Category Archives: BOLLI Writers

A showcase for members’ writing, including selections written for classes, Writers Guild, past issues of both BOLLI’s “Journal” (literary magazine) and “Banner” (newsletter). Pieces may be fiction or nonfiction and written in any genre.

COFFEE BREAK by Quinn Rosefsky

COFFEE BREAK

By Quinn Rosefsky

 In late August of 1939, just prior to Germany’s invasion of Poland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt received a letter written by Leo Szilard but signed yours very truly, Albert Einstein. In the letter, the two scientists explained to the President what they knew of Germany’s experiments with uranium and expressed their genuine concern that the Germans were working feverishly to develop the splitting of the atom, an atomic bomb. With a letter signed by Einstein, the two men hoped to influence Roosevelt to respond to the German threat. Listening as economist Alex Sax read the letter, trying to grasp the significance of so much nuclear science jargon, Roosevelt famously said: “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.”

While no longer active in earthly affairs, Roosevelt, Szilard and Einstein have not entirely disappeared. Even in the afterlife, Einstein, devastated that the bomb had been detonated against civilians, still regrets signing the letter. What would have happened if he had kept silent?

One recent bright, sunny morning, Einstein and Szilard met at a Starbucks not far from Harvard Square. (Coffee is as popular in the afterlife as it is here on Earth.)  Roosevelt was busy with his stamp collection and had stayed at home.

Dressed casually, minding their own business, Einstein and Szilard fit in with the young crowd too absorbed with their laptops and crossword puzzles to notice two old men sitting in the corner.

“If you ver ez dedicated to chumanity ez I cheard you claim ven you chad your interview to get in, vy zeh chell ver you zo shrewd viz me zat day, gettink me to zign a letter vich put zeh vorld on zeh path to damnation?” Einstein asked. “Perhaps you left out somethink?”

“I meant what I said, but how was I to know? It’s not my fault what Truman chose to do, mister sophisticated smarty-pants.” Szilard replied, somewhat hurt. “Besides, Truman isn’t here to defend himself. He didn’t pass the entrance exam.”

“If I chad known vat vaz goink to chappen, zeh only vay you could get me to zign vud chaf been to chypnotize me. I vaz alvayz too shmart to let anyone do zat! Oyy, I’ve got such a cheadache.”

“Sounds like Freud could help you, but he didn’t make it, you know. Still, I hear he keeps busy.”

“Nu? Und I’ve regretted it ever zince. Mankind chaz never been zeh same. Now look at zem, liffing in zeh now, zeh future, zeh past, dreamers, all of zem. See zat man over zer with chiz little computer gizmo, zeh one viz zeh double latte?”

“Yeah, what’s so special about him?”

“Che’z been looking up information from zeh ether about zat letter of yourz, zeh one you wrote zat I signed ‘yourz very truly.’ Efen here, zer’s no place to chide.”

“I know.”

“Zer’s been almost ez much written about zeh atomic bomb ez zer chaz been about Mark Twain und zeh Civil Var. Personally, I prefer Mark Twain.”

“I’ll invite Mark out for coffee the next time.”

“Okay, but I never undershtood hiz zense of chumor. I’m goink to chaf to teach chim Yiddish.”

“What about Franklin?”

“Che von’t come. Zey don’t allow you to zmoke in public places anymore.”

Quinn Rosefsky, BOLLI member, SGL, writer, artist…and more

It is strange to say I used to play the French horn in an orchestra. I used to study Japanese. I used to hike. I once walked across England from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was once a doctor…49 years’ worth of medicine. My children were once young. I tell myself to get on with it. Leave it behind. Now I paint with watercolors. Now I have given either nine or ten courses at BOLLI (and will do two more this fall.)  Now I bag ten thousand-year-old lithics as a volunteer in an archaeology museum. Sometimes I write. Last year, I wrote and illustrated four short books for my now seven-year-old granddaughter who wants me to write something new, something about chopping the Evil Virus that plagues us into tiny pieces that will never come back to hurt anyone ever again. Yes! I have left “I used to” behind and think more about what I am “going to do.”

IT’S HERE! THE 2020 BOLLI JOURNAL

THE BOLLI JOURNAL, Volume Ten

The BOLLI Journal staff is proud and pleased to present this year’s volume of visual art and writing by members of our BOLLI community.

Enjoy “virtually” thumbing through this collection of written and visual art work.  Writing includes works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and memoir.   Drawing, painting, printmaking, mosaics, glass, and even furniture are featured.  In addition, this volume’s array of photography includes nature/wildlife images and portraits  as well as  travel and street scenes.   It definitely showcases this community’s remarkable talent!

Unfortunately, at this point, because of BOLLI’s current “online only” status, we really cannot say when print copies of the volume may become available for order and distribution.

We thank all of our BOLLI writers and artists for their marvelous contributions and look forward to you, the members of this community, sharing your reactions with that remarkable creative group.

Click here to access this year’s BOLLI Journal (or on either cover image).

 

THE BOLLI JOURNAL: UPDATE

THE BOLLI JOURNAL: UPDATE

For those of you who have been wondering about the publication and distribution of the latest BOLLI Journal,  it is coming soon!

Considering our current–and likely elongated–quarantine, we have decided to produce the Journal in a two-stage way, reversing the order of our past practice which was to publish the print version and then, later, put it online.

It is our plan to have this year’s volume put online by mid-summer.  Members will have a chance to order print copies which we will then run for them.

It is a volume that we know you will enjoy!  Wonderful work from our contributors–and by our editors as well!

 

 

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.

 

CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM ELAINE PITOCHELLI: HUMOR & PATHOS

HUMOR & PATHOS: ROBIN WILLIAMS REMEMBERED

By Elaine Pitochelli

The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. The first test tube baby was born. Cult leader Jim Jones told nine hundred members of his church to commit suicide. Girls were playing with Barbie Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens. Boys were playing with the Simon game and hot wheels.

And in his comedic persona of Mork from Ork, Robin Williams exploded on the scene.

In our household, television viewing was reserved for a couple of evening family shows, during which we let Williams, that comic genius, into our home and our lives. He first appeared on the show, Happy Days, and then sequed into the memorable Mork and Mindy.

I enjoyed the show very much, but Williams’ persona puzzled me. This enigmatic soul of comedy poked at my inner places. I needed to look deeper at him.  I felt the need to study him. How could he keep up this crazy, oddball act? How could he keep up this raving wildness?  I worried about him, which seemed odd to me. For God’s sake. I didn’t know the man personally.

Yet, on some essential level, I did know him.  His depression, his mania, his genius was there for anyone to see—anyone, that is, who dared to, anyone who had lived with the same proclivities. I can’t let him go without a tribute to his gifts.

Mork is gone, and so is the planet Ork.  So are Peter Pan and Hook.
Gone are the Happy Feet that rocked and zoomed across the frozen tundra.
Gone is The Fisher King whose craziness bore pins into our eyes and icy shards thick from the frozen wasteland into our hearts.
Gone is Mrs. Doubtfire who absorbed a child’s tears in her vast bosom.                                                                                                                             Gone is the booming voice that awakened Vietnam and promised relief from travails.                                                                                                    Gone is Patch Adams restoring rosy cheeks to ashen children whose souls would soon be winging their way to heaven.
Gone is Jacob the Liar who gave solace, grace, and laughter to a tiny girl destined for the Nazi ovens.
Gone are those eyes of bottomless sadness, the depth of the deepest desert sands.

What’s left is a man whose own soul cried while he gave sustenance to millions with insane laughter and fathomless tears.
What’s left are our memories and yearnings to restore to his heart and soul that which he gave to ours.
What’s left is the knowledge that his pain couldn’t be healed.
What’s left is his profound imagination and creativity, someone who brought his emotions to soaring heights and allowed us unbridled laughter and play in Humor and Pathos.

BOLLI member and writer Elaine Pitochelli

 

Elaine considers reading her passion and inspiration. Writing is her muse, the creative influence in her Being.  Her family is her All.

 

 

 

 

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? GOLF, OF COURSE

A recent Writers Guild prompt brought this bit of memoir from Steve Goldfinger–for the inveterate duffers in out midst.

Breaking the Ice:  Aye, There’s the Rib!

by Steve Goldfinger

After my early days of hacking around scrubby Dyker Beach, Brooklyn’s only public golf course, I found myself playing The Country Club in Brookline from time to time. Yes THE Country Club, sanctuary of Boston Brahmans plus a handful of their chosen. Its name said it all.

My friend Tom, a fellow academic and ardent golfer, was one of their chosen. A few times a year, he would ask me to join him for 18 holes at this preserve available to but three hundred or so, a far cry from Dyker Beach’s availability to three million.

This time, it was for only nine holes. It was mid-January and the temperature had warmed up to 35 degrees, toasty enough for golf freaks who hadn’t teed up a ball for two months. The Country Club contained an extra nine holes that were kept open year round for such freaks.

Tom brought along his son Jeff, now 15, who was getting interested in the game. I had played with Jeff before, liked him, and was glad he was with us.

The air was brisk and the round uneventful, until we reached the seventh hole. Jeff’s drive put him about 150 yards from the green. I saw him pull a 4 iron out of his bag for his second shot.

“Use 6 iron,” I said. “You’ve grown a lot, and a 4 iron is much too much club.”

But 15 year-olds often have minds of their own.  He stuck with the 4 iron, hit it cleanly, and watched it soar well over the green.

“Now, drop another ball,” I said, “and try a 6 iron.”

He did and hit the ball the perfect distance….but it veered off to the left and rolled onto a frozen pond. When we arrived at the pond’s edge, we saw the ball sitting there, ten feet away. Just sitting atop the glistening ice, waiting to be fetched.  And feeling guilty that it was I who had consigned this $1.25 ball to such a fate, it was I who decided that I should be the fetcher.

I had gone two steps onto the ice when the inevitable crack came, and I crashed, sideways.   I managed to stand up, the water above my waist.  So cold I couldn’t utter a word.  Tom and Jeff ran over to fish me out by extending an 8 iron for me to pull on.  I noticed bleeding from my wrist where it had been scraped by ice as I fell through. Even then, I could barely say a word.

I was the shivering wretch of the three, though, insisting we go to the next tee to complete the round. I had just read The Right Stuff, and this was going to be my John Glenn moment. Tom and Jeff were still laughing as I teed up my ball.  Then, when I tried to swing my driver, I was nearly felled by a horrifically painful crunch in my left rib cage. The technical name is crepitus, and it denoted a rib fracture. I tried to swing again but could use only my wrists to wave at the ball.

They escorted me back to the club house, bleeding wrist, broken rib, freezing torso, numb legs, sunken spirit.

I later asked Tom to petition the club’s Governing Council to post a sign alongside the pond on the seventh hole, to read:  “Here Goldfinger couldn’t walk on water.”

BOLLI Matters contributing writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI about two years ago, Steve has been writing.  He’s taken  memoir courses with Marjorie Roemer and worked on fiction with Betsy Campbell.  In addition, he’s stretched his creative muscles into the world of acting as an intrepid CAST player.

WALKABOUT by Quinn Rosefsky

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

 

WALKABOUT 

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.

“Tomorrow.”

BOLLI Member & SGL Quinn Rosefsky

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!

 

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? LOST & FOUND by Steve Goldfinger

Our Writers’ Guild prompt for this week was this “Keep Calm and Look in Lost & Found” image.  As always, some chose to use the prompt while others did not.  We all thoroughly enjoyed Steve Goldfinger’s approach, and  we felt that many BOLLI members might be able to relate!  

LOST & FOUND

By Steve Goldfinger

For a moment, my wandering brain lost the prompt, but now I remember.  Ah, yes.  “Lost and Found.”

Well, it’s easy to lose things.  Car keys, cell phones, shopping lists, hearing aids.  Names of people whose faces are imprinted in my skull, faces of people whose names are as secure in my mind as swallows in cliff dwellings.

I cannot find the treasured score card that documented the best round of golf I ever played.  I was 21 year old, knew I would never have so low a score again, and promised I would keep it to show my grandchildren.  But where is it now?  Hiding somewhere in my attic or moldering at the bottom of some forsaken garbage dump?

When I lost my virginity, I knew I had also found something.  But when I lost my wallet yesterday, the only thing I found was an empty back pocket.  My only consolation was that my credit card was not longer in it.  Once again, the piece of plastic was undoubtedly sitting next to the cash register of the last restaurant I ate at.  Again, I neglected to retrieve it after I signed the check.  Damn it.  I want it back.  Now, what was the name of that restaurant?

After driving to the MFA to see the new exhibit that so excited me when I read the review in The Globe, I forgot which one it was.  When a large sign reminded me and told me where it was, I had to ask a guard to direct me to the stairway I had marched to directly so many times in the past.  It was a great exhibit…fine paintings and etchings by…oh, shit!

And what have I found?

Perhaps a new internal tempo that allows me to drive more slowly, aware as I am that, in front of me, the lane seems to have narrowed, and too many dents and scrapes have appeared on my car.

Or the magic of the remote, being able to put a ball game on a 40 minute delay so I can then zip through the commercials to get to the action.

Or the ability to justify my lifestyle–couch potato, bacon and eggs, steaks, morning croissants, and evening ice cream–by “Hey, I’m 82 and just back from Alaska where I survived a strenuous hike.  Good genes.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.”

Or how easy it has been to depart from the world of medicine.  A satisfying six decades, but in the end, too many directives separating me from patients, too many memory lapses, too many teaching moments falling short of my expectations, threatening my pride.

Or my ability to respond to writing prompts in perhaps a better way than I have responded to social ones over the years.

Writers Guild member, Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI nearly two years ago, Steve has been exploring new ventures.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre).  

Interested in joining either one yourself? During the fall term, the Guild will meet on Wednesday mornings from 9:45-11.  And CAST will meet on Fridays from 12:30-2.  All are welcome!

A Little Writing Inspiration: Try Creative Nonfiction!

So, what is Creative Nonfiction?  The simplest, clearest, and probably most “apt” answer is this:  true stories, well told.     Recently, Steve Goldfinger shared a piece about Henry and Claire Booth Luce, and now, Lydia Bogar provides her thoughts about her local childhood library and the woman for whom it was renamed.

A FAVORITE HAUNT AND THE OLD LADY IN THE PAINTING

by Lydia Bogar

The Greendale Branch, Worcester Public Library

Even as her vision failed, my maternal grandmother always had her Bible, The Morning Telegram, or The Evening Gazette) in hand.  As she grew older and needed both a magnifying glass and a bright lamp to help her, she continued to read, every day, until her death at the age of 94.  She passed her love of reading on to me, and it wasn’t long before the library became a favorite haunt.

The Greendale Branch of the Worcester Public Library was built in 1913 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie.  The children’s section of the library was on the left, divided from the adult books by an enormous, heavy, oak desk where you showed your card to the librarian and were then able to borrow books to read at home.

I started with the Little Golden books and got hooked.  Years later, I decided to turn a sharp right inside the front door and, over the course of that summer, read everything in the fiction section.  That was when I met Mary, Queen of Scots and Ernest Hemingway.  Eventually, I would drive my mother’s car there to “study” with friends.   In my family, women passed on not only our love of reading but books as well. I have been hooked on mysteries since an elderly aunt left me her collection of Perry Mason paperbacks in 1968.  My mother helped me to grow by passing on The Power of Positive Thinking, Silent Spring, and The Quiet American.

In the library, there was an enormous marble fireplace along the back wall.  A portrait of Frances Perkins, for whom the library was renamed in 1944, rested above it.  When I was a child, I had no idea who Frances Perkins was.  To me, she was just an old lady in an old painting.

Frances Perkins

Eventually, though, I learned just who this remarkable woman was.  Born and educated in Worcester, she started learning Greek from her father as a child, took classes in physics and chemistry at Mount Holyoke College as a young woman, and worked with poor, undereducated women in Illinois as an adult.  After her graduation, Frances devoted herself to mentoring working women, black and white, especially those in factories who were trying to support their families on miniscule paychecks.  She later earned a Masters Degree at Columbia University, writing her thesis on malnutrition among public school children. It is difficult to imagine how many glass ceilings she shattered just in her own educational efforts.

In 1911, when Perkins was in New York, she witnessed dozens of factory workers leap to their deaths in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire—a turning point in her life.  From that point on, she dedicated her life to seeing labor conditions improve for workers.  She worked with a legislative committee after the disaster and became a consultant to Governor Al Smith.  Eventually, her lobbying efforts caught the attention of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who appointed her to serve as his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve in a U.S. Government Cabinet position.  Serving in that position for over 12 years, she championed such causes as the Civilian Conservation Corps, Federal Emergency Relief, Fair Labor Standards, and Social Security.

Years before Rosa Parks or Gloria Steinem made their marks on our culture, Frances Perkins said:

                                  “I promise to use what brains I have                                         to meet problems with intelligence and courage.”

Quite a resume for a woman from Worcester whose portrait still inspires young visitors to the Greendale Branch of the Worcester Public Library.

 

Frequent BOLLI blogger, Lydia Bogar

Lydia has become a frequent BOLLI Matters contributor, even creating her own monthly feature, “Lines from Lydia.”