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Veronica Varlow
  -  Things I Think About Thursday   -  Things I Think About Thursday: A Stranger with a Ukelele

“Are you getting married?”

She was standing two feet away from me, behind a picket fence. I was eating ice cream with Contessa. She was passing by with a friend. The white flower crown I was wearing prompted her question.

“No. I made a challenge to myself to say “I Do” to new adventures in my life.”

“Fantastic. You ever play the ukelele before?”


And then she whipped one out.

Picture 57

Her name is Babs.

She sat next to me and we told each other stories as she showed me how to hold the ukelele, how to strum it, and play different chords.

She taught me to play, “Catch a Falling Star”.

She told me about her son, Killian Mansfield, a local hero who passed away at 16 after a five year battle with cancer. He was enthusiastic about his ukelele and was an activist to help other sick teenagers and children. He started his own foundation to help empower seriously ill young adults fight for their own comfort and relief during treatment. He also co-produced and recorded an album, playing alongside legendary musicians.


While she was telling me the story, I remembered reading this article in New York Magazine about Killian.

Babs teaches other people to play ukelele at the local library every Saturday. She is starting the Killian Mansfield Ukelele Collection at the library, to provide loaner ukeleles and instruction to all interested in learning and playing.

And we sat side by side.

The ukelele in my arms.

I was moved by her story. By Killian.

I wanted to check one out at the library right away. Just to play. No pressure….just to have fun with it. But the library doesn’t have all they need just yet.

So Babs turned to me, a total stranger, and lent me her own vintage 1930s ukelele.

What an unexpected day.

I got home and looked up youtube “how to play easy ukelele song” videos. I sat with Babs’ ukelele in my lap and tried to follow along, as a rainstorm outside provided a symphony of sound.

And then my curiosity got to me. I googled her. I wanted to find out more about this stranger who changed my day and her son. I found this piece from the eulogy that Kemp Battle wrote for Killian’s Memorial:

“What a great testament to the life Killian lived–look around you. We are all part of Killian’s tribe. How amazing it is to realize that each of us is somehow better for having known him.
How do we sum up a live so richly lived, so deeply felt?
How do we thank him?
How do we keep him?

Perhaps we do have a way of thanking him and keeping him with us:
We can simply go and do as he did.”

Babs keeps him by making the music that he loved – the instrument that he loved – accessible to all.

She’s starting the Killian Mansfield Collection at the local library. This will allow anyone to check out a ukelele with just a library card and get free in-person instruction on Saturday from Babs herself, or bring instructionals home with you to practice.

I think this idea is awesome, because part of the reason I’ve been hesitant to learn a new instrument is the cost of investing in the instrument and the cost of getting lessons to learn. In her son’s honor, Babs is putting this together to spread their family’s love of music to everyone who wants to try it. Check out this adorable video that she and her husband made for the cause, and if you wanna see this happen, too, there’s a donation button, if you are moved to support it like I am.

Babs found out I was a performer and asked me if I’d do something for the Because Uke Cared Concert at STS Playhouse, 10 Church Street, Phoenicia, NY at 7:00pm on July 3rd.

I said yes to this adventure.

I’m in.

How could I not be?

Yesterday I was just planning to go eat ice cream with a friend for a moment, but ended up with a stranger’s ukelele in my hands and a song.

An unexpected, spontaneous day.

Have you ever been positively affected by someone you just suddenly met? Through a comment they made, or an action they did? Tell me about it in the comments.

It was nice to be reminded how much we can affect each other when we let ourselves be open to a new adventure.

Have a great weekend – let’s be open to new adventures and I’ll be back on Monday to announce the winner of the Room Reading skype date!


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