Marian Anderson: What I Had Was Singing

My favorite female singer is, and has been since I was a preteen, Marian Anderson, but I didn’t read her biography until I picked up Jeri Ferris’ book. Maybe I was afraid of being disillusioned, that her personality would not match her singing. A more comprehensive biography will undoubtedly reveal human flaws, but there’s no indication of anything that would let me down.

This book is written for younger readers, but this short version is written with an excellent selections of well-described incidents and includes a range of photographs. I’ll read a more comprehensive biography some other time. Jeri Ferris includes the main events of Marian’s life and if I were teaching about Jim Crow laws and discrimination, I’d use it as a teaching tool. From Marian’s first experience on a Jim Crow train to The Daughters of the American Revolution refusing to let her sing in their hall, the history of discrimination is effectively portrayed.

There was the time in Atlantic City, New Jersey when she was honored with keys to the city–and refused a room in a hotel…There was the time in Springfield, Illinois when she sang at the opening of a film on Abraham Lincoln–and was refused a room in the Lincoln Hotel.

Jeri Ferris, What I Had Was Singing

Marion’s mother told her to remember that, always, someone would be watching her and she must base her behavior on that.

Marion remembered hearing, as she walked along a residential street, a woman playing the piano. She peeked through the window and saw that it was a Black woman. She realized that she, too, could learn to play the piano. She found pictures of the keyboard, and taught herself. That woman never knew how the sight and sound of her playing had given one little girl the encouragement and incentive she needed, and coincidentally an object lesson illustrating her mother’s advice.

I’m not sure how the subject came up, but I remember clearly the evening my mother told me about the Daughters of the American Revolution keeping Marian out of their Constitution Hall. Some relative had offered to sponsor me as a DAR member, and my mother was not enthusiastic about it because when she asked whether I’d be interested, she told me about the DAR event and that killed any enthusiasm I might have had. At the time, I thought that snub was recent–in the 1950s; actually it was on Easter Sunday of 1939 that Marian sang at the Lincoln Memorial, by invitation of the Department of the Interior. That outdoor arena allowed 75,000 to hear her, twenty times the capacity of Constitution Hall. How I would have loved to be there! But that was before my time.

For a video on Eleanor Roosevelt’s part in this, and a bit of Marian Anderson’s concert, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwQCRUtzBsU

Marian Anderson, the legendary African-American contralto, sang at the Lincoln Memorial exactly 75 years ago after she was refused a performance at Washington’s Constitution Hall. On Wednesday [2014], young people gathered to commemorate Anderson’s effort to strike out against racism through the power and beauty of her voice. View more from Marian Anderson: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/marian…

The Tin Forest

Helen Ward, author, and Wayne Anderson, illustrator, have created one of those beautiful books I’d like like to share with everyone from our pre-school grandchild to friends two or three generations older.

The Tin Forest surprised me because it was recommended by our church curriculum for my middle-grade Sunday School class, but when it arrived, I discovered that nowhere in the book is God mentioned, or Jesus, or anything biblical.

But the book is a springboard for discussion of hope, renewal, and kindness regardless of one’s religious or non-religious belief.

Then one day across the barren plain
the wind swept a small bird.
The old man spilled crumbs from his sandwich…
But the next morning, the visitor was gone.”

Helen Ward, The Tin Forest

You see hope come to life in Wayne Anderson’s (and the old man’s) art.

Walk Two Moons, a road trip and three-layered story.

In "Walk Two Moons" tells about Sal's cross=cointry road trip with  Gram and Gramps, allowing Sal to follow where her mother had traveled before.
Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech

Gram and Gramps take Sal on a road trip from Kentucky to Idaho, Sal passes the time by telling them how she and Phoebe attempt to identify a lunatic and a murderer, and behind both tales is the third layer, Sal’s facing and accepting her own loss.

Sal’s other grandparents appear only in one description:

Once I asked my mother why Grandmother and Grandfather Pickford never laughed. My mother said, “They’re just so busy being respectable. It takes a lot of concentration to be that respectable.”

Walk Two Moons, p.15

No wonder Gram and Gramps,–unconventional, impulsively responsive, and in love for a lifetime–so effectively bind the layers of the book. The “respectable” characters are important only in their unimportance.

Sharon Creech mixes tears and laughter in a road trip through sadness, guilt, acceptance, and caring. I’ll get this book of hers back to the library and check out another.

Aphorisms and Thesauri

What’s the difference between an aphorism and a proverb?

When I used what I assumed was an aphorism in the last post, I wasn’t sure, so I investigated.


Definition of aphorism 

1: a concise statement of a principle
2: terse formulation of a truth or sentiment ADAGEthe high-minded aphorism, “Let us value the quality of life, not the quantity”

Merriam Webster

Okay so far. Definition #3 gets technical:


3: an ingeniously terse style of expression aphoristic language. “These are dazzling chapters, packed with perfectly chosen anecdotes and pithy with aphorism.”

Merriam Webster

I wish some reviewer would review my books with that description, but I can’t honestly claim that style of writing.

Are two words synonyms? A simple old-fashioned way to check is with a thesaurus. I use Roget’s “New Edition” of 1873, which I inherited from Cousin Mabel, whose parents must have purchased the book because she was born in 1873 . It threatens to fall apart, the headings are obtuse, and I can’t read the index without a magnifying glass, but it’s a familiar friend.

You don’t have to inherit a copy of Roget–numerous editions have been published in this century, plus electronic editions.

Synonyms for “aphorism,” per Roget of 1873, are: “maxim, apothogm, dictum, saying, adage, saw, proverb, sentence, precept, rule, formula, code, motto, word, byword, moral, sentiment, phylactery, conclusion, reflection, thought, golden rule, protasis, axiom, theorem, scholium, truism. ” If you don’t know how to use some of those in a sentence, ignore them, because your readers won’t recognize them–neither do I.

Note that a synonym is not the the same as a substitute. There are nuances of meaning. Thesauruses (thesauri is also a correct plural–I had to check that out) are not always as exhaustive–or maybe exhausting–as my antique one, but I find the long, micro-print list fun.

Explore the 21-st century editions and variations of thesaurus on Amazon:

No reviews from me for those; explore them (and more) on line or in a bookstore.

One more description–I can’t call it a definition–of aphorism, if you can wrap your mind around it.

Mary’s First Christmas

If Mary told five-year-old Jesus the story of his birth, it might have been like this:

“It’s a true story…It’s the story of how you were born…And the reason why I want to tell it to you is love…

As Mary cleanses a wound on her child’s forehead, from rocks some older boys had thrown, she begins by recounting the visit of the angel who foretold her pregnancy, and her visit to her cousin Elizabeth . The author’s translation of Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is well suited for reading, or chanting, to children:

I sing the greatness of my God

Who chose to raise his lowly maid

While putting down the rich and proud:

Oh, holy is his name!

The Lord remembers Israel;

His mercy and his love remain;

As with our fathers it was well,

With us be it the same.

As the book ends, “Joseph, the carpenter, strong and true” is teaching his son to use hammer and nails.

Mary watches…but Mary isn’t the only one.

The angels are watching.

And God the Father in heaven is leaning low to see.

And all the world is waiting; the shepherds and you and me.

Mary’s First Christmas

My Christmas book wish list includes this author and illustrator, and some others. (Are my children following me?) How I’d love to share these books with all of our grandchildren, one by one!

Dr. Ida–for the Women of India

The Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, started as a single-bed clinic, by Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder who served as a missionary for 50 years. Today, it is one of the top-ranked educational, healthcare and research institutes in the country.

The first class of 14 women—taught by Dr. Ida and a few of her associates, with only one microscope, one skeleton, and few textbooks—faced regional end-of-first-year examinations along with men from established government-run medical schools.  Dr. Ida tried to encourage the girls:

     “All anybody can expect of you is to do your best.”
     The girls were not deceived.  “Best” to Dr. Ida meant nothing short of 90 percent.  They huddled on the long, hard seats staring at each other in terrified silence…Examinations according to the British system were matters of educational life or death.
     Ida, herself one of the examiners, met Colonel Bryson in the hall…
     “Ah, Dr. Scudder! So you’ve brought up your first class for examination?”

“Yes.”  Ida smiled at him brightly.
            His face clouded with sympathetic concern.  “My dear doctor, please don’t be discouraged if none of your students makes the grade this first time.”
            “None of them?” echoed Ida bleakly.
            “”It wouldn’t be surprising…only a small percentage of men pass it.  Naturally we couldn’t expect too much of such a young project, especially all women.  But they can always try again.  Promise me you won’t give up, whatever happens.”
            “I promise,” said Ida.  She went on, head held high but heart sinking to the region of her shoes.
            The grim days passed. Huddled in a tight, silent group in the mission bungalow in Madras where they were housed, the girls waited to hear the results.  Lists from various men’s college were posted and read with dismay.  Only about 20 percent—one in five—was passing!
            “And we’re only women!” wailed one of the fourteen in anguish.
            In a note from the considerate Colonel Bryson, Ida learned the results before they were posted. The distance from college to mission bungalow seemed interminable.  She wished it were a tennis court or a racetrack so she could run at top speed and still be considered proper.  But she reached it finally, stood in the doorway of the room where they were waiting. They read the answer in her radiant face.
            “Lambs!”  She held out her arms to them.  “You did it!  Passed. Every single one of you.  And four of you in the first class.  And—can you believe it?  This places our school at the head of all the medical schools in the presidency!” …
            The next time she met Colonel Bryson, he shook his head.  “I’m afraid, Doctor,” he said sheepishly, “that your girls are setting too high a standard for our men to live up to.”
            Ida only smiled.

From  Dr. Ida, The inspiring story of Dr. Ida Scudder, fifty years a medical missionary in India bu Dorothy Clarke Wilson.

I’ve read a couple of Wilson’s other books–I’d like to own every one of them.