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Lodi woman, 95, playing drums after 80-plus year hiatus

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Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 2:22 pm, Tue Dec 6, 2011.

Dixie Belletto turned 95 years old the day after Thanksgiving, but her daughter, Lita Wallach, couldn’t decide on a birthday gift. “I couldn’t think of anything else to get her, so I got her some drum lessons,” Wallach said.

But here’s the catch: It’s been more than eight decades since Belletto played the drums, at St. James Grade School in San Francisco’s Mission District.

“I didn’t know I was going to get it,” Belletto said. “I thought it was a joke at first.”

Belletto took her third lesson on Monday afternoon from retired Lodi Unified School District music teacher Bob Romans, at his house in south Lodi.

“Remember to use your wrists as much as you can,” Romans told Belletto.

She played a drum about 6 inches in diameter on Romans’ kitchen table.

Belletto has a great sense of rhythm, Romans said, but what she needs to work on the most is to drum harder with her left hand. Because she’s righthanded, Belletto drums with greater intensity with that hand.

She also has to cope with her declining eyesight. Belletto can see peripherally, but not straight ahead. That doesn’t slow her down much. She proudly says she can do pretty much everything but drive. Belletto even lives on her own in Lodi.

Belletto improved her independence through the Community Center for the Blind in Stockton, though she takes advantage of the twice-weekly sessions in Lodi.

Not only does she play the drums, Belletto volunteers in the Lodi Public Library’s tutor literacy program, something she’s done the past 14 years. She also takes Dial-a-Ride so she can work out twice a week at Fitness Works.

“I take computer lessons, too,” Belletto said.

She’s proficient at exchanging e-mails and paying her bills online, but she’s reluctant to join social networking groups like Facebook.

“I don’t have time to be on the computer all day,” Belletto explained.

She also listens to biographies and other non-fiction books on tape, which are available to the blind free of charge at the California State Library in Sacramento.

Belletto is re-learning her musical talent from a man who taught music at Tokay High School in 1977 and 1978, at Woodbridge Middle and Houston schools, plus several elementary schools in Lodi Unified. Romans retired 15 years ago, but give private lessons on the trombone, trumpet, accordion, drums — pretty much anything you can play in a band.

His wife, Carol, plays second flute in the Stockton Symphony. Wallach takes flute lessons from her.

Belletto isn’t about to play the drums to the likes of hard-core rock ’n’ rollers like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, but Romans doesn’t think it’s out of the question that she could perform with the Lodi Community Band to satisfy her musical taste.

She’s taking it one tap at a time.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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