was worth all the travel, time and expense to get there. The longer we were in the giant groves, the children and people returned to their normal selves, but I still felt the affects. It was another wonderful experience for me, one of many I’ve had during my travels in this “Blessed country,” as my father would say. That was quoted from by book, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era.”

When we left Muir Woods we drove to see the San Rafael Mission a few miles away, and after what we had just seen this was anticlimactic. With the many missions we had visited this was probably one of the weakest of the chain of 21 in California, as it had been torn down almost a century earlier. They began to rebuild it without truly knowing what the original looked like. Regardless, it was still a pleasant visit, as I’m sure they came close to the original.

Our spirits were rejuvenated when we saw the “eighth” wonder of the world, the San Rafael Civic Center. It was a sight to behold as it came into view. It gave the impression of being about three football fields long, a rectangular edifice connected to two hills on both sides, giving the impression it was an extension of the earth. This building was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1929. The two-story building is as beautiful today as it was when it was built. The interior was breathtaking with colored tiles on the floors, walls, and the ceiling all in earth tones, the same as when it was built. Tree-like plants grew along the center of the first floor extending to the second floor. I leaned over the railing and touched them thinking they were fake, but they weren’t. I’m sure what I did was a no-no! Even the original phone booths inserted into the walls were still there sans telephones. I’m sure people with cell phones still use them for privacy. Then again in this day and age, those talking like everyone around them to know their business.

The day ended with total success when we found a wonderful Thai restaurant that had been given FIVE STARS in my iPad.

Chromatic Harmonica (HARP) Histrionics (For present and future harmonica junkies)

I lost my lip (musician’s terminology) when I was a professional trombonist in the showrooms of Reno, Lake, and Las Vegas in the late 50s and early 60s. It was my life and I loved it. I woke up one morning and couldn’t play. I had developed Bells palsy and after a second serious attack of the same ailment my playing days were over. Luckily, I was married to a beautiful dancer, Shirley, whom I had met when we were both performing at Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe, NV, she as a dancer and I with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Being a Hoosier and a down home girl, she was a tower of strength, and with her help I pursued other areas of employment. I had a B.S. from the State University of NY, Potsdam, and soon became a band teacher in Palmdale, CA, for 27 years, a truly rewarding career. When I retired at age 60, I became a children’s author for the next 21 years (felixchildrenstories.com), and also wrote my autobiography, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era (felixmayerhofer.com).”

When Shirley passed away almost two years ago after 48 years of a wonderful marriage (we were one of the lucky ones), I couldn’t stop thinking about her, so I had to find something to do to keep my mind occupied. My creative juices to write had disappeared the year I began taking care of Shirley and continued after she passed away. So I pulled out the old trombone that I hadn’t played for almost 50 years. When I held it in my hands it was like being back with an old friend, but the magic wouldn’t return. I tried for a few months but the muscles in my lips wouldn’t respond. I laid off the horn for a couple of months but being a glutton for punishment like a drug addict, I tried again and got the same discouraging results.

I wanted to do something musical and for some strange reason I chose the harmonica, or harp as it’s known. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I decided to play the chromatic harp because I loved the way Toots Thielemans played jazz and that’s what I wanted to do. I found out all I needed to know about the instrument on the internet, the brands, how to take care of it, and what the internal components were. I should have been forewarned when I read the material. When I felt well informed, I went to the local Guitar Center and bought a Hohner 270 Chromatic Harmonica plus a couple of instruction books.

When I was a kid I bought a trombone with an instruction book thrown in and learned to play it by myself, then eventually took lessons. I didn’t know any better and was lucky I didn’t develop bad habits. Three weeks after I began the trombone, I bought Tommy Dorsey’s recording of “Getting Sentimental After You,” and copied Dorsey as he played the tune. By doing that I soon developed a high range that helped me when I joined a professional road band almost three years later. In fact that tune got me my first job, it’s all in my book, “Dairy of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era (felixmayerhofer.com).”

When I returned home from the Guitar Center I immediately read the introductions to both instruction books, and soon became a little confused. I assumed the longer I played I would become deconfused (my own word), and as the months passed that’s what happened. I was learning to play the harmonica by myself as I did the trombone. The difference between the chromatic harp that has a lever on the side, and the smaller type we’ve all played called the diatonic, was the chromatic had three full octaves. Of course the first thing I tried to play was the jazz tune, “Lullaby of Birdland,” by my well-tested hit and miss method. I got it to a degree but it didn’t sound very good. By experimenting, I blew from note to note and discovered where the first note of the song was, and then went from there. But when I tried playing that note again I had to go through the same process because there were so many more notes and octaves. As I soon found out the instrument had it’s own built in playing problems. The only way I could find the right notes on the chromatic was to practice hundreds and hundreds of hours and eventually find the notes by instinct). Eventually that instinct would direct me to the correct starting notes (I’m doing much better now but still not totally mastered). Once I came to my senses, I began at the beginning of the instruction book with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I was truly on my way.

But that was only the beginning of my problems. The third day after I took the harp out of the case the lever stuck and it wouldn’t budge. I went back to the internet to look for “Trouble shooting,” and found out about the above-mentioned problem. It turned out my own saliva was the culprit. Saliva is something like a glue-like substance that could only be taken care of by unscrewing the mouthpiece and cleaning it with dish detergent. I found one piece of serious “erroneous” instructions that said to turn the instrument up side down and place the mouthpiece in water up to the lever in a small tray. While in the water I pushed the lever back and forth, and then let it dry for a while in that position, so water wouldn’t drip into the delicate reed area that makes the harmonica function. That worked, but the more I cleaned it, notes that were weak to begin with when I bought it were getting even more difficult to play. I called a tech at Hohner and the old gal who answered wasn’t very pleasant, giving me no satisfaction at all. She has since retired. As the harmonica got harder to blow I bought another harmonica and after a few months the same thing occurred. My progress on the instrument was being held up. Getting discouraged, I momentarily thought of forgetting the whole thing. But not being one to give up I decided to try one more time and purchased a more expensive deluxe model that was definitely better. I was frustrated once again when the lever became stuck after a few days. I called Hohner, and the new tech who was almost as cold as the previous one gave me the correct advise. When I asked if it was okay to place the harmonica in water to clean, he answered, “Absolutely not, it will eventually prevent the reeds from working even though the water’s not hitting it.” Somehow the moisture got into the reeds. All these problems had now been going on for a period of months and were very discouraging. The tech said the mouthpiece must be taken off and cleaned every time the lever began to stick. I answered, “Every time?” He said “yes,” and that was it.

I proceeded to unscrew the mouthpiece of the harmonica and that’s when new problems arose. I couldn’t get it to play when I reassembled it and the spring that held the lever came unhinged. I had no alternative but to send it back to the factory. When it was returned to me it was in fine working shape, but this time they sent along a set of detailed instructions how to take it apart and clean it. The newly repaired instrument played beautifully, but within days the lever stuck. Following the instructions I carefully disassembled the harp, washed it, then reassembled it without any problems, but it took a half hour. Did I want to spend that much time cleaning it every few days? It was a major decision. I figured all professional harmonica players did the same thing. I practiced running the procedure in my mind and the next time it took 20 minutes. When I did it a third time it took 10 minutes while listening to the news on TV. If I wanted to play the chromatic harmonica that’s what had to be done.

From the time I began playing I had trouble finding anyone who played the chromatic harp as I had many questions to ask. I finally found two great diatonic blues harp players who played the small harmonica. They had both tried to play the chromatic but had given up because of all the complications. They thought it was the most difficult instrument they’d ever tried to learn. Whenever I hear great professional players I have profound admiration for them, as I know what they went through to learn and play the instrument. Now that I’ve overcome all the physical barriers of my beloved harp, I’m now sailing along, and have been offered dance jobs that I’ll be playing about a year from now when I’m 82. Now if I can just stay awake on the job!

Reviews For Diary of a Young Musician (Final Days of the Big Band Era)

My plan was to write about my autobiography, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era (felixmayerhofer.com).” But it occurred to me that my reviews for “Diary” could do a better job than I. Before I paste in the two reviews, I’d like to say the book also received a rating of “Highly recommended” by reputable Midwest Book Review.

Professional reporter Masha Rumer’s description and critique of the story in a newspaper article hit a home run. I almost went out and bought the book after I read it. The second reviewer, author Marilyn Dalrymple, defined the story in an emotional and warm manner that gave “Diary of a Young Musician credence. All the other reviews were just as deserving, but I felt these two were more appropriate for this blog.

The reviews below are from the Book Section of Amazon.com.

Masha Rumer-reporter for Westmore News, Port Chester, NY.

Review of: Diary of a Young Musician

Little did a Port Chester-born and reared Felix Mayerhofer know when he picked up his trombone and accepted the full scholarship at Julliard in New York City back in 1948 that his life direction would change forever.

This short journey from his home at 21 Bent Ave. on the New Haven line was to be the end of innocence of an 18-year-old boy as he embarked on the 13-year road of a traveling musician, encountering cruelty, poverty, fame, women, drugs, and the thrill of the Big Band era.

Expect to find a moving personal story, a portrait of America, humor, and unscrupulous honesty in Mayerhofer’s memoir Diary of a Young Musician, published by Fideli Publishing in 2009.

The writing is brutally honest–and that’s the way it was intended, as a father’s revealing portrait to his son David, who was now old enough to accept the real story. Mayerhofer spares no detail when he describes his manifold experiences with the opposite sex, his brief run-ins with marijuana, amphetamines and alcohol, segregation in the South in the 1950s, the challenging life on the road, his mother’s nagging to “get a real job” and Port Chester girls’ dismissive attitude toward young musicians.

Mayerhofer, whose Uncle Peter helped build Corpus Christi Church in Port Chester and became its first pastor, also tells the sad tales of loss, as many of his band mates get hooked on heroin and die before they reach 25. The reader even gets a glimpse into the author’s occasional bouts of illness; he describes the physiological details in an un-Victorian, honest fashion.

The world of Mayerhofer’s youth is different: blue suede shoes are in high fashion–he owns a pair, one can buy a cup of coffee and a hot dog for 20 cents on the streets of New York, and “crazy man,” meaning terrific, is a cool expression.

But throughout the tales of debauchery–a hard thing to avoid in the profession at the time, and pursuit of work all over the world, Mayerhofer emerges as a sensitive, disciplined man who has the strong will and fortitude to conquer his demons and lead an extraordinary life. He has met Louis Armstrong and played with Nat King Cole, served with the 552 Air Force Band during the Korean War, earned a B.A. from SUNY Potsdam and an M.A. from Asuza State University in California, and directed a junior high school band in Palmdale, Calif. until he retired.

Perhaps one of the most touching aspects of the book is Mayerhofer’s meeting of his wife Shirley, nee Wagner (Wagonseller), a beautiful show dancer and ballerina. Before he turned 30, Mayerhofer was a professed bachelor and claims to have not had more than three dates with the same girl. But when he meets Shirley, he is suddenly smitten, falls in love after their first kiss, and the two marry within months.

Mayerhofer played in the Port Chester High School Band, under the tutelage of Paul Weckesser. Nearly 30 years later, he returned there to teach band for six weeks while on vacation from touring with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.

 

Note: Masha Rumer is a reputable free-lance writer in San Francisco, where she also teaches at the Academy of Art.

 

Marilyn Dalrymple “Maling” (Lancaster, CA United States)

This review is from: Diary of a Young Musician

The book is personal, genuine and warm. I got to know the musician through reading the book, and I like who he is and what he is about. Diary of a Young Musician is in fact a diary. Mayerhofer tells his life as a young musician truthfully and intimately. It was hard for me to put the book down after I began to read it.

This book could easily serve as a must-read primer for eager young musicians and young people in general. Mayerhofer shares his wisdom about life and living in an entertaining way.

CREDITS: It’s Tough Growing Up: Children’s Stories of Courage

Marilyn Dalrymple and Joan Foor

www.itstoughgrowingup.com

New Life For my Books Using Socialnomics

Last week I was video taped describing my book, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era.” I never dreamt a few months ago I’d be selling my novel and my children’s books to the world over the internet with such incredible success.

Last December, my business partner, Mario Grossi of Mario’s Music and I, had just come out of the Lancaster Performing Arts Center. We saw a new business, Blvdtoday Café, had opened across the street in the same premise as Kings Photo Supply. When we entered, I met my old friend Jim Greenleaf, owner of ilivetodayav, who taught Socialnomics, which is using social-networking to increase your Internet foot-print and social reach in order to drive more traffic to your website or through the front door of your business.

I became interested in learning more about Socialnomics after Jim explained in detail what it entailed, so I immediately enrolled. I began studying with both Jim and his brilliant Production Manager, Ben Andrews, who with their instructions enabled me to drive more traffic to my book websites in a few weeks than during the previous two years. .

Besides the many millions who can now view my websites, felixchildrenstories.com, and felixmayerhofer.com, Jim and Ben have video-taped me describing each of my four children books, and now “Diary of a Young Musician, “ that can be seen on YouTube. But working on a larger scale, Ben’s fine camera work also caught me talking and reading my children’s book, “Horace the Great Harmonica King,” to a third grade class at Ocotillo Elementary School in Palmdale, CA. The three videos can be seen on YouTube, too.

I highly recommend ilivetodayav. Jim Greenleaf can be contacted by telephone (661) 948-8442, or his email address, ilivetodayjg@gmail.com.

PREPARING TO BECOME A MUSIC EDUCATOR

During my 32 years as a music educator, I realized that many people including a few teachers and administrators had no idea what a “true” music educator was, and what it entailed to become one. I hope this article will be of enlightenment to you.

As a youngster in my late teens and during my twenties, I was privileged to have studied with the first trombonists of the CBS Symphony in New York City and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I studied for one year at Juilliard School of Music in New York City, and then joined the Ina Ray Hutton Band, with whom I was a participant in a big band movie short. The following years I worked on TV shows, recorded with name bands, and of course played for numerous radio shows, which were called “remotes.” During those early years, I traveled thousands of miles doing “one nighters” throughout the country as a dance band musician. I was a professional!

At the age of 25 while “on the road,” I decided to go to college. I luckily chose the State University of New York at Potsdam (formerly known as Potsdam State Teacher’s College) in upper New York State, considered the most reputable school in the East for Music Educators. When I entered school I had no idea what the word “Music Educator” really meant.

At this time in my career, I had built a small reputation, and was recognized by a few of the students and professors the day I enrolled at Potsdam. My glory as a minor celebrity was short lived! The only thing I knew how to do was to play the trombone, as did my fellow students on their respective instruments. As I, they also had a good working knowledge of their instruments, as well as piano majors. These students had been well trained by “Music Educators” at their respective public schools or by private teachers. All of us had put in many hours and years of practice beginning at a young age.

The purpose of the school was to show us how to play all the instruments, including strings, learn how to harmonize written melodies, compose simple compositions, conduct, have ear training, and LEARN HOW TO TEACH. We were taught to sing and breathe properly, how to direct choirs and worked “hands on” in campus school classrooms from kindergarten up. Each semester we took private lessons on a different instrument supplied by the school to get a working knowledge of each, and then performed a recital before the faculty for a grade. We were required to play in a beginning band and stringed orchestra with the instruments we were studying at the time. The professors at the rehearsals pointed out the inherent problems of each instrument, so we’d know what trouble spots to be aware of when we began our teaching careers. At this time they taught us how to use the proper embouchures (lip positions), to bow properly, and to sit and stand correctly so that our students would not develop bad playing, breathing, and singing habits. Bad habits are hard to break once you’ve acquired them. It’s the same with ballet dancers and ice skaters. Our professors also related many of their personal public school experiences when they’d been teachers. We were given the opportunity to conduct a concert band with a prepared score, which was of invaluable training. It truly got me ready for student teaching and my first instrumental job.

While we were absorbing and learning all this material, we continued to study our own major instrument. The reeds of the woodwinds were sometimes rough on my trombone lips. We were also taught how to deal with teachers, administrators, custodians, secretaries, and how to write letters of application for a job, for which I was forever grateful. At the same time we took the liberal arts courses required to graduate college, which were coordinated with the music education program. We did our practice teaching in different communities away from college at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels during the entire second semester of our third year of school. Besides receiving my B.S. in music education, I was also qualified to teach K-9 as a regular classroom teacher, which I eventually did for four years. I later received my Master of Arts degree.

After I graduated college, I again continued my travels on the road. With the fine vocal training I had received at Potsdam, I toured with a professional vocal group throughout the country and performed at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. After again working with numerous big bands, I was asked to play first trombone with Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, a famous TV and recording group. My final jobs were with the show bands of Lake Tahoe, Reno, and Las Vegas when I decided to go into teaching.

When I began my first teaching assignment in Palmdale, CA, I was ready. But the learning didn’t stop there. For the next 27 years, I attended conventions and workshops twice a year to reinforce what I had learned at Potsdam. I found out I never knew enough and that’s the way it is today. I’m still continuing my education during my retirement.

When I breezed into Potsdam University as a young 25-year-old professional, I thought I had it made because I knew how to play. How wrong I was! Any professional who is thinking of becoming a band, choir, or orchestral director, should go to a “reputable” music teacher’s college where they’ll be properly trained. During my years as a teacher, I’ve seen other instructors, former professional instrumentalists and vocalists (who hadn’t gone to a music teacher’s college), personally give parents a dazzling display of pyrotechnics before or during a beginning band or choral concert. When their groups finally performed, some were abysmal failures! I was always amazed that it didn’t seem to faze the proud parents, who would applaud for anything when their children were involved.

The professors at my college with years of public school teaching were in complete agreement that music teachers shouldn’t teach more than one discipline. In other words, a band director should only teach band, an orchestral teacher, strings, etc. A music curriculum that required teachers to teach them all, band, strings, choir, and classroom music, were doomed for failure. Just the scheduling problems alone can be maddening, especially when classes are taught back to back, from the beginning of the day to the closing bell. I’ve seen this happen in many communities in Southern California during my tenure as a teacher, where successful districts decided to change, and had their music personnel teach everything. Within a year their formerly successful programs had deteriorated. It’s almost like “dumbing down” music education.

Teaching music requires an incredible amount of energy. It’s one of the most demanding courses to teach. When a music teacher is required to teach band, strings, choir, and classroom music, they find it necessary to hold back in each class so they can survive the day, the week, the month, so they won’t lose their health. I advised a new music teacher who was doing an incredible job in all disciplines, to let up or he’d burn out in a few months, which is common among music teachers. The principal couldn’t praise him enough for his choir and I told him that I had advised the teacher not to overwork. After a couple of months the teacher caught a cold and lost his voice, which wouldn’t heal. He took a short leave of absence to visit his family in Canada, and never returned after Christmas as he had promised. He’d succeeded in doing a superlative job with band, strings, classroom music and choir, but paid the consequences.

When interviewing prospective music teachers, a panel of well-qualified music personnel with successful track records, including an administrator, should do the questioning. They’ll soon know if the individual being interviewed is qualified for the position.

In the final analysis, the goal as I’ve clearly stated, is to have dedicated and well trained music personnel at each school, so that our children may receive the best music education possible.

A LIFE-LONG LOVE AFFAIR

I had just finished my walk and sat in my recliner to take a short nap. But my mind reverted to my late wife Shirley and I started thinking about our life-long love affair. We were one of the lucky ones.

When we first met she wouldn’t go out with me. But after a few days she relented (for years she never knew why). We had a late dinner at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel after doing two shows at Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe (she was a dancer and I was a trombonist with Fred Waring and the Pennsylanians). While talking we realized we had a lot in common and stayed in the dinning room for over two hours. At age 32, I had been a dedicated bachelor, but at that one dinner, I fell hopelessly in love and knew Shirley would be the girl I would marry. Of course she had no such intention because I had three strikes against me: One–I was from New York, two–I was a musician and she hated musicians, and three–I was shorter than she was! Somehow common sense prevailed and we got married nine months later, a marriage that lasted 48 years.

Shirley had studied tap, ballet, and jazz, beginning at age eight, and was a first-class professional dancer, having worked on TV, done a movie, and danced with the biggest stars for seven years in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco. Regardless of her love of dancing, she said she had been trained to be a mother and wife. She dedicated her entire married life to the happiness and welfare of our son David and I. We were blessed with a wonderful son after eleven years of marriage, thinking we couldn’t have any children, but David came along just before her clock ran out. That was the second greatest event of our lives, our first being our marriage.

From the day we returned from our honeymoon, we walked three miles a day for 43 years until she no longer was able to. We talked constantly during the walks and discussed every topic imaginable. As I left for work she would wave goodbye to me from the kitchen window, and I never missed calling her on the phone during lunch- time to see how she was doing. Those short talks were very important to both of us. When I went on three-day music conferences I always felt an emptiness without her. During our entire marriage there was never a time that she wasn’t beautifully coiffed or well dressed, never sloppy, like she was getting ready for her next show. She had a look of class whether she wore jeans or an apron. It was the quality of her personality and kindness that attracted others to her. When my father met her, he said, “Son, you have married a beautiful woman.” He saw the same qualities in her I had seen. She was my mother’s favorite, as Shirley never missed a week without writing her, keeping her informed how David and I were doing. Shirley also wrote her parents weekly.

For 17 years Shirley was my children stories editor after I retired and began writing children stories. I looked forward to seeing what words she had changed or added, or what she had done to strengthen and improve the stories. She never changed the main ideas of my stories, but with a deleted word here or a turn of a sentence there, those few magical changes made all the difference.

The last four years of her life were very difficult. She developed serious rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. She took Fosomax for four years that was supposed to develop new bone tissue but just the opposite occurred. When given an MRI a few years after taking the medicine, they found she had lost 50% of her bone mass. Little by little small bones began breaking throughout her rib area. Through all this she was taking very heavy pain medicine that she felt was affecting her mentally. She said she thought it changed her personality, and found herself saying things to friends and to me she would never ordinarily say or think. On her own she voluntarily took a minimum of painkillers even though it heightened her pain considerably. After awhile she was back to normal. Through all her difficulties and illnesses she continued to work on my children stories until her last days. She never let the pain interfere with her humor and made me laugh every day. During this time she had dual spinal surgery, and then broke her femur bone in two places on Christmas morning. Eight months later she fell out of bed in the middle of the night and broke her hip. Even though she had a successful hip replacement, she died seven days later in the hospital from pneumonia.

Throughout our marriage we felt we had developed some sort of mental telepathy, as we had the same thoughts at the same time. This was a common occurrence. She used to laughingly warn me not to think of other women because she would know. Every week for the last 17 months as I’m on my way to the supermarket, I’ve visited her gravesite. I carry a folding chair in the car and sit and relate the events of the week to her for a half hour or more. It is so peaceful and serene and I hate to leave. Just like at home I sense her presence, and feel that she gives me advice as I suddenly change my mind when I’m telling her about something I’m about to do. The workers at Desert Lawn Cemetery recognize my car and wave at me. They sometimes come over and talk to me, and I know they give Shirley’s spot special attention because they feel they know her, too.

THE READING AND HOMEWORK CRUSADE

I’ve come up with the most outlandish and absurd idea how to solve the reading problem to help children become better readers. When you read what I’ve suggested you’ll realize I have too much time on my hands. But through experience I know that a bad idea can be turned into a good one, that may set-off a spark, with proper thinking by people who are interested in helping children and themselves.

I won’t be disappointed if you delete this article shortly after you begin reading it. I felt like doing that more than once while writing it, thinking it was total nonsense and should be trashed. I know it’s long but I decided to keep it all together as one blog rather than in two or three parts. The following are my ideas:

We are constantly hearing the question, “What is wrong with education?” Invariably the non-educators blame the professional educators. There might be some truth to this accusation, but during my 28 years as an educator, there were less than a handful who I considered unqualified to be teachers. Many educators feel the present teaching corps in our country is the best trained in history. The response to their critics is hardly made in an audible voice, that one of the main reasons for this problem is the negative social revolution that has taken place within the family unit.

Educators for a few decades have surrendered to useless, countless theories, pontificated by unchallenged college professors with billions of dollars having been spent on these beliefs. Almost two generations of innocent children have been used as guinea pigs, victims of these self-proclaimed “Gurus” mass educational experiments, with the last one coming from our own government with there “No Child Left Behind.”

When I was a classroom teacher, I found weaker students always improved when there were kids in class who learned faster. I’ve always felt that slow learners were just as smart, only that they were slower learners. I fell into that category as a child but worked myself out of it. A pleasant learning environment, beginning with a sharp teacher, also invariably leads to a self-disciplined class. If you don’t have discipline, you won’t have order. If you don’t have order, you won’t have learning.

Education has had problems for years, but teachers were able to hold their own. With the advent of mothers going to work, welfare rolls growing, illegitimate pregnancy rates rising, children without fathers, family values eroded. Loss of respect for all authority soon followed. With these difficult problems good teaching became impossible! The final outcome of this loss of values in many cases has seen an increase in serious crime.

With mothers at work, a corresponding number of good students declined in classrooms. Those mothers who traditionally helped their children with homework, now had no time or were too tired. The fathers, who also worked, found themselves in the same predicament.

We know the schools have problems, but the root cause of these difficulties begin at home. What do we do? Hopefully a few of the following suggestions will begin to solve this overwhelming erosion of our lives.

A possible solution is having volunteers help the students with their homework, with reading at the core, at the students’ homes, schools, churches and community centers after school or at night. We can use high school and college students, parents, retired teachers or senior citizens as tutors. In essence, everyone. This would be ideal for many high school students doing their senior projects.

This concept, right from its inception as you probably realized, has as many holes as Swiss cheese and fraught with hazards. But sometimes the impossible may be the answer. The whole idea and solution will require tremendous sacrifice and time on the part of those involved.

There are so many intangibles with the ideas I’m going to present, you’ll understand what I meant in the previous paragraph.

THE PROGRAM: First, we’ll begin with a neighborhood concept. Why? The child will feel more comfortable with someone who lives close by, possibly in the same apartment complex or house on the block. This will help create a closer, neighborly feeling. Hopefully, others will get involved when they see what their neighbors are doing.

We can use the child’s home, neighborhood schools, churches or community centers, all possibly within walking distance of their homes. Of course this project will involve all groups regardless of race or religion.

Who will be used in teaching the children? When I taught 4th grade, I held four different reading levels at the same time in my class. These four levels were taught by each of my top students, as I supervised them, moving from group to group. I taught the top students at a different time. The advances made by all groups were incredible. The point I’m making is that children can be taught by anyone who is truly interested in helping and can read and write. Of course, children will not be used to teach in this project.

As I mentioned before, people from high school age and up will be used to implement the program. This could be a wonderful opportunity for senior citizens to participate and work with young people.

The initial thrust will probably be successful, but will it still be working 6 months later? The most difficult part will be to sustain and continue the program. Maybe we can try it for six months, and then evaluate its progress.

This next idea is actually impossible, really absurd! But as I said, the impossible is the very thing that might work. Try getting black and Hispanic gang members involved in the program as tutors. Why? Many are capable of teaching, even though they do poorly in school. Just because they don’t do well in school doesn’t mean they’re not smart or can’t teach! The idea is to try to motivate them and give their own education a boost. This might earn them respect from the neighbors. This new-found respect might turn them around and lead them down a new path. I consider saving even one young person a success!

Many parents might be afraid to let gang members into their homes. Gang members themselves will have brothers and sisters who will need assistance. Maybe they can start there.

Getting the gang members into the tutoring program might be an insurmountable task, but we can try. How? We’ll speak to black ministers who know many of the families; get other ministers and churches involved where Hispanics are parishioners; get advise from former gang members who are now teachers or work for the schools as gang consultants. All these people can be a part of the organizing and idea committee. In lieu of sentencing gang members to a correctional facility, have the judges order them to be a part of this program to teach members of their own families or others in need. This activity might keep them both out of trouble (This idea could be a little risky but worth a thought).

A pilot program could be set up in a small neighborhood. Newspapers, schools and churches could notify all parents about the idea, or flyers could be distributed in those neighborhoods. The school district could also have a representative on the committee, but neighborhood people must run the group.

At the beginning, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade children could be the primary beneficiaries of this program. This is where homework and study habits begin. The volunteer homework helpers can assist 2 or 3 times during the school week for approximately 1/2 hour per session (the time allotted could be flexible). The child’s parents or responsible guardian must always be present on the premise. This is something the ground rules committee can decide.

If money is needed, funding for the program could be requested from fraternal organizations in the community, plus local businesses. Presently both groups are being exploited for donations and are moneyed out, but this must be a total community effort.

What I’m basically recommending is a return to “old values.” The total cooperation of the community is an absolute necessity. Everyone is exhausted and tired at the end of the day, but we must get off our sofas and recliners if our children are to survive. If we want a peaceful community rather than a jungle, we must all do our part, now!

Our biggest competitors and enemies are the Internet, cell phones, computer games, and TV. Dragging our mesmerized minds and bodies from the tube or computer will be a major obstacle. A substantial effort will be required to obtain equal time for our children’s lives and minds. We must convince people of the importance of this issue and that our survival depends upon it.

HOW I BEGAN WRITING AT AGE 60

I was fifty-nine and a half-years old and planned to retire at age 65 from the Palmdale School District, where I was a band director. But as I found out health problems can alter the best-laid plans. That’s what happened to me.

A large, insidious throat tumor almost took my life. I first became aware of it when I woke up gasping for air, but just as quickly was able to breath again. I thought it was just a quirk and did nothing about it. The second time in the middle of the night, I wasn’t as fortunate. Hearing his mother’s desperate screams, David ran into our room and immediately applied the Hendrick maneuver, as I was turning blue. I felt a pop and air came rushing down my throat. A few minutes later when we all calmed down, we knew it was time to see my nose, throat, and ear doctor.

That morning when Dr. Jackson entered one of his examining rooms where I was waiting, he approached me and said, “My God, you have an enormous tumor. “ He could actually see it from the outside. His staff immediately made arrangements for an operation the next morning, December 23, when the tumor was removed.

The following week after the tests came in, Dr. Jackson told me with a look of concern, the tumor was cancerous, but he didn’t believe it was. He sent it to special lab in Chicago, but the results didn’t come back for THREE WEEKS! It was one of the longest three weeks of my life. The good news was that it was benign. By this time I had already been working for a couple of weeks. When Dr. Jackson examined me after giving me the good news, he said because I was constantly using my voice to teach band, the tumor was growing back and I had to retire. Since my full retirement wasn’t going to go into affect for four more months, I continued to work using a microphone and speakers, whispering instructions to my band students, so I wouldn’t reinjure my sensitive throat. My throat healed within months.

My retirement had taken me by surprise and I wasn’t prepared to deal with it. I had no idea what my wife Shirley and I would do. The first two weeks I sort of relaxed. We decided the inside of the house needed painting, so I began with the walls in the hallway, and I can sincerely say I hated painting! While I was on the ladder I began daydreaming about a boy who played the bass drum in the school band, and he had a pet. I thought maybe it could be a mouse, but a famous Hollywood producer was already using a mouse. Maybe a dog, but then again everybody had a dog. But this dog would be different. He would have a large tail that looked like a drumstick and he played the bass drum, too. I got down from my ladder and gravitated toward the computer. I began writing about a boy, Nick, and his dog, Knobby. I titled this first story in a series of eight, “Nick Meets Knobby.”

Until this time I had never thought about being an author, and was surprised to find myself in front of a computer writing a story. I never knew I had the ability to be creative. I couldn’t believe the stream of ideas that came out of me. From the start I wrote from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM, six days a week for the next 17 years until my wife became ill. Writing my stories was a true work of love. It didn’t seem possible that I had found a third career.

I joined two wonderful children author’s groups, one in Leona Valley for 13 years, followed by 7 years with the other at Barnes & Noble in Palmdale, CA. It didn’t take me long to become aware I had much to learn. Someone suggested I add dialogue to my story rather than it be all narrative. I went to the local library and read a few dozen children books. I returned home and in a matter of hours inserted dialog to my boy and dog story that made all the difference. The addition of dialog had given it added strength and character. After finishing “Nick Meets Knobby,” I began a second story about the boy and his dog. I did eight in a row. My writing became more fluid, and I kept returning to the earlier stories to improve them as I learned more.

Right from the beginning I asked Shirley to read what I had written and asked for suggestions. I realize now I just wanted her praise and nothing else. At that time I was writing by hand, using a yellow pad, and then typed what I had written into the computer. After Shirley read the story she changed the wording of a sentence and added a word or two. When I saw the changes I became slightly annoyed. She told me not to ask her to go over any other stories if I were unable to accept constructive criticism. Later on in the quiet of my computer room, I realized with the turn of a sentence or her changing a word or two, she had a natural ability to make the stories stronger, so I soon stopped complaining. I had a built-in editor. But with my vanity it took me awhile to truly accept it, and finally I realized she was a great children editor. After she edited a few other stories I couldn’t wait to see what changes she had made.

For the next 21 years I wrote 38 children’s stories, four of them published, and a novel, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era,” which was also published and given “Highly recommended” by Midwest Book Review. Shirley didn’t have time to edit this story, as it was too long. Throughout my writing period I returned to my grammar and punctuation books. “The Elements of Style,” by E.B. White, also helped me. I’ve continued to study and learn to this day.

I was fortunate to attain the services of John MacFarlane, Disney animator, who magnificently illustrated all four of my published children books. John also illustrated covers for each of my 38 eBooks.

You’ll find 20 of my eBooks under my name, Felix Mayerhofer, in Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony, and smashwords.com. My published children books can be found in Felixchildrenstories.com, and my novel, “Diary of a Young Musician,” in felixmayerhofer.com.

THE GOOD, BAD & WORSE

Thank God for good doctors, modern medicine, and all my friends who prayed for me! My cataract procedures the past two weeks have been a wondrous success. For the first time in over a quarter of a century, I was able to read words clearly on my computer without the use of glasses. I still have astigmatism but that will be taken care of in a few weeks. I’ll be using eye drops the next three weeks, and then they’ll test me for new glasses. That was the “Good!”

Now for the “Bad!” During the past two weeks I caught a nose, throat, and chest cold, something I haven’t had in over 40 years. Help!!! I had forgotten how bad it was to be ill, a rarity for me. For medical reasons I stopped practicing my harmonica so as not to put too much pressure on my eyes, and of course the cold, where I had no desire to serenade myself. It was a good thing as I needed a rest from practicing. I know from experience I’ll be a better player because of it. For being such a good boy, I’ve rewarded myself with an upgraded Hohner harmonica, one recommended by one of the salesmen at the Music Merchants convention I attended in Anaheim a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to attacking it unmercifully in a few days. I’ll be unrelenting until I’m content with my progress.

Here’s the “Worst!” To make my week a little more interesting, the third grade boy across the street solicited me into buying Easter candy his school was selling. I was an easy touch, and through experience he knew he would be the final recipient of the candy, as I don’t eat sweets. When I went to his house with a check, I didn’t see his pit bull in the yard who proceeded to have desert at my expense. He bit me on the lower leg. Luckily, I had on heavy Levis or it would have been worse. The mother told me the dog recently had rabies shots, but I wasn’t sure I could believe her. I called up Animal Control to see what I needed to do for myself. They said only a tetanus shot was required. I called my doctor and within the hour a nurse proceeded to administer the shot. It was a lot easier than the same shot I received in the service during the Korean War.

Meanwhile, through my operations, fever, and a dog bite, I conducted business as usual, promoting my children’s books the entire time.