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.
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
Even as her vision failed, my maternal grandmother always had her Bible, TheMorning 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.
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.
Lydia has become a frequent BOLLI Matters contributor, even creating her own monthly feature, “Lines from Lydia.”
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 ,
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
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.
MEET MEMBER LARRY SCHWIRIAN: DRAWING ON EXPERIENCE
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 acquiredability 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.
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.”
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.
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.
Meet Margie Arons-Barron, accomplished “wordsmith” and enthusiastic BOLLI member.
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?”
Karen grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and attended Pennsylvania State University, graduating with her BS, MA, and Ph. D. in Geophysics in 1969, 1972, and 1976. Dr. Wagner went to work for AMOCO Production Company in their research lab in Tulsa, OK and simultaneously became adjunct professor of mathematics at Tulsa University from 1977 to 1980. She also continued competitive fencing in the tri-state fencing league. She transferred to Houston, TX to work for a production division of AMOCO in 1980 where she both continued competition fencing and became an avid catamaran sailor. In 1982, Karen began working for Natomas Petroleum International out of San Francisco where she actively traveled and worked the Bahamas and South America. During her time in California, Karen became a wildlife vet technician working for the Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum on weekends. In 1984, she returned to Houston, TX to become Product Development Manager for Borehole Seismic work at Schlumberger North American Headquarters. This work took her to Europe, Alaska, and Japan. During her extended stays in Japan (where Schlumberger had a research lab on the outskirts of Tokyo), she continued to play kendo which she had begun studying under Darrell Craig at the Houston Budokan.
In the mid 1980’s with the oil bust, Dr. Wagner switched careers from oil to radar and moved to the Boston area to work for the MITRE Corporation. She spent 13 years working on different projects including ground penetrating radar and over-the-horizon radar. She continued her martial arts training at a Uechiryu Karate dojo studying under Walter Mattson. In 1999, Karen began working for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. She worked on the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS), the Stealth Bomber weapons load, and the Ballistic Missile Defense System. She became a Raytheon Six Sigma Expert along the way.
After 35 years in high tech, Karen left Raytheon in 2011 and began a sabbatical that involved BOLLI and the pursuit of all things relaxing. Along with several colleagues, Dr. Wagner became an SGL for the “Science Sampler: Five by Three” which gave students introductions to eclectic topics in science and ran for four semesters. After taking a writing course with Marilyn Katz Levenson, Karen discovered a talent for poetry which she pursues to this day in the BOLLI Writers’ Guild. She has been a contributor to the last two issues of the BOLLI Journal. A sample of her poetry is included here, entitled “Delayed Departures,” about a pirate ship chasing a Spanish galleon.
In my life before BOLLI, I taught 6-year-olds how to write stories. Now I am doing the same thing with 86-year-olds! No matter the age of the author, I am always surprised and delighted at the results. Everyone has stories to tell, and they are always different. I’ve been writing my own for years. Some are true. Most are fiction. But this part is true…. I taught high school English for a short while. Kindergarten and First Grade for a long while. I love Mozart Operas, Billy Collins’ poems, and the Boston Red Sox. When I’m not writing, or going to BOLLI, or rushing to catch the ferry, I’m at home reading and feeding the cat.
By Betsy Campbell
They stopped at Dunkin Doughnuts on the way to the Ferry. Alice had a small latte while Bill had a glazed doughnut and a large coffee with extra cream. She offered to drive the rest of the way while he ate. It was the least she could do under the circumstances. Cars were already driving up the ramp to the ferry when they arrived at the dock.
“They’re loading,” said Bill. “You better hurry.” He wiped a smear of sugar from his mouth and took a swig of coffee. She left her unfinished latte in the cup holder and got out to collect her bag from the trunk.
Bill opened the car window. “Got everything?”
“Yes. I’m all set.” She hoisted her shoulder bag in place and raised the handle on her roller bag.
“Bye,” she said. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Have fun,” he said and took another bite of doughnut.
Alice hurried up the gangplank and dragged her suitcase up a flight of stairs to the outside deck. She found a seat near the rail on the stern from where she could look down on the parking lot. Bill’s car was still there. He was probably still eating. A line of cars moved toward the loading ramp. Alice leaned on the rail, watching the activity below, trying to calm the sad, nervous feeling in her gut. She had done it. She had left him, and rightly so, for he hadn’t even bothered to kiss her good-bye.
She had moved into his place with great hopes, and it had seemed a happy choice at first. But, gradually, she saw that he was content with his routines. Frozen waffles every morning. Pasta for dinner every night. Sports radio and fantasy football. Even sex had to happen when the Red Sox had a day off or when there was no football on TV. Alice had tried to adapt to his ways, but there were things he didn’t notice. Little things that she tried to do for him. Clean sheets and towels didn’t matter to him. When she replaced a mildewed shower curtain with a new one, he didn’t care. He didn’t notice flowers on the table and had no taste for fresh green salads or healthy grains. She began to feel that there was nothing she could do for him. Sometimes she thought that, if she left, he wouldn’t even notice.
“Get out,” her friends advised. “You have to end it. He’s never going to change.”
But Alice hated making scenes. Even now, she had told him she was going to visit her sister for a few days without hinting that she might not be coming back. He had offered to drive her to the ferry, and when she said he needn’t bother, he had said, “No problem. I can listen to the game on the way back.”
With a blast on its horn, the ferry started to edge away from the dock. Alice looked down at Bill’s car and saw him fling open the door, jump out, and race toward the departing boat. He was looking up, searching for her among the passengers lining the rail, waving his arms, and yelling. Her heart jumped. He was calling her back! She leaned over the rail, straining to hear. him call her name.
“Alice! The keys! Where are my keys?”
As the ferry slid away, leaving an ever larger stretch of water between stern and shore, Alice slipped her fingers into her pocket and felt a familiar clump of keys. She knew, without looking, that they were attached to a New England Patriots key ring. She pulled them from her pocket, dropped them over the rail, and raised her empty hand to wave good-bye.
I was an elementary school teacher for over thirty years, Judy Blatt says, first in New York City and then in Sudbury. I retired in the year 2000. I always liked to write. While I was teaching, I wrote plays for the children in my classes.When I retired, I joined BOLLI and began to write both memoir and fiction. I swim laps early in the morning four days a week. There are no distractions in the pool, so it’s a perfect place to think and come up with ideas for stories.
Judy has been a “regular” participant in Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing classes, and her work is always applauded by her classmates and SGL. She is currently taking Betsy’s “Five Stories in Five Weeks” course, and the pieces she wrote for two of Betsy’s assignments are included here. For the first, “Waiting,” the task was to write a short piece about three people who are all waiting in line at the same place. And for the second, “How to Be the Life of the Party,” the challenge was to do an instructional piece using the second person point of view. As you will see, Judy’s point of view tends to take unexpected turns.
The line moved slowly past the open casket. The widow, hysterical just a few hours earlier, remained upright and subdued thanks to the family doctor’s injection and pills. As each mourner stopped to pay respects and murmur, “Sorry for your loss,” the grieving widow quietly thanked them. But as soon as they walked away, she turned to her daughter and whispered, “What will I do without him?” or “He was the perfect husband,” or “he was such a good man.”
Before long, every eye in the funeral home was on Lani–model, actress, drama queen and long-time mistress of the deceased. Dressed in a long black raincoat, sunglasses, and an ill-fitting black wig, she stood, sobbing loudly, in front of the open casket. Lani had announced beforehand that she would slip into the wake quietly and mingle with the crowd in order to go unnoticed by the widow. It was often said by those who knew Lani that she was dumb as a doorknob, but was she?
Benny Scorboni bent over the coffin and scrutinized the corpse carefully to make sure it was actually Gabe Hammer and that this wasn’t another one of his tricks. Satisfied that it was the man who owed him fifty thousand dollars, Benny longed to reach in, grab the dead guy, and kill him all over again. Now he would never get his money back. “I’m the only one here with a real reason to cry,” he thought.
HOW TO BE THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
Dear Problem Solver,
My husband works with a bunch of old fuddy-duddies. He won’t listen when I tell him that I’d rather put my head in a plastic bag than be forced to spend another evening with his boring colleagues and their wives. What should I do?
Miserable and Depressed
Dear Miserable and Depressed,
If you want to enjoy yourself at the party, then you will have to be the one to provide the fun. But first, you must be prepared. This is a list of what you will need:
A bright red dress with a low bodice and a matching jacket
A pair of long gloves (elbow length)
A deck of cards
A pair of flat shoes
You will also need to learn to play a few danceable ditties on the harmonica and study a movie starring Marilyn Monroe
It is common knowledge that nothing brings a party to life more than music. It’s difficult to carry a piano or a harp, but a harmonica will slip easily into your purse. As soon as the men head toward the library and the women begin chatting about their grandchildren, whip out your harmonica and begin playing one of the tunes you practiced. The beauty of the harmonica is that you will be able to play and dance at the same time. As soon as the others hear the catchy rhythm and see you dancing, they will join in.
But if that doesn’t work:
The purpose of the jacket worn over your dress was to keep your spouse from having a fit before you left the house. He will be too embarrassed to say a word in front of other people, so you can now remove it and reveal whatever you have to reveal. When all eyes are on you, that’s the time to think like Marilyn Monroe. What would she do in this situation? Sit on the boss’ lap? Sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President”? You’ll think of something. Flirting definitely livens things up and gives everyone something to talk about, not only for the evening but for the following days or weeks.
But if that doesn’t work:
Pull out the cards, suggest a game of poker, and start slowly peeling off those long gloves. When your husband stands up and looks as if he is about to murder you, it will be time to run. You’ll be so glad you wore those flat shoes.
Now your problem is solved because you can be sure he’ll never want to take you to one of those boring parties again.
During my 40 year career as an academic gynecologist, the only writing I did was technical, for journals, teaching, or medical-legal opinions. I expressed my creativity in the operating room, performing innovative and original reconstructive procedures. I have been a closeted humanities lover all along, however, taking courses in Shakespeare and classical music while majoring in Physics in college. Now that I’ve retired and discovered BOLLI, writing memoir and short stories has come to the fore.
FOREVER IN CONTROL
by David Chapin
The organist played Gershwin tunes as the mourners filed in. Almost everyone chatted with his or her neighbors. Self-appointed “ushers” moved up and down the aisles attempting to keep the seating orderly. A mood of almost inappropriate levity prevailed. The synagogue, the largest in town, filled to capacity a full half-hour before the scheduled start and then overflowed into the foyer and the community hall on the other side. Family, former co-workers, mentees, and friends. Brilliant rays of sun sliced through the panes of the floor-to-ceiling window, illuminating the bimah from behind.
A brilliant attorney, a celebrated raconteur, and an inveterate jokester, Eli had dominated virtually every personal encounter he had ever faced. His bright blue eyes sparkled when he smiled, and he captivated every audience, the life of every party. Those eyes could cut right through you like a spear when he was angry. Fun-loving on one hand, a rigid disciplinarian on the other, you either hated him or loved him. Especially if you were one of his children. I was glad I wasn’t. He wanted nothing but the best for them, but he rode them relentlessly to do well in school, to perform their household chores, to take responsibility for their actions. If you lost your gloves, “you could ski barehanded,” he said. At his law firm, he was known for firing incompetent associates on the spot and riding and disciplining the good ones as if they were his children. You either hated him or loved him.
Eulogizers, one after another, told Eli’s favorite jokes or recounted hilarious, intense, or scary incidents. No one except his wife and children had seen Eli for at least five years, as he had descended the downward spiral of Alzheimer’s. The piercing blue eyes had turned blank; the smile had become a droopy frown; the jokes and stories had faded away. The firm managed to carry on without him. Nonetheless, his everlasting humor, his no-nonsense approach to business, and his overpowering personality persisted in everyone’s memory. So they came.
Eli’s friend Billy spoke from the pulpit. “A recent arrival at a Florida retirement community meets a more seasoned resident at breakfast,” he begins. “I am unhappy, the man says to his new friend. There is nothing for me to do here. How come you are always happy and smiling? The other man says, ‘it is easy to be happy here; you just need a hobby.’ You got a hobby? ‘Yeah, I got a hobby. I catch bees.’ How do you do that? asks the unhappy fellow. ‘I go out with a jar and a net. I catch the bees in the net, and then I dump them in the jar and close the top.’ You got holes drilled in the top, right? ‘No. I just screw it on tight.’ But don’t they die? ‘Sure. So what? It’s only a hobby.’”
Everyone knew Eli’s favorite joke, but it was still funny. After the laughter died down, Billy descended from the pulpit and shook hands all the way up the aisle as if he had just read from the Torah on Shabbat. Eli’s former junior law partner Lenny then ascended to the lectern.
“In my first year with the firm, we were handling the bankruptcy of a dairy farm. Eli sent me to the farm to inventory the cows. I arrived to find three men loading the cows into a truck. I went to the payphone on the corner and called Eli. ‘Under no circumstances are you to allow them to take the cows away,’ he bellowed into the phone, ‘keep them there; I am calling the police.’ I went back to the farm. The men had just finished loading the last cow into the truck. Faced with the prospect of having to return to the office and tell Eli that the cows had been carried away, I laid down in the driveway in front of the truck until the police arrived.”
Again uproarious laughter and nodding of heads as most of us recognized this oft-told tale. Eli’s body may have been in the coffin, but he was still controlling the room. He would have loved the laughter.
As I savored my memories of Eli and enjoyed the jokes and stories, my mind wandered to the time of my father’s funeral several years earlier.
My father, a businessman, came home from work at 6:30. Dinner would be on the table. Meat and potatoes. His sense of humor was subtler than Eli’s. You had to know him to know when he was joking. With his children, he relied more on setting high expectations and showing quiet disapproval when they went unmet. At his office, younger executives learned by following his example, not by reprimand. He quietly maintained control with his calm demeanor and deep understanding of the business. When angry, he said a menacing, “Now look!” accompanied by a glare that made you snap to.
My father played golf with Mort Etkin almost every Saturday and Sunday throughout the short Buffalo summers. Neither one of them ever broke 100. Mort, appropriately named, was the undertaker; also appropriately, had no sense of humor. Knowing Mort so well socially, my father had worked with him on all the funeral details of various uncles, aunts, grandparents, and even some friends. He knew which coffin to order, which vault was best, and all the Talmudic rules of the Shiva observance.
Dad died after a four-year battle with cancer. Stoicism, grit, and determination had exuded from him as he went through chemo, radiation, and still more chemo. With great effort, he dragged himself to work every day until two weeks before he died. Immediately upon returning to the house from the hospital where he died, my mother brought out a piece of paper in his oh-so recognizable scrawly handwriting, with a list of answers to Mort’s expected questions. “Call Etkin,” she said.
“I was expecting that,” Mort replied. “Will you come down to pick out the coffin?”
“American Casket Company catalog number 1050B.” I read answer number one from the list.
“And a vault.”
“Vault number 8350.” Number two on the list.
“How about flowers for the casket?”
“No flowers.” Third item on the list
“Folding chairs for the Shiva house?”
“No folding chairs.” Right in order.
“Coat rack for the Shiva house?”
“No coat rack.” Just as I expected, right on cue.
A smile came across my mother’s face. She recognized the order. I looked quizzically at her hoping for an explanation.
“Your father felt that if there were extra chairs and a place to hang their coats, Shiva visitors would not know when to leave and would end up staying too long. However, if all the chairs were full, the people who had been there the longest would get up to leave as newcomers arrived. That is what he wanted,” she said. “As for flowers, he thought they were a waste of money.” His body may have been lying in Mort’s mortuary, but he was still telling Mort what to do. Controlling the event.
As Eli’s funeral service continued, he and my father were watching from above. “How come you let them put flowers on your casket?” my father asked. “It’s so unnecessary.”
“So what?” answered Eli. “It’s only a hobby.”
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