Sweet Betsy from Pike

Dear Liza,

Grandpa Nelson gave me my guitar for Christmas in 1978. She was a not-very-expensive Franciscan guitar, and I loved her. I named her Sweet Betsy from Pike after the old Pioneering song, and learned five basic chords right away. I was working at a daycare center and knew how much children loved music.

Betsy was a great addition to my time in the daycare business. If clean-up time was going slowly, I would pull Betsy from her case and the toys would be on their shelves in no time.

The thing is, I wasn’t very good. I didn’t have to be. When your audience is three- and four-year-olds, the bar is pretty low. But I was good enough for that place and time.

Me, struggling with Ike the autoharp, 1989

Years later, when I got my teaching credential and my first job, Betsy proved herself valuable once again. Kinderbloom was a major step up from daycare and my teaching partner, Laurel Sherry-Armstrong, knew a lot more about music than I did. She played lots of instruments, but the one she brought to class was an autoharp. We named it Ike, after Sweet Betsy’s lover. I practiced and improved, and together we taught the kids to sing “I Love you Forever” and had parents smiling through tears at the Mother’s Day tea.

Second grade needed better skills, and when I finally landed in my happy place of third grade, I was ready. Regular classes meant regular class programs, and I was accompanying dozens of singers in front of a big roomful of kids and parents. I had moved up to about ten chords and a few strumming patterns.

Me and Betsy, about 1998

When I retired a few years ago, Betsy got put up. My fingertips got soft. This Summer when I tried to play “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”, I couldn’t make it work.

Betsy and Bridgett Bear this summer

And now we are coming up on Christmas, and I am not ready to go through a quarantined holiday without playing and singing Christmas carols. I got Betsy out and dusted her off, found our folder of Christmas songs and went online to transpose them into keys I can play (with my ten chords). I spent half an hour strumming and re-learning, painfully feeling the strings on my fingertips. Later, I spent another half hour playing and singing a little with Auntie Bridgett, with things coming easier and my fingers feeling stronger.

Auntie Katie playing Betsy last Christmas

I can do this! Christmas carols, here we come!


Grandma Judy

Another Goodbye

Dear Liza,

In 1990, when my teaching partner, Laurel Sherry-Armstrong and I moved from Hartnell College’s Child Development Center to University Park Elementary, we were happy to become part of an elementary school community. But we were sad to lose the lovely playhouse at the Center.

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Best Playhouse ever, 1990

We mentioned this over dinner one night with my parents, who were visiting from Lompoc. My dad (your great grandpa Lowell) said that he could design a playhouse, and would even build it, if  the District would allow us to put it into our new classroom. Weeks of drawing and discussion, proposing plans and changing them, became months of waiting for the District to get back to us.

Uncle David helping out

Finally, there was good news! They approved the planned two story playhouse, with stairs and a railing, to be built in room 13. Dad took the plans, built the house in pieces (walls, floor, railings, stairs), and drove it up to Salinas.

Painting the pieces

He and Great Grandma Billie, Grandpa Nelson and I, Uncle David and your Momma Katie (who were 10 and 8 at the time), Laurel and her husband George, and our friend Rick, all worked to paint the pieces. Then we put it together, laid carpet on the top floor, and even installed a bookcase and pile of pillows for reading on.

The kindergarten kids loved the playhouse. It was part kitchen, part pirate ship, part reading loft, and part cave. It was good for quiet times and silly conversations. It has been climbed on by, I guess, more than 700 kids over these 28 years.

And now, the kindergarten classes are moving, and the District hasn’t said that it will approve the playhouse for the new space or move it there. The teachers have no guarantee that it will even be on campus when they return for the next school year. Technically it belongs to me, but I only have two days left in Salinas and no way to pull it apart and move it anywhere.

This makes me very sad. There are so many things right with the playhouse, things that are missing in education these days. Imagination, thoughtful quiet time, and changes in perspective.

Fourth Generation

My only remedy was to get up extra early this morning, get you dressed, and take you up to play on the playhouse before it (maybe) goes away. You had so much fun! I looked at every inch of it, from the plaque Laurel put on after Great Grandpa Lowell died to the railing on the stairs, rubbed by hundreds of tiny hands.

When it was time for us to go, I cried a bit and said goodbye to yet another old friend.

     Lowell G. Evans Memorial Playhouse      Built Labor Day 1990                              5-7-21 to 12-7-98


Grandma Judy