Oscar’s Curriculum

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines curriculum as follows:  1. the courses offered by an educational institution 2. a set of courses constituting an area of specialization.  Its Latin root is currere which means running.

As a child, my favorite curriculum was the Rodgers and Hammerstein Songbook which includes Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, State Fair, The King and I, Cinderella, Flower Drum SongThe Sound of Music and other musicals written for Broadway.  This curriculum which deals with the topic of love and the lack thereof, has produced long-running Broadway shows which will most likely “run” forever.  With love at the core, the musicals will continue to teach and reach each generation with the imperative to hold fast to the standard of goodness and truth.

The musical theater art form is the means by which Oscar Hammerstein II continues to teach.  Note that verb tense is in the present.  The teaching continues as pupils enter into the world created by the songwriting masters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  After all, their song from The King and I states, “…if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”  Oscar valued his pupils.  I know that as a fact.

Recently while visiting Highland Farm, I had a delightful two hour conversation with E. Thomas Scarborough, Jr. of Doylestown, PA. Seated at the dining room table (seen in the photo above), we talked and laughed about his idyllic childhood in Doylestown. “Tommy” as Oscar liked to call him lived in the neighborhood across some cornfields.  His older sister, Ada, used to walk to school with Anitra Moen and spend a lot of time playing with her. Little Tommy liked to tag along.  Anitra was the daughter of Peter Moen, Oscar’s masseuse, chauffer, and general helper. They lived adjacent to the farm.  In the summer, Tommy often saw Oscar outside.  “He was either walking around the farm or pacing back and forth on his front porch,” he reported.  If you’ll recall from an earlier blog, his daughter, Alice, revealed that when developing his characters, her dad would walk and converse with them in order to understand them better.

A member of the Board of Supervisors of Doylestown Township, Tom is a very handsome trim grandpa.  He sings, too.  In fact, he has agreed to sing Younger Than Springtime to his granddaughter, Bella, at our Doylestown Bicentennial Highland Farm Boxed-lunch Social Sing-along on Saturday, June 2, 2012.  Tom is  the 9th generation in his family to live in Bucks County.  His English relatives, members of the Religious Society of Friends, sailed along with William Penn to settle what was to become the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Penn was the first owner of the land on which Highland Farm rests.

Oscar’s customary greeting was, “Hello, Tommy, come here and tell me what you’re thinking.”  With his pad and pencil in hand, Oscar was serious.  He really wanted to know what he was thinking.  He’d ask again, “Now, Tommy, I really want to know what you’re thinking.”  And then he’d wait – ready to record whatever jewel of childhood wisdom  had been uttered.  Tom said that his usual reply was, “Gee, Mr. Hammerstein, I’m just seven years old and I’m playin’.”  Oscar would then invite him into the music room  (now the dining room) where he would serve him something cold to drink.  He would also occasionally invite him to sing children’s songs. Oscar would play his white grand piano and Tommy would sing.  If only those Highland Farm walls could talk.

Other Doylestown luminaries that Tom knew were James Michener and Pearl S. Buck.  Author of Tales of the South Pacific which became the basis of the musical South Pacific, Michener attended Doylestown High School with Tom’s mother.   They lived two door apart. His usual greeting to Tom was, “You’re Ada’s’ boy!”  Anthropologist, Margaret Meade, “lived down the street and around the corner from them.” Continuing, he explained, “She was older than my mother, but her sister and my mom were friends.”  Pearl Buck who he describes as very warm and loving would say, “Oh, Tommy, let me give you some ice-cream.”  Tom said that her love of children was obvious. “She’d always come up and hug you; she was a real sweetheart.”  But one of his best stories is about a summer party at the home of playwright Moss Hart and actress wife Kitty Carlisle.  Tom’s dad who did personalized construction work at the homes of many Doylestown elites, loved to take Tommy with him where ever he went.  Upon arriving at the Hart’s, Tommy was told to cover his eyes and not look in the direction of the swimming pool.  His reply was, “Dad, it’s too late.”  Tommy had already witnessed the guests skinny dipping in the pool.

We’ll continue Oscar’s Curriculum with our next blog where the focus will again be on children and how they respond to Oscar’s lyrics. What has impressed this blogger is Oscar’s desire to create a world where all children – young and old – are inspired and respected.

“Tell me what you’re thinking, Tommy.”   What a way to honor a child!  And with pad and pencil, Oscar would record the thought.  Perhaps Tommy was an inspiration for the following King and I lyric partially mentioned above:

“It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that ‘if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.’  As a teacher, I’ve been learning, (you’ll forgive me if I boast) and I’ve now become an expert in the subject I like most: getting to know you.”

Oscar’s teacher, Tommy Scarborough, Jr.  – Age 5

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