"I am your grand-niece's high school chemistry teacher."
Sonny Fox's Tongue Twister Game Gave Hope to A Young Queens Boy and a Great Skill that He Passed On to His Chemistry Students 45 Years Later.
Dear Mr. Fox,
My name is Charlie Arbuiso, and I am your grand-niece’s high school chemistry teacher.
How the chance to write you a letter even came up is a crazy story. It is truly a gift for me that I have gotten the chance to send this letter to you.
In my mind and heart you are a part of my childhood, a connection from so long ago. If you indulge me I
would like to tell you how I even am writing this letter, to put it in some sort of context so Idon’t seem completely nutty.
As a youngster growing up in Queens we had a black and white television (I didn’t see the
Wizard of Oz in color until I went away to college!). Wonderama was part of my childhood. I grew up in afamily with little money, and we were never going anywhere so watching TV was a big part of our home life.
Your show was filled with happy kids and I loved to watch it, probably wondering how I could be like them.Iwatched some of your YouTube snippets this week. I could see though my adult eyes that you were a fun andsmart guy. I only remember you as happy.
Now I teach high school chemistry (to Rachel now, and Jeremy two years before). I have the challenge of
motivating kids to learn a lot of details, none of which are as fun as the kids had on Wonderama.
In order to help them learn I often tell stories, hoping that they might remember the stories,
which might trigger the chemistry from their minds when they need it during our “celebrations of knowledge” (I don’t have exams in my class). Two odd chemistry words, 'miscible' and 'immiscible' are tricky for them to remember. Each year I get to tell my Wonderama story to help them remember these words. 'Miscible' means that two liquids or solutions can mix together (like coffee and cream)
or they can’t (like oil and vinegar). The way they sound reminds me of something on Wonderama.
I remember on the show that the kids were picked to try to say tongue twisters, and if they
said them right (and probably if they didn’t) – the kid would get a present or a toy.
I desperately wanted toys and I would practice my tongue twisters on the remote chance that
my parents might let me get onto the show. The one that was hardest, the one I practiced the most, and the one that I still practice (just in case!) is:
"A box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer".
I always thought if I were on the show, and I got picked, that I would definitely get a toy
because I mastered that one.I tell my students this story, that I was so poor, that I practiced this tongue-
twister, and that I hoped it could help me get a toy. I make my chemistry students try this too. Then,
after they struggle and laugh, I introduce the two vocabulary words.It might help some of them remember thewords. They might end up on the final regents exam, or not. They might just remember them for a crossword puzzle when they’re older.
More importantly, I get to tell the students a bit of my life, which I think helps them see me
as a whole person,which makes them connect better with me. Any extra help in that area makes the whole
chemistry thing go better. If my life can give eve one kid hope that it might get better, that a hard start didn't stop me from becoming happy, then I am happy to share myself that way.
I told this story the just other day. I am pretty sure I used the Bob McAllister name attached to
the Wonderama show (I am only 54). Rachel came in the next day and asked me if I had ever
heard of someone named Sonny Fox? I took a second and I almost could not understand her
question. My brain was clicking but I couldn’t understand how this connection being made.
How could she know about you? Some of my students like old rock and roll music,
some read old books, but I didn’t think that there was a teenage kid who was into children’s
TV shows from almost 45 years ago.
Rachel told me you were her uncle, and I was amazed. To tell the truth, I almost cried a bit.
I got pushed back into my childhood, somehow Rachel KNEW who you were,
and what Wonderama really meant to me. It was like someone (she) could see deeply into me.
It really was quite a surprise. I feel badly to say that I asked her if you were still here.
How could she know you, I mean you were an adult when I was a young boy. She assured
me that you were doing okay living in California. She also told me that her parents were
coming to see you soon. I immediately asked if it might be okay to write to you,
and she said yes.
Mr. Fox, thank you for what you did so long ago. You can’t possibly understand what you and your show
meant to some poor kid in Queens in the early 1960’s. It provided me with fun
and hope and provided some calm from my own family situation. It made me believe that
someday I might actually get some good things too.
I would hope every week that my Dad would just say “Get in the car Charlie, we’re going
to be on the Wonderama show!” (a more far-fetched comment could never be attributed to him).
You and your show provides me with a funny story to share with my students in my
chemistry class to help them learn vocabulary words and it reminds me of an old,
black and white part of my own life.
When I tell the kids this story, I am reminded of a real deep corner of my childhood.
I get to feel great happiness that things have worked out much better than could have been
expected,and that my own children have a wonderful life.
I understand that you were not “in” my life, but I still appreciate that at the same time you were
in it. I find it great that you’re in it again. I wish you well and good health.
You are a good man.
PS: I am so happy to have the chance to write this, I don’t expect you to reply. Knowing you
read this makes me happy enough. I watched your talk about being a POW and how you
were liberated. I had no idea of this until just this week. I can only say I am more
impressed with you than before. Thank you for being the good person that you are.