CREATIVE NONFICTION WRITING FROM JEAN CARR: RAPT WATCHING

            RAPT WATCHING            

 by Jean Carr               

It started when I lived in New Jersey in the 1980s.  Driving along paved highways, a flicker of movement would catch my eye.  Looking up, I would see a bird, huge wings fully spread, dark red bands inking the white feathers . . . soaring.   As it flew, it crossed back and forth above the road.   Was it hungry and looking for something to swoop down on?   Why did it seem to hang out there?   All I knew was that seeing it lifted my heart.  I envied the bird’s freedom, its independence, its view of the world below.  I found it hard to keep driving at high speed while trying to keep the bird in sight.

After some research, I discovered that the birds I most often saw were red-tailed hawks.  As raptors, hawks seize and eat rodents, birds, and other small animals. Many people see them as nuisances and even somehow evil. Chicken farmers or pheasant hunters, interested in protecting their animals, shoot and poison hawks and other raptors.  But the hawk is part of a healthy food chain and feeds mostly on mammals and insects that are either harmful to the environment or too weak to survive.

But now I wanted to see a hawk up close.  I went to meet Len Soucy who ran the Raptor Trust, adjoining the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge.  Len’s lifelong project to rehabilitate wild birds began in the 1960s when he found, on his doorstep, a hawk suffering from a gunshot.  Over the years, Len took in increasing numbers of raptors and other injured birds, eventually hiring staff and building medical and educational facilities.  By 2016, the Trust annually took in over 5600 birds and released 2300 of them to the wild. Those who could not be released live on Trust property and continue to educate and delight people of all ages.

Len was someone who would understand that, every time I drove on a highway,  I kept an eye out for my talisman, who gave me good luck for my journey.  As we sat down to talk, a volunteer walked over with a red-tail on her fist.  “How does the hawk hover so long, seldom flapping its wings?” I asked him.

“Hawks use rising air currents called thermals to stay aloft,” he said. “Thermals form on sunny days over paved roads and near hills. Riding a thermal, a hawk doesn’t need to move its wings very much.”

“So, is it looking for prey as it soars?” I asked.

“Nope,” answered Len. “Red-tailed hawks hunt by sitting in a tree and jumping down on a mouse.  If the hawk saw one from 5000 feet, which he probably could, do you think he could get down in time to catch the mouse?”

Not giving up, I asked, “Then why does he soar like that?”  Len responded immediately, “It must feel good to be able to do that; hell, that’s what I’d do if I could just hang out and look down from up there—why not?”

BOLLI member, writer, and raptor watcher Jean Carr

As a wordsmith, Jean used her love of language to pursue two careers – as an editor and then an attorney.  While still doing some consulting to help nonprofits, she’s mostly retired to enjoy family and friends, hiking, writing, genealogical research, and travel.  Nature gives her solace and inspires her to learn.

 

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? A Strange Anniversary

STORMS COME IN ALL VARIETIES: A STRANGE ANNIVERSARY

By Sue Wurster

On April 11, 1965, we huddled in our basements as a whirlwind headed straight for the town of Oberlin.  Twenty minutes later, after the tornado had blown by, the all-clear sounded.  Oberlin was unscathed, leading me to believe that the story about Oberlin’s “saucer rim” might not be just the stuff of legend.  Supposedly, a shallow, man-made ridge of land rings the town and picks up tornados by their tails, leading them to rage around the rim until they eventually either lose steam or carom off the arc—which is what must have happened that day.  Oberlin was unharmed, but nearby Pittsfield was gone.

Oberlin is a unique place—and not only because of its “tornado bowl.”  It is a grain of idealistic liberalism to be found amid fields of cynical conservatism.  It houses the county’s only four-year college whose conservatory of music is considered one of the nation’s finest–as is its art museum as well.  It houses a National Association of College Bookstores warehouse, an FAA air traffic control center, and a small manufacturer of specialized medical instruments now owned by Corning. In the past few decades, closing steel and car manufacturing plants in the county have resulted in rising unemployment, deepening poverty, and ever intensifying racism.  The latter is not a recent development.  Most of the county is made up of small “sundown” towns consisting, still, of only white people.

Oberlin takes pride in its long history of diversity.  The college was the first in the country to enroll women and the first to admit blacks.  In the 1800s, the town, considered an abolitionist stronghold, was a stop on the Underground Railroad where runaway slaves were sheltered and protected.  Many simply stayed.

One of those runaways was a young man named John Price who arrived in September of 1858.  Not long after, two Kentucky slave hunters sneaked into town, kidnapped Price from First Church where he was being hidden, and carted him off to nearby Wellington—just beyond where Pittsfield had stood.  There was no jail in Wellington, so Price was placed under guard in a hotel room until his forced return to the South.  But a small army of impassioned Oberlinians—students, professors, farmers, former slaves, a bookstore owner, a minister, and a shoemaker—took to Wellington to negotiate his release.  When that effort failed, they stormed the hotel, took Price by force, and had him conducted safely to Canada.  A federal grand jury indicted 37 of those Oberlin men who argued in court, without success, that the Fugitive Slave Act was unconstitutional.  That confrontation between Price’s rescuers and the U.S. government captured national attention and, like the Dred Scott decision, furthered the abolitionist cause.  Oberlin became known as “the little town that sparked the big war.”

Strangely, on April 11 in 1865, one hundred years before that tornado flattened Pittsfield and two days after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender, President Abraham Lincoln gave his last address to the American people virtually ending the Civil War…the country’s biggest whirlwind of all.

“Underground Railroad” sculpture in Oberlin, Ohio

 

History Sources:

Ohio History Central.  http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/John_Price

Fradin, Dennis Brindell and Judith Bloom Fradin.  The Price of Freedom:  How One Town Stood Up to Slavery.  Walker Children’s Books, 2013.

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

I have  a feeling that our family’s move to the town of Oberlin in 1965 made all the difference.  For the first time, I lived in a truly diverse community (with the key word being “community”) and learned how important it is to speak out.  Hard to believe that 2019 will bring my 50th Oberlin High School reunion…

 

APRIL’S SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: TWO VOICES

TWO VOICES

I offer these two women’s voices quoted from the 2003 book, Wise Women: A Celebration of Their Insights, Courage and Beauty, by Joyce Tenneson. They speak for themselves and maybe for many of us who are facing our aging with grace and valor.

#1–

​I’m a bit envious

​​of the younger generation

​They have so much freedom compared to us

​​I got married the day I graduated!

​A lot of my friends are passing away now,

​​The rest of us are worried

​​​about outliving our pensions and assets—

​we don’t want to be a burden to our families,

​​​Now I live alone with my cat.

​​​​I’m always collecting feathers,

​I use them to play with him—

​​​​we’re good for each other.

–Sadie Simms Allen, 81

 

#2–

​​I still don’t dye my hair,

​My advice is to follow your conscience

​​I’ve had several lives,

​I’m not the same person I was

​At twenty, forty or even sixty,

​​Now I’m a role model

​for women in their seventies and eighties!

When you’re this old, you can reconsider your whole live.

​​You can relive your life and

​understand it with a pleasure and perception

​​not available when you first experienced it.

​​​People are extremely nice to me now,

​because I am no longer a threat to them.

–Polly Kline, 97

 

#3–

I used to perm my hair,

but now, and for many years, I have let it go natural,

straight as a stick,  silvery white.

I used to be shy,

but now I say what I think,

choosing my words carefully

so as not to offend.

I have concerns about the future,

but they don’t paralyze me.

the future is in the faces of my grandchildren,

ALL children.

in them I have hope.

–Elizabeth David, 82

 

Who are you?   Who would you rather be?

Sr. Moment writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

A friend encouraged me to join BOLLI where I began to offer courses in which we discuss our aging–from the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives. My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging.  So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT FROM LARRY SCHWIRIAN: GREENBACK, PA

GREENBACK, PA

by Larry Schwirian

Due to the number and steepness of hills and mountains in Pennsylvania, it probably has more small towns and villages than any other state in the nation.   It probably also has more places with idiosyncratic names than anywhere else in the western hemisphere. Lancaster County alone has the towns of Intercourse, Paradise, Fertility, Blue Ball, Mount Joy, Bird-in-Hand, and Climax.  Many of these towns utilize their names to attract tourists, and local businesses do a booming business selling postcards and other paraphernalia. But this is only a small sampling of the numerous other strange place names one can find in the Keystone State. You can also send postcards from Egypt, Holland, Mexico, Scotland, and East Berlin, or you can stop for lunch in Mars or Moon. You can even go to college in California or Indiana without leaving Pennsylvania. I’m not sure just what you can do in the towns of Balls Mills, Bath Addition, Log Pile, Two Lick, or Lickdale, but I’m relatively certain the residents of Shickshiny, Smock, and Moosic have a decent sense of humor. If you want to live a laid-back lifestyle, you might want to relocate to Friendsville, Live Easy, Library, or Economy; and if you are particularly patriotic, you might move to Liberty PA.  I don’t know why anyone would want to live on Squirrel Hill or in Seldom-Seen, and one can only hope the towns of Virginville, Stalker, and Panic aren’t located in close proximity.

It was because of this rich imagery of place names that a not-so-young, affluent real estate developer of Scottish and German descent decided to buy a large tract of land in the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania.  His name was Dewey Stump, and he intended to develop a new town that would be unlike anything ever previously attempted.  His conception would be totally unlike Levittown, New Jersey or Columbia, Maryland.  He wanted to build a town that would be a model for the future of America, a town that would be exclusively for the very rich and the super-rich. Conceptually, the town’s north and south sides would be divided by the town’s main street, Stump Boulevard, running east/west and  aligned with the World Trade Center on Wall Street. The north side would be for old-money people and the south side for new-money people. There would be a large traffic circle in the middle of town with a two-story high bronze statue of himself, the founder of “fake news” and the Twitter King of North America. Each side of town would be further sub-divided by a red section and a blue section signifying whether it was ideal for conservatives or progressives… the color of street signs would change from red to blue or vice versa depending upon the current state of political realities. Major arteries on the north side would be named after robber- barons of old and, on the south side,  after more recently affluent billionaires. Secondary streets would be named after well-known millionaire celebrities. There would at least be one golf course in each quadrant, but only residents of that quadrant could use that course.  Finally, the town, to be called Greenback, was to have a nine-digit zip code consisting only of ones and zeros, with no dash between the first five and last four numbers. This was to signify the minimal net worth of anyone wishing to reside in the town.

As this was all just in Dewey’s head, he needed to consult with both an architect/planning firm and a marketing firm to begin to bring his wonderful vision to fruition. The architectural firm advised that his two-dimensional, rather flat conception of a site plan wasn’t practical in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The marketing firm advised that true conservatives wouldn’t want to live anywhere near true progressives and vice versa.  The firm said, too,  that old-money generally had nothing but disdain for new-money, and new-money could care less about old-money.  They also thought the site was too remote from most urban amenities like five-star restaurants, theaters, and international airports. The post office also indicated that they couldn’t assign him the nine-digit zip code he wanted.

Dewey decided to charge ahead anyway, because, in his gut, he knew it would work. He borrowed heavily from a number of foreign banks, thinking he could easily sell the first hundred plots while construction was underway.  But multi-millionaires and billionaires were stupefied by the concept and stayed away.  He had to trash his brilliant idea and finally had to sell the land at a bargain basement price, causing him to file for bankruptcy.  He lost his golf pants on the deal but managed to hold on to his “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.  He never did pay either the architectural firm or the marketing firm, claiming that they didn’t give him the advice he wanted.

BOLLI Matters contributor and Writers Guild leader Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead BOLLI courses on architecture.  Larry has been an active participant in  and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.  

 

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? DONNA JOHN’S KNEES

                                KNEES

By Donna Johna

The day of my second knee replacement, I arrived promptly at nine, swapped my clothing for a johnnie, and climbed up on the gurney.  I was not particularly nervous because I knew what to expect. The antiseptic smells mingled with the nervous murmurings of patients as the nurse expertly inserted my IV and taped it down. The IV was not bothersome, but I hated having to remove my earrings and hand them over to my daughter. A scant fifteen minutes later, an army of nurses, anesthesiologists, and orderlies wheeled me down the hall to execute the spinal block.

I do not love people poking around my spinal column in an effort to paralyze me from the waist down.  “Now, honey child,” the anesthesiologist crooned to the young woman standing behind me, “remember everything I showed you.”  Oh my god, a trainee is about to paralyze me! Then a rush of cold moved down my legs, and I watched my feet go limp.  Well, so far so good…unless it’s permanent.

The trip into the operating room was a blur as the knock-out drugs began to take hold.  Time for a nap, old girl, and a new knee. Some time later, my eyes fluttered open, and I heard hammering of metal on metal, like a blacksmith making horseshoes.  Holy crap, the doctor’s hammering my prosthetic into place, and I’m awake. My eyes instinctively moved to the end of the table to watch, but a surgical drape blocked my view. In my drug addled state, I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to sing.  I hummed to test the waters, and nobody seemed to mind; the steady hammering continued.

 So I belted out “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables in perfect time with my surgeon’s hammer. It seemed to go over well…nobody complained, and nobody put me under. I sang the rest of the score, and when I ran out of songs, I moved on to Camelot. My surgeon must not have liked Lerner and Lowe because he abruptly left the room, and I got very sleepy again.

I woke as I was wheeled into recovery and transferred into another bed. I poked at a wadded up blanket next to my side until I realized it was my absolutely numb right hip. “OK, hon, can you wiggle your toes?” my nurse asked. Not likely, since an anesthesiologist trainee paralyzed me for life. She and I looked expectantly at my digits, but there was no movement.

“It’s early, yet,” the nurse said. “You can go back to your singing.” I had kind of hoped that my singing was a drug induced dream. Guess not.

“I really was singing? I asked her.

“Like a canary,” she replied.

BOLLI Matters writer Donna John
Donna Johns is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and new BOLLI member. She now has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.  (Watch for Donna’s upcoming BOLLI Matters feature on movies, videos, and more.  Welcome, Donna!)

LINES FROM LYDIA: CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

   CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

by Lydia Bogar

Here at BOLLI,  one thing that unites us even more than our age, unfortunately, is cancer.  I would bet the farm that everyone currently reading this has been touched directly by cancer.

My father died fifty-eight years ago of stomach and colon cancer. As a long time smoker, there were probably malignancies in his lungs as well. All three of my boy cousins have had gastrointestinal polyps surgically removed. As the only girl cousin, I had my first colonoscopy at age 50. Free and clear to date.

Being proactive is the only way to chase the fear away. Limit bad chemicals in your life: don’t use pesticides, filter your tap water, use organic cleaning products whenever possible, and don’t tuck your cell phone into your bra.

My best friend Betty died seven years ago. She had a lump behind her knee that she shrugged off for almost a year. The diagnosis of bone cancer was a true shock. Within a month, she lost most of her left leg. Within six months, she lost her life.

Fifteen minutes of sun exposure, especially in the morning, is the best way to increase the body’s production of Vitamin D.

Within four months of her second melanoma diagnosis, my daughter Joanne was in clinical trials at Dana Farber. It was too late for her, and the treatments made her viciously sick. She had worshipped the sun but slathered sunscreen on her little boys. Metastatic melanoma will take over your brain and kill your personality. Then it kills you.

Walking and exercise is good for overall health, and walking with a friend is even better. Two years ago, I admitted to being old enough to go to exercise at the Senior Center. Yoga is much easier now, and the new friends are great too! Breathing and meditation are easy remedies for insomnia.

My friend Sally retired to a golf course in South Carolina. Last year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a retired surgical nurse, she knows the questions to ask as well as the treatments that she will and won’t have. Surgery and radiation were sufficient, for now.  Her youngest daughter is having radiation for a rare carcinoma. I pray for them both every day.

Being aware of signs, symptoms, and signals is not enough. Fighting this enemy helps families and survivors in a hundred different ways.

This summer will be my fourth cycle of volunteering at the Pan Mass Challenge, the largest and longest running charity bike ride in the country. I help to register riders on Friday afternoon and bag trash at Mass Maritime on Saturday afternoon. On the way home, both days, I cry tears of fulfillment.

Cultivating happiness is not easy.

It is necessary.

BOLLI Co-Editor and Feature Writer, Lydia Bogar

Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service.  She says she “hails from Woosta–educated at BOLLI.”

MEMOIR WRITING FROM MITCH FISCHMAN: HOME RUN!

HOME RUN!

by Mitch Fischman

“Did you get to second base last night?” my buddy Marty asked.  He motioned how he barely slid into third and hoped to round the bases next Saturday…maybe even hit a home run, if he was lucky. Sure I knew about the Red Sox, but I wondered why he was playing baseball on Saturday night.  He was talkative and was always the spokesman for our group of kids when events of the day needed interpretation.  So, when he took off his belt, leaving with his pants partially open, I wondered why anyone would play a game without a belt.  But Marty was a schemer, and he was so energized with the details of how he would steal home from third next week, it sounded possible.

Growing up, I knew that Marty behaved differently than our other friends. He always climbed trees or played tricks on us.  Mostly, they were harmless like trying to lock us out of our own homes or starting fires with his ever-present lighter.  He said he carried it to be able to light cigarettes he would bum from his older brother.  I never believed that.   I assumed he used it to play tricks or burn someone’s house down.  Whenever I heard sirens, I always thought that Marty had done it again.

I was particularly intrigued as to how Marty was going to hit a home run next Saturday, and he didn’t disappoint me with his answer.  “I will stand at the plate with a guitar,” he said, “and sing a love song while holding a dozen roses.”  I appreciated his care for detail but wondered how he could hit a home run out of the park while holding all that stuff and, I assumed, a bat. He was confident, though, that he would succeed.

A week later, when I asked whether or not he had hit a home run, he said, “No–only a triple.”  And he was disappointed that he was rejected at third after spending $250 on a limousine which didn’t make any friggin’ sense.  I told him that all I wanted to hit was a single and that I needed him to come help me to buy a good bat.

“You don’t need a bat,” he said.  “Just some good after-shave lotion and mouthwash.”  I was confused.  What the heck did any of that have to do with baseball?   So far, Marty hasn’t explained anything to me.  I guess it’s our little secret,  but maybe someday I will know more.

BOLLI Matters Memoir Writer, Mitch Fischman

Mitch Fischman is a baseball fan and a city planner, working for the Boston Redevelopment Authority for 15 years and for developers for 30 years. As a kid he went to Red Sox games with his Dad and always kept a running score of hits and outs by player. This blog entry grew out of that life experience.

 

 

CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM MARGIE ARONS-BARRON

“WITNESS TO A CENTURY”

George Seldes (photo obtained online)

by Margie Arons-Barron

He was slight, five-seven-ish, with a round, mottled face, watery eyes, wispy white hair, and a kind expression.  Dressed in draw-string pants, frayed shirt and sweater vest, he sat on a cushion in a straight-backed chair, eyeing a pile of newspapers on the coffee table. “Did you see today’s Times?  Mandela’s out.”

George Seldes, 99, investigative journalist, foreign correspondent, historian of the 20th century, author of 23 books, and press critic, still read four papers a day.  Stories of injustice or ineptitude rankled him.

We admired his 18th century brick house at Hartland-4-Corners near Dartmouth. “You know,” he said. “I bought this house for $4500. Sinclair Lewis put up the money and said I could live here as long as I want. The only condition was that his family could buy it back from my estate for the same price.”  One could imagine what the house would bring today.

“Sometimes I see Lewis’ granddaughter walk by en route to church. I imagine she’s impatient, waiting for my demise.” He chuckled, but his smile faded.  “It’s hard being 99.  The friends of my youth are gone. The friends of my middle age are gone. The friends of my old age are gone.”

And what friends he had. Isadora Duncan. Albert Einstein. Emma Goldman. George Bernard Shaw. Theodore Roosevelt.  He interviewed William Jennings Bryan, Lenin, Hindenberg. He covered the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. He knew Mussolini when the future dictator was a reporter. Seldes got Trotsky to pose for pictures in Red Square. He was there for the Russian Revolution. He spent 18 months with Hemingway in a Madrid hotel during the Spanish Civil War.

Seldes believed that the American people, given the facts, could rise to any challenge. He started the nation’s first magazine of press criticism in 1940.  It was called In Fact, and it fell victim to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting. My husband had used Seldes’ press criticism in a college course he taught. When Jim learned that Seldes was still alive and 2 ½  hours away, he contacted Seldes, and we went for a visit.

It would not be our last. In 1990, we did a month of interviews in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We brought Seldes memorabilia from the first elections in unified Germany and posters from Hungary, where he had covered Nazi collaborator Cardinal Mindszenty. We talked more than an hour.

He checked his watch, prompting concern about his fatigue.  “Cocktail time,” he said. It was only three thirty. But we were not about to decline his invitation.

He shuffled in his terry cloth slippers toward the kitchen. From the yellow wood cabinet, he took down three plastic glasses, the kind given away at gas stations, placed them on the counter and mixed martinis. I let the burning liquid slide down my throat, listening to him reminisce, privileged to share his daily ritual.

In 1995, George Seldes died at age 104.  A journalistic titan, barely remembered.

Margie Arons-Barron

After a long and successful career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI. In addition to Marjorie Roemer’s memoir course, she has taken Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing courses, and Sue Wurster’s “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” course in creative nonfiction writing.  She has been an active participant in the BOLLI Writers Guild and is also a member of the BOLLI Journal staff.  Margie still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here.

 

MAY BOOK NOOK WITH DENNIS GREENE: HARRY’S TREES

BOLLI Matters welcomes Dennis Greene as he joins Abby Pinard as a  “Book Nook” contributor.

                                 HARRY’S TREES                                            This Summer’s Must-Read Novel

Review by Dennis Greene

I just read an advance copy of Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen, a novel which will become available in bookstores on June 12. By next winter, this uplifting tale will be the subject of discussion in book clubs across the country, and people will speculate about who will be cast in the movie. Opera may even get into the act. It’s that good. I encourage you to read it as soon as it is available, and before all the hype. Then tell all your friends about it. You will appear prescient to those who take your advice, and you will gain their gratitude and respect. Then, later, when that irritating know-it-all in your study group or book club recommends Harry’s Trees after it has become trendy, you can have the satisfaction of smiling smugly and announcing that you read it “months ago.” And even if none of the forgoing happens, you will still have enjoyed a fun read.

Harry’s Trees is not an easy book to categorize. My local bookstore checked its inventory listing and informed me that the book was designated as “a book about trees.” Harry’s Trees is no more “a book about trees” than The Maltese Falcon is “a book about falcons.” The computer’s one-word description confuses the backdrop with the story. Harry’s Trees is about the half-dozen loving relationships among a small group of well-drawn, genuinely decent people living in a small Pennsylvania town. Many of them are suffering from devastating losses, and several are burdened with crushing guilt, but as the action unfolds, they come together and end up saving one another. The story is uplifting rather than gloomy or depressing. As the narrative moves smoothly from scene to scene, with enough action and tension to keep the pages turning, and enough humor to mitigate the tension, the author weaves several dozen threads into an enchanting tale. There is a resourceful and strong willed nine-year-old girl named Oriana who rivals Mattie Ross, the heroine in True Grit, an ancient librarian named Olive who smokes a meerschaum pipe and seems as wise as Dumbledore, a hidden cache of $4,000,000 in gold bullion, a town where everyone knows your name, two bad guys who are too dimwitted to prevail, and one guilt-ridden bureaucrat named Harry who has fled his government office job to live in a treehouse near his beloved trees. At the center of the story is a mysterious leather book titled The Grum’s Ledger which changes hands several times during the narrative. The book influences Oriana and Harry to embark on a preposterous scheme which Oriana believes could fill the voids in each of their lives.

In a time of so much pessimism and general malaise, this beautifully written book reminds us that there are lots of decent people in the world; good things can happen; and a belief in magic can’t hurt. And as an added bonus for anyone interested, you will also learn quite a bit about trees.  Harry’s.

BOLLI Matters Writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  

Others who might like to contribute to “The Book Nook” should send material to susanlwurster@gmail.com.  We are happy to hear from you!

 

 

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? TOMATO PLANTS…by Maxine Weintraub

TOMATO PLANTS

by Maxine Weintraub

 

“Hey, Susan.–’tis I.  The usual used-to-be-grammatically-correct greeting.”

“Oh, Alice–hang on for sec while I check on Charlie.  Charlie?  Charlie?!”

Being put on hold at our age is a scary thing.  What looks like a small blip on the radar screen could end up being a rogue wave of epic proportions–a ship sinker, for god’s sake.

“Susan??  Is everything okay?”

“Oh, sorry.   Everything is fine except that I think Charlie has somehow flipped out.  Do you know what he has been doing in this heat?  Lugging the tomato plants around from shade to sun.  And he’s talking to them.  i really think he is getting dotty.”

Did I dare tell my friend what I had been doing before I called her?

I had been walking my tomato plants around the front courtyard, chatting with them as I moved them from full blistering sun to partial shade.  Chatting with tomato plants like a crazy old lady who lives alone with piles of outdated newspapers.  Well, I am a bit of a crazy old lady, and I live with my crazy old husband, and I am really into nurturing those tomato plants.  Believe me, I understand my friend’s husband Charlie.  Charlie–balding, rotund, and full of life in his eighties–lending a hand to those tomato plants, supplying that life force we once provided the children.

Now, I don’t talk to geraniums or day lilies, although I may whisper to them from time to time about their beauty and steadfastness.  A rose bush can be verbally scorched for a thorn-pricked bleeding finger.  But the tomato plants are different.  And I will give them all the help they need.  The real problem is the weight of the pot.  As the summer progresses, the pots get heavier and heavier.  If I let them stay in one place, i cannot go away for even a day–in that heat, they need water several times a day.  And that much water is not good for them either.  It tends to leach ]calcium from the soil in the pot, causing blossom end rot.  Now did you REALLY want to know all of that about those damned tomato plants?  And if not, think about the  black spots on the bottom of the tomatoes.  You caused that.  Bad nurturing.  Failure.  Wrong.

Tomato plants need to be raised, cared for, talked to, and moved out of harm’s way.  Be it too much sun, too much water, too much shade, tell them not to worry.  And drag them around.  You’ve got their back.

But oh, Charlie, don’t you sometimes get to the end of your rope?  Sometimes the plants can no longer be lugged around.  They are too heavy, or they don’t want to produce, or the blossom rot just breaks your heart.  Can’t you just look at the darned plant and say it’s time to sink or swim,  Early Bird or Big Boy.  You are on your own.  Leave it be.

Let it go.  You don’t have to care anymore.  Stop dragging them around.  It will kill you.  You will have a heart attack.  Too heavy a load.

They will either thrive, or they won’t . . .

Maxine Weintraub reading
BOLLI Member Maxine Weintraub

Maxine has been taking writing classes with both Betsy Campbell and Marjorie Roemer since joining BOLLI three years ago.  She has also been an active participant in the Writers Guild and serves as the editor of the BOLLI Journal.  In her spare time, she talks to tomatoes…

MAY SENIOR MOMENT WITH ELEANOR JAFFE: A GREAT UNEASE–CROWDS

     A GREAT UNEASE — CROWDS

By Eleanor Jaffe

I grew up in Brooklyn, so you’d think that I’d be totally comfortable with crowds of people.  After all, our apartment was crowded as were the schools I attended, likewise the streets—especially the shopping streets, and certainly the subways.  When we celebrated, it was to go into Manhattan  (crowded),  to attend Radio City Music Hall (huge and crowded), the circus  (a mob), shopping (cutthroat with crowds vying for bargains.)  Almost always, I’d have to wait my turn, wait for the long lines to slowly dwindle, and be prepared to be jostled or poked by people in the City, all kinds of people.

Now I live in the heart of Boston, the Marathon heart of Boston. Every year, from my living room window, one week ahead of the Marathon, city workers construct a small city of tents in Copley Square to accommodate the runners as well as the supports and services they require when they finish their 26 mile ordeals.  Soon after, the stadium seats on Boylston Street along the Boston Public Library are erected, and the metal barriers are put in place along the gutters.  Huge trailers park on the side streets.   Enormous television cameras are hung from corner buildings so that crowds of people—as many as 8-12-24 people deep— can  visualize the runners on television because  they can not possibly see the runners through the density of spectators.  Indeed, I recall not being able to walk at all on Exeter Street  on my way to Boylston Street to join the cheering spectators.

By Friday at the latest, thousands of tourists and runners have invaded Boston.  Every hotel room is full.  Crowd controlling barriers keep people in or out of these few blocks.  Mounted police patrol while police cars and, later, ambulances park all around.  Hawkers will soon be selling t-shirts, pennants, and souvenirs.  I may have to present identification to show the police that I do indeed live in “that building,” so please let me pass beyond the barricade.  Of course, all day and well into the evening on Marathon Monday, we are not  permitted to drive our car in or out of our garage or, for that matter, drive for at least one mile in any direction.  Although I live on the second floor, when I look down from my window overlooking Copley Square, I can relate to a princess isolated in her tower.  I cannot leave.  No one can enter.

All this before the Marathon Bombers cursed us with their explosives.  Now, my aversion to crowds is complete.  Not only do the crowds seem to suffocate me, but they may also be dangerous.  Someone among those thousands of spectators. might very well have malicious intent.  Someone might cause mayhem.  Some others might even die — which is not what those spectators bargained for.

Which is why, now, I leave Boston before Marathon Monday,  Patriots’ Day, a day designed for citizens to celebrate and come together.  But not with me…  Somehow, over the years, my comfort with crowds has dwindled and disappeared.  My urge to celebrate and shout encouragement is gone.  Many years ago, I would stand  on the sidelines in Newton near Heartbreak Hill and cheer on the valiant runners.  Now, I am awed from afar by their feats. 

I wonder, is this aversion to crowds age-related?  Or terrorist- related?  How much does my comfort enter into it?  It’s a whole lot different than just becoming blase or jaded.  Have I seen too many marathons?    I doubt that it’s just my “comfort.”  A great unease overcomes me, and I want to flee.  Fortunately, I can–and I do.

Senior Moment feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

Eleanor says that, “as I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, my friends — and my over 100- year-old mother.  What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society? 

 

MAY CHEF’S CORNER WITH JOHN RUDY: CHOCOLATE POKE CAKE

CHOCOLATE POKE CAKE

by John Rudy

Soon after we got married, I started making an Angel Food Cake.  After it cooked and partially cooled, I made Orange Jello, poked holes into the cake and poured it in.  After some experimentation, I found that a similar strategy worked well with chocolate pudding, and I varied the type of cake.  Sometimes I baked the cakes from scratch, and sometimes I used the stuff from boxes.  Back in the ‘70s, the boxed cakes weren’t very good, but they tend to be quite good today.  Frequently, these cakes call for frosting, but with the pudding, that seems too sweet to me.

This recipe calls for a very thick frosting.  I halved the original as it is perfectly adequate.  Feel free to double the frosting recipe if you like it thick and calorific.

1 chocolate fudge cake, prepared and baked in a 9×13 inch pan.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

1 can sweetened condensed milk

¼ cup heavy cream

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

¾ cups butter, softened to room temperature

¼ cup cocoa

1½ cups powdered sugar

½ cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bake cake as directed on box.
  2. While the cake is baking, add sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and chocolate chips to a medium sauce pan and cook, stirring, on medium heat until the chips are melted and the filling is smooth.
  3. When the cake comes out from the oven, using the end of a wooden spoon, poke holes into the cake to create deep pockets for the filling to go into.
  4. Pour filling evenly over warm cake.
  5. Cool cake completely before frosting.

CHOCOLATE FROSTING

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, cocoa, powdered sugar and beat on low until combined.
  2. Add heavy cream, vanilla, and salt. Beat until creamy and smooth.
  3. Frost cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Enjoy!

BOLLI Matters Feature Writer, John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked vegetables in boil-able packages.)

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