Cultural Triple Threat by
(260 Stories)

Prompted By Hobbies

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Writing for Retrospect

I love art, music (mostly singing, but listening as well) and now spend much of my time writing for Retrospect; a cultural triple threat.

I have written over 250 stories on everything from my first job; Posing in 3-D, to the harrowing story of my grandparents’ escape from the 1906 Russian pogroms to their trip across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving on Ellis Island and making their way to Toledo , Ohio where Grandpa opened a jewelry store and flourished; My Grandparents’ Story .Thinking of him, I am truly moved and grateful when I exercise my constitutional freedoms of religion and the right to vote. Both seem increasingly imperiled at the moment.

I recently read a long, interesting article by Timothy Snyder in The New York Times Magazine about those (particularly in southern states) who are trying to dictate how history is taught, making it illegal to teach “critical race theory”. He calls these “memory laws” and the article is entitled “The War on History is a War on Democracy”. He likened it to Stalin during the post-war famine in Ukraine, and Nazi Germany. We cannot re-write history. It does not bode well for our country. I WANT to know about my own history and that of my country. The more informed I am, the better citizen I can be.

I began singing with the Newton Community Chorus in 2003, once my husband retired and could stay home on Monday nights so I could practice. We’ve sung everything from Bach to Mozart to spirituals. Of course COVID kept us apart these past 18 months.  Some tried the electronic programs available, but I didn’t, for various reasons.

I miss my friends in chorus very much (we number between 60 and 90, depending on the popularity of the music we are performing that semester; Mozart and Brahms always gets a great turnout). There has been one email that seems to indicate we will try to gather again, even wearing masks, but much is up in the air. Will we be allowed into the parochial school where we rehearsed before? Will we be able to perform in January? Who will return (Newton has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, so I’m sure we are all vaccinated, but still…singing in close quarters). Much remains to be seen, but I am hopeful. Now the Delta variant has raised its ugly head, so who knows.

I began singing as a small child – the classic Broadway musicals. Though my mother has been gone over a decade now, when she moved into the skilled nursing section of her retirement community, I got to know the music director, who invited me to work up a musical routine with her and we performed familiar Broadway show tunes for the residents a few times a year. Most were truly out of it, but some would sing along and my mother just beamed. The songs were always upbeat. I’d encourage participation on “Do, a Deer”, usually began with “Put on a Happy Face” and end with “Let Me Entertain You” (but only brandishing a scarf). Even after my mother died, I continued to go and entertain for five more years, until the music director retired. I felt like I was doing something good for the community and the staff really appreciated me. It feels good to be appreciated doing something I enjoy.

As I wrote in the “art and art museums” prompt earlier this year, I am a life-long devotee of both art and museums, but the Rose Art Museum (as seem above) at Brandeis has attracted my time and attention for over 30 years. I became an active member when Vicki was seven months old and a Board member 24 years ago (with a few gaps along the way). One could say it is an all-consuming hobby. In addition to loving the shows and learning about the art, I thoroughly enjoy being part of the acquisition process. My husband and I are no longer very active in the art market, so this is the way I can stay active and continue to learn about what is going on there. I keep current and alive. I am involved in two collections committees there.

One, the Sam Hunter Emerging Artist Committee, only considers work of “emerging artists” (a term we constantly debate), but what fun to look at. The committee works on a annual basis, looking at work in depth for about seven months, then going through another in-depth dive on the final candidates and a ballot selection process, until finally, by the end of the year, we determine a single work to add to the Rose’s collection. We have made some memorable purchases; several now on display in the 60th anniversary show. It is a fun activity every year.

Book about the Rose Art Museum, 2009

I am a life-long learner. Whether being active at the Rose, writing for pleasure or singing new music, these are all ways to use my brain; fun hobbies that keep me moving forward.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Art, music and writing — you truly are a “triple threat,” Betsy! The term (I believe) originally comes from football and refers to a player who could run, pass and kick equally well. In this era of high specialization of football, it is truly an anachronism. But certainly not in your areas. Indeed, as you so well note in your last paragraph, they are really all of a piece for you: that of being a life-long learner.

    And thank you for moving this prompt well past the prosaic sense of “hobbies” that was the mindset for my own story. You are so right in viewing them in the much broader sense of “how I use my brain.” And your descriptions — alluding to areas you have addressed in your previous stories — make clear just how fully you have embraced and mastered them all. Brava!

    p.s. I also read the excellent Snyder article (keeping informed is one of my “hobbies,” too) and was equally impressed and depressed.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. I confess, I got the prompt before I saw the description, so I didn’t fully realize we were supposed to think about childhood hobbies. My story would have been about playing with dolls had I known! But also singing, of course. But you are correct; life-long learning is the accurate description. And yes, that Times story was interesting, and depressing.

  2. Betsy, how delightful to read your story and see the photo of Michael Rush’s very familiar book about The Rose, as The Rose is what brought you and me together, and then brought me to Retrospect!

    And more about the book – it became my perfect go-to gift to send friends for birthdays, retirements, housewarmings, etc. Over the years I must have ordered at least half a dozen or more copies.

    Once we gifted a friend with a copy when he was moving house. “Thanks”, he said, “but you sent me the very same book last year for my 60th birthday!”

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Danny, Brandeis and the Rose are, indeed, our common denominators that brought you to Retrospect, Dana. Funny about you gifting the book so often that you gave it to the same person twice! I’ve heard there is a new, improved version in the works to mark our 60th anniversary this year. Not sure of the publication date.

  3. Needless to say I’ll order it!

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    I imagine that a museum Board must be quite a collection of opinionated people; deciding what to buy must be an exercise in creative compromise!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      In some ways that is true, but we have a strong leader, whose opinion carries more weight than the rest of ours. She values our input, but by the time artwork comes before the committee, it is usually pretty well vetted and the decision isn’t too difficult. With the Sam Hunter group, we argue back and forth all year. It is really stimulating to hear all the opinions. We vote by secret ballot. The second season (I think we are in our 8th or 9th now, I can’t even remember), I was’t happy with the selection, or how the voting went and thought to get off the committee and told the staff people at the Rose as much. They agreed, said this wasn’t the way other museums ran such committees and the rules were changed, giving our curators a bigger say in what got presented. That was a huge improvement and I’ve been very happy with the committee ever since. Everyone knows much more than I do (frankly), but its great to learn about all these artists that I would never know about otherwise.

  5. Marian says:

    Valuable hobbies and learning experiences, Betsy. I count Retrospect as fun, excellent to keep my writing sharp, and a good way to make virtual friends. I feel bad for those who love to sing. These times must be especially tough for them.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    I really enjoyed your description of singing Broadway musicals with your mom. What a wonderful memory, and great you carried it on for years. I used to visit patients at a care home on days that coincided with people coming to play music, and found myself humming things like “It’s a long way to Tipperary” with guilty pleasure.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I really admire you Betsy for being what you call a lifelong learner. While we share the hobby of enjoying to write, I am in awe of your musical talent and your commitment to the arts and the Rose Museum. Great to have met you through your stories on Retrospect, the hobby we share.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Oh thank you, Laurie. With all that you do for your grandchildren, and other children, you are constantly learning and evolving as well. The musical talent is given (my husband and children did not receive it), but I did take lessons to enhance it, and practice it as well. And I’ve always enjoyed it. Great to have met you too. With me in HW and you in OP, we grew up as neighbors. I feel like a kindred spirit.

  8. Suzy says:

    Lovely story, Betsy, but I would still like to read about your childhood hobbies. I’m very surprised that you didn’t realize that’s what we would be looking for. Guess I shouldn’t send you the prompt titles before we write the descriptions. Hoping you will write that other story this week.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Oh please indulge me when I go off to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer…otherwise, I can’t provide all the photos! I don’t have time to write another story (as you know, I work ahead, so am already writing weeks from now) and somehow, life is busier here than back in Newton…my house is going to be on a house tour on Aug. 4, so am busy cleaning and throwing stuff away, plus lots of friends to catch up with – we were gone for 3 weeks due to Dan’s accident. My hobbies were playing with dolls (wrote about my Barbie dolls a long time ago), bike riding (I used to pretend my bike was a horse named Star) and singing. I had lots of stuffed animals, but never considered that a hobby.

      I must add reading. I was a voracious reader as a child and during my time in Chicago. I thought of a funny anecdote recently. As a small child, just learning to read, I was sick in bed, reading “The Cat in the Hat”. There was a little embossed label on the front cover: “I can read it…all by myself”. I could only read the first part of that slogan, but was very pleased, even with that. I hollered to my mother, “Hey Mom, ‘I can read it'”. “That’s nice dear, what can you read?” “‘I can read it.'” I said it with more emphasis this time. We went back and forth for while like that. I became more frustrated. My brother finally had to intervene and tell her that I was reading the words, “I can read it”!

  9. You put your heart and soul into your hobbies, Betsy…it comes through in your writing (including your commenting), and I’ve no doubt it comes through in your singing as well. And while you no longer collect, your work with the Rose Museum is a very satisfying and dynamic way of learning about and being involved with art. It’s said that good things come in threes…and your hobbies are the perfect example!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Barb, this comment really touched me deeply. I feel like we reached across the keyboard and became friends through our writing and sharing. We learned to know and trust one another. I DO put everything into whatever I do. You are 100% accurate with that comment and I appreciate that you know that about me. I love your comment “good things come in threes”. Thank you.

  10. John Zussman says:

    I salute you for finding ways to make your hobbies contribute to the welfare of others, whether singing at a retirement home (not to mention our wedding) or serving on the board for Interlochen or the Rose. But for your continuing and enduring contribution to Retrospect, we are all truly grateful.

Leave a Reply