Category Archives: Memoir Writing

MEMOIR: 1973 with SANDY SHERIZEN

MOROCCO, 1973

by Sandy Sherizen

I realized that I was stalling.  I really didn’t want to go to Morocco. OPEC, Pan-Arabism, and harrowing stories from other tourists all convinced me that this was a trip I could skip. Still, sitting in a camp in Algeciras, Spain, an hour’s boat ride way from Tangiers, I waffled.

Finally, the weather made the decision for me.  After five days of rain, cold, and the same conversations with our friends, my wife and I decided to cast fears aside and go to sunny Tangiers.  So, off we went with another couple, promising our friends at the camp that we would return that evening in time for a combination birthday/going away party for Fay, John, and the kids.

We were armed with the usual tourist weapons–information and misinformation. We knew that we should not change too much Spanish money into Moroccan dirham since the rate of exchange was only 50%. We knew not to hire an official guide but, instead, wait for the many kids who would approach us and select one we liked. We knew to bargain in the shops. So we were prepared for a grand adventure.

In Tangiers, the women were searched upon entry, but we men coasted through customs. In six hours, the ship would return to Spain, so we headed into the city. As we had been forewarned, a guide with an official badge offered to show us around the town and get us back for either the 2 o’clock or the 6 o’clock ship. When we turned him down, we were suddenly surrounded by kids of all ages who hollered at us in English, French, German, and Swedish about their talents as guides.  We answered with international shrugs until one kid who looked like Jerry Lewis impressed us with his hustle, convincing us that he was to be our guide and protector.

Off we went on our thrilling visit. We toured, gaped at the veiled women, ate couscous, and finally, prepared to shop. Steering clear of officially recommended shops, we went to those where our guide knew the owners and would get us good prices.  We wandered around one until we found a lovely wall hanging. After the mandatory greetings, mint tea, and haggling over the price, we bought the hanging and tipped the salesman with a ballpoint pen with “U.S. Government” printed on it.

We had missed the 2 o’clock sailing, so we decided to pay our guide and take a leisurely walk to the dock.  At five, we arrived at the office outside the port gates to buy tickets for the 6 o’clock sailing.  There we were told that the ship had already left.  We quoted the official guide who had told us that it did not leave until 6 o’clock and were reminded that 6 o’clock in Spanish time was 5 o’clock in Morocco.

“I knew I shouldn’t have come here,” I thought as panic and fear set in.

But, we decided to see for ourselves. Breaking international records for the 2,000-yard dash over hurdles including the port guard, numerous workers, and two fences, we made it to the dock where the ship was still waiting.

We rushed to the office to buy tickets, only to find it locked. So, we turned to a line of Moroccan officials for help. We told them our problem,  and, in soothing tones, they made it worse.

“It is 5:15, and we stop our work at 5:00,” they said.

“But the ship is still here. Just let us buy tickets,” we said.

“You cannot get on the ship without having your visas               stamped. The tickets would do you no good without visas,”                     they said.

“So stamp the visas,” we said.

“We cannot.  It is 5:15, and we stop our work at 5:00,” they said.

“But the ship…!” we said.

“Do not worry, the women can come with us for a very pleasant       stay in Tangiers,” they said.

“No, thank you,” we said, visions of harems and court eunuchs              filling our heads.

Soon, it was quiet. No ship.  No officials.  Just four stranded tourists with no Moroccan money, no warm clothes for the night, and no place to stay. We were scared.

Suddenly, a young man walked by and said something to us in Arabic, then French, and, after receiving no response, in Spanish. We told him our story, and he asked if we would be interested in staying here. Here? There was nothing here but an empty dock and the port authority building.  He motioned for us to follow him into the port authority, where he led us to the upstairs waiting room and introduced us to his boss, the head night watchman.

The boss welcomed us with offers of tea, hashish, and stories about other tourists who had had similar experiences. He showed us pictures of other strand-ees who had spent the night there. One group of travelers had ended up spending every night of their week-long vacation at the building and, when their mother came to visit Tangiers the following year, she immediately checked into the “hotel” where she was welcomed like one of the family. We spent the evening playing cards, swapping stories, talking about life, and being chided for not having any children while our senior host had nine, the last born when he was 67.

Promptly at 10:00, the couches in the lounge were placed together to make four beds, and we were assigned sleeping places. We two men slept on the outside beds while the women slept together on the double bed between us.  No other arrangement was acceptable to our host. At six in the morning, we were woken up after a restful sleep even though the women were a little tired from whispering and laughing until the wee hours.

We were so happy with the hospitality and so grateful that the women’s honor and our men’s parts were intact that we offered some small gifts and money. But they refused everything, telling us that all they wished from us was a letter when we returned home. This we did, and we continued corresponding with our junior host, trying to help get him into an American university.

Our port authority hotel will never be written up in a Michelin Guide, but for us, it was the best night we ever spent with friends.

BOLLI Member and SGL Sandy Sherizen

Sandy Sherizen has been a member of BOLLI for about 10 years.  He has taught classes on privacy, the invisible forms of manipulation, sociology of deviant behaviors, Jews secretly surviving forced conversion during the Inquisition and, currently, crime and criminal justice.  He was a sociologist, criminologist and cybersecurity consultant.

 

A CAUTIONARY TALE FROM DONNA–IN FABLE FORM

A FABLE

Big Brother Bob Emery and Friends

By Donna Johns

Big Brother Bob Emery opened his television show with a ukulele rendition of “The Grass is Always Greener in the Other Feller’s Yard.”  Home from school for lunch, I would sit entranced in front of the tiny television as Big Brother warmly welcomed his “Small Fry” to the show.  I was a card-carrying member of the Small Fry Club, as were all my friends.

Big Brother led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a Hail to the Chief toast to the portrait of Dwight Eisenhower.  Of course, we all toasted with milk.  Then, he would show a Popeye cartoon, have a little puppet show, and teach us about manners like saying “please” and “thank you.”  He signed off with another ukulele song: “So Long, Small Fry.  It’s Time to Say Goodbye.”

I envied the children spread out on the carpet around Big Brother.  I wanted nothing more than to meet him and hear his kindly voice praise me for one thing or another.  Then, he began collecting money for good causes in the community, starting with relief money for the Worcester Tornado victims.

When I was a Brownie, I suggested that we help raise money for the Jimmy Fund and take it to Big Brother.  Everyone was excited, and we begged for money from every relative.  With a tidy sum collected, we got our invitation to attend the show.  I was in heaven.

We arrived at the studio, and one of Big Brother’s “helpers” whipped us into shape.  We were on the right side of his chair.  Cub Scouts sat to his left.  We waited for Big Brother to arrive.  And waited.  And waited some more.   Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity and my hero walked right past us, said not a word, sat down with a sigh, and began strumming.  We were on television.

The man never acknowledged us.  No compliment for our much practices, crisp salute to the flag.  No pat on the head.  He never even took our envelope of money.  He thanks the Cub Scouts instead.  When the show was finished, he walked briskly out of the studio.

I went home and threw my Small Fry Club membership card away. I never watched Big Brother again.

MORAL:  It’s fine to have heroes.  Just don’t meet them.

BOLLI member and BOLLI “Matters” feature writer Donna Johns

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

 

MEMOIR WRITING WITH MARTY: OF MICE AND MAN

Of Mice and Man

By Marty Kafka

The recent winter weather was particularly harsh when Adam heard them scamper behind the walls of his bedroom. He reported the noises as a matter of fact the next morning while we savored Scottish lox and fresh bagels, a brunch indulgence that commemorates his visits from the West Coast.

This was not the first time we had been afflicted by mice, but it had been many years since their last visitation. I quietly ventured up into our attic, the repository of our family papers, tax returns, old furniture, and pictures. If we couldn’t part with a belonging, it resided in our attic. With lots of open space and a slanting low ceiling, we rarely visited this no-man’s land of exiled possessions.

I could have let the matter drop, but about a decade ago, we found a dead mouse on our upstairs steps–inside our living space. I’m an upper-middle class liberal by nature, but my big tent doesn’t include house mice. Something had to be done.

From our last encounter with these shy rodents, I had purchased two mouse traps. Not the kind that loudly cracks the neck of the victim when they are inexorably drawn by winter’s cold and hunger to the irresistible bait. Rather, I had two mouse traps that were advertised as “humane–no chemicals, no glue, no electricity, no poison.” Stick the bait in the back of the five-inch long, hollow cylindrical trap, and when the mouse visits at night, a one-way trap door closes behind them. There are a few breathing holes so that, while contained, in theory, the mouse is supposed to remain alive, but it literally can’t move.  It can’t turn around–it is immobilized. Carefully, I cut out home-made cardboard feeding squares, smeared Whole Foods organic peanut butter on the squares, placed them at the back of the traps, and waited patiently.

For a couple of days, there was no action at the traps so I stopped my daily checking. After a few more days passed, however, Karen reminded me to check the traps—so, on the next morning, I did. Two immobilized  mice–both dead, were just starting to decay. I carefully carried the traps and their prey outside with gloved hands, spilled their contents in a remote section of our back yard, cleaned the traps scrupulously in our basement utility sink, and let the seasoned mousetraps rest.

Like the nocturnal activity of the meek mice, it was during my bedtime hour that insidious thoughts of my callous disregard of innocent life came back to taunt me, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. I was a cold-blooded muricidal killer. I was merciless. I let those helpless rodents suffer. Did they die from brute starvation, from asphyxiation, from hypothermia?

I had dehumanized these innocent creatures. I trapped them effectively, but now I was also trapped–by the obsession of my own remorse. Maybe I should have just let the mice set up a home base in our attic? Live and let live!  But what if they mated in the coming spring? Would we have a rodent family surviving by nibbling away at our old tax returns?  Or worse, a family of varmints crawling down to our family living space again, this time spreading some vicious infectious disease, like vampire mice seeking bloody vengeance?

Fortunately, as time has passed, I have been able to dismiss these lurid guilty thoughts, but is that really a good thing for my mental health? Has my conscience become irrevocably hardened as an unintended consequence of capturing and killing undocumented immigrant mice seeking any available shelter? Am I a cold-blooded muricidal maniac?

In penance, I vow to purchase new, larger traps so mice can be apprehended but not immobilized. I sincerely hope that I have murdered my last mouse–may those I did dispatch rest in peace in a fabled, far-away land of plenty.

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

MEMOIR WRITING: A SPECIAL MOMENT WITH LOIS SOCKOL

More Than a Sports Memory to Me

125th Anniversary Needham-Wellesley Thanksgiving Day Game, 2007

by Lois Sockol

Thanksgiving Day 1982. The stands at Needham’s Memorial Park field were packed, sardine-like. A five feet deep overflow hovered along the sidelines as hundreds more carpeted the hill that rose to the high school building. Some judged the crowd to be upwards of eight thousand. Usual attendance at ordinary seasonal games hovered around 80 or so.

This noteworthy day marked the 100th anniversary of the oldest public High School football rivalry in New England.  The Needham-Wellesley rivalry, the angry child of an acrimonious split in 1881 when, after 250 years of union, West Needham separated itself from East Needham, tookits high school with it, and became Wellesley. That bitter split, was the genesis of this century old high school rivalry. Today the crisp, clear fall air bristled in anticipation.  As old as it was, this rivalry had never lost its tinge of enmity.

“A 100th anniversary deserves the effort,” said Ron Sockol, who, during his Pop Warner coaching days, had instructed most of Needham’s varsity team.  For almost a year promoting, he worked tirelessly to promote the event, rounding up surviving alumni players to be honored on the field.

Among the thousands who came were National TV cameramen and media reporters. This day would take its rightful place in High School sport’s history.

As the teams lined up, a sudden hush fell.  Even the air seemed tensed and focused.

Needham won the toss and opted to receive. Wellesley’s kickoff was low and forceful, deep into Needham territory. A collective rumble followed the wide receiver who caught the ball on his own two-yard line and started racing down the field, dodging would-be tacklers, as if predestined to score. The rumble grew louder with each yard gained, each tackle avoided, exploding into a roar as the receiver crossed the goal line.  A 98-yard run, the longest kick off return in Needham’s long history. A fitting beginning for a centennial game.

During the ensuing battle for yardage, Needham held its own and led at half time. The Needham supporters joyfully exchanged thumbs up and hugs. A small group of teens near the thirty-yard line danced a jig. I spied a TV cameraman and a reporter heading toward the wide receiver who had made the initial dramatic run. I was not close enough to hear the interview and could only imagine what was said . It was not until the televised evening news that I heard their exchange.

“So, young man, how did it feel to run back that kick-off and score the first touchdown?”

“Well, uh, Charlie Walsh opened a hole, and I just put the wheels on.”

I was thrilled when he scored, just as any mother would be, but it was hearing Jim’s humble words that permanently etched this memorable day into my heart.

BOLLI Member and SGL Lois Sockol

“I’ve been blessed with a marriage of 65 years.  We raised four boys we are proud of and  enjoy the reward of 9 grandchildren.  I taught public school for 25 years, published an instructional manual to aid teachers in teaching children who are high risk for learning to read, and conducted seminars on the teaching of reading. I have been active in Needham for 36 years as a Library Trustee and a Town Meeting member.  And now, I have the joy of being a member of BOLLI!”

 

MEMOIR FROM DONNA: THE BACK PORCH

THE BACK PORCH

by Donna Johns

I used to have a back porch.

The house on Sycamore Street was rickety around the edges, full of horsehair plaster and faded midcentury wallpaper. The plumbing rattled, the old gas stove belched, the lights flickered. Spindles on the front staircases were frequently kicked out by active children racing up and down. The old house swayed in high winds but never broke.

Off the kitchen, with its decaying tile, was my back porch. It was long and narrow with a wide plank floor and four large windows. It was on the second floor, so the view out the windows was at tree level. In the spring, dogwood blossoms spread out like a quilt of pale green and white and pink. In the summer, lush green branches sang in soft breezes. Autumn was gaudy with scarlets and yellows. Winter’s bare branches, encased in ice, scraped against the windows and sent me inside for a month or two.

I had a phone on the porch. With it I negotiated with my dentist to pay over time for the children’s dental care, prevailed upon the electric company to accept a partial payment, begged the oil company for a small delivery to tide us over until pay day. I had a computer on the porch so I could work a second and third job, using my research skills to bring in much needed money.

The proximity of the porch to the kitchen came in handy when little thieves would grab the refrigerator door handle in search of lunch meat, bread, fruit.  I guarded the food fiercely, for there was no money for more. They were well fed only because my parents or my favorite uncle would drop by every week or so with grocery bags brimming with healthy basics and decadent treats.

My coffee pot was close by for frequent refills. I would drink from my mug, smoke a cigarette, and steer the family ship past one obstacle, then another, and another.  New shoes (three sizes in one year?), highwater pants (can I let the hem down?), field trips (you need how much money by tomorrow?).

But my porch was also a place for me to read, to write, to dream. One child or another would escape the noise that permeated the house to sit on the porch with me, confide a sorrow or a triumph, or just enjoy companionable silence among the trees. Cats stretched out on the window sill, chattering at birds.

I don’t have a porch any more. Just a utilitarian step to the sidewalk. The children are all gone to their own lives. But I have the memory of that porch and a challenging life well lived.

BOLLI Matters feature writer Donna Johns

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

MEMOIR: DEAR TOM

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

DEAR TOM

by Marty Kafka

12.5.2019

Dear Tom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best in Health,

Marty

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: MY FRIEND ELOISE

MY FRIEND ELOISE

by Dennis Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since. 

 

 

 

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: TWO SPECIAL FRIENDSHIPS

Two Special Friendships

 by Dennis Greene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.  He has engaged in memoir writing since joining BOLLI.

MEMOIR FROM LARRY: THE DRAWER OF MISFIT TOYS

THE DRAWER OF MISFIT TOYS

By L. Schwirian

         In the mid 70’s to mid-80’s, when our sons were young, we typically traveled at least twice a year to visit both sets of grandparents–one set in Cleveland and the other set near Pittsburgh.  As the drive was nearly six hundred miles, we (mostly Caroline) had to invent things to do along the way so that the three of them wouldn’t do bodily harm to one another or rip the back seat to shreds.  We always brought plenty of books and a number of tapes, mostly Muppet songs, as we sped along the interstates of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  I particularly remember all of us singing along with Kermit the Frog, Why are There So Many Songs about Rainbows? On more than one occasion, usually when we were at least a couple of hundred miles out, Caroline would wonder if she had turned the iron off.   After the second or third time, I started packing the iron in the trunk.

When we finally reached my parent’s home after twelve or more hours on the road (there were many pit stops along the way), all three sons would pile out of the car and head for “the drawer of misfit toys” in my mother’s kitchen. The drawer contained bits and pieces of old toys that had long since been lost or abandoned. There was a little ball with jacks, numerous marbles of various sizes and colors, a yoyo, a top, playing cards, toy soldiers, knights on plastic horses, a few Lincoln Logs (but not enough to build anything with), pieces of an erector set, a dart gun, a harmonica, commemorative coins, nuts and bolts, rubber bands, a mouth harp, as well as various and sundry other stuff.

But there were two things that seemed to be favorites. One was a hollow, woven cylindrical shaped object about six inches long and less than a half-inch in diameter with openings at both ends. One son would put his index finger in one end and ask his brother or cousin to put his or her finger in the other end. When he pulled back, the tube would stretch, reducing the diameter and trapping both fingers.

The most intriguing toy, however, was a large horseshoe magnet about five inches long, two inches wide, and about a quarter-inch thick.  It had not originally been a toy but must have been removed from some piece of machinery…it was a very strong magnet. There were also two small magnets in the form of black and white terrier dogs. The oldest son would get under the kitchen table with the big magnet while the other two sons would place the two little magnets on the tabletop; wherever the big magnet moved the little dogs would follow.  It was pure magic.

Many of these trips took place around the Christmas holiday which meant that there would be a tumultuous unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning and an overabundance of new toys.  But as likely as not, after a couple days, all three sons would be back exploring the “drawer of misfit toys.”

BOLLI Matters feature writer and co-chair of the Writers Guild, Larry Schwirian

 Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and have led BOLLI courses on architecture.  Larry has been an active participant in and leader of the Writers Guild special interest group as well as serving on the BOLLI Journal staff.  

MEMOIR FROM DENNIS: THE LUNCHEON GROUP

The Luncheon Group

by Dennis Greene

I retired four years ago and now appreciate, more and more each day, how lucky I was to have been part of the “luncheon group.” With no specific plan, this group evolved over the course of ten years at a large Boston law firm and resulted in five of us having lunch together two or three times a week for another 35. Though we spoke mostly about local sports, firm gossip, our respective families, and current events, it was, for me, a continuing opportunity to study how very smart and very decent people behave. It was a lifelong lesson in humility. Here is just one illustration of what I mean.

The group naturally took an interest in each other’s kids, attending their plays and sports events and celebrating their successes. So, when Andy’s son Tim, then in his early 20’s, managed to land a spot on “The Apprentice,” I temporarily waived my boycott of the show and watched it.  Donald Trump, the show’s host and resident ego-maniac, was apparently charmed and impressed by Timmy, often referring to him as “our Harvard Phi Bate.” I didn’t know Tim had achieved Phi Beta Kappa status, so I mentioned it at our next lunch.

“Andy, I didn’t know Tim was Phi Bate,” I said. “I knew he was smart, but my daughter Alex, whom I also consider very smart, told me her Phi Bate friends at Yale were so far above her academically, she could only see the bottoms of their feet. Except for Alex’s friend Adam, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a member of that prestigious group.”

There was an awkward pause, and I noticed that Andy was looking at his feet.

“Actually, I was Phi Beta Kappa at Dartmouth,” he said, almost apologetically.

I was astonished and glanced at Tom to see if he was as surprised as I was. But he also looked uncomfortable.

“Uh, I was a member at Trinity,” he admitted.

I turned to Joel, who also seemed to be ill at ease.

“Yup. Penn,” he acknowledged.

Feeling like a complete idiot, I turned at last to Stan, the fifth and youngest member of our little group. He was grinning at my discomfort.

“Dennis, it appears that you and I are not qualified to participate in these lunchtime discussions,” Stan suggested.  “Our place should be to sit quietly, listen, and soak up the surrounding wisdom.”

Thank goodness for Stan.

Now, the fact that my three close friends were members of Phi Beta Kappa didn’t really surprise me. I knew that they had attended prestigious colleges and graduated from ivy law schools.  I also knew that they were brilliantly accomplished lawyers who had, over the years, demonstrated their extraordinary intelligence again and again.

Joel was kind enough to note that I was the only member of our group who had managed (at a less prestigious college) to be placed on both academic and disciplinary probation in the same year.  We are all unique.

During a recent summer, I was on a safari in Botswana, bouncing through the savannah in an off-road vehicle, and spent several days with a lovely English couple named Charles and Elisabeth.  By day, we shared adventures observing magnificent wildlife.  And each evening, as we dined, we casually discussed science fiction literature, travel, the state of the world, and how to avoid snakes while discretely relieving oneself in the bush.

When we returned to Wellesley, I found several nice pictures of the couple and wanted to send them copies, so I looked Charles up on the internet.  He had failed to mention that he was the financial director of the Bank of England and had been knighted in 2014.

But he had never been a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Dennis Greene

Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie.  He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.