This is really a "Limberjack" dancing doll, made by an Appalachian craftsman in Virginia. Since he's pretty good at doing a jig on the wooden paddle board, I knew he would be put to good use with a St. Pat's Day theme.
No Spanish Needed
I had about 1o things I planned for the St. Pat's theme, but I always have to see who shows and then figure out how to proceed. Every group is different and the Jigging Leprechaun was the only "activity" that worked with all three groups.
My first stop was the Community Center, where once again my lack of Spanish skills determined which direction we would go. On this day, my group was all Spanish speaking, except for one. "Yo desayune'?" I fumbled...meaning. "Guess what I ate for breakfast?" They thought it was funny when I showed them a box of Lucky Charms cereal.
That was the extent of my Spanish speaking and I spent the next hour being overly animated with props. They took turns dancing the wooden guy on his board. They loved looking at a collection of Irish coins. One woman with extremely long fingernails and a good sense of humor stroked the strings of the harp (featured on all old Irish coins) Then I brought out a miniature harp and they loved taking turns with that. Lots of hands on...until I convince myself to learn Spanish! .
No Language Barriers...
...but my challenge with these folks (besides Alzheimer's) is that we meet after lunch. This means I struggle with the sluggishness that we all feel after big meals. (and Chef Angel serves huge lunches!)
So I used the little wooden guy right away to wake up this crowd. Despite the racket of the wooden feet pounding on the board during my demonstration, I still had one asleep. But when I turned on the I-Pod so we could hear some real Irish music, the group came to life, taking turns "dancing the doll" to the music. Even though the paddle was flat on the table, it was amazing how differently each approached the task. There were jokes about the Leprechaun having too much Irish whiskey.
At one point the music on the I-Pod changed from the sounds of an Irish jig to the voice of Pete Seeger singing Sweet Molly Malone. It was interesting how everyone stopped to listen and recognize. Then some voices began to sing along " ...mussels and cockles...alive, aliveo-o..." The mood changed.
After dancing and singing...
...there was a nice feeling at the table. We had laughed and been silly with the dancing doll. But then the mood softened with the singing. I told a story about my grandmother "Helen O'Dowd" as the group nibbled on a silly snack of Lucky Charms. And then others began to share.
One shared that her father had been Irish, but didn't care to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. We talked about how many of us have family members who struggled to come to America and may have had difficulties fitting in as Americans. And someone else told us about her family, mostly Dutch-Irish and the great emphasis on hard work. And I loved hearing these voices recalling and sharing. I had expected we might talk about green beer and shamrocks, but these thoughts were personal. And as always, I worry little about how true these stories even are. My own stories get warped with time. I loved the way these folks laughed and carried on with the doll, but even more, I enjoyed seeing them talk with one another...nodding, listening and adding their thoughts!
Last Stop for the Leprechaun
On Wednesday afternoon, the Quilt and Leprechaun headed with me to the Fort Bend Women's Shelter. Unlike my Silverado Group, these kids were wound up and ready to go when I got there. For privacy reasons, I don't share photos. However, their faces when they saw the Leprechaun, were as giddy as this old "Heidi" picture on the left. I taught them a song about a Leprechaun who jumps and jigs. And before long they were singing along. Then they were standing and jumping when the doll jumped and jigging when he jigged. They made their arms windmill like the wooden arms and they collapsed in an odd pose, just like the doll when it ended.
They took turns with the doll and the harp and they even played a crazy game of "hot gold" as they passed and tossed around a pretend bag of gold. It got a little wild. I was asking for trouble. Any minute this group would be out of control.
The bag leaked!
One solid toss and the bag opened a bit. No big trauma, the hole just revealed there was no gold, just a handful of golden Mardi Gras beads.
"OOOO! Can we each have one?" The kids asked.
The focus had changed, just like it did in the Silverado Group. From wild to calm. They waited for my answer. There weren't enough to go around, "But..." I thought quickly. "Let's pretend that we have lucky gold. We can each hold the gold and make a wish!"
For some reason they went along with this. And just as I'd been touched by the change in mood at Silverado, I quietly observed the softening of these children. I watched as each child took a turn, clutching the beads like a handful of rosaries. They closed their eyes and murmured as if in prayer and I wondered about their wishes.
"Should we tell!" One child asked eagerly when we were all done. The kids looked at each other and all shook their heads no. "Let's not tell." They all agreed.
What I Learned?
Laughter and fun can open us up to more thoughtful moments.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.