All of the episodes of the Ken Burns documentary about Vietnam are on my DVR, and I will watch them one piece at a time — some other day. Here is the story of two Massachusetts boys who grew up in the jungles of Vietnam and found new jungles waiting for them at home.
A TALE OF TWO MARINES
by Lydia Bogar
They walked and ran the tangled path to maturity in the jungles of Vietnam. Although born and raised in the same state, the culture and strata of their parentage were many miles apart. That is the way life was in the 60s. And yet, both fate and the Marine Corps brought them to the same place.
The war was never kind, and the mission was not to come home intact. The smell of blood and mud stayed in their memories for decades. The black silhouetted flag was a hallmark of their survival.
Initially, their post-military careers brought them together. They continued to live and train as Marines for law enforcement careers in the Massachusetts State Police, always crisp and ramrod straight in uniform. Their personal lives took similar paths, predictable for baby boomers. Love and marriage brought them to the same area code, the same assignment, and many of the same friends. As the devil cancer took some of those friends, they again stood crisp and ramrod straight at burials that shook the sky with rifle rounds and blurred the eyes around them. They were still Marines. Every minute of their lives, they were Marines.
Their first painful loss was another Marine, the perennial altar boy with the leprechaun’s smile. His death devastated friends and families, as he had beaten the devil cancer for almost ten years. Leaving his wife and son behind was a failure he could not discuss. The poison in his veins took all choice out of his hands. The walk from the church to the cemetery left even the strongest in tears. The flyover and hole in the ground sent others to their knees.
The second burial came along more rapidly, during a very cold, yet starlit night. The former combat medic had worked hard to progress through the ranks but was always within the devil’s grasp. The poison in his veins choked his heart and brought unforgiving grief to his wife and daughters. Generous benefits were no match for the three daughters who would later walk down the aisle without their daddy. When you see every member of a Marine Corps honor guard in tears, you know that you have seen it all.
I write of these two Marines as co-workers and friends of long standing. Twenty plus years seemed to fly by, and they both faced mandatory retirement at age 55. With that roadblock in sight, their career paths diverted. One lost a child, a precious son, a loss that compelled him to take on more hours at work, more overtime shifts as he sought something. Anything to be away from the small cottage in the small town with the small empty room. The marriage became a farce. He worked days and nights, seemingly without end, and advanced through the ranks. We will not discuss the women in whose arms he found momentary comfort, only that those diversions did not heal him.
The bald Marine discarded first one marriage and then another. His work hours also increased, yet neither rank nor assignment ever filled his void. He remained on the job long past the 55-speed limit, defying gravity and modern medicine with the daily grind of a much younger man. His jungle became the streets, and he knew each cluster of villages as well as the age spots on the back of his hands. His rank remained the same, even when his pay grade maxed out. He ignored the urges of supervisors to take promotional exams. In the place of rank and money, he got a good lawyer, another Marine of course, and sued to stay on the job he loved. He was content with his portable life, taking assignments that he liked, and travelling abroad when the spirit moved him.
His personal vehicles were the same make and model as the Ford Crown Vic that he drove behind the badge. His large frame knew the seat and the dashboard as well as the gun at his waist. His strength and courage never wavered, and his quest to understand the minds of his brother officers was a thirst never fully quenched. When the towers fell in New York, he responded with the speed and determination of a Marine fresh out of Parris Island. He was in New York by noon that day, not knowing who the enemy was, only that it was his.
His current vocation is to talk with and listen to the troops coming back from the hellish sandbox. He continues to defy the usual parameters of age and agility. This past summer, while others bought retirement homes and cuddled grandchildren, he ignored his 70th birthday and went to Canada to support a brother officer.
His quiet, pale brother went uptown and worked in a skyscraper overlooking the harbor. His new uniform was an expensive suit, a starched white shirt, and ready-for-inspection wingtips. His knowledge expanded in different ways–away from physical harm and into the detection of fraud and deceit. His daily routine remained intact, unmoved by age or circumstance. It was that routine and a daily dose or two of Jack Daniels kept him alive, or so he thought. His life ended quietly in an elevator, going out to lunch on a beautiful spring day. He would be with his son again.
None of these Marines of a certain age need to watch the Ken Burns documentary. The original script remains in their hearts and minds.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service. We’re lucky to have her volunteering, these days, to help with BOLLI Matters!
Speechless and helpless. What to do in our vigil for Florida as Irma roars into the warm turquoise waters that many of us know and love? Pray.
My Florida memories are widespread, going back to 1955 when my parents took us to Hollywood to watch my uncle build a house on a golf course that featured a creek full of snakes and alligators. We returned many times over the next decade. We found comfort and peace there after my father’s death and were distracted by the flamingoes at Hialeah, the Parrot Jungle, the monkeys screeching on a swamp cruise, and the alligator wrestlers in the Seminole Village. Eventually, my uncle passed away, and the cousins moved north.
My first trip to Disney was with my ex-husband and our oldest daughter when she was 18 months old. It was “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and later that evening, on a small, black and white television in Kissimmee, we watched as President Nixon resigned.
My first trip to Key West was in 1982. Wow! What a place–beautiful flowers, snorkeling off Smathers Beach, Hemingway’s cats, and sunsets at Mallory Square. Six years later, I took my daughters to Key West, and it was even more fabulous– our first family vacation since the divorce, and I reveled in my independence and strength as a single mother.
Fifteen years would pass until a trip to visit college friends who took early retirement and settled in Cocoa Beach. Multiple trips there and to Clermont to visit retired co-workers who lived in a gated community. As beautiful as it is was, I could never live in a place where house colors were limited to 5 shades of grey and beige and the stars and stripes could only be flown on national holidays.
In February, a BOLLI classmate shared ten wonderful days at her rental in Saddlebunch Key. Thank you, Betsey, for the laughter, the insight, and the indelible memories; the dolphins, the Turtle Rescue on Marathon Key, glorious sunsets, people watching, walking through shops and galleries downtown, and more than a few Margaritas.
The memories and the photos are now being used now for prayer. Prayers for the residents, especially those who make their living on the ocean–particularly the fishermen and those in the hospitality business. The first responders who will stay on the job for days without sleep, who may risk their own lives to save others, and who may end the weekend with no homes to go to.
Memories and prayers can be one and the same. Please add your prayers and comments.
Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to working as a health professional and doing volunteer emergency service. We’re lucky to have her volunteering, these days, to help with BOLLI Matters!
A new term is The Internet of Things. Many years ago when the internet first appeared. it was a means of connecting computers. What is now changing is that computers are being embedded in everyday objects. Your car has dozens of them, and even your thermostat has them. As computers become less and less expensive, it becomes easier to install them in refrigerators or washer/dryers– maybe even in light bulbs. But the latest in technology isn’t just about computers. It is about sensors gathering data which can be analyzed by a central computer and accessed over the internet.
Let’s take a simple example. Last April, I took advantage of MassSave and had three new replacement thermostats installed. The thermostats were wired to a hub and then connected to my router–that meant they could be found on the internet. I could install an application on my cell phone that let me remotely view and control them. Most thermostats allow one to program them these days, but with these, I can turn up my heat on my way home so that the house is warm when I get there. That is the good news. The bad news is that the thermostats may have inter-connection problems and shut down as they did when we were in Jamaica. That particular problem required that I physically disconnect and reconnect them, so even though I knew there was a problem, I couldn’t resolve it. This never happened with the old thermostats.
But there is a bigger fear, and that is that bad people are increasingly getting into the many systems on the internet. Would you want someone to turn your thermostat off? Of course, there is a password, but we know that passwords have been stolen.
In a few years, expect to see internet controlled door locks or ovens that you can control from a distance. A few years ago on Showtime’s Homeland, a piece of the plot revolved around a pacemaker that was hooked to a computer. The bad guys used this to kill the vice president. Insulin pumps are already connected to computers.
Your car hosts dozens of computers that manage everything from ignition to gas mixture to steering. There were some stories about a year ago about hackers taking over a car. It was overblown and not totally accurate, but in a couple of years, it just might be possible.
Now, let’s look at some really positive things learned from an article in Wired magazine. “When we rebuild bridges, we can use smart cement: cement equipped with sensors to monitor stresses, cracks, and warpage. This is cement that alerts us to the need to problems before they can cause catastrophes. And these technologies aren’t limited to the bridge’s structure.
If there’s ice on the bridge, the same sensors in the concrete will detect it and communicate the information via the wireless internet to your car. Once your car knows there’s a hazard ahead, it will instruct the driver to slow down, and if the driver doesn’t, then the car will slow down for him. This is just one of the ways that sensor-to-machine and machine-to-machine communication can take place. Sensors on the bridge connect to machines in the car: we turn information into action.”
Amazon Echo is already with us–and more is on the way.
A long-time computer expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature. In the comment box below, provide questionsor comments for John onany computer/tech topic .
I was six years old when my family moved to a two-family home on Athelstane Road in Newton Center. A few years later, my Father bought me a blue and white Schwinn two-wheeler. I learned to ride quickly, never fell, and was allowed to ride all over the neighborhood, including all the way into town.
Over the years, Barry and I rode bikes locally as well as on the streets and trails of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. After we built a summer home on the South Shore, we and our children all biked the Cape Cod Canal. By then, I had taken up jogging and spent much of my time running and preparing for running events like the then Bonne Bell 10K for Women now sponsored by Tuft’s Health Care. My bicycle took a back seat.
At 80, I decided to take up biking again. At the bike shop, I insisted that it had to be one that was small enough and with a seat low enough that I could put my feet on the ground when I stopped. We bought a state-of-the-art Trek bike. Helmet and all, I rode up and down the driveway. Then, we drove the bike to Lincoln Sudbury High School where I rode around the parking lot until I thought I was comfortable.
But, since then, my beautiful bike has been sitting in the shed. Why? I’M AFRAID OF FALLING! At age 81, our orders are clear: DON’T FALL.
And yet, on a more serious note, I realized that being afraid to fall doesn’t preclude learning to fall.
Philip Simmons, in his book, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, describes how he thought he had to learn the art of dying after he was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 35. What he really ended up learning was the art of living until his death ten years later at 45.
The book is written, in his words, “with the urgency of a man whose days are numbered.”
Simmons writes, in the context of dealing with loss, “Life, after all, is a terminal condition. Each individual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says, “fastened to a dying animal.” We’re all engaged in the business of dying, whether consciously or not, slowly or not.”
Simmons writes that the work of learning to live richly in the face of loss, such as we elders experience every day, whether consciously or not, is the work that he calls “learning to fall.”
He states that his book’s central theme is “born out of a paradox: that we deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting the fact that we will one day lose everything.”
Here are some quotes from his book that move me as I hope they move you.
“Think of falling as a figure of speech. We fall on our faces, we fall for a joke, we fall for someone, we fall in love. We fall from ego, we fall from our carefully constructed identities, our reputations, our precious selves. We fall from ambition, we fall from grasping, we fall, at least temporarily, from reason. And what do we fall into? We fall into passion, into terror, into unreasoning joy. We fall into humility, into compassion, into emptiness, into oneness with forces larger than ourselves, into oneness with others whom we realize are likewise falling. We fall, at last, into the presence of the sacred, into godliness, into mystery, into our better, diviner natures.”
“In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them.”
“As I see it, we know we’re fully grown up when we stop trying to fix people. All we can really do for people is love them and treat them with kindness.”
“If we can’t laugh, we can’t properly be serious.”
“Life is both more or less than we hoped for, both more comic and tragic than we knew. Comedy ends in happiness, while tragedy yields wisdom.”
“We have all suffered, and will suffer, our own falls. The fall from youthful ideals, the waning of physical strength, the failure of a cherished hope, the loss of our near and dear, the fall into injury or sickness, and late or soon, the fall to our certain ends. We have no choice but to fall and little say as to the time or the means.”
“In fact, I would have it that in the way of our falling we have the opportunity to express our essential humanity.”
“When we learn to fall we learn to accept the vulnerability that is our human endowment, the cost of walking upright on the earth.”
SWITCHING GEARS AGAIN
In the final chapter of Simmons’ book, he takes us even farther. “We all have within us this capacity for wonder,” he says, “this ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that, though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging.”
“You see, we really are all in this together. There are times when the fact that we are in different bodies, or have lived in different centuries, or that some of us have died while others live on or are yet to be born, seems a trivial difference compared to what unites us and abides. Our journey takes us to suffering and sorrow, but there is a way through suffering to something like redemption, something like joy, to that larger version of ourselves that lives outside of time.”
TRAIL’S END: The last paragraph of the last chapter includes this passage…
“Some of us go willingly to the edge, some of us are driven to it, some of us find ourselves there by grace. But all of us get there at some time in our lives, when through the gateway of the present moment we glimpse something beyond. And when we do, may we open ourselves to wonder, may we surrender to the mystery that passes understanding, may we find ourselves at the threshold of this eternal life.”
So, I’ve decided that, at my age, it’s time to let go of trying to ride my bike and risk falling–physically. Instead, paying attention to the words of wisdom that Phillip Simmons has to offer, I’ve committed myself to something much more important: “learning to fall” into the life I have left.
Metta, Elizabeth David
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.”
Share your comments with Liz–and fellow BOLLI members–below.
At our most recent Writers Guild session, we shared our work with a “conspiracy theory” prompt in which we challenged ourselves to stretch our imaginations into the “fantastic” and write with authority. As autumn creeps upon us, this piece of fiction by Quinn Rosefsky took many of us right back to summer camp… We thoroughly enjoyed it and are sure you will too.
Quinn says that: “Walkabout” started as a chapter in a book I call: Camp Arawakee .The manuscript was on a shelf in my closet for over twenty-five years. At one time, the book had enough strength to entice an agent to take interest. However, no publishers ever bothered to take a nibble. That was disheartening. More recently, I summoned the courage to take a fresh look. After all, in the past several years, I have somehow managed to write and re-write many times, what on paper looks like a mere 200,000 words. That changes a person. Let me tell you! So, what we now have in “Walkabout” is the fresh, 2017 version of the sentiments which first came to life so long ago. I’d be interested to know if anyone can come up with an ending to the “story within a story.” Having said that, you should probably read the story before reading this brief essay
By Quinn Rosefsky
Where was Louis? The boys in Turtle Cabin waited in the fading light for their counselor to return from chatting with the pretty dark-haired nurse in the infirmary. Charlie, Teddy and Sean made up a contest. Who could jump the farthest from the edge of the lean-to onto the ground? A few feet away, Pete and Michael began arguing about whose turn it was to sweep the floor the next morning. As the first stars began to appear, Louis strode into view.
“Story!” the boys said, one after another.
The boys and Louis, dangling their legs, huddled on the edge of the lean-to.
“It was as hot as an oven the day I saw my first opal,” Louis said, dumping a bag of strange pebbles into his palm. “I’d been behind the wheel of my truck for hours and the flies were driving me crazy. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. That’s when I drove the truck off the road into a ditch. There was no way I could get the wheels free. I sat down under the only gum tree around to rest.
“Just as I closed my eyes, something flashed at my feet. I bent over. There it was lying on top of the ground, the most fiery opal I’d ever seen.”
Louis paused to adjust the bush hat he always wore, even in the shower.
“What’s an opal?” Charlie said.
“It’s a jewel almost as precious as a diamond but still worth a lot of money.”
“Let him get on with the story,” Pete said, elbowing Charlie.
“Anyhow, just then, an Aborigine, his eyes so bright they looked like they were on fire, walked out of the bush and came straight towards me. He was wearing dusty blue jeans and no shirt.”
“What’s an Aborigine?” Ronnie said.
“They’re our native Australians, the ones who were there when Europeans first began to settle the continent. Same as your American Indians were here first.”
“Are there a lot of them?” Sean asked.
“Not any more. They’ve had a rough time.”
“Are they dangerous?”
“Not at all. They never were and never will be. They’re the ones who protect life in all its forms. That’s why the bush has been unspoiled for thousands of years.
“This particular Aborigine, who said his name was Jack, was on what’s called a walkabout. He’d been living alone in the bush for over a year, learning what he was to do with his life.
“As soon as Jack came to within a few yards, he stood still. He didn’t move for five minutes, not a muscle. It was as if he’d turned into a statue.
“Then Jack moved. First he pointed to my opal and then he took it from my hand and turned it over and over. Then he said: ‘Follow me.’
“We walked along an invisible track in the bush for about an hour. Finally, Jack stopped and pointed to the ground. I was completely mystified. Opals, dozens of them, were everywhere. I ran about like a man possessed. I was rich!
“Then I remembered my car was still stuck in the ditch an hour away from where I was. But what good would it do me to have all those opals if I never got out of the bush? I looked around to thank Jack, but he was gone. I was alone with no truck, no water and the hot sun beating down on me.”
“What happened next?” Charlie asked.
“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” Louis said.
“It’s not fair,” Pete said stomping his feet.
“That’s enough, Pete,” Louis said, wagging his finger. “I’ll give you guys fifteen minutes to get ready for bed and then it’s lights out.”
“How can I fall asleep not knowing if you survived?” Sean asked.
Quinn is a familiar face at BOLLI where he takes courses, teaches courses, serves on the Study Group Support Committee, participates in the New Yorker Fiction Group, the Writers Guild, and more!
Mining Marilyn Brooks’ popular blog, Marilyn’s Mystery Reads, for some of her past reviews yielded another gem: Lindsay Davis. As a longtime fan of novels taking place in ancient Greece and Rome, I was, for some time, very much caught up by Davis’ host of mysteries featuring “detective” Marcus Didius Falco (of which there are 20). Davis’ books are well-written, featuring inventive situations, engaging characters, and good, solid suspense. Somehow, though, I missed the fact that she eventually provided Falco and wife Helena Justina with an adoptive daughter who is carrying on in the family tradition–so glad to have a new “old” favorite to follow. She reviewed this one in March of 2014.
THE IDES OF APRIL – by Lindsey Davis
A Review by Marilyn Brooks
“The glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome” are the lines that Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1845. There is grandeur in Lindsey Davis’ The Ides of April, and there are also appealing characters, great writing, and a terrific plot.
Flavia Albia, the heroine of the story, is a private informer, what today we would call a private eye. She is the adopted daughter of the well-known Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco. Abandoned as an infant, Flavia knows nothing of her biological family. Marcus and his wife Helena Justina found her wandering the streets of Londinium, Britannia, and brought her to civilization, to Rome. Flavia is now twenty-nine, a full Roman citizen, a widow, and following in her father’s business.
What brings Flavia into the case at the center of the book is the tragic death of a three-year-old boy who was run over by a builder’s cart. Flavia is hired by the owner of the building company to thwart the boy’s mother’s demand for compensatory payment. Although unsympathetic to the owner Salvidia, a female informer can’t be too choosy when it comes to jobs, so Flavia takes the case.
After doing so, she reads a notice asking any witnesses to the accident to come forward. Intrigued, Flavia goes to the Temple of Ceres, the headquarters of Manlius Faustus, the aedile (magistrate) for this area of Rome, to get more information. Not having any luck at the Temple, she goes to his office where she meets Andronicus, the aedile’s clerk, and sexual sparks fly between them. Andronicus tells her the aedile won’t assist her, but he lets her know that he’ll keep his eyes open to try to help.
Not having gained any insight into the case and disliking her client more and more, Flavia returns to the construction company to tell Salvidia that she is quitting. When she gets there, she is told by the woman’s servant that Salvidia is dead, having come home from the market, gone to bed, and then stopped breathing. Looking at the corpse, the only unusual thing the informer can see is a slight scratch on one of her arms, certainly nothing to cause death.
At Salvidia’s funeral the next day, Flavia meets the deceased’s neighbor, an elderly woman who concludes their conversation by saying, “You do what you can for her, dearie,” a statement Flavia interprets as the neighbor thinking that Savlidia died under suspicious circumstances. And the following day, the neighbor is dead.
The writing in The Ides of April is excellent, always told in Flavia’s voice. She can be empathic, as when she meets the family of another possible murder victim. “Lupus the oyster-shucker would not easily be forgotten; I thought never,” she says to herself as she sees the family’s grief. She can also be wry. “…and (the man) could only come if his son was not using the false leg that day. Assume I’m joking, if that comforts you.”
The Ides of April is the first in the Flavia Albia series. The Marcus Falco series by this author is twenty novels long, and I’m hoping for at least that many for Flavia. She’s a delight. Hopefully, she’ll keep poking her nose into Rome’s secrets.
You can read more about Lindsey Davis at this web site.
Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site
I’ve always been a reader and, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course), I became a mystery fan. I think I find mysteries so satisfying because there’s a definite plot to follow, a storyline that has to make sense to be successful. And, of course, there’s always the fun of trying to guess the ending. My blog, published every Saturday, can be found at www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.
On Thursday, October 5, the Lunch & Learn Committee is pleased to welcome Brendan Emmett Quigley to BOLLI. Quigley has been described as a “crossword wunderkind” whose work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and The Onion. He is also The New York Times’ sixth-most frequently published crossword creator. Quigley appeared in the documentary Wordplay and the book Crossworld: One Man’s Journey into America’s Crossword Obsession.
Should you like to do a little crossword practice before his visit, you might visit his website: http://www.brendanemmettquigley.com/ where you can find easy, medium, and hard puzzles which you can work interactively.
One of our own puzzle enthusiasts, Guy Moss, has done some research about the history of the crossword which you might find to be of particular interest in light of Quigley’s visit.
THE HISTORY OF THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE
By Guy Moss
A puzzle. The origins of this funny word go back to the Old French “pusle,” which means to bewilder or confuse. And indeed, think of how many variations have been created over the years, leaving one in a state of puzzlement, obligated to puzzle out a solution.
The jigsaw puzzle, for example, is a very old classic. Credit for inventing the first goes to John Spilsbury of London, who in 1767 glued a map to a piece of wood and cut out each country. In 1880, Milton Bradley, already a successful toy and game marketer, started to produce the first jigsaw puzzle for children. It featured a train and was named “The Smashed Up Locomotive.” Today for $299.95 at Hammacher Schlemmer, you can buy the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle, measuring 17’ by 6’ and containing 32,256 pieces.
Logic puzzles were first officially introduced in 1886 by Lewis Carroll, who, in addition to being a famous author, was a mathematician and logician. These are the type that give you certain limited information (“Smith, who married Brown’s sister, earns more than the doctor, etc.”) from which you must logically deduce the desired conclusions.
The word search puzzle, a favorite among children, is credited to Norma Gebat, who published the first, only as recently as 1968, in a newspaper in Oklahoma.
And then there’s the Sudoku puzzle, an even more recent innovation developed by an Indiana architect, Howard Garns, through Dell Magazine in 1979. Calling it “Number Place,” he built on a concept dating back to the 1700s and a puzzle then called “Latin Squares.” In the 1980s, the Japanese began publishing a more developed version, and the very first U.S. Sudoku game was printed in the New York Times just a little over twelve years ago. The word, by the way, is an abbreviation of a Japanese phrase, “Suji wa dokushiri ni kagiru,” which means “the numbers must be single.” This reflects the puzzle’s nature, where each of the numbers 1-9 may appear only once in each row, column, or box.
But the most popular and widespread game in the world is the crossword puzzle. Close to 99% of the world’s daily newspapers each carry a crossword. During World War II, when there was an acute paper shortage, American newspapers tried to drop the crossword, but fan protests reinstated them. In England, where the paper shortage was more serious, crosswords still had their place in four-page condensed newspapers. They were considered a therapeutic diversion from the horrors of war.
Arguably, the origin of the crossword may be traced back to the basic human need to solve enigmas, with a very early manifestation being the riddle. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx is credited with asking one of the first: “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening?” As we know from Sophocles, Oedipus correctly answers, man. Indeed, riddle-solving was a popular party game among the Romans.
Over time, a wide variety of word-oriented puzzles evolved that ultimately influenced the crossword. They include the rebus, a visual puzzle that combines words and pictures, is an offshoot of the riddle, and some credit the hieroglyphics of Egypt and Phoenicia as the models for these. Parenthetically, priests in northern France in the 16th and early 17th centuries used a combination of words and pictures to make their Easter messages accessible to their illiterate parishioners.
Anagrams also became popular, and, in one form or another, date back thousands of years. Authors, for example, often rearranged the letters in their names to create handy pseudonyms. And, Jewish cabalists believed the Scriptures contained encoded messages.
The crossword puzzle, however, is thought most directly to descend from the word square, where words are arranged to read the same vertically and horizontally. The earliest version, somewhat different, is attributed to an early Egyptian, Moschion, who, around 300 A.D., carved one square that he subdivided into another 1,521 squares, each containing a Greek letter. If one started in the center and followed certain directions, the phrase “Moschion to Osiris, for the treatment which cured his foot” would repeat itself, apparently reflecting the creator’s gratitude to the god of the underworld for some remarkable recovery.
An important variation on this theme was the acrostic, which came into its own in Victorian England. This involved a series of lines or a poem in which specified letters of each line, to be discovered and then taken in order, spelled out a word or phrase. A famous double acrostic is attributed to Queen Victoria, purportedly penned for her children and reading on the edges, down and then up, “Newcastle Coalmines.”
New word games, of course, evolved to meet a growing demand. For example, consider conundrums: riddles with pun-filled answers. “Why is the Prince of Wales like a gorilla, a bald man, and an orphan?” The answer: “Because the prince is the heir-apparent, the gorilla is a hairy parent, the bald man has no hair apparent, and the orphan has ne’er a parent.” Or, consider letter manipulation: adjusting a word by one letter to create another word. An example: “Take away one letter, and I murder; take away two, and I am dying, if the whole does not save me.” The answer is “skill” [“kill” to “ill” unless saved by “skill”].
As we know it today, the crossword was born on December 21, 1913 when the first such puzzle was published in the “Fun” section of the now defunct New York World. Arthur Wynne, born and raised in Liverpool, England who emigrated to the United States at 19, was then the editor of this supplement and, believing that the older math puzzles, anagrams, etc. seemed dated, was determined to feature something new and special in the Christmas issue. His innovation was to modify the word square concept so that a grid read differently across and down based on clues. He titled the puzzle “Word-Cross.” One might note that in this first puzzle there were no black filler spaces, the grid is diamond shaped with a hole in the middle, and the clues were not broken into across and down sections based solely on the starting number.
To everyone’s surprise, Wynne’s puzzle was an immediate hit, and letters to the editor encouraged its continuance. By mid-January of 1914, the puzzle’s name had been changed to “Cross-Word,” reflecting the subtitle which urged readers to find the missing cross words. Readers started sending in their own versions, and within a month, a Mrs. M.B. Wood of New York became the first published by-lined outside crossword puzzle contributor in history. Contributed puzzles abounded (very soon up to 25 a day), and with them, came innovations in shapes and clues, even puzzles within puzzles. Apparently, the only folks who were antagonistic were the paper’s typesetters, who found the format especially burdensome and annoying.
Surprisingly, the World was the sole publisher of crosswords for close to ten years. During the early 1920s, however, other newspapers here and abroad picked up this popular pastime, and within a decade, they were both featured in almost all American newspapers and began to take the form familiar today. In 1924, the first crossword puzzle book appeared and, while initially viewed as a high risk by the publishers, flew off the shelves. A crossword craze developed to such an extent that the NY Public Library was forced to limit users’ dictionary time to five minutes each, and one train line made dictionaries available in each of its cars for commuters. Sales of dictionaries and thesauruses increased. One Cleveland woman was granted a divorce because her husband would do nothing but work on crosswords all day. A man was arrested for disturbing the peace because he wouldn’t leave a restaurant until he finished his puzzle. A telephone worker shot his wife because she wouldn’t help him with a crossword and then killed himself! And a hit song was written, entitled “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).” Despite all this, the New York Times waited until 1942 to publish its first crossword puzzle – the Sunday variety only, with the smaller daily editions beginning in 1950. According to one source, they felt it was childish, sinful, and provided for no real mental development.
In 1921, at the World, Mr. Wynne found himself not only contemplating retirement but also badly in need of assistance because of the volume of puzzles being contributed as well as extensive errors appearing in the paper. John Cosgrove, the World’s Sunday Magazine editor, hired a young woman named Margaret Petherbridge to help. She had been Wynne’s stepdaughter’s roommate at Smith, and after initially focusing solely on aesthetics and not even doing the puzzles herself, she mastered the art of editing them and created many of the innovations in place today. Petherbridge also collaborated in the publication of the early puzzle books and resigned from the World in 1926 when she married publisher John Farrar. Later, after the Times entered the field, it hired then Margaret Farrar, the top name in crosswords, to be their new puzzle editor. Her instructions from Times editor Arthur Hays Sulzberger were to keep the puzzles focused on the news, keep them dignified, and enable readers to solve them in around twenty minutes – the average time commuters spent on the subway. Farrar remained editor until 1969, when she was 72, and was followed by only three others: Will Weng, Eugene Maleska, and now Will Shortz.
The annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is the nation’s oldest and largest event of its kind. Founded and directed by Will Shortz, it is held in Stamford, CT and draws well over 500 contestants. The program consists of warm-up games on Friday, competitive crossword competitions throughout Saturday and Sunday mornings, a variety show, and then a championship playoff on Sunday afternoon. All the puzzles are specially created for the tournament , and awards are given in 20 categories, with the event’s overall winner taking home a grand prize of $7,000. The 41st annual contest will take place from March 23 – 25, 2018 at the Stamford Marriott.
If nothing else, you can now better appreciate how Mr. Wynne’s maiden effort evolved and where it has gone in over the last 100 plus years.
For more about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, including past winners and other information, be sure to go to
Guy describes himself as “a semi-retired attorney specializing in bankruptcy law with the firm of Riemer & Braunstein LLP in Boston. He lives in Newton, joined BOLLI in 2016, and enjoys, among other things, travel, reading, history, photography, art, museums, and games. This piece on the origin of the crossword puzzle was developed originally for the Eight O’Clock Club, a local discussion group of which Guy is a member. It was sparked by the awareness that 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle and a curiosity about how various common games, notably word games, arose.”
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(One and a Half Recipes Makes about 45 Small Ones)
I was given this recipe in the 4th grade (1954) and have been using it, with no changes, ever since. I have tried to fill the thumbprint with Nestles chocolate or with M&Ms but it never seems just right. The best chocolate is the Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chips which, when warm (after baking), can be flattened with a spoon. My favorite filing is apricot preserves. The preserves must be thick, not runny.
Preserves (strawberry, raspberry or apricot). Don’t use anything too “liquidy.”
You could use a chocolate that re-hardens. Or M&Ms.
Cream butter. NOTE: I use my normal, salted butter. If you choose to use unsalted butter, add another ¼ tsp of salt.
Beat in the sugar until it is totally absorbed by the butter.
Beat in the yolks, salt and vanilla (find something useful for the whites).
Slowly beat in the flour. The last flour may be hard to add, as the mixture gets crumbly. If you beat the flour too quickly there will be flour all over the kitchen.
Roll the batter into balls, about 1″ in diameter, flatten slightly, and place on un-greased cookie pan, separated by about 2″. They will enlarge when baked. The easiest way to do this is to take a spoonful and roll it in your hands. 24 will fit in a pan (4×6). There is a lot of butter in the recipe so you do not need to grease the pan
Flatten each cookie a bit and put a thumbprint in the middle. The thumbprint must be deep enough to hold the preserve. The sides of the cookie may crack a bit as you push down but you can hold them together with your left hand when making the thumbprint with the right.
Fill the thumbprint with preserve. An alternative to the preserve is a chocolate Candy Kiss or other chocolate.
Cook at 375ofor 12 to 15 minutes. DON’T overcook. Undercook slightly as they continue to cook when removed from the pan. DO NOT USE A DARK COLORED PAN, they cook too fast and burn on the bottom. Under-cooking is fine.
Remove the pan from the oven when the tops of the cookies are just beginning to get brown. It may look too early but it is not. They will harden as they cool; otherwise they are overcooked and hard. You can also check the underside for browning. Note that when cooking two pans simultaneously, they bake at different rates even if they are on the same level. When you have one pan on top of the other the air flow in the oven is disrupted
Remove cookies immediately to wire racks to cool, and they then can be stored in a tin. If they are at all warm when they are put in the tin the steam will turn to water and you will be unhappy.
Cookies can be made in advance and frozen (and I like them when they are frozen).
As I said earlier I started making these cookies in the 4th grade.This is the perfect first cookie recipe to teach the grandkids.
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.) John also provides our monthly “BOLLI Matters Tech Talk” feature.
I realize that this might come as something of a surprise, but I’m not exactly known for my athletic prowess. That lack of prowess, in fact, had much to do with my transferring from Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio at the end of my junior year. At Otterbein, I was facing a 5-term PE requirement and had already failed badminton, fencing, folk dance, bowling, skiing, horseback riding — as well as folk dance for a second time. (I had an attendance issue — getting up for an 8 or even 9 am PE course was just not my cup of energy drink.) Not only did OU have no PE requirement, but it also happened to have the top speech team in the country. I’m not really sure which was the bigger draw.
BUT — despite my virtual disdain for all things athletic, I’ve always loved tennis. Not playing it, of course. Watching it. Billie Jean won my heart in the 60s and has been there ever since. Her pioneering efforts helped women get paid their due–as athletes, as professionals, and as partners. Her strength and courage–in tennis and in life–have inspired me and countless women for fifty years.
And at 73, she’s still at it — playing some tennis, coaching some tennis, mentoring tennis players, organizing and administering tennis events, and using her influence to work, wherever possible, for social justice causes — gender equality, social inclusion, “fair play.”
So, on a balmy Saturday in August of 2016, I was happily ensconced, once again, at the Hotel Lucerne on West 79th Street in New York City. This is a favorite located in my old neighborhood. It welcomes me when I need a Broadway fix or the company of old and dear friends and can pretty much always be counted on to provide another round of the perennial NYC pastime known as “star sighting.” My old friend Susan and I had just sat down at Nice Matin located just outside the hotel door. It is one of those good neighborhood restaurants you used to be able to find all over the city. We had met for an early lunch.
I had just been introduced to Susan’s beautiful new granddaughter (whose mother I had taught) when two women walked into the small, uncrowded space. I could feel the adrenalin rushing to every corpuscle as I leaned across the table to tell Susan who had just arrived in the restaurant. And then, I froze. The hostess was leading Billie Jean and her friend to the table next to us. Right next to us. Oh, my God! My heart lurched. She’s coming this way!
And the next thing I knew, Billie Jean King was sitting on the banquette seat. Right next to me. Like, maybe, an arm’s-length away. I had never been so completely starstruck. But, I realized, so was her friend — with the baby. She oohed, aahed, cooed, and asked all the right questions about this sweet little girl. At that point, the waiter arrived.
“Are you ready to order, ladies?” he asked, his gaze sweeping all of us, as if we were a party of four. And, suddenly, we were exactly that: a party of four. Talking, laughing, sighing — as if we had known each other for twenty years and hadn’t seen each other for ten.
I had been one of Billie Jean’s most loyal fans for fifty years. But now, I found myself looking at her in a completely different way. What a warm, gracious, totally accessible woman–who seems to actually enjoy meeting her fans. Well, actually, she seems to just enjoy meeting and talking to people in general–of all stripes. She is genuinely interested in others and what they do, think, and feel. She’s just…well, totally down to earth–real. And a lot of fun.
The time came for me to get myself moving toward the matinee I was to see, but while I didn’t want this time to end, departing gave me the opportunity to say something I’d always wanted to say to my idol who has done so much for so many–just “Thank you.”
“Want a picture?” she asked. Oh, be still my beating heart…
So, when I heard that a new movie was coming out about Billie Jean in her legendary Battle of the Sexes match with that obnoxious little troll, Bobby Riggs, I headed for the internet to figure out when it would be coming to a theatre near me–so I could be first in line for my discounted senior ticket. (Oh, I’m sorry. I guess my comment about Riggs could be considered disrespectful…sorry, trolls.) No movie can possibly do justice to either that event or Billie Jean herself. But I’m applauding–for all that she has done and continues to do for sports, for women, and social justice.
Okay, Billie Jean, if you can say that it was your respect for Riggs that led to your being able to beat him, I guess I can “go high” myself. Sorry, Bobby.
At BOLLI’s recent conference on creative retirement, representatives from the MAZIE Foundation were on hand to talk about their outstanding mentorship program. Our own Bob Keller has been working with MAZIE students for some time and hopes that his experience will inspire other BOLLI members to volunteer–this past term, he says, four students had to be turned away because they just didn’t have enough mentors.
BOB KELLER: VOLUNTEER EXTRAORDINARE
“I have been interested in social justice and community issues for a long time,” says Bob Keller. This was handed down to me by my parents, both of whom gave a lot to their communities. While I was a CFO of a couple of companies from 1977 to 1995, I also did community work. I coached soccer for my kid’s teams, and when the director of the All Newton Music School died suddenly and the program was in a tumultuous period, I stepped on board as Treasurer and tried to help.” His stepping in to help certainly did not stop there.
In 1987, along with two of his close college friends, Bob started a non-profit group, Mobile Diagnostic Services, which worked out of Leonard Morse Hospital in Natick. All three of us did this outside our regular jobs. Mobile Diagnostic Services was the only mobile mammography van in Massachusetts, doing about 4,000 mammography exams per year. “It was a tough business,” he says, “but we provided a critical service and saved lives.” The three volunteers managed the business and interpreted 4,000 mammography exams. Bob raised the funds to keep the program going. In 2003, the group turned their vans over to Dana Farber—no one else has been able to successfully operate mobile mammography in this state.
Bob’s interests have ranged from Mobile Diagnostic Services to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative where he served as fundraising director for this community organizing non-profit in a primarily Cape Verdean Roxbury community from 1997-2000. After retiring in 2004, he was a Board member at the All Newton Music School and as Board President started their capital campaign in 2005 to renovate the building (the renovation finally completed in 2017), and tutored MCAS math prep in Boston’s public high schools for 8 years under the auspices of “Partners in Education.” For the past 15 years, Bob has also been a Board member of the Commonwealth Chorale (formerly the Newton Choral Society). He and his wife Barbara have been singing with the Chorale for the past 41 years. “I’ve also been an SGL at BOLLI a few times, leading an Introduction to Choral Music course.And to top it all off, he is also a member of the Weston Library music committee.
But for Bob, what seems to be the volunteer experience he has found to be the most meaningful is his work with at-risk students at both Framingham and Waltham High Schools through the Mazie Foundation.
Founded in 1998, the mission of the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation is “to enable at-risk high school students to become adults of promise through goals-based mentoring.” The Foundation’s Mazie Mentoring Program, which has been operating at Framingham High since 1998 and at Waltham High School since 2010, helps aspiring students “set and achieve goals, graduate from high school, prepare to apply to college or other post-secondary training, and experience success.”
Each Mazie mentor provides a student with:
* personal, social, emotional, and educational support through high school;
* information, support, and skills for vital success in the workplace;
* advocacy and exposure in the areas of cultural, social, educational, and personal development;
* a role model, friend, and advisor with whom to explore all the riches of life and the world around them.
The mentoring commitment begins about half way through a student’s sophomore year and ends at high school graduation. Mentors are asked to meet with their mentees for an average of eight hours per month.
Over a period of seven years, Bob has mentored three at-risk students from Framingham and Waltham. Bob also became Board President in 2012 and has been leading a “managing Board” since Lowell Mazie, the CEO, founder and creator of the mentoring program, died in January 2016.
Bob describes how the program begins:
“Mentors and mentees are matched up at a Mazie gathering that takes place on a Saturday afternoon in October or March. After your mentee is identified, you play a few get-to-know-you games, and a two and one half year relationship begins. It’s awkward at first. In my case, I was about 60 years older than my first mentee—old enough to be his grandfather. I could feel the thought running through his head—how can I relate to this old white guy from the suburbs?”
That first mentee, Danny, was born in the U.S., but both of his parents came from the Dominican Republic. They spoke little English and understood little about American high school life or the college process. “Danny was captain of the football team and liked to appear macho,” Bob says. “It took a while to find the Danny that I grew to be very fond of—which seems to have started about three months in. When we were driving somewhere, Danny turned on a rap station and cranked up the volume very loud. Now, I don’t like rap or loud music, but I thought for a minute before saying: ‘Danny, you can pick the station, and then I get to adjust the volume.’ He pondered and then agreed. In some way, this broke the ice, and we started to trust each other.”
For the next year and a half, Bob helped Danny with his school work, his federal financial aid forms for college grants and loans, and his college applications. They visited U. Conn. in Storrs and, eventually, Dean College in Franklin where he was accepted and enrolled. It didn’t take him long, though, to learn that an expensive private college can end up limiting options rather than expanding them. So, he got a job waiting tables and working in the kitchen at a Hyatt Hotel and then after 8 years graduated with a BA from Framingham State. “His graduation in 2014 was an emotional day—for both of us,” Bob says. “I was so proud of him.”
Bob says he has sometimes wondered if his second mentee, Brandon, needed the program at all. He received every award that Maisie gives, including a laptop at the end of junior year. “When he graduated, I gave him my old bike which he used to get to Market Basket where he worked during his college years at Mass Bay Community College.”
“My latest mentee, Smaido, arrived in Waltham after the earthquake that killed over 160,000 people in Haiti. He has not seen his father since 2010 when left the island with his mother and younger brother. He spoke no English when he arrived. We met three years later, in February of 2013, when he was a sophomore at Waltham High School. Because Smaido attended church with his mother and brother every Sunday, we always got together on Saturdays.”
The two spent one of their first Saturdays visiting the deCordova Museum in Lincoln. Smaido had never been to a museum before, and he liked the structures in the sculpture garden. He didn’t much care for the modern art inside. They went to a street fair in Waltham Center in late April that year. While Smaido was interested from a distance, he did not get out of the car to participate—his caring mother had told him, after the Marathon bombing just a week or two earlier, to avoid crowds.
During Smaido’s junior year, “I got some orange cones from the local highway department and started teaching him to drive at an empty school parking lot near his apartment in Waltham. It was probably not acceptable as a mentoring activity, and it might even have been illegal,” Bob grins, “but it went a long way to helping him become more confident and outgoing. Parallel parking was the final exam I gave him”
Smaido worked hard in school, was named “Student of the Month” at Waltham High in November of his senior year where he took a very full load of six tough courses—physics, chemistry, pre-calculus, Spanish, English, and accounting. He also worked at an assisted living facility near his apartment. His guidance counselor and I both tried to convince him to reduce his load, but he stuck with it. He is determined to be a civil engineer. Bob arranged for a summer internship at a civil engineering firm in Waltham, between junior and senior high school years.
Eventually, Smaido was accepted at a small private school in New Hampshire and was wait-listed at Merrimac College that has a fine civil engineering program. Of course, we talked about going to a community college for two years and then transferring to a U. Mass campus. The tuition, of course, would be much lower than at Merrimac, a private school. “But once we visited Merrimac together, there was no turning back. He said he’ll pay back his loans when he becomes a civil engineer.”
Smaido is beginning his junior year at Merrimac. “He is far more confident than the shy young man I met in 2013, and I expect to be at his graduation in 2019,” Bob says. “His story is amazing.”
But, then, so is Bob’s.
After working on a merger possibility for over a year, Bob’s board was happy to announce on July 1 2017 that Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Mass/Metrowest will combine with the Mazie Foundation. BBBSCM Board Chair, Chris Lucas of Upton, comments that: “Both organizations share a fundamental belief in the amazing power that strong, positive mentoring can have in a young person’s life to change the path of possibilities of who and what they can become. Combining the Mazie Foundation with BBBSCM is a force multiplier where one plus one equals ten.”