All posts by swurster

MEMOIR: DEAR TOM

BOLLI Writers Guild Prompt for December 5th, 2019 – Write a eulogy for a close friend or family member

DEAR TOM

by Marty Kafka

12.5.2019

Dear Tom,

You were probably not expecting to hear from me so soon.

After all, we only recently became rather intimately acquainted, and yet, I feel you are a part of my family now. I have even wondered if it could be some of your brethren running around my neighborhood, acquainting themselves with my hilly backyard.

Perhaps I met you personally in the recent past, chasing you away with a broom when you and your unruly gaggle tried to peck at my pant leg. Imagine that, right outside my back door. What Chutzpah! If that was you, I apologize; although if I think about it seriously, it is a bit too late for my indulging in sincerity. If you happen to be listening in right now or even reading this memoir from your perch in Turkey Heaven, please don’t choke on the seeds and grass you are nibbling on.

Well Tom, I am not the first to have tasted the delectable legs and crispy wings you provide.  And oh, that white breast! You probably can’t appreciate that you are so very delicious. Add home-made stuffing, mashed yams, green beans, and gravy made from your own body’s fat and giblets.  You are a Thanksgiving party in my mouth.

I could embellish your species’ reputation by claiming that you are a self-sacrificing breed, but we would both know that is a bold-faced exaggeration, like the kind our President recites frequently. Nor could I claim that I sacrificed you painlessly using a knife, gun, or other instant-kill weapon. Tom, you were frozen long before we brought you home and Karen packed your hollowed inner cavity with her family recipe for stuffing. Karen and I, as well as Julie and Stetson, feasted heartily at your expense this Thanksgiving. Thanks.

Your brethren have a long history here in Massachusetts, and as far as my family goes, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say we have always been wild about turkeys. We’ve been celebrating your kin for several generations, especially in Novembers.

We celebrate you, Tom, for your generosity of spirit, poor flying skills, and relatively low IQ (even for a bird0. You are easy prey for us human predators. The qualities you embody are endearing to us.

So, Tom, until we meet again, Good Cluck to you and your family.

Best in Health,

Marty

BOLLI Member Marty Kafka
Marty Kafka is a retired psychiatrist whose passions include his wife Karen and their family, international travel, and jazz piano. 
In addition, Marty has found a retirement career taking BOLLI classes, writing memoir, and being active in the Photography special interest group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: MY FRIEND ELOISE

MY FRIEND ELOISE

by Dennis Greene

             Near the end of her life, Eloise Pina was recognized and celebrated by the City of New Bedford for her lifelong leadership and dedication to the community.  Huge portraits of New Bedford’s historic personages hang in the grand meeting room of the New Bedford Public Library, and Eloise’s likeness is among them, the only woman.  At her induction ceremony, Eloise said, “I don’t know all the answers, but when I was nine years old, I met Elizabeth Carter Brooks, and she said to me, I hope you grow up to serve God and the community.”  Eloise fulfilled her idol’s hopes and then some.  She was recognized nationally as a leader of numerous church and community organization as well as a loud voice for compassionate change. But I was only 13 when I first met her, and I just knew Eloise as my mother’s friend.  Soon, she also became my friend.

When we first met, Eloise was a practical nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital. She was the de facto supervisor of her department, but because she lacked the requisite credentials, she was not officially recognized or compensated for her role. To earn extra money for her family of six, she helped my mother with housework a few days a week. I remember her as always energetic and optimistic, with a bright smile and a big laugh.

My fondest memory of Eloise is in our garage, near my weight bench. I was a freshman in high school and still only 5’ tall and 100 pounds. I loved sports and was trying to get big enough to be a high school athlete, but I wasn’t growing and was discouraged.  Eloise sometimes did bench presses with me, and, sensing my concern, she assured me that I was perfectly normal and that it was her professional opinion as a nurse that I was about to grow. I trusted her and stopped worrying. Sure enough, I grew eight inches that year and was able to become a mediocre high school basketball player who earned a varsity letter, my proudest accomplishment.

Eloise didn’t work for my mother very long because Mom convinced her to take the courses she needed to get her nursing credentials. A year later, Eloise got her promotion, and we lost a housekeeper. But she remained our dear friend.

Over the years, I heard much more of her amazing story.  As a young child, she lost her three sisters in a house fire.  The only child to survive,  she was in and out of hospitals for almost three years.

Eloise’s eldest child had a different last name and might have been born out of wedlock.  I never asked the details, but Tony and Eloise raised her with the same love and care as their other kids, and Millie grew up to become a minister.  One of Eloise’s sons was a superstar, but the other was a problem.  When his crack addict girlfriend gave birth to Eloise’s granddaughter, she drove her old car up to Dorchester, forcibly took the baby back to New Bedford, and raised her.  I don’t know about the legalities, but I do know that it was hard to stand up to Eloise when she thought her path was righteous.

Eloise was a prolific letter writer who frequently expressed her strong and well-reasoned opinions as “Letters to the Editor” in the New Bedford Standard Times.  Through her letters, she became recognized as a familiar and powerful voice in her community.  She believed that one person could make a difference, but she also knew that leading groups of voices could make change even more possible. She spent much of her life inspiring, organizing, and leading such groups.

In the late 60’s, packs of young rioters from New Bedford’s smoldering black neighborhoods were vandalizing the city’s downtown area.  Eloise and her group of churchwomen stood  in front of their beloved Grace Church, defiantly refusing to let the rioters approach.  Grace Church survived the riots unharmed.  When I asked Eloise how she had been so successful when so many other similar groups had failed, she told me it was God’s will.  But, she added with a wry smile, she had known many of the rioters since they were little boys–and they knew she still spoke to their mothers.

Eloise was one of the most devout people I have ever known, and I loved her.  I believe she loved me back–and forgave me for being a pagan.

 

“BOLLI Matters” feature 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. 

 

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: SOCIAL MEDIA MODERATORS

SOCIAL MEDIA MODERATORS:  NOT AN EASY JOB

by John Rudy

Ever since the last presidential election, there has been considerable discussion about what limits should be placed on content made available through Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms.   Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and others have been castigated for not doing enough to delete inappropriate content.  Of course, the word “inappropriate” is not viewed identically by everyone.  And, of course, there is the fact that we do take pride in our right of free speech.  The murders in New Zealand a few months ago added another dimension to this discussion as the government insisted that all video of the murders be instantly deleted.

What has not been discussed is the role that thousands of lowly paid employees perform in order to help these social media platforms to monitor or self regulate the nature of their content.   This article helps us to better understand what these social media moderators must do on a daily basis.

https://www.theverge.com/2019/2/25/18229714/cognizant-facebook-content-moderator-interviews-trauma-working-conditions-arizona

As everyone knows, it is very easy to post material to any of the social media sites. https://www.internetlivestats.com/twitter-statistics/ says that there are over 500 million Twitter posts per day.  https://blog.microfocus.com/how-much-data-is-created-on-the-internet-each-day/ says that “more than 4 million hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every day, with users watching as many as 5.97 billion hours of those videos on a daily basis.”  In addition, 67,305,600 Instagram posts are uploaded each day.  And over 2 billion people, monthly, become active Facebook users.

It is impossible, at this point, for social media moderators to view all of that material for “inappropriate” content.

Just thought you’d want to know as you think about how this might be constrained.

BOLLI “Matters” feature writer John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions for future tech items to cover. 

 

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND? MEASLES

MEASLES

by Bobbe Vernon

Last week, my 22-month old great-grandson Carter erupted in an itchy rash, head to toe.  He was miserable!  And I immediately thought about measles.   He had had his first measles shot, but two are required, and he is not yet old enough for the second shot.  And how would such a young child contract the disease these days anyway?

Unfortunately, today, more American children are contracting mumps, measles, and rubella than they have for decades.  And one reason seems to be  the misguided, incorrect belief of some parents that vaccinations can cause autism.

This episode reminded me of my own experiences with measles. When I was in the seventh grade, my younger brother Stevie came down with measles.  I caught it from him, and so did our mother, even though she had had measles as a child.   And despite being sick, she got out of bed to scrub the entire bathroom before our beloved pediatrician Dr. Green made that house call.  Even he couldn’t understand how she could have contracted the disease after having had it as a child.

A year later, Stevie contracted measles again.   Dr. Green said he wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen my brother’s first case with his own eyes.  At the time, I was in the eighth grade, and, as a serious student, I did not want to be quarantined with my brother.  So that I wouldn’t miss school, I stayed at my Aunt Clara’s house while Stevie was ill, but Dr. Green warned, in no uncertain terms, that, if I felt that I was getting sick, I was to go straight home instead of to my aunt’s house after school.  Yup, that happened!  Mommy, Stevie,  and I were the only people he had ever heard of who had measles more than once.   I still feel guilty that his son Dicky, who sat next to me in school, caught the measles from me…

At any rate, it turned out that my great grandson Carter did not have the measles after all, and he is back at his Montessori school, where he probably contracted his itchy virus in the first place.  We can now stop worrying that baby Tucker, who is one month old, will catch the measles from his big brother!

BOLLI Member (and long-time Scene-iors player) Bobbe Vernon

“18 months after my husband passed away, I heard about BOLLI and decided to try something new .  That was in 2008, and I have been taking classes and enjoying new friends at BOLLI ever since. In the past, I have been a dressmaker, a math teacher, and, since 1976, I have been with Mary Kay Cosmetics (driving my Mary Kay pink Buick!), still not ready to stop making people feel great about themselves.”

 

IN MY OPINION: HEADLINES

HEADLINES

by Eleanor Jaffe

During the months of preparation  for my five-week BOLLI course, “Crisis on our Border,” newspapers headlined stories of increasing inhumanity perpetrated by our government.  From attempts to ban Muslims and immigrants from “s-hole” countries to separating parents from their small children, denying asylum, and more, newspapers like The New York Times covered the calamitous news. And the news revealed that the leadership of this nation was without moral compass.

No more rapists and gang members and drug lords would be allowed to come to the U.S. to prey upon American citizens.  “It’s a national emergency!” President Trump declared before closing down the government so that his wall could be built.  “Let’s draw money from the Pentagon budget so that the wall can be built!  Let’s send troops to the border and shoot migrants if they attempt to cross!  Let’s close asylum posts!”  But, most of all, let’s dehumanize these dark-skinned people who, for the most part, don’t speak English.

Let’s rule out domestic violence as a reason for women and children to flee.  Let’s forget about the murders in the streets of Honduras and Guatemala, the rampant drug gang violence in Mexico, the drafting of young boys into gangs that roam with impunity, the forcing of young girls into prostitution.

For months, as I prepared, I clipped hundreds of newspaper articles that chronicled the heinous situation on our border.

How can we explain why so many Americans fell “hook, line, and sinker” for this hateful rhetoric and supposed “national emergency?”  How were they able to convince themselves that these human beings did not deserve humane treatment by our government?  The answer can’t be that they didn’t want to have their tax dollars spent on them.  After all, millions have gone to incarcerating asylum seekers and children in “for profit” private jails. Even more millions have been spent sending these people “back to where they came from” or to the first countries they trudged through outside their own.  Too many Americans seem to have forgotten the immigration stories their own grandparents told them.  That was then.  This is now.  We are “full up.”  There is no more room in the United States.

My class ended a few weeks ago, but, suddenly, so did the headlines.  The media shifted attention to impeachment, to the betrayal of the Kurds, and to other outrages.  Articles about the crisis on our border have vanished.  Why so fickle?  Many thousands still suffer. No solution has been found–or even suggested.  Do people need new titillations to satisfy their appetite for disasters?  If so, we have a president who will happily feed their ravenous maws.

BOLLI member and SGL Eleanor Jaffe

Eleanor also serves as leader of BOLLI’s “Make a Difference” Special Interest Group.  Watch “BOLLI Matters” as well as the Bulletin for announcements of the group’s meetings and activities.  All interested members are welcome to attend.

BELATED VETERANS DAY REMEMBRANCE: EULOGY

EULOGY

By Karen E. Wagner

I’ve seen people

fight wars,

die too young,

die in pain,

and worse,

live too long

while memories sustain

failed bodies.

 

My battles have been

fiercely fought

with blows hand-to-hand,

more to come,

in these few years ahead.

 

I read of heroes,

mold my life in kind,

think none match too closely,

pick highlights

to mimic.

Tend to scars

as battle wounds,

regard retreat

as survival,

bury the young

and pieces

of my soul with them

until I’ve given

it all away.

 

I think back

to what damaged

my faith

in man,

like a soldier shot

in battle, pushed again

to the front line,

with only a leg wound.

I remember briefly

those who expired,

collect

their shattered souls

before time

turns

them to compost.

 

I heave my burden

over life’s hurdles

reach the many shrines

to the fallen,

return

the shards of souls

to their proper remains.

When I finish my task my days

will be over,

I’ll leave my scar-ridden,

soulless body

beside the headstones

of heroes.

 

MAKE A DIFFERENCE SIG: CONSIDER THIS…

CONSIDER THIS…

By Rita Aberbach, Make a Difference SIG

Elie Wiesel said that “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”

Almost every day, we read about the suffering of migrants and would-be asylum seekers on our border, in “camps” just inside Mexico, or on the U.S. side of the border. We hear of children being taken from their grieving parents and placed haphazardly around the U.S.  We also read about the undocumented here in Massachusetts and their fears of deportation.

Many organizations exist to assist would-be asylum seekers to find justice in the courts; others relieve suffering through donations. Following is a list of some of these organizations. Please consider including one or more of them among your charitable donations this year.

Organizations working with asylum seekers at our southern border:

A.C.L.U. – American Civil Liberties Union

Annunciation House

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center

Florence Project—-Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project

RAICES – Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

Bend the Arc

Our Revolution

Church sponsored groups like Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

Kids in Need of Defense

Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project

Act Blue — supports 8 organizations

Jen Hoffman’s “Citizens of Conscience” — what you can do….weekly suggestions, on-line

Organizations servicing worldwide refugees:

USA for UNHCR – U.N. Refugee Organization

International Rescue Committee

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Save the Children

Doctors Without Borders

Oxfam International

Organizations in Massachusetts:

American Civil Liberties Union, “Families Belong Together”

Beyond Bond and Legal Defense Fund (raises bond money and supports people in local ICE
 detention centers

New Sanctuary Movement — synagogues and churches (housing for undocumented immigrants in the area

La Communidad

MA Jobs with Justice

 

NOTE: Many thanks to Eleanor Jaffe who compiled this list for her class “Crisis on Our Borders.”

A SENIOR MOMENT FROM DONNA: GIVE US A BREAK

GIVE US A BREAK

by Donna Johns

Stuck in the house waiting for a repair, I sat down with a cup of coffee to watch Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress.  He was, as I expected, clear and to the point and very “lawyer-y.”  He kept flipping through that 400 page report to verify his answers.  And he looked a tiny bit annoyed. I’m sure he would have preferred to be fishing, or reading, or just about anything that did not involve being thanked for his service and attacked for his findings. They mercifully gave him (and me) a break after 90 minutes.

Returning to the television, the talking heads were analyzing his performance:

“He seems confused.”

“He keeps shuffling papers.”

“Is he ill?”

As I am wont to do when confronted with idiot talking heads, I began to yell at them. “Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’s hard of hearing! He’s not sick. He’s just 75. Give him a break!” I watched the second morning session, paying closer attention to the man. Sure enough, when asked a question, Mueller tilted his head to hear better. He probably has one good ear and one that is trashed. We see it at BOLLI all the time.

Shuffling papers?  He was very precise when he found the relevant portions of his report.  He just took his sweet time finding them. At his age, many of us can’t find our keys, eyeglasses, or the shopping list we wrote last night. I thought it was admirable that he actually found anything in those two massive binders.

That got me thinking of all the criticisms we face as we age. Our children are chronic offenders but it comes from just about everyone. Rather than shrugging off our little idiosyncrasies, there is a tendency to try to fix us, as if we were broken.  Nope, not broken…just different. Raise your hand if any of these ring a bell.

  • “I got stuck behind a Q-Tip driving 20 miles per hour. Why are they still on the road?”  Answer: How much damage can I do going 20 miles per hour? Also…need groceries.  Also, what’s your hurry?
  • ” Can’t you hear me? Why don’t you pay attention?” Answer: You mumble. And frankly, if you can’t speak up, why do I have to pay             attention?
  • ”Why are you taking so long to (fill in the blank)?” Answer:  After a lifetime of hurrying, I’m enjoying a more leisurely pace. Also, how            important is (fill in the blank) anyway?

Aging is a daily challenge, and most of us do it with dignity. Perhaps the young-uns need to appreciate our uniqueness and quit diagnosing our “shortcomings.” Move on…nothing to fix here!

BOLLI Matters feature writer Donna Johns

Donna is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater and BOLLI member. She has two fantastic faux knees which set off the metal detectors at Fenway Park.

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: TWO SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS

Two Special Friendships

 by Dennis Greene

My life is richer because of two women whose paths I was lucky enough to have crossed. They are both smart, strong and beautiful, and, like a lot of us, are currently dealing with the undeserved curveballs life throws our way.

Recently,  my friend Hunter lost the sight in one eye due to a sudden arterial occlusion or “eye stroke.”  She notified her legions of friends of the loss, informed us that the doctors said the damage was probably total and irreversible, and reminded us gamely that she still had one eye that was working fine.  Hunter is tough, well-grounded,  indominable.  Though we have never met and have only spoken on the phone once, I consider her one of my best friends.  I met Hunter through Judy.

Judy was my first girlfriend.  She was tall, pretty, smart, and a very nice person.  I met her in high school in 1960 when she was scooping ice cream at Gulf Hill Dairy.  We dated pretty regularly during my senior year,  but I am not sure how to characterize the relationship. At the time, I had nothing to compare it with, but it probably fell into the “semi-serious” category.  I do know that, when I went away to college, I expected to see her at Thanksgiving, but, shortly before the holiday, I received a “Dear John” letter.  Judy told me she had started dating Dave and we wouldn’t be seeing one another anymore.

Dave was one of the most popular guys in my class, one of the best all-around athletes in the school, my teammate on the basketball team, and a good guy. He was also tall, movie star handsome, and destined to become a Marine officer.  I was glad for Judy but a little sad for me. But, because of her, I had much more experience with the opposite sex than I had had a year earlier. And I was strangely proud to have received my first “Dear John” letter. It proved I was in the game.

Judy and Dave have been married more than half a century.

Twenty years later, my wife and I attended my 20th high school reunion.  As we stood in line to get our name tags, Judy and Dave walked in.  Eileen had heard me tell high school stories and was interested in meeting them.  As I made the introductions,  I realized, from Judy’s expression, that she had no idea who I was.  It was an awkward moment that Eileen seems to take some joy in mentioning, while noting that most women remember their prom dates.

Over the years following that reunion, I kept in touch with Dave and Judy, and when we discovered Facebook, Judy and I began playing Lexulous (a scrabble type game) on line.  At some point, she suggested that I might also like to play with her friend Hunter, a woman she had met through their mutual love of rescued Border collies. For a number of years, the three of us played lots of games.

Then, sadly, Dave began suffering from Lewy Body Dementia, and Judy stopped playing, devoting all of her time to caring for him.  She was a talented artist, but she gave up all her woodcarving and most of her photography activities. It made me think about how much caregivers have to forgo in order to care for a loved one. Such caregivers deserve much more appreciation than they often receive.

Hunter and I have continued to play online games for over eight years now.  According to the Lexulous site, we have played over 3,000 games. The site makes it easy for players to chat, and ,through that online interaction,  I have come to know quite a bit about Hunter.  She loves dogs and horses and always has several.  She has told me stories about her parents and her children, and she is outspoken about her political beliefs. In fact, she is outspoken and effusive about most everything.

Hunter was not as open and forthcoming at first, but, at some point, she expressed a very liberal opinion and mentioned that I probably would disagree with her.  As an educated, Jewish Democrat with atheist leanings, born in Newark, N. J.,  I wasn’t used to having anyone assume I was politically conservative. When I asked her why she thought I would disagree, she told me that she just assumed I was a conservative, religious Republican who belonged to a yacht club because I had been friends with Judy and Dave.  I told her she had me pegged wrong, and, since then, Hunter has been much more free-wheeling when it comes to expressing her opinions. Her recent Trump posts have been especially entertaining.  I never noted that these two friends were at such different ends of the political spectrum.

Hunter called me once for legal advice when a used truck she had purchased in Texas broke down about 150 miles from the dealer, but all of our other contact has been through Facebook. Recently, I told her that I had added her to my bucket list and planned to visit her in Florida. I am going to do that sometime soon.

When we look back on our lives, the things that shine are the friendships we have been lucky enough to share.  For me, Hunter and Judy are two that shine the brightest.

“BOLLI Matters” feature 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.  He has engaged in memoir writing since joining BOLLI.

OCTOBER LINES FROM LYDIA: A Memorable Dinner Date

A Totally Un-Memorable Dinner Date

by Lydia Bogar

Howling laughter from my tweenage daughters–one in the dining room window and the other peeking out from the shutters in the living room, scoping out my date, Tom. “Oh Mom, you’re gonna die!”

My friends Cheryl and Jay said that Tom, an engineer, worked with Jay in Foxboro and lived on “The Lake” in Webster.  Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.  (Yeah, that Lake. Even the New York Times has written about it.

Only child. Never married. No kids. Wicked smart. Very shy. Dour expression.

We spoke once on the phone before that Sunday night dinner date but did not get beyond directions to my house and what a nice guy Jay is.

I have no memory of the drive from my house to the dining room at the Marriott in downtown Worcester. Maybe fifteen minutes that I will never get back.

I do remember the table for two but not the conversation.  I have no memory of appetizer, entrée, or dessert.  Was there wine?  Oh God, I hope so.

Quiet ride back to my house. Walked me to the door. I shook his hand with the other hand on the door knob.

The tweens were waiting.

“What? Really, he seems like a nice guy–but boring.”

The howling started again.  “Mom, we could have told you that as soon as we saw his pocket protector!”

I didn’t tell them about the second pocket protector (for mechanical pencils) he had clipped to his shirt pocket.

Tom married a few years later, a diminutive Asian lady with a PhD in something. It was a society wedding by Worcester standards because of the family compound of homes on The Lake that he inherited when he turned 50.

Yes.  Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.

Block. Copy. Paste.

Sure, beats having to spell it.

Frequent BOLLI blogger, 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.”