Amid health woes, finding inspiration in music

Music has always been important to Rosita Watson. The youngest of nine sisters and two brothers, she grew up in a close-knit religious family in Oakland.

Her father was a pastor, her mother taught piano and her older sisters Betty, Mary, Shirley and Macletus formed a gospel singing group, the Watson Sisters, whose 1963 album “Glory Train” earned a four-star review in Billboard magazine.

Watson was too young to be a regular part of the group, but she joined her late sister Betty in a choir that opened for Creedence Clearwater Revival’s June 1969 performances at Fillmore West and Winterland in San Francisco.

But while Watson has enjoyed some high notes, there have been low ones, too.

The 66-year-old retired music teacher, who studied music and English at San Francisco State University, has been on disability and living on a fixed income for nearly 15 years.

One morning in 2004, Watson awoke and could barely feel her lower extremities.

“Everyone left the house, and it took me 30 or 40 minutes to get out of the bed,” she recalled.

She only made it as far as a nearby chair. By some small miracle Betty, whom she lived with at the time, came home for lunch — something she rarely did — found her, and called 911.

Watson was diagnosed with a near-fatal staph infection, which had entered her bloodstream and lodged in her left hip. She was in the hospital for a month as she underwent five blood transfusions to save her life.

“I heard them say, ‘She’ll never walk again,’ and I said to myself, ‘Oh, they think they know what they’re talking about; I’m gonna walk.’”

After extensive physical therapy, Watson did walk again, but in 2016 she had to undergo hip replacement surgery on her other hip.

Another challenge soon arose.

In May, Watson said her landlord informed her that he had cancer and wanted to put his affairs in order, so he gave her a 90-day notice to vacate the Pinole home where she had lived for more than a decade.

The call came while she was out celebrating her birthday with her daughter and granddaughter, but Watson refused to let it ruin the occasion.

“I just said, well, we’re going to enjoy this day. It’s my birthday. We’re going to enjoy this day, and we’re not going to allow that to bother us today,” she said.

Watson spent the next four months looking for a new place to live, but with her hip problems and living on a fixed income, finding a new home — let alone figuring out how to budget for a move-in deposit — proved hard.

“I searched daily, even Sunday after church,” she said. “Even though I had good references, it was very difficult.”

Watson learned about The Chronicle’s Season of Sharing fund from a newsletter that she’d been holding on to. With help from Dawn Dutka of the Contra Costa County Family Services Center, the fund helped her pay for a rental deposit on a new townhome in El Sobrante.

“It just happens to the best of us,” Dutka said. “Situations happen where the landlord doesn’t want to rent anymore or there’s a crisis, that takes away from the small amount that they had saved for the rent.”

Watson moved at the end of August and is still settling in, but one of the best things about the new home is that it’s just five minutes from her church, Global Christian Ministries, where she continues to fill her life with song. She’s a member of the congregation’s praise team, which provides music for Sunday services.

“It was like a bridge, it helped me cross over from one place to the other — like the song, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” — Season of Sharing came through,” she said.

Sarah Fritsche is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter/Instagram: @foodcentric

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