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Retta Folsom started teaching piano lessons in her home after her second child was born. She taugh only during naptime so she wouldn't be distracted during lessons.

A Little Ice in Her Tea

story by Kelly Doering

Retta Folsom grew up in a home surrounded by books and music.

When she was 8 or 9, she would listen to a radio program called "Let's Pretend" that gave her the love of storytelling. So it seems natural that 70 years later she would be directing the Musical Story Time program at the McCracken County Library.

In partnership with the Paducah Symphony Orchestra, Musical Story Time offers a kindergarten-through-fifth grade curriculum to encourage reading and musical exploration of the “big three” composers – Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.   Retta even wrote the three books (illustrated by Sherry Cunningham) used for the kindergarten-through-second grade curriculum.

"Music is so magical," Retta says. "And it has healing properties."

Retta speaks with a sweet and soothing Kentucky accent as she recalls the day in 1972 when she began working for the library. She liked to play the guitar in a park, and a library staff member asked her to play music during bookmobile stops. She soon found herself doing story time at the library, incorporating puppets to bring the characters to life.

Books and music would become her passion, eclipsed only by her love of husband, Chuck, and their kids. She left the library in 1987 to teach piano full-time to finance her three children's college educations. Today, Retta and Chuck live in a Lone Oak home filled with art, music and pictures of family and friends.  Chuck, a tall, gentle man with a deep baritone voice and a firm handshake, shares Retta's love of music, travel and storytelling.

Retta returned to the library in 2002 to share her passion with a new generation of children.

She has always tried to live her life with gratitude, as instilled in her by her grandmother and mother.

She recalls a visit to her grandmother when she was a girl of 7 or 8. Her grandmother would say, "Let's go make some tea." Then she would chip off a piece of ice from the block in her ice box. Then she would say, "Don't ever forget to be thankful for a little bit of ice in your tea."

For Retta, it was a lifelong lesson.

"We try to raise our children with respect for the things that you acquire and the things that you don't get," she says. "But, it's awfully nice to have a little ice in your tea."

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An eager Heath Elementary third-grade student with the answer raises her hand. Retta had asked a question about Beethoven during Musical Story Time. The program's curriculum is designed to be interactive and participatory to hold the students' interest.

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Retta feeds her three cats, Gray, Chico and Lossy, who were adopted by the Folsoms after they showed up on the Folsoms' back deck looking for food after the 2012 ice storm that knocked out power for more than a week. She pets them during mealtime to confine them to their individual bowls.

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Always using a gentle touch and encouragement during her lessons, Retta helps position a student's hand on the keyboard.

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Retta sings a song with her puppet Susanna Pig N Boots. The puppet is inspired by traditional Appalachian stick puppets that dance on a wooden board. Susanna has metal "shoes" attached to the bottom of her boots to give her a clopping sound during the dance.

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Retta Folsom does a reverse prayer yoga pose during a brief break with her piano student. The reverse prayer is useful for stretching the chest, opening the abdomen and allowing deeper breaths.

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Retta's music studio has high ceilings and natural light from the south-facing windows during an early morning piano lesson. The quilt hanging on the wall was a 50th anniversary gift. It incorporates an outline of each family member's hand.

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Fifth-grade student Trinity Johnson (center) uses her hand to keep time during Music Story Time at Heath Elementary School.

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Stick horses wait to be used during Musical Story Time in a session focusing on the life and music of Ludwig von Beethoven. Retta uses puppets, music and storytelling to engage children in music appreciation and literacy.

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Retta discusses the previous evening's homecoming game with student Lucy LaBuhn, 8, during Lucy’s morning piano lesson. Light moments and encouragement are a regular part of Retta's teaching style.