May-June 2010


By Uncle Ruthie Buell

I always like to start with the bad news just to get it out of the way: the bad news being that KPFK has shortened my program from an hour to a half hour, which is upsetting a great many people including me. Sometimes letters help-so if you are inclined to voice your objections you can send letters addressed simply to Station Manager and Program Director, and ask them to restore the half hour and the creative integrity of Halfway Down the Stairs.

The good news is about a wonderful former piano student of mine, Milagros, my star pupil for over five years at Frances Blend, a school for blind and partially sighted students.

At Frances Blend all students were constantly reassured that there were no barriers to their dreams for the future, which is why Milagros at eight years of age announced, at the end of her lesson, "Miss Cuca, do you know what I want to be when I grow up?" "I give up" I replied, "tell me!" "I want to be an airline pilot," declared Milagros, and I took a deep breath and said, "Milagros, will you do Miss Cuca a favor? Will you be sure to tell Miss Cuca the name of the airline you are flying for?" Milagros was a talented student and played Bach at her graduation.

I used to think that I would live my whole life with no prejudices, until I encountered the parents of this amazing child. They were members of a religious sect that forbids just about everything connected with fun and creativity. No participation in holiday programs, such as Christmas, Hallowe'en, Hanukkah, Easter, Flag day-you name it, the answer was always no when we wanted to include Milagros in a program.

No blood transfusions, and worst of all, no birthday parties. When Milagros turned nine there were no cupcakes, no singing and no gifts. The only birthday that was ever celebrated was the Lord's. And it was this last restriction that really angered me, so I took a brand new backpack with wheels, made a small scratch on it, and told Milagros'mom that it was left at school by a student who had moved far away, and could I let Milagros have it. Her mom said yes and Milagros gave me a knowing look, filled with love.

 Skip to last year. Milagros was in High School now and emailed me a long letter about her life, which she found restrictive and unbearable. Someone had offered her the gift of a baby grand piano-her parents said no. "Can you talk to them, Miss Cuca" begged Milagros, "but please don't tell them I emailed you." "I can't do that," I told her, "I can't keep secrets from your parents. But I can give you a suggestion. Go to your guidance counselor at school and tell her everything you told me about your life. Then tell your parents you are unhappy and have talked to your guidance counselor. Be loving and open and honest."

She did just that. And her parents send her to live with her grandmother in Mexico, with their blessing. And she is giving a piano recital in a month. Beethoven and Bach.

My prejudice against joyless religions remains. But I rejoice in the good news about the miracle that is Milagros.

Uncle Ruthie is the producer and host of HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS, heard every Saturday morning (8:00am) on KPFK Radio, 90.7 FM. She also teaches music at The Blind Children's Center in Los Angeles. Ruthie does concerts for children, families and adults, as well as teacher workshops. She teaches beginning piano, and especially welcomes students with special needs. She can be reached at 310-838-8133, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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