The Castanets by Debbie Dickson

My brother introduced me to Debbie Dickson a few years ago, and I loved her immediately.  But then again, everyone loves Debbie. She is one of those people who instantly blends into a family or group of friends like she's been part of the group forever—like an old friend or a beloved family member you don't see very often.

"They became fixtures of my youth. Even when my sister and I were grown and had children of our own, our children would find a pair in my parents’ home, walk over to my mother and plead, “Show me how, Grandma.” —Debbie Dickson, "The Castanets," page 264 of Project Keepsake

"They became fixtures of my youth. Even when my sister and I were grown and had children of our own, our children would find a pair in my parents’ home, walk over to my mother and plead, “Show me how, Grandma.” —Debbie Dickson, "The Castanets," page 264 of Project Keepsake

After Debbie learned that I was collecting keepsake stories for a book, she said, "I have a story I'd like to share." A few weeks later, I received her nearly-perfect first draft—a story about castanets, but in reality, the story is about her mother, Joy Schwamb Dickson, who taught school in the Wilcox County school system for years and years.

For those of you who don't know, castanets are those wooden percussion instruments used in Spanish music. They consist of pairs of hollowed-out pieces of wood joined on one edge by a string. Musicians and dancers hold the castanets in their hands and produce those intriguing, rhythmic, clicking sounds. Debbie's mother used castanets to teach Spanish to her students and her grandchildren, so they were always scattered about the house.

Joy Dickson and two other teachers (Ms. Harden and Lucia Rutland) from the Wilcox County School System in Georgia. Notice Joy's beautiful beehive hairdo. 

Joy Dickson and two other teachers (Ms. Harden and Lucia Rutland) from the Wilcox County School System in Georgia. Notice Joy's beautiful beehive hairdo. 

In her story, Debbie reminisces about her mother's love of teaching, how her mother loved and believed in her students, her mom's beehive hairdo, and her mom's arduous battle with breast cancer. It's a beautiful story—a beautiful tribute piece. I am thankful I met Debbie, and I am thankful that through Debbie's storytelling, I got to know a little bit about her mother.

Here's an excerpt from Debbie's story.  Purchase your own copy of Project Keepsake to read all of Debbie's story and other stories about keepsakes and the stories that give simple objects life and meaning. 

But the second year of her battle was different—it was much more difficult. Mom decided it was finally time to pass the teaching torch on to a predecessor. But retiring from teaching left a hole in her heart, and she sorely missed her students.

One day several months later, I walked through Mom’s room while she napped and witnessed her—eyes closed, right hand held high with index finger pointing into the air—correcting her students in her sleep.

“NO, NO, NO!” she said with a smile.

Even as cancer ravaged her body, she continued to teach in her dreams using perfect Spanish and accent, which was all she allowed spoken in her classroom after the first few classes. I saw her teaching in her sleep often that year—watched her hands working an imaginary pair of castanets. It was a true testament of her love of being an educator.

Years have passed since I lost my mother, yet I still feel her presence all around me, especially when I see her castanets, which Dad still keeps around the house. When I see them, I remember their click, click, click and the perfection of Mom’s voice. I see clearly the memory of her teaching her grandchildren how to speak and how to play. And I’m reminded of her boundless love of teaching—a calling that brought joy to her glorious life for so many years.
— Debbie Dickson, "The Castanets"