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.

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 BOLL Matters contributor, even creating her own monthly feature, “Lines from Lydia.”

 

 

THE BOLLI JOURNAL: Need Inspiration? An Idea? Some Confidence? Consider This…

HOW ABOUT  HISTORICAL FICTION?

                    An Interview with Larry Schwirian by Sue Wurster                     (and Larry’s short selection, OH, WHAT A PARTY!)

Recently, Journal committee member Larry Schwirian provided the participants in our BOLLI Writers Guild with a piece of historical fiction that he had written in response to the prompt, “The Best Party EVER.”  We thoroughly enjoyed the piece and spent some time talking about this fact that this has been a somewhat under-represented genre in our BOLLI Journal.

SUE:  So, Larry, have you written a lot of historical fiction?

LARRY:  No, but I do read a great deal of historical fiction.  For me, it’s a much more enjoyable way of learning about the past than just reading textbook history.

SUE:  What sparked your imagination and led you to do this particular piece?

LARRY:  Well, the prompt for the week was about a great party, so I googled “Great Parties in History” and discovered that the Great London Beer Flood took place toward the end of the War of 1812.  I thought about what it might be like to be almost drowned in beer and created a character to get swept up in it.  Then, I wanted to related it, somehow, to the war.

SUE:  Has writing always been an interest?  Have you been published or thought about submitting your work for publication?

LARRY:  I have attempted to write poetry, on and off again, over the past 25 years  My first attempt was a poem I wrote for my father’s 80th birthday.  I have also tried, on a couple of occasions, to write children’s stories using alliteration (with a preponderance of “P” words), but I’ve never tried to get anything published because I never thought anything I wrote was worthy of publication.

SUE:  Do you have a favorite form or genre?

LARRY:  I am somewhat of a history buff and have read the biographies of many of the founding fathers.  I also enjoy architectural history and have been involved on a local level with historical preservation.

SUE:  You’ve been active in the Writers Guild and have taken some BOLLI writing courses as well, haven’t you?  How have they helped you with your writing?

LARRY:  The discipline of writing every week is certainly helpful to making improvements.  Also, the critiques from others in the Writers Guild have taught me to be a more vigorous editor of my own writing  I also thought that, as someone who has tried to trace my ancestry,  it would be a great idea to improve my writing skills so that, someday, one of my descendants might know not just my name but also something about how I thought.   Plus, meeting every week with the same small group of people and listening to their stories or their poetry is a great way to get to know people and make new friends.

SUE:  And that led you to joining the Journal committee?

LARRY:  Maxine asked me if I was interested, so I thought about it for a while and then accepted.  I didn’t know I was going to be the only male!

Here’s Larry’s story…

OH WHAT A PARTY

It looked like it was going to be another bright sunny day on the morning of Monday October 17, 1814 on Tottenham Court Road in the parish of St. Giles in London. Alfie Appleton, a young working class laborer, was just starting his trek to the docks for another physically arduous day loading munitions onto warships headed for America; those uppity colonials ought to know better than to start a war with the heralded British Navy. To some extent his sympathies were with the Americans as they were decided underdogs in this war and had legitimate grievances with the arrogance and imperiousness of the British Crown and Parliament. Alfie had his own issues with the British aristocracy and propertied class as those of his social standing had virtually no say in the proceedings of the British government and were generally considered with contempt and loathing by those higher in social class.

It was a time when London’s population was growing rapidly due to the beginnings of the industrial revolution and men-of-means were investing heavily in new business opportunities. Industrial processes had led to a rapid rise in beer production and one new “Beer Baron” by the name of Sir Henry Meux had recently completed a large new brewing vat that was 60 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall. This vat, like smaller ones nearby, was constructed much like large wooden beer barrels with steel hoops to keep it from collapsing.  Upon completion Henry invited 200 guests to dine with him inside the vat and subsequently had it filled with porter liquor.

Except for the sunny skies it was a day much like any other workday. Alfie would labor six days a week from sunup to sundown on the docks with only minimal time for lunch or “loo” breaks. Suddenly, and without warning, he was knocked off his feet by a surging wave of colorful liquid. It caught him completely by surprise as he found himself with many others swept haphazardly toward buildings and other fixed objects. After what seemed like hours but was probably only a few minutes he was able to right himself in this growing pond of what he now realized was actually “beer.” After the initial shock wore off he decided, with others around him, to take advantage of this wondrous opportunity to partake of “free alcohol.” Soon, other blokes and even women folk were pouring out of adjacent buildings to enjoy this “gift from heaven.” As other nearby parishes learned of this blessed event even more people poured into the area. By the time the liquid had nearly dissipated the entire parish was intoxicated.

In the end the equivalent of over 100,200 kegs of beer (1,470,000 liters) were released with the collapse of the new vat as well as several of the nearby smaller vats. At least seven people were drowned (ah but what better way to go) and many rescue attempts to help the injured were thwarted by the chaos created by thousands of people swarming to the area. When the injured did manage to make it to the hospital “reeking of beer” hospital employees and even patients fled to join the melee. The reason this event wasn’t recorded in the annals of history as a “disaster” is because a British court ruled that the beer flood was an “act of God.” Alfie, however, preferred to believe that the incident was an act of sabotage by an American spy and that the American victory at New Orleans, by Andrew Jackson, in January of 1815 was, at least in part, due to the British fleet being delayed by THE GREAT LONDON BEER FLOOD. 

Larry Schwirian

Note:   While “The Great London Beer Flood” was a real event, it had nothing to do with the delaying of the British Fleet on its way to New Orleans. Alfie is, of course, a fictional character but the rest of the story is true…at least according to Wikopedia. A little more than a century later, in January of 1915, Boston suffered “The Great Molasses Flood” in the North End. This time the vat was 90 feet in diameter and 50 feet high, and twenty-one people died. The incident was declared a “disaster” and in a class-action lawsuit against the subsequent owner of The Purity Distilling Company, more than $600,000 in damages were awarded.  

 

MEET MEMBER STEVE GOLDFINGER: BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE

MEET MEMBER STEVE GOLDFINGER:  BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Steve Goldfinger enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a doctor and professor of medicine at MGH and Harvard Medical School.  His wife, a modern dancer and educational administrator, died ten years ago.  His four sons inherited both of their parents’ genes and have varied careers–Hollywood script writer, radiologist, psychotherapist, and business executive–coupled with creative musical talents they display in their respective bands and bluegrass group.  He has nine grandchildren.   In addition to writing, Steve’s interests include classical music and theatre.  He was also an ardent golfer “before skill deserted me.”
 
Steve joined BOLLI in 2016 and says that he has found it to be “a huge resource in my retirement which has fulfilled my desire to return to the humanities in my later years.”  The fine and varied program has also brought new friends.
As a member of  the Writers Guild,  Steve has treated the group to everything from poetry to memoir, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. This piece, an example of the latter, was written in response to the prompt:  “Best Friends Forever.” 

BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE

by Steve Goldfinger

He was born in China in 1898, the son of Presbyterian missionary parents.  He died 69 years later, leaving behind an estate worth a hundred million dollars.  Along the way, he was voted the most brilliant member of his Yale graduating class.  An ardent anti-communist, he urged Kennedy to attack Cuba, even saying to him, “If you don’t, I’ll be like Hearst,” meaning he’d use his magazines to push him to it.  He was a strong proponent (and rare user) of LSD.  His physical awkwardness, lack of humor, and discomfort with any conversation that was not strictly factual was starkly at odds with his glamorous wife’s social poise, wit, and fertile imagination.

Henry Luce embarked on a career in journalism, and before he bought Life magazine in 1936, he and a partner had already taken on both Time and Fortune.  His yen to own Life was based purely on its name and how well it would couple with that of Time.  His wife Clare saw a grand opportunity to found an entirely new media genre: photojournalism.  Before they purchased it, Life magazine had been a declining vehicle for the kid of light-hearted, sophisticated, clean humor that it’s readers had outgrown.  Under the Luces, its new mission statement opened with “To see life, to see the world…”  How it succeeded!

Within four months, Life’s circulation rose from 380,000 to over a million, and it eventually exceeded eight million.  It became the most popular magazine of its time.  Renowned photographers captured riveting images for the eyes of the nation: the D-Day landings, aerial views of the remains of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, faces of the Nazis at the Nuremberg tribunal, and, most famous of all, the iconic kiss the sailor planted on that nurse in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II.  And as more print invaded the magazine in the form of essays and memoirs, viewers became readers.  Life’s continued popularity brought great acclaim and great profits for more than three decades before it began its gradual fade in the 1970s.  Issues became less frequent and staggered to total cessation in 2000.  Rising costs were one reason.  Television was undoubtedly another.

In contrast to Henry’s somewhat colorless persona, Clare Boothe Luce led a stunning public life.  She was an early feminist, an actress, a successful  playwright, and then a war reporter, journalist, politician, congresswoman, and ambassador.  Attending opening night of one of her plays were Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann.  Among the quips attributed to her are, “No good deed goes unpunished” and “Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage.”  While ambassador to Italy, she was poisoned with arsenic.  Initially suspected to be Russian espionage retaliation for her outspoken anti-communism, the cause was eventually found to be arsenate in the paint flaking off her bedroom ceiling.  “Broadway’s New Faces, 1952” famously portrayed her illness at Toothloose in Rome.  Clare Boothe Luce died in 1987.  By the end of her life, she had become a fervent supporter of Barry Goldwater and a Nixon appointee to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Arguably the most influential and envied power couple of their time, Henry and Clare Boothe Luce made numerous friends for life.  They were also the best friends for  ,

The BOLLI Journal’s First Annual Literary and Artistic “Salon”

KICKING OFF THE 2018 BOLLI JOURNAL

by Maxine Weintraub, Editor 

The BOLLI Journal committee hosted its first lunchtime program on Monday. November 14th—a literary and artistic “salon” in the spirit of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.  We drank alcohol-free bubbly and indulged in cheese and crackers, brownies and grapes as we explored the creative process and its place in the BOLLI Program.  Steve Goldfinger’s poetry (below left), Barbara Jordan’s photos and paintings (middle with Marjorie Roemer), and Jane Kay’s (right with Margie Arons-Barron) tale of a lovingly remembered childhood icon, a blue glass slipper, delighted the audience.  Listening to each of these creative BOLLI members answer questions from Marjorie Roemer, Sue Wurster, and Margie Arons-Barron brought into focus the way in which BOLLI members change and grow as they explore and develop new talents within the BOLLI environment.

Thanks to all who came and participated.  We look forward to many more such programs and invite all of our BOLLI members to become involved with the next Journal issue.  Please submit your poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photos, and art to the Journal – submissions open from now until June of 2017.  In the spirit of sharing, we include the brownie recipe–not from the Toklas’ cookbook and with no hidden ingredients.  In fact, the recipe includes no leavening agents at all!

For specifics on the submissions process, please click here for the BOLLI Journal flyer.

brownies

MAXINE’S (Not Alice’s) BROWNIE RECIPE

Grease and flour a 9 x 12” pan                                                                     preheat oven to 350                                                                                                        in saucepan, melt two sticks of butter and one 4 oz package                            unsweetened chocolate                                                                             remove from heat                                                                                                         beat in two cups of sugar and one teaspoon vanilla                               beat in four eggs                                                                                                             mix in one cup of all-purpose flour                                                                       fold in one package semi-sweet chocolate bits                                           pour into prepared pan                                                                                            bake until done (about 25 minutes, depending upon your oven)     cool on rack and try not to eat them all at one sitting.

Possible variations on this recipe are endless.  Any kind of chocolate chips will do.  Try adding a fruit cup mix at holiday time.  Nuts. Almond flavoring.

Maxine Weintraub reading
BOLLI Journal Editor, Maxine Weintraub

Maxine Weintraub, who heads the 2018 BOLLI Journal committee as editor, is no stranger to arts and letters magazines.  She is a regular contributor to The Goose River Anthology and has produced two volumes of her short stories.

 

MEET MEMBER MARILYN BROOKS: MYSTERY MAVEN

At BOLLI, we seem to have a host of members who enjoy good mysteries. So, when I discovered that Marilyn Brooks writes a blog in which she reviews mysteries old and new, I went right for it–and it is, of course, terrific…as is Marilyn herself!

MEET MEMBER MARILYN BROOKS

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I’ve always been a reader, starting with Nancy Drew (my favorite, of course) and going on to Cherry Ames and Sue Barton.  The last two are nurses, but there were always mysteries in the novels.  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!

I don’t collect in that I don’t buy first editions or valuable books, but I do have a couple of hundred mysteries in my house.  Since I started writing my blog more than six years ago, publishers have even been sending me books to review, so I’ve been gratefully adding those to my bookshelves.

My husband Bob and I, both originally from Brooklyn, have been living in Needham for forty-six years.  We have two grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren.  I was the academic administrator for the Latin American and Latino Program at Brandeis for seventeen years, retiring in 2010.

Our older son Rich, who owns a web site design and social media company in Portland, Maine, kept saying I should start a blog because I read non-stop.  I countered by saying that I could not imagine why anyone would care what I thought.  He countered by saying that I knew more about mysteries than anyone he knew.  Eventually, he convinced me, and I reluctantly started blogging.  Turns out I love doing it.

I should add that, after a couple of years of blogging, my husband suggested contacting the author of each book I covered, letting him/her know about the review.  I started doing that, and I’ve been amazed by the positive responses I’ve had from authors, ranging from first-time writers to those who’ve been writing for decades.  Some have even linked to my blog from their Facebook pages or Twitter accounts.  Those letters, plus the excitement of getting new books from various publishers, add to the pleasure I get from writing a weekly blog.

I joined BOLLI in 2010, shortly after I retired from Brandeis.  Since then, I’ve taken two courses each semester and have also taken several winter/summer seminars–they’ve all been stimulating and enjoyable; I’ve learned so much on so many topics.  The SGLs have been uniformly excellent, and I’m always impressed by the knowledge that my classmates have on a wide variety of subjects.

My blog, published every Saturday, is www.marilynsmysteryreads.com.

A “SWEEPING” MEMOIR by Margie Arons-Barron

A member of Marjorie Roemer’s current Memoir Writing course, Margie Arons-Barron recently shared this gem.  The group’s task was to write about a saying (or sayings) that was (or were) common in our families or communities.  Margie’s charmed all of us–and will do the same for you!

BURIED WITH HER BISSELL

By Margie Arons-Barron

bissell

Great-aunt Rose was a bookkeeper at Flah’s Department Store in Syracuse, NY and a spinster.  I understood neither term. What I did know was that she had a pinched face and lived by the credo that “you clean up as you go along.”  I learned that that meant you didn’t wait for people to finish their meals in a leisurely way.  If their forks paused mid-air for conversation, she swooped in, scooped up their plates, and removed them to the kitchen.

Her sister, my nana, apparently inherited the Klein girls’ clean gene.  Nana had a big nose, ample bosom, and ear lobes like a cocker spaniel’s. She smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, especially when talking on the phone. When the call ended, she’d put out her smoke, dump the ashes, and wash the ash tray.  As soon as visiting friends started to leave, she’d appear with her Bissell carpet sweeper, methodically removing every piece of lint from the grey/green broadloom. She asked to be buried with the Bissell.

Nana taught me the rudiments of cooking, but it was really cook, clean, cook, clean. Wash and dry measuring cups halfway through the recipe. Wipe counter immediately when flour spilled. “Clean up as you go along,” she’d repeat.  “It will be so much easier.”  Her compulsion came from the shame she’d experienced long ago.  After a party she and Grandpa had given, they went to bed without cleaning up. Grandpa took sick during the night. When the doctor arrived at the house, he saw ashtrays overflowing, pots and pans in the sink, gold-edged dinner plates covered with congealed gravy, and high-ball glasses with Scotch diluted by melted ice cubes. Nana never got over the mortification.

Though doctors no longer make house calls, the obsession survives with me.  I still wash, dry, and put away the measuring spoons before the pan is in the oven. No matter how late guests depart, when I go to bed, the crystal is hand-washed and replaced in the cabinet. The serving pieces are dried and put away, the dishwasher is loaded and running. The table cloth and napkins are in the washing machine. It, too, is running. It’s a wonder I still entertain.

I’m not as bad as my Aunt Ethel. Once, when Uncle Mitch awoke at three a.m., she made his bed.  Grumbling, he took a pillow and went to sleep in the bathtub.

My husband grew up in a household where a trip to the refrigerator was an archeological dig. Chaos was called creativity. He has yet to learn that his cereal bowl gets dried and put away, not left to drain; that the knife from his banana will clean more easily if it doesn’t sit on the counter all day; that overnight soaking of casseroles is just an excuse for leaving the scrubbing to someone else.  He’d like to cook more, but he needs more clean-up practice to make that work.

“Clean up as you go along” is why I take care of the finances, not putting off paying bills on a monthly or even weekly schedule. It’s why my kids learned they could outwait me when it came to straightening their room, making their beds, or putting dirty jeans in the washer.

A clinician might accuse me of being anal. I say it’s efficiency and high executive skills.  Besides, it’s easier to clean up as you go along.

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Margie Arons-Barron

After a long and successful career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI this past year. In addition to Marjorie’s memoir course, she has taken Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing courses and has been an active member of the BOLLI Writers Guild.  She is now a member of 2018 BOLLI Journal staff as well.  She still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here.

 

 

A CLASS ACT: Memoir Writing

WHAT HAVE WE HERE?

by Marjorie Roemer

The following pieces represent just one week’s response to a writing prompt in my BOLLI course Journeying Toward Discovery: Writing and Remembering (fall of 2014). The assignment was a classic one:   write in response to a photograph or other visual image, a painting or a drawing.  Put yourself in the picture, or write about the history of the photograph . . . how you see it now, how you experienced it then.

For me, these pieces are not necessarily examples of the best writing to come out of this remarkable group of writers, but they are significant for the spotlight they throw on what BOLLI members bring to their courses.  The assignment is an old chestnut, one we might give to kindergartners as well as to senior citizens . . . write about an image, a task that brings to the fore the depth of experience that informs everything we do and say.

The pieces which follow give some insight into the range of that experience and how imagination and history together shape consciousness.

 

CHIACCHIERA

By Sam Ansell

SAM

What have we here? Why it’s a Ken Heymen photograph of three little girls enjoying a hen fest.  (In Italian, “gossip” is the onomatopoetic word chiacchiera, pronounced key-AHK- ee-AY-rah.)

The redhead on the right is no doubt dishing up the dirt on some mutual acquaintance.  She’s leaning forward in confidential mode but is glancing to the left to make sure unwanted listeners aren’t overhearing.  Notice how she’s clutching her stomach as if trying to contain her excitement.

On the left, the little blonde beauty is leaning forward so as to drink in every detail.  She’s so absorbed that’s she’s on one leg, scratching it with the other. (God help the local boys when this one reaches adolescence.) Meanwhile, the brunette in the middle seems somewhat limp and uncomfortable, her pained expression hard to read.  Maybe she’s a little out of her depth with these high-powered gossip mongers. Maybe she’s afraid the gossip will get back to the person or people under discussion and she’ll be blamed.

What makes the episode especially ironic are the dolls, reminding us that these are the future mothers of America.  Our lovely blonde is clutching her doll tightly in a sort of protective mode. The girl in the middle again shows anxiety: she almost seems to have forgotten that she has a doll while the little redheaded babbler on the right has left her doll in a baby carriage – gossip is more fulfilling than doll supervision.

Another remarkable fact about the picture is the symmetry. The four heads (including the middle girl’s doll) form an elongated diamond while the same doll is the fulcrum of the whole shot.

This picture is an example of what the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson calls “the decisive moment”: The moment in which an experienced photographer, taking in a thousand details, grasps that those details will shortly coalesce into something very special and has a camera at the ready.  The Inexperienced would only have seen three girls yakking, but Ken Heyman instinctively recognized that something extraordinary was about to happen and got the right shot. It takes only a fraction of a second to shoot a great picture; it takes a lifetime of experience and great talent to anticipate and get it.

 

RE-READING A PHOTOGRAPH

By Marjorie Roemer

marjorie

Nobody liked this picture.   Nobody even liked the vacation.  It’s March 1992, a celebration for my mother’s 86th birthday.  We are at Penn State, where my daughter Liz was working on her PhD. After having done a big party in New York for my mother’s 75th birthday, I decided that we should do something special for each one of her birthdays. I can’t remember all of them. This would be the next to last, a long weekend visiting Liz in State College. I arranged to have my son David and his wife Celeste fly up from Boston, my mother fly up from Florida, and I flew in from Cincinnati. We had a suite at a Sheraton hotel, I think, replete with Jacuzzi. It should have been fun. My husband Don decided, perhaps wisely, to pass on this particular festivity.

I don’t remember too much about the weekend. We went out for a number of dinners at the best restaurants in town. I remember ordering a cake from a bakery and having it served at one dinner. What went wrong? Liz was probably distracted with work and felt this to be an intrusion. I have only three clear memories: Liz’s car was making a funny sound and my mother said: “Let your brother look at it. He’ll know what’s wrong.” That didn’t play well. Then at the big dinner for her birthday celebration with the cake, I said to my mother: “You have a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth.” She replied: “Can’t you ever say anything nice?” And finally, I ran the Jacuzzi and somehow managed to turn it on when there was not quite enough water in the tub. The water went flying around the bathroom like some kind of dramatic wind and rain storm. I can’t remember now if I had to call for help in my naked predicament. I just remember it as a small disaster.

And finally, the picture. I thought it would be fun to have a family picture taken, so I arranged for this one at the Mountain View Studios. The photographer was very nice, and that part was sort of fun. He took a lot of shots. In the end, when I got the proofs, they were pretty disappointing. There was not one picture where everyone looked good. I remember going to a bar in Cincinnati with my friend Susan Durst, a photographer, and asking her to help me choose the best. We spread them out on a table and studied them. Finally, we hit on this one as the one where no single one of us looked embarrassingly awful. When I sent the pictures to the family, everyone complained. “That’s a terrible picture of me. I hate it,” they said.  My mother wouldn’t even look at it.

Now, some twenty-two years later, I don’t mind looking at it.

 

MISSING PIECE

by Jane Kays

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The torn black and white photo leaves me in the dark. One person was ripped away, and it is my father who survived the separation. He is fancily suited and shod as if for an occasion.  In another photo, wearing the same attire, he stands beside his daughter, Charlein. I could call her my sister or step-sister, but she was born in 1918, and the years between us create a disconnect.

jane kay 2

            Who tore the photo, and why?  More importantly, who was removed? I have studied this off and on for some time, always wondering and creating different scenarios.  In the one unripped photo where Charlein stands with our Dad, her white dress, soft and innocent at her ankles, the crushed band that encircles her waist, and then more softness surrounding her breasts, perhaps not yet fully developed, support the idea that she may be a teen.

Her Dad, my Dad, wraps his arm around her waist, a dad-hug way. She reaches across his shoulder to drape her fingers along his arm, making these two a snug fit, genetically entwined. How often have they embraced while Charlein spent most of her life, since infancy, living with her aunt, away from her father?

I sleuth through other photos looking at my father’s hairline, new wrinkles, and the style of his suits to appropriately age him as he poses in this picture. I notice he wears wing-tipped spectators, popular in the thirties. And I decide that these photos were taken when he was married to his second wife, Dorothy.

Was it Dorothy who was torn away and even thrown away? And might this be Charlein’s high school graduation? And did they all attend together? The weather is warm, springlike. My imagination buoys me and I am ready to answer all my questions about the torn photograph.

When my father met my mother in the late thirties, perhaps even while married to Dorothy, he brought his belongings to their new apartment in Lynn, Massachusetts. Before he packed, he sorted through pictures and tore the one remaining picture he had of his former wife and himself. And eerily, my mother, his new wife, would have these as keepsakes to show me what my father looked like.

Rousseau once wrote, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

So, in the boundless stretches of my imagination I decide that this is what happened to the torn part of the photograph until I look closer with a magnified interest. I notice something white along my father’s pant leg, and something dark near the side of his face, and I notice fingers on his shoulder. They are traces of Charlein that survived the tear, her hair, dress, and her hand laying upon our father’s shoulder.

Now I know the real story. She was the one who tore the photograph because her high school boyfriend wanted a keepsake.

 

WHERE THE PATH LEADS

by Margie Nesson

margien

The ancient arches of this passageway reflect my personal images of my family’s inspirational history.  Their winding journey began from two different geographical starting points–my maternal grandfather Yisroil Myerson began his exodus in Odessa, and my father Mendel Garb left Komai, Lithuania. I envision their two paths converging at the entrance to this painting.

This cobblestone alley opens with sheltered light that represents the ways in which the lives of Yisroil and Max were illuminated by the teachings of their faith and the love of their families, guiding them toward a brighter future.  Yisroil and Mendel left home with lessons learned from their own fathers in regard to the importance of family loyalty and their obligation, as Jews, to study Torah.

The bright entrance to this artfully rendered passageway soon leads me to its dark and shadowy recesses. The shadows represent Yisroil and Mendel’s memories of their families’ struggles to survive the tyranny of Russia. Their perilous and disparate journeys, represented in the darkened shadows of this passageway, are the foundation on which our family’s commitment to justice and our compassion for those traveling difficult journeys was built.

Yisroil’s memories, represented in the dark shadows before me, bear witness to the oppression he experienced in the Russian pogroms of the 1890’s. Mendel’s shadowy memories began with the slaughter of Russian Jews during the 1917 Revolution.   I imagine this amber-colored passageway as similar to those that Yisroil and Mendel trod upon during their escapes to freedom.

A pious young man, Yisroil, began his journey from Odessa to Palestine in 1896. Leaving home, he and his brothers were bound to seek refuge in the land of our ancient ancestors, now known as Israel. Together, the three siblings made it as far as Vilna, but amidst the city’s crowded streets and alleyways, Yisroil became separated. He searched for his lost family for weeks, to no avail.  He was alone and set out to make own way.  His path took a risky detour, diverting him from the direction of Palestine.  Alone, bolstered by his faith in his God, he made his way to London where he found employment as a tailor’s apprentice.   After two years, he had saved enough money to purchase passage on a ship bound for America.

Twenty-three years later, in the middle of the night, Mendel narrowly escaped from his family home in Komai.  With only the clothes on their backs and a satchel containing their prayer book and Sabbath candlesticks, Mendel and his younger brother escorted their ailing mother on a harrowing and heroic journey.  Hiding from the murderous mobs advancing on their village, this brave threesome crept through neighboring villages in the dark of night, finally reaching the train station in Rokiskis. Hiding in a freight car, they made their way to Denmark where they boarded the ship that brought them to America.

As Yisroil and Mendel embarked on their treacherous and winding journeys,  they finally reached their  sunlit paths. Quite possibly, their dark passageways were illuminated from above, as is the one pictured here.

Yisroil and Mendel’s families had instilled in each of them a strong faith and a sense of determination that provided them with the strength they needed to overcome the incredible obstacles each encountered on his journey to freedom.   Their collective faith and individual acts of bravery provided their progeny, my family, with an inspiring legacy as we make our way in the modern world.

 

OLÉ

by Carolyn Allen

CAROLYN

For several fun years, Bob and I were invited to a Halloween party at a big house on West Newton Hill. Despite the fact that most of the other guests were outfitted as elaborate French kings, Russian peasants, or whimsical unicorns straight out of a box while ours were home-made-in-NewtonAmerica, we always walked away with First Prize.

One year, I decided Bob would make a perfect Spanish Lady, and, being the good sport he was, he readily agreed. I climbed the rickety ladder to the eaves of the garage.  Ignoring the November cold and those scary might-be mouse droppings, I rummaged through boxes of costumes, many sewn by me, and others filled haphazardly with sleeping pieces waiting to be awakened by imagination.

I discovered a ruffley red underskirt, black stretchy slippers, a black bejeweled sweater and a lushly fringed shawl.  At CVS, I found queen-sized sparkly black pantyhose.   A long black wig with saucy bangs, a big red rose, and an ivory fan completed The Look.

Bob took the costume for a trial run. Have you ever seen a man put on pantyhose? Bob lay down on our bed, stuck one leg straight up in the air, and, holding the pantyhose at arms’ length, vainly tried to wriggle his whole leg in from the top.

The night of the party, our daughter Laura channeled Percy Westmore, make-up artist to the stars.   In the mirror, As Laura blue-shadowed his eyelids and layered on rouge and lipstick, Bob wiggled his brows at himself provocatively, flirting mercilessly with his own reflection.

“You know,” he said fetchingly to his image, “I could go for you.”

Laura finished the transformation by penciling a black beauty mark atop Bob’s cheekbone.

“Laura,” he complained, “shouldn’t the beauty mark be bigger?”

“Dad,” she snapped back, “it’s in proportion to the beauty!”

Another First Prize in the bag.

We made our costumes do double-duty. After Halloween, they became the theme of our annual New Year’s cards, with appropriate punny greetings:

  • Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (“Would that you be granted a Happy New Year”)
  • A Medieval Serf (to my Queen Pretensia) (“Happy New Year from the Middle Agers”)
  • A Chocolate Moose (to my Julia Child)
  • A Bag of Bovung Cow Manure (to my Burpee Seed Catalog)

As I stare at this picture of Bob the Spanish senorita of 25 years ago, I am drawn back to a time of innocence, a time we didn’t know couldn’t last forever.

Olé!

LOST AND FOUND

by Lois Sockol

boys

At times, I was lost. Sometimes I still am. So much of me was consumed by mothering that that is who I became. It’s hard to move away to begin again the search for whom I might still be. Torah says, “God loves becoming.”

For so many years, school schedules, after school sport teams, school reports, doctor’s appointments, tending scraped knees, comforting hurts, and the routine daily tasks,. . . washing, shopping, preparing meals. . . consumed my days, infusing them with purpose, meaning, occasional tears, much laughter and love. That was the surge of my life.

Then, slowly and surely as they must, my sons’ wings took flight. First there was college, which meant less and less time as a family unit living together under the same roof where we were busy in our own and each other’s lives. Time morphed into natural separations: new jobs away from home, happy marriages, independent self-sufficient lives. How blessed I felt by it all. Our sons grown to be the fine character-driven men I had hope they would become. And how splendid and lovely were the women they married.

Yes, we had transitioned through life’s big moments. The ones I always knew were coming but for which , to my surprise, I was emotionally unprepared. I hadn’t imagined the emptiness.  I was teaching school, doing the work that satisfied me. There were activities. . . town meeting, Temple committees, the library trusteeship, friends, the trips Ron and I took, the dictates of writing and the demands of teaching, but still, it was not enough to squelch the loneliness.

Grow up, I told myself. Did you really expect to stand still, to halt the natural cycles of life? To stop the world from spinning? Did you really want that to be? Is that who you are? Of course not, I love my life as it’s unfolded, my boys as men, and cherish the children they brought into my world. The truth is that the good things that are gone have paved the way for the splendid life I now know.

In time, I too broke free of my chrysalis and, with a nascent sense of liberation, stretched my own wings a sense of release I’d never been conscious of before.

Time need not be spent but savored. No rush to manage all things. I drank in the luxury of reflection and contemplation. There is no preaching in solitude. There are no demands or obligations, no shifting of ideas in order to please.  These quiet times are sanctuaries, where, if I listen, a spark, a thought, a truth may be revealed to help me answer my greatest puzzle.  Who am I? What does my existence mean?

And so, just as my life was once a turbulent sea, it is now a quiet pond, still fed endlessly by my love for my husband, my grandchildren, my grown sons, but also the waters where I leisurely move closer to me.

 

THE INCIDENT AT ROCKAWAY BEACH, 1943

Was It My Fault?

by Eleanor Jaffe

eleanor

The war was on. My uncles were in the army, but my family was intact. In that summer of 1943, my parents rented an apartment on the beach block, 128th Street, in Rockaway. The apartment was one flight up in a small brick house. The landlord lived downstairs. This living arrangement was a great novelty for us since, the rest of the time, the five of us lived in a Brooklyn apartment on the fourth floor of a large apartment house.

The summer before, when our baby brother was born, my sister and I had been shipped to sleep-away camp for two months.  But this summer was different. We were all together, and the sand and the ocean were just one half block away.  No streets to cross, just load our stuff–blankets, towels, snacks, and pails and shovels on to a wagon and shuffle under our loads down the hot pavement to the hotter sand.  Mother and baby brother David led the parade down the street.  Dad worked in Manhattan most of the time.  The beach was so big, and we could play all day, making wet sand pies, slipping in the wet sand at the water’s edge, in, then out of the water.

In August of that summer, I turned seven years old, and Frances was then.  In the faded color photo of us, she is a full head taller than I am, and I am looking up at her. I always looked up to her. She is blond, and my skin and hair are dark.  I trailed after her; she more or less ignored me in favor of her friends.

The beach was wide and deep, maybe five miles long.  Tides shifted, and the water crept up the beach, then slowly backed down the other way.  Often, the waves were big and came crashing down on us. The undertow could be very strong. I think lifeguards were supposed to be on duty every few blocks, but they must have been few and far between. There was a war on, you know.

I learned to plow through the crashing waves to reach the relative calm water beyond.  I loved the swirling ocean waters, floating on my back, the water too turbulent to swim in more than a few strokes at a time. I suppose our general instructions were to stay together, and so, Frances and I would plunge into the waters together, often with another tall ten-year old friend for company.  I stayed right up with them, dancing from one foot to another in the deep and deeper water, struggling.

I can’t remember being in trouble in the water; it hadn’t registered that way with me. I don’t remember feeling panicked, but I must have been in deep, dangerous waters because I recall that a little skinny lady grabbed me and pulled me to the shore. She asked where my mother was.  I pointed her out: the lady with the baby on the blanket, reading.

My rescuer marched determinedly over to my mother, and proceeded to let her have it! Her little girl had been in danger of drowning, and where had she been?  Didn’t my mother know that the ocean was dangerous? Little girls needed active supervision. The undertow was strong. A good mother should be responsible and should stand and watch and supervise, not sit on her rear end.

I just stood there, not knowing what to think. This lady was yelling at my mother. Nobody ever yelled at my mother. How could this be happening? I think my mother stayed quiet. My mother certainly could raise her own voice and yell and criticize, but not this time. Baby brother David played quietly in the sand. I stood awkwardly at the edge of the blanket. Other people must have been looking and watching.

There the memory and the scene end. I don’t know if we girls had new rules for the beach. I don’t know if my mother hugged me after my rescue, my almost drowning. I don’t know if Frances was criticized for ignoring me in the water. What I learned that day was that Mothers, too, might act in ways that lead others to yell at them. That was a shock. Somehow, I had made that happen. Maybe it was my fault….

WHAT IS EVERYONE THINKING ABOUT?

By Suzanne Art

SUZANNE

It’s a beautiful warm summer day, and the boaters have stopped along the Seine at Maison Fournaise. They are relaxing on the balcony, savoring the remnants of fruit, cheese, and the local wine. It’s a time of warm comradery, isn’t it?  And yet, everyone seems lost in thought.

Aline, the seamstress who will soon wed the painter of the picture, Renoir, sits at the table in the foreground. She coos lovingly to her shaggy little grey lapdog, Foufou.  There’s no one else around that she’d care to talk to, since the man of her dreams is busily wielding his paintbrush.  She can’t wait for him to finish his sketch so that they can all resume their leisurely voyage along the Seine, and she can snuggle once again in her lover’s strong yet gentle arms.

Opposite Aline, while she is absorbed with Foufou, impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte seizes the moment to gaze longingly at her.  If Renoir were not his very good friend, how swiftly he would act upon his strong attraction to the fetching young girl. He is unaware of the dark eyes of the actress, Angele, who looks at him as longingly as he looks at Aline.  She, in turn, doesn’t seem to notice the attentions of young journalist Adrien, standing behind her.  It seems as though everyone only has eyes for someone who only has eyes for someone else.

Louise, the daughter of the proprietor, leans casually on the railing, taking in, with a bemused smile, what is going on at Aline’s table. She fails to notice the young man in the brown bowler who has turned in his chair and is so absorbed in her.  Louise’s brother Alphonse leans against the railing directly behind Aline, feeling bored. He’s hoping it is almost time to end the luncheon and get everyone back to the boat.

To Louise’s left, in the center of the picture, Ellen, an actress, drinks from her glass, paying little attention to her table companion. He seems to be waiting for her to take notice of him, but she is lost in her own thoughts. Or is it the young man in the brown bowler who occupies her attention?

In the background stands a man in a tall silk hat.  He is Charles, wealthy art collector and the editor of the Gazette des Beaux Arts. He is chatting amiably with his personal secretary Jules. But is he really listening to his underling?

In the upper right corner are Renoir’s close friends Eugene, an art collector, and Paul, another artist. Paul has his arm around the waist of an actress named Jeanne. She responds to the flirtations of Eugene and Paul by putting her gloved hands up to her ears. Not the response they were hoping for.

It certainly does seem to be time to move on. No one is really enjoying anyone’s company, since everyone seems to be at cross-purposes.

This painting reminds me of what is wrong with our modern society. Picture a bustling café, perhaps just your local Starbucks. Every customer is totally absorbed in his own media device – even the servers are making notes on the store computer – and no one seems to be aware of what’s happening in the here and now.

 

WHITE MAN’S HISTORY

by Quinn Rosefsky

Quinn

1919, a bitter cold morning on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. ‘Hehaka Sapa’, Black Elk, wraps his blanket snuggly around his shoulders. He watches as black smoke belches from the stack of a steam engine pulling a short line of passenger and freight cars. The chuffing slows and brakes screech as the mighty beast clanks to a halt. An eagle, its wings spread wide, flies high above the desolate railroad spur. The door of a weather-beaten box car slides open and a duffle bag hits the frozen earth with a thud. A tall young man in a khaki U.S. army uniform quickly follows, hoists the bag over a shoulder, and walks towards Black Elk.

Black Elk: “Eeeyuh, ‘Matoskah’, White Bear, my son, how was Europe?”

Black Elk knew in his heart that his son would return from fighting in The Great War and was proud that his son had served, fighting for the Great White Father in Washington. As did many others, he hoped that Lakota men fighting for their country would gain white man’s respect.    

White Bear:     “I was a sharp-shooter. I scared many Germans.”

Black Elk:        “Or sent them to the Creator.”

White Bear:     “I said a prayer for each one I killed.”

Black Elk:        “That is our way.”

White Bear opens the duffle bag and rummages inside. “I met a photographer on the troop ship that carried us home; but he got sick, as did many others, from what they called ‘The Flu’. He didn’t think he’d survive and gave me this album. It is filled with pictures.”

Black Elk’s eyes darken. “Show me.” Black Elk grasps the worn album tightly and turns the pages slowly, releasing one of the photos, which drifts to the ground.

White Bear picks up the photo, turns it over, and reads names written in faded black ink. “Buffalo Bill, Capt. Baldwin, Gen. Nelson A. Miles, Capt. Moss, and others, on horseback. These names mean nothing to me.”

Black Elk:        “We must do a sweat. Then we will know.”

Holding an eagle feather to waft smoke, Black Elk smudges White Bear with burning sweetgrass. Both then enter the sweat lodge and sit. Black Elk lights a fire beneath a dome of rocks, waits until the rocks are hot, then pours water on them, filling the room with mist. The two men close their eyes. When they know it is time, they open them. Men in blue U.S. army uniforms and others in dark black suits shimmer in the mist.

First Soldier: “First thing you know, they started shooting at us from all directions. Painted warriors. We held our fire, but there were too many of them.”

Second Soldier: “We only fired at the ones with rifles. But there were so many.”

Third Soldier:  “Fortunately, we had the Hotchkiss Gun.”

Man in dark suit: “You were brave men. Our country thanks you. You have paid the debt owed to the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who died with Custer at Little Big Horn.”

The images fade. Black Elk again pours water on the rocks, releasing more mist. The images return. “These men speak no truth. They murdered women and children, old men. I was wounded, unable to raise my rifle, the dead piled on top of me. My shame still haunts me.”

Man in dark suit: “These men deserve medals for their bravery.”

Black Elk:        “Were our women and children so frightening?”

White Bear:     “White men have the power to write the history they need. We do not.”

White Bear and Black Elk remain in the sweat lodge, watch the white men congratulate one another and curse the Lakota until their images vanish. Then Black Elk pours water on the fire and, with his son, walks out of the lodge into a bitter cold starry night.

Twenty Medals of Honor were awarded to U.S. soldiers who fought at Wounded Knee.

 

THE PICTURE ON THE WALL

by Barbara Webber

barbarawebber

I used to skip by it, run up and down the hall by it, play with my blocks in front of it, idly stare at it, directly look at it and ponder a bit. What I pondered, I don’t know but what I do know is I did not like this picture. It showed two different kinds of leafy trees one on each side and in between some women arranged in old timey dresses standing on steps. Their severe demeanor scared me. I guess I dismissed it as something grandmothers kept around. It hung in the hall next to the far more interesting glass device filled with amber liquid which climbed up and down a spout and forecast the weather. I liked that one a lot. At ten years of age, I realized that the picture was talking about the lifecycle of women with the bottom step displaying a baby on the left under the spruce tree and a shriveled 100 year old woman under the drooping willow tree on the right. At the pinnacle point, rose a woman of 50 years and women of intervening ages stood tall on all the ascending steps and progressively stooped on all of the descending steps. Many of the women looked blank or unhappy and the older ones looked pinched and crabby.   An inset at the bottom contained a tombstone saying “Sacred to the memory of:  _______________”  where you could write in someone’s name.  My budding but limited awareness was such that death and life’s end was not my focus; what I really puzzled about was why my grandmother kept such a gloomy picture on the wall; surely there were happier scenes to put up.

My grandmother, my father’s mother never talked about it; my parents never said anything to me about it, but I doubt they thought the picture wonderful . Years later, after my father died, I must have packed it up and brought it to Boston in one of my many cardboard boxes.

I recently found the box and pulled out “Stages of a woman’s life from cradle to the grave. According to the picture, I am presently located on the second downward step and, the accompanying verse for each age notes, I am old, seek solace but only through church and when there, sit only in my allotted seat. The next step lower, shows me at 80 prattling nonsense, and at 90, I become a useless cumberer or burden on the earth; at 100, I am chained to a chair by age and knit, listlessly awaiting death.

It amazes me that this mass-produced 1850s Currier and Ives Lithograph rattled around my family for at least three and possibly five generations surviving move after move. It has minimal antique and no sentimental value and yet we all kept it. It is offensive to 21st century sensibilities and I should throw it out. But I won’t. Maybe my niece will know what to do with it.

 

A PHOTO IN  MIND

By Muriel Ladenburg

It is the summer of 1961 on one of the last days of our “Europe on $5.00 a Day” trip.  I am wearing the polished cotton dress with the scoop neck, three-quarter sleeves and dark green background splashed with huge orange flowers.  Although I have worn this dress throughout the two-month trip, it has kept its luster and shown none of the signs of wear I am feeling.  I have a toothache, and a friendly London Bobby sends us to the local station where he promises that one of the boys will “pop down to the commissary” and get me an aspirin, but when we arrive, we are invited to “pop down” ourselves.

It turns out the commissary is also an off-duty pub, and while one officer insists on sitting us at a small table and bringing us tea and sandwiches as well as my aspirin, the men at the bar are singing off-color songs about America.  As we get up to leave, having refused invitations to join the men at the bar, my husband decides to repay their hospitality by offering to buy a round.  Before I know it, we are involved in a drinking game in which I consistently win and drink and Tom repeatedly loses and pays, but we are charmed and entertained.

At some point, I am ushered to a chair, and sitting in my crisp and flowered dress, flanked by two officers, I am wearing a silly smile and a tall Bobby’s hat complete with chin-strap.  When my husband snaps the picture, I do not know that I will soon be sick and regret having had too much to drink.  I do not know that the offending tooth will need to be pulled the next day and that I will fly home with a mouth full of Novocain.  But of all the many slides we took that summer that now lie in a jumbled heap we never manage to sort through, this one in my mind has made the greatest imprint in my memory.

Jane Kay and Quinn Rosefsky continued to work on these pieces, submitting them to the 2016 BOLLI Journal which can be accessed by clicking below.  (You can increase print size by clicking on the magnifying glass icon.)

The BOLLI Journal is published every two years.  The 2018 issue is already in the planning stages.  Consider trying this exercise yourself and submitting the result!

 

 

 

MEET MEMBER LARRY SCHWIRIAN: Drawing on Experience

MEET MEMBER LARRY SCHWIRIAN: DRAWING ON EXPERIENCE

Larry
Member and Writer Larry Schwirian

I was born and raised in a small town on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh, the second of five children. I guess you could say my father was a small business person–he owned a milk hauling route, picking up raw milk from farmers and hauling it to a dairy. As cows give milk twice every day, this was a 365-day a year job, so we never took family vacations. Still, he managed to serve on the town council for over thirty years and twice served as mayor of the town. When my mother was fifteen, her mother died, and she became surrogate mother to her six younger siblings. So, I grew up with not only an older brother and three younger sisters but with sixteen girl cousins who all lived within walking distance. Our house was where everyone congregated for morning coffee, gossip, and news analysis.

At eighteen, I went off to Case Institute of Technology to study engineering but decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I transferred to Western Reserve to study architecture. It was there that I met my wife Caroline. A year after graduation from Case Western Reserve University, we were married, and a year after that, we moved to the Boston area, working as architectural novices in large firms in Cambridge. Very soon after that, the first of our three sons was born, and a few years after that, we moved into our historic home in the Auburndale section of Newton.

Over the next forty plus years, I worked for a number of large firms in the area and eventually became a project manager and/or a project architect. I had the opportunity to work on projects all over the country in addition to doing local projects like the Harvard Square Subway Station, The Wang Ambulatory Care Center at Mass General Hospital, Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, the addition to the old Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, and One Newton Place in Newton Corner.

In 2010, Caroline and I retired from our positions in large firms, and in 2011, we established our own firm, Caroline & Lawrence Schwirian, Architects LLC.  We still do some residential work, and I still do some technical consulting with larger firms, but for the most part, we have enjoyed retirement, watching our grandchildren grow, and trying to keep up with gardening, yard work, and house maintenance.

In the fall of 2015, we joined BOLLI, and, for the first term, just attended the Lunch & Learns. I also participated in the Sages & Seekers program and joined the BOLLI Writers Guild. For the second term, I signed up for Betsy Campbell’s “Five Stories in Five Weeks” writing class, Peter Carcia’s “The Art of Storytelling” class, Mary Ann Byrnes’  “The Elephant in the Room” class about metaphors, and Larry Koff’s class on “The Death and Life of Cities and Towns in Metro Boston.”  I enjoyed all the classes, but I especially relished the opportunity to refine my writing and storytelling skills.

Here is one of the nonfiction pieces Larry has done as a participant in the BOLLI Writers Guild.

GIFTED OR TALENTED

(In Response to the Prompt: “What a Remarkable Gift”)

What is the difference between being “gifted” and being “talented?” Although there are no generally agreed upon definitions for these two words, they are similar in meaning but are generally used in different ways.  The term “gifted” is most often, but not always, used in conjunction with intellectual ability and implies an innate quality. In many school placement decisions, individuals with IQ scores above 130 (the upper 2% on the bell curve) are generally classified as being “gifted.”  While a person’s IQ may or may not be a true measure of intelligence, it at least measures some innate ability. The term “talented” is most often used to describe someone with an acquired ability to perform significantly above the norm in any one of many different endeavors, including but not limited to music, art, food preparation, or athletics but typically not intellectual pursuits. A person becomes “talented” after much hard work and practice.

I am aware of no numerical scale that can be used to evaluate “talent” in music other than the number of records or albums sold by an artist, but it would be unfair and foolhardy to compare the “talent” of a classical violinist to a pop singer by this method. Similarly, there is no logical way to numerically evaluate a painter, a sculptor, or a chef.   Sports may be the exception.   In baseball, for example, the batting or earned run average can be used to evaluate a player’s performance.   In football, a quarterback can be evaluated based upon the percentage of passes completed, touchdown passes thrown, or number of games won, but you can’t really evaluate the “talent” of a defensive lineman by comparing it to the “talent” of a running back or quarterback.

Using the above meanings, it is possible to be “gifted” without being “talented” and “talented” without being “gifted.”   It is also possible to be both “gifted and talented,” which is probably the case for most people who rise to the very top in their respective vocations. It could be said that people like Madonna and Shakira are both “intellectually gifted” and “musically gifted” as well as being “talented.”   Many people would agree that Elvis Presley was “musically gifted” and “talented” but not “intellectually gifted.”  Many who don’t make it quite to the top can be very “talented” but not necessarily “gifted.”  Similarly, most lists don’t include Sharon Stone as being among the one hundred most “talented” actresses, but I have read that she has a nearly genius IQ of over 150.

While it appears there is at least some standard way to evaluate whether a person is “intellectually gifted,” there is no universally accepted, objective way to evaluate and compare the “talent” of two or more individuals.  One would have to say then that “giftedness” is innate, but “talent” is in the eye, ear, nose, or taste buds of the beholder.

You can leave comments for Larry in the box below.

 

 

MEET MEMBER MARJORIE ROEMER: “It Feels Like Choreography”

MARJORIE ROEMER: “IT FEELS LIKE CHOREOGRAPHY”

A Profile by Sue Wurster

Marjorie Roemer
BOLLI Member, SGL, Study Group Support Committee Chair, Writer, and more…

Every August, a group of writers and teachers of writing gather at the Bread Loaf Inn near Bread Loaf Mountain near Middlebury, Vermont for a ten-day conference. The New Yorker has called it “the oldest and most prestigious writers’ conference in the country.”  And this August, that group of prominent writers and teachers will include BOLLI’s own Marjorie Roemer.

Marjorie’s background as a teacher of writing is an impressive one, which includes her having served as director of the Rhode Island Writing Project and having been a frequent contributor to The Quarterly of the National Writing Project. Her scholarly publications have appeared in numerous professional journals; she has presented at a wide range of professional conferences; and, all along, she has taught.

At BOLLI, Marjorie’s memoir writing class has been a perennial favorite, with many participants, in fact, returning semester after semester.  (One class member has actually taken the course all nine times that it has been offered!) “I’m most relaxed when I’m teaching writing,” she says, “and after teaching everything from junior high through grad school, working on writing with this population is thrilling.” She explains that, in this setting, people write what is real, providing testaments to lives lived and reflected upon. “When we read and share, it is a stirring affirmation of our time of life and the wisdom that helps us to cope.”

And yet, writing and teaching writing were not Marjorie’s original path.  She actually started out as a dancer.

“I think I always danced,” she muses. “We did a lot of creative play in the neighborhood school I went to in Queens, so there was often a lot of movement.  I started lessons with Sophie Maslow at the New Dance Group when I was six.” Sophie Maslow, who danced with the Martha Graham company for nearly a decade, was, herself, a modern dance pioneer who founded the group. “Sophie did with us what modern dance teachers do with children—jumping over puddles, reaching up high for stars.  It didn’t seem serious enough to me, and I didn’t like it.  So I took ballet—and, to me, that was real dance! Eventually, when I was old enough to take the subway into the city, I studied at Ballet Arts at Carnegie Hall, and on Fridays, after class, I would go to City Center to watch the NYC Ballet Company. When I was a high school freshman, I finally saw Martha Graham, and it was a revelation. I began studying at the Graham studio and then, later, I was back at the New Dance Group—this time, with a new appreciation for puddles and stars. And then, I went to Bennington, in part because of its famous dance department.”

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Marjorie in a piece she choreographed about a medieval lady and a bird.

After graduation, Marjorie studied at the Jose Limon company on a scholarship. Classes were not only taught by members of the company but often by Jose himself whom she remembers as “a tremendously elegant man who wore black tights and a ruffled white dress shirt when he taught. I never danced with his company but with Joe Gifford and my then husband Martin Morginsky who both ended up forming companies in New York. We taught and performed at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. And then, I had a baby, needed to make a living, and began teaching junior high school.”

After a thoughtful pause, Marjorie says that, “teaching feels like choreography to me” and that, to this day, she still gets that “on-stage, it’s-here-and-now, rush” before every class begins. “I feel like my whole life has been ‘provisioning’ as I have looked to find the rhythm and the shape of it. Looking at a class this way gives me a sense of how I might shape it–but how I might improvise at the same time.”

This juxtaposition of planning and improvising seems to be central to Marjorie’s thoughts about dance, about teaching, and about life itself. “That idea of working with ‘the chance thing’ is so intriguing to me…surprising yourself—shaping but maintaining some wildness.” The poet Stanley Kunitz, she points out, says that, “when you pay too much attention, the garden becomes a landscape.”

Today, Marjorie’s writing takes a largely reflective bent—as is evident in the following sermon she wrote and delivered recently at the UCC in Franklin.

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RECALCULATING

A Sermon by Marjorie Roemer

I’m a retired English professor, but the sonnets of Shakespeare are not all memorized in my mind, in order 1 – 154. They are not even all entirely familiar. But one of them has always nestled in my thoughts, even before it had particular, personal meaning for me.   Sonnet 73. Here’s the first stanza:

                       That time of year thou may’st in me behold                                                                When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang                                                            Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,                                                    Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

The poem reflects on the waning of life, the time when most leaves are gone, when only a few yellow leaves remain. The branches that once were filled with birds are now bare, like the empty section of a church where the choir once was housed. The poem is about the November of life… that time of waning. Not the end, but toward the end.

Somehow, the poem always seemed resonant for me, but as my husband was struggling with brain cancer in the last year of his life, the words seemed more and more relevant, etched into my consciousness. Don died almost a year and a half ago, but the poem follows me around, stays with me as background music, a sound track for my life.

                       That time of year thou may’st in me behold                                                                When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang                                                            Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,                                                    Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

 So, now in my 76th year, I think about this November of life. There is much, always, to remind us about aging. The new aches and pains, the knees that don’t quite work the way they used to, the forgetfulness, the night blindness, the diminishment of some faculties, the many losses in our world, in our circle of friends, in our closest loved ones.

But perhaps nothing marks age for me as sharply as my incompetence with electronic devices. Four-year-olds can manage what I struggle with. My grandchildren need to be called in to show me, one more time, how to play the DVD, how to work the iPad, how to text. What is intuitive for them is not for me and seems to mark a dividing line between our lives. Even more significant than our differences in musical taste, or the TV shows we watch, or the movies that we go to are these differences in how we access information, place ourselves as receivers and senders of the pertinent facts about our lives.

If I manage to master one medium, they are already on to the next. I’m on Facebook, but they have moved onto to InstaGram or Twitter. I can manage writing on the computer, but I don’t blog, use wikis, crowd source, or podcast.

What I have finally managed to use is my GPS. For several years, I avoided it. That woman with the irritating voice always wanted me to get on 495 from exit 17 on 140 instead of the King Street exit 16. So, I found myself at odds with her from the beginning. I put away the device and said I’d get along without it, Googling directions in advance and printing out a map. But, recently, I’ve come to rely on the lady in the GPS. When I’m driving alone now and floundering, it is useful to have her tell me that in .2 miles I will be turning right. Or to have her let me know that I’ve got another 45 miles to go on this road and I’m likely to arrive at my destination just in time.

But if I have any idea where I’m going, that I want to come home on 495, not on 126, that I don’t want to drive through Framingham Center on this trip, that I won’t get off the highway at Forge Park . . . I hear that voice saying over and over again recalculating, recalculating.

It has become a new mantra for me . . . recalculating. As I move on to a life alone after 48 years of marriage, to a house without children in it, to a life after retirement, I find myself recalculating, taking a new path, making new choices in the November of my life. And in this “time of year thou may’st in me behold,” while there is no GPS to tell me where to turn or how many miles more I have to go, I have found remarkable guides along the way, a reminder that when you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the universe, it will respond, it will provide.

I began to search out supports. Suddenly, friends became more central to my life . . . the women’s group at the condominiums where I live, the people I know from BOLLI. Old friends. Things that were in the background of my life moved to the foreground. My children became essential to me in a way that was new. And I added some new things as well: painting classes at the Danforth Museum and attendance at the First Universalist Society in Franklin.

I did not grow up believing in a bearded man sitting in the sky keeping watch over my every move and listening to my every cry for help. But I can’t help but believe in some sort of benevolence in the universe, some way that the world can provide what we need if only we are ready to receive. I arrived at the church sort of unexpectedly, venturing tentatively one Sunday when I read there would be some Miles Davis music played. It was right down the street, easy to get to, easy to sit down, and easy to enter on the fringe of this community. The music was great. The feel of the place was interesting. Though the rituals were new to me, the feel of a sacred communal space was palpable. I stayed.

Eventually, I took a sermon writing class and found that the task of writing in a way that bears witness to your own experience while also offering some hopeful idea for others to grab on to was intriguing and challenging. For me, in this last year, the primary subject has been loss– how to deal with it, how to survive it, how to make something useful from it. Writing sermons offered me new ways to approach the problem. I’ve searched for images or situations that could name what I was experiencing. What I found was…Recalculating.

So, on my recalculated journey, what have I found? Certainly that there is love and support in the world that you may overlook when you are tightly enmeshed in your own self-sufficient, small cocoon. Possibilities for growth and new directions are there when you need them enough to seek them out.

The final couplet of that Shakespeare sonnet is:

               This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,                                  To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Those lines haunted me as Don was dying. Mortality is certainly something we all know about. Still, we come, at certain moments in our lives, to know mortality more acutely, more directly. So it was for us when the surgeon said: “The surgery was entirely successful; he has fourteen months to live.”   For fourteen months, we lived with that life-sentence hanging over our every minute. And it was true . . . those moments became more precious because we knew that they were few, that they would soon be gone.

And if there is something positive to be wrested from this ordeal, it is that sense of mortality that gives meaning and savor to life. It is because it is fleeting that life is so very precious; it is because it is finite that we have to use it well. And, in the end, it is love which is the enduring, transforming action. Love emerges as the stave against obliteration, the defense against loss.

In her online column, Heart Advice, the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron has some advice that can be applied here. She says:

YOU HAVE A CHOICE

If you have embarked on this journey of self-reflection, you may be at a place that everyone, sooner or later, experiences on the spiritual path. After a while it seems like almost every moment of your life you’re there, where you realize you have a  choice. You have a choice whether to open or close, whether to hold on or let go, whether to harden or soften, whether to hold your seat or strike out.  That choice is presented to you again and again and again.

In my words:    We can always recalculate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEET MEMBER MARGIE ARONS-BARRON: A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

Meet Margie Arons-Barron, accomplished “wordsmith” and enthusiastic BOLLI member.

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BOLLI freshman Marjorie Arons-Barron is president of Barron Associates, a communications consulting firm, and a blogger at www.marjoriearonsbarron.com

If she looks familiar to you, it could be because for 20 years she may have been a guest in your living room, telling you what to think about anything from the local sewer bond issue to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. You may not always have agreed with her. Even her husband doesn’t. Not all the time anyway.

Margie is well known for her long career as editorial director at WCVB-TV, Boston’s ABC affiliate. From 1979-1999, she also produced and often hosted Five on Five, back then the nation’s longest running, locally produced public affairs discussion program.

Margie has been honored with numerous awards, including three New England Emmy Awards and, for five consecutive years, the National Award for Excellence in Television Editorials from the National Broadcast Editorial Association.

Prior to Channel 5, Margie was an associate producer of PBS Television’s The Advocates (which, she confesses, was the most fun she ever had at work); a national political affairs writer for The Boston Phoenix (she’s glad she’s no longer covering national conventions); a reporter for WGBH-TV’s Ten O’Clock News and political editor of The Newton Times. (Covering the local scene is hardest of all because you end up in the CVS line next to someone you’ve just criticized in print.)

Margie is a passionate overseer emerita of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a director of the Mass. Broadcasters Hall of Fame. An honors graduate of Wellesley College, she received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Regis College.

Margie joined BOLLI last summer. Contrary to some critics of her editorials, she jokes, she has never written fiction. At BOLLI, she is now writing fiction and also memoir. She’s loving all her courses and exhilarated to pursue interests sidelined for nearly 50 years as she pursued a career and raised a family. Her two sons and five grandkids are still what she is proudest of. Her husband and best friend, Jim Barron, is an attorney and consultant and is writing a book with a working title of The Greek Connection, to be published next year by Melville House.

Margie wrote the following piece in response to “A Hole in the Bucket” Writers Guild prompt earlier this year.

 

A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

by Margie Arons-Barron

Tick. Tock.  Tick. Tock.  Warned the grandfather clock in the living room. Liza was running late. Nothing had gone right this morning. When the alarm went off, she wasn’t sure where she was. It took her a while to get her bearings. As her feet hit the hardwood floor, it suddenly came to her. She and Henry had an appointment at ten to take care of something legal. Was it their mortgage? No, they hadn’t had a mortgage for years. Update their wills? Yes, that was it. They were meeting the attorney–Asa what’s-his-name?–at the law offices because Henry had had an emergency appointment with the dentist to glue a crown back in his mouth. Liza and Henry had been together since they were children. After 45 years of marriage, it was patch, patch, patch.

She went to the closet and grabbed a pair of grey flannel pants with an elasticized waistband along with a tailored shirt. Was this grey or blue? It didn’t matter. Where were her socks? Maybe the ones left rolled up last night in her weather-beaten running shoes would do. She pulled them on and struggled with her shoelaces. Maybe it was time to go Velcro, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. It just didn’t look dignified. Finally, she was dressed.

There were two pink post-its on the bathroom mirror. “Brush teeth.” Which she did. “Put on lipstick.” She applied it as carefully as she could, her hand shaking slightly. Eyeliner and mascara were a thing of the past. She did the best to smooth her hair, noticing the widening band of grey at the root line. She’d have to do something about that. Maybe next week.

Tick. Tock. Tick.  It was 9:30. Henry had told her to take a cab to the lawyer’s, but, she figured, she still had time and wanted to drive. Where were her keys? Not in her purse. She looked frantically on her dresser, on her desk, in the front hall, in her coat pocket. Did Henry hide them? He really didn’t want her driving anymore. Neither, for that matter, did their son Malcolm or daughter Christine. But Liza was determined. She raced through the bureau drawers, then headed for the kitchen. Utensil drawers? Not there. Pots-and-pans shelf? Nope. She opened the refrigerator, and, there on the top shelf, were her keys. This was crazy. What had she been thinking? Had she also left a bottle of milk in the medicine chest?

Liza started to tremble, tears tumbling silently down her softly lined cheeks. What was happening to her? It was one thing to forget people’s names, especially if she hadn’t seen them in a while. She had done that for years. She remembered a concert reception when a familiar looking, elegant woman came toward them, smiling broadly.

How are you?

Fine, and you?

It’s wonderful to see you. It’s been too long. (What was her name?)

Do you know my husband, Henry Snodgrass?

“Nice to meet you, Henry, and do you know my husband, Burt?”

They parted five minutes later, Liza still unable to recall the woman’s name.

Lately though, things had gotten worse. If Henry hadn’t reminded her it was meal time, she would have forgotten to eat. Sometimes she had gone out to walk and had difficulty finding her way back home, though they had lived in their quiet Victorian neighborhood for nearly half a century. She had double paid some bills and neglected to pay others. So Henry had taken over the household finances, and Liza had raged against the loss of control. Some days, she just didn’t want to get out of bed. It was warm and safe, and she didn’t have to confront the myriad frustrations that plagued her daily life.

Tick. Tick. Time was running out. It was almost ten o’clock. She’d have to call a cab. As she reached for the phone, it rang. An unfamiliar voice asked, “Is this Liza Snodgrass? Ma’am, this is Captain Lynch at precinct 4. Are you the wife of Henry Snodgrass? Ma’am, I’m afraid there’s been a car accident. You’d best come to the Emergency Room at the General.”

“Ma’am? Ma’am? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

A garbled sound rose from deep inside her.

What was he saying? What did it mean?