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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

“Nothing You Do For Children Ever Is Wasted”

That is one of my favorite lines from Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keillor – along with “Exploding Christmas trees were no news to Mother.” I had a mother like that, a fellow Minnesotan who worried ceaselessly about the next possible catastrophe, Christmas trees included – even though in her non-electric youth a century ago, she had enjoyed real trees with lighted candles. I guess Grandma and Grandpa had more nerve than Mom. And it worked out, as my German-speaking grandparents reared twelve children with no crises.

But back to the first quote on doing things for children. I thought about that again last Friday night, as I joined in the tree lighting ceremony at Winthrop Village in Riverview. I’m a board member of Winthrop Arts, Inc., and after handing out programs to the thousand or so attendees, I squeezed myself into a small space by the sound equipment near the tree and sat down cross-legged. I soon noticed two kids, both probably less than three years old. One was black and the other white, and their moms also had infants to tend, so I invited them to sit on my lap.

They did, and I so enjoyed watching the intensity of their faces as they followed the dancers, singers, and even the brass and guitar players whose backs were to us. Neither child displayed the least bit of boredom during the performances of older kids, not even with a longish Nutcracker ballet that, of course, had no words. The repetitive refrain of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” especially was transfixing. By about “Ten Lords A’Leaping,” they had gotten the idea and sang along from “Five Golden Rings” to “A Partridge in a Pear Tree.” Does anyone even know anymore what a partridge is? I don’t think it matters, as smiles framed every face.

Earlier in the week, I had gone to the Children’s Chagall Show at our Winthrop Arts Factory. Again, there were a hundred people looking at the child-made art, while kids romped on the lawn. At neither of these events did I hear a child crying or fighting or in any way displaying bad behavior. That was routine when I was a child. I wish my memories were different, but I don’t think there ever was a gathering of my dozens of cousins without some sort of pushing or punching or complaining and crying. We came from big families -- but unlike the conventional wisdom, I’m not sure that taught us cooperation and kindness. Instead, I think most of us were desperate for personal attention.

Our mothers and aunts always were busy in the kitchen, preparing food and washing dozens of dishes by hand. If fathers and uncles noticed us at all, it probably was because we had done something wrong and were sent to them for discipline. Young fathers behave completely differently today, and I know that is a result of the feminist movement and the birth control pill that was created in laboratories funded by Planned Parenthood. Sharing the joys and woes of parenthood is liberating for both men and women -- and certainly beneficial for girls and boys.

Another Tampa Treat at Christmas

The best thing for me about losing this election is being freed from responsibility. With Republicans in charge of everything, I’m going to join some Democratic friends in being frivolous. We’re happily planning to spend the money saved by not going to the inauguration, and I intend to use some to take kids to concerts, especially to those of the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. I enjoyed a couple of hours of pure pleasure at their “Making Spirits Bright” holiday concert. Held in downtown’s beautiful historic Tampa Theater, it was a treat for the eyes and ears.

The chorus is experiencing a vacancy with its conductor, but an audience member wouldn’t discern that from the joy with which Sarasota’s Dr. Joseph Holt approached the job. He practically danced on his toes as he led the chorale into increasingly challenging works. He also was the best conductor I’ve ever experienced at making listeners feel truly involved, as he introduced each song with stories about it. I especially enjoyed his explanation of “Alpha and Omega,” a three-part composition by a still-living woman, Gwyneth Walker. She grew up on a dairy farm, he said, and manages to fit a reference to cows in each of her works. No, it wasn’t “moo.”

I like to sit down front at classical concerts, especially if there are handbells. At this one, I not only got a close view of the bell ringers, but also of the percussionist. Unlike most orchestra arrangements, the theater’s limited stage meant that he was out front, with his kettledrums actually off-stage at audience level. This turned out to be wonderful for me because it offered a view of his dozen or so instruments. He moved quickly between them, using everything from sharp snare drum to tingling timpani – and on a Caribbean carol, even a gourd-shaped rattle. An African American, he was the best percussionist I’ve encountered.

I had seated myself in the third row before most people arrived, and when I wanted to stretch my legs, I asked the distinguished-looking gentleman behind me to keep an eye on this precious position directly in front of the microphone for soloists. After intermission, when he took the stage, I realized that my seat-keeper was a big deal: he was the winner of this year’s Christmas Carol Composition Competition. His name is Stephan Shewan, and he flew down from Buffalo just for the day. His work indeed deserved to be a winner, as his arrangement of “Silent Night” is much more complex and interesting than the original. People crowded around to congratulate him at the concert’s end, and I hope we hear more from this composer.

So if you want to take some kids to hear something beyond hip hop, check out www.MasterChorale.com. I think I may do that at Easter, when it will join with the Florida Orchestra for Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.

Speaking of Easter

All religions have holidays (holy days) related to the seasons of the year, the movements of the moon and the stars. The varying dates of Easter are because the early Christian church set it for the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. In case you’ve forgotten – or weren’t taught in school – the vernal equinox is the closest we come to a twelve-hour day in the spring, before days become longer than nights in the summer. The autumnal equinox in the fall is the reverse, with nights becoming longer than days until the winter solstice, when the sun turns around and daylight again starts to be longer. The exact date of the winter solstice also varies, but always is a few days before Christmas.

Early church leaders intended Christmas to be the darkest day of the year, but the globe keeps revolving, while December 25 has been the same on calendars for a couple of centuries. Someday we’ll have to consider another calendar revision, but not now with the tinfoil-hat wearers proclaiming that their archenemy, “the liberal media,” promotes “War on Christmas.” I’ve certainly not noticed any such war in the inescapable advertising at this time of year, but that’s not the point right now.

Instead, the point is to reinforce the connection between the Earth’s natural movements and the explanations that various religions offer for their associated holidays. And all of that is to tell you about a program that I arranged last month on the status of women in religion. It started with the oldest monotheistic religion, Judaism.

In telling of her path to becoming one of the first female rabbis, Debrah Schenefelt said that from childhood, she “wanted to hang out with God.” The only women she saw who did this were Catholic nuns, but her mother quickly put an end to that idea, telling her, “Jewish girls don’t become nuns.” She was married with a child when finally, with help from Tampa’s Rabbi Theodore Rose, she was able to achieve her goal. He was known as “a rabbi’s rabbi,” the person to whom other Jewish leaders went for help and advice. He had a smart daughter, today’s Dr. Eldra Solomon, and that probably encouraged this conservative Eastern European Jew to consider the possibility of female leaders.

Sister Anne Dougherty had the support of her family in upstate New York for her vocation, but she became a Franciscan when most nuns still lived cloistered lives and wore black habits that covered everything except faces. She led others at St. Joseph’s Hospital in dropping that dress, and she delivered her recent speech wearing slacks and sandals. Sister Anne was one of the first locally to care for people with AIDS, when that was controversial. She served as a police chaplain and currently runs the Franciscan retreat on the beautiful Hillsborough River in West Tampa. When asked about ordination, she did not hide her regret that Pope Francis recently missed an opportunity to reconsider this limitation on Catholic women.

Islam began in the early 600s, and Pilar Saad spoke to it. She was born here and was a cheerleader at Tampa Catholic. Pilar went on to study in Paris, where she met Muslims and came to admire their family-oriented culture. Her parents were from Colombia and Denmark, and she was candid about the fact that her Danish father drank too much. That Muslims had fun without alcohol was a revelation, and she converted. She married a man from Lebanon, but she is the first in his family to adopt the hajib. She told the audience that she finds it liberating in that it not only diverts unwanted male attention, but also that she never has to worry about a bad hair day.

Finally, Rev. Lolimarta Ros Reisner represented Protestantism, which began in the early 1500s. Pastor Loli, as she is called, ministers to the Seffner Presbyterian Church – but is a mixed-race Puerto Rican. She came to the US with her family when her Protestant church there sent her father as a missionary to Puerto Ricans here. Perhaps because of her father’s connections, she had no trouble in going to a South Carolina seminary. Married with two teenage daughters, she leads an old church that traditionally had very few non-white members. I found that a fitting end to the panel discussion, as the variety of these women shows how people of true faith – at least women -- can live together amicably and beneficially.

And yes, I remember that I said last week I would write about how some voters are more important than others. Don’t wanna. Later.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.

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