Category Archives: QUARANTINE TALES



by Donna Johns

I learned to read when I was three. Nothing to brag about, really. Just means that the little parts of my brain that allow me to make sense of the lines and squiggles on the page developed early. Some children are taller than normal; some have advanced motor skills. I read.

And from that time, reading has been an important part of my daily life. Nobody who knew me was surprised when I became a librarian. It was a perfect match. As a reader, I am an omnivore. I forgive the badly written books and the ones who lose their way halfway through. No genre is taboo. I like them all.

So imagine my surprise when, shortly after the birth of my first child, I discovered that I couldn’t read. Oh, I still knew how. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t concentrate on a page. I read and reread the same sentence and couldn’t process it. It felt like an amputation.

At first, I blamed it on hormonal imbalance, but it continued, month after month, long after I felt completely normal. Then I figured out what was wrong. My internal monologue had come to visit and take over my every thought. It went something like this.

“Is he getting enough to eat? Is that little rash a problem? Is he sleeping too much or not enough? Has he hit all the benchmarks? Is it time to start solid food? If I start solid food, will he get fat? Will he ever stop upchucking on my shoulder when I burp him? Does he have a disease because he upchucks a lot?” On and on and on.

No wonder I couldn’t read.

I solved my problem by subscribing to People Magazine. Each day, my goal was to read at least one short article. Written on a fifth-grade level, the reading wasn’t challenging, but my zest for celebrity gossip restarted my reading engine. Within weeks, I moved on to Stephen King short stories. Then on to actual books. With my second and third children, I repeated the process and got back on track much faster.

And now, many years later, I find that I cannot read again. The third volume of the Wolf Hall trilogy sits idle on my Kindle. My internal monologue this time is different but is just as distracting. It goes something like this.

“Did I have it? I was sick in February and had some of the symptoms. Should I get an antibody test? Oh wait, Dr. Fauci said immunity could not be assumed. Is Signe OK? Her husband is working security at hotels. Will he bring it home to her? Will I ever see any of my children and grandchildren in three dimensions again? I wonder whether drive-ins will make a come-back? Should I watch the governor’s press conference? That guy needs a voice coach. He’s smart enough, but his voice puts me to sleep. Come to think of it, why is my sleep cycle so weird…two hours one day and ten the next? When will this end? Will it end?”

It’s time to subscribe to People Magazine again. And order that new collection of short stories by Stephen King.

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.





By Katherine Wangh

I am waiting to pick up some boxes of food at Russo’s. It is raining.  I have been in my car for over an hour, so I have had time to get in touch with my feelings.

I think about not being able to pick out the avocadoes or the bouquet of flowers I like. I think about not being able to debate which vegetables to buy depending on what looks good this week. I think about not being able to look at, touch, and smell all these beautiful fruits, vegetables, plants, and flowers.

I have placed my order.  Not only are spontaneous choices not possible, but it is also not possible to have spontaneous encounters with other shoppers who come from all parts of the world to buy the fruits and vegetables from their native countries.  Conversations between customers usually start with “What is this? How do you eat it or cook it?” No more indulging my curiosity about foods and people in those narrow aisles filled with produce. Instead, I wait patiently in my car for a woman younger than me, wearing a face mask and rubber gloves, to wheel my boxes out in the rain.

Before she reaches my car, I see her throw a huge planter of purple and white pansies onto the cart. I figure this is not my order as I did not order pansies. I am feeling a bit downcast with all the waiting. Then she taps on my window! It is my order! I open the back with the automatic door opener, and she places the boxes inside saying, “I threw in some pansies for you! I hope you like flowers!”  Overcome, I say, “Thank you! Thank you so much! Yes, I love flowers!”

Once home, I put on a mask and rubber gloves and unpack the boxes on the deck, washing everything in soapy water. In the background, I seem to hear the soundtrack of anxiety and the fear of death which seems to be playing all day and all night. Admittedly, I have found some ways to distract myself from this music, but I could never have imagined that the best interruption would come today, from a complete stranger, in the form of a spontaneous and cheerful gift of purple and white pansies!

BOLLI Member and Writers Guild writer Kathy Wangh

My interests?  Music. Art, language, psychology, nature, science, travel.  My professions?  Teaching preschool and working with children/young adults as a psycho-analytically trained therapist. Married to scientist Larry for over 50 years and now enjoying grandchildren, singing in the Concord Women’s Chorus, curating my father’s artistic legacy, writing, and gardening!




                                       TREES AND GRILLS

By Martin Kafka

During these times of global and local threat from an invisible enemy, I seek out ways to calm myself and maintain a positive attitude. This is one of them.                                                                             

I have been called a tree-hugger. I am humbled by trees.  Where I grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, we had the pleasure of having a London Plane Tree,  an upland variation of the Sycamore, that stood proudly across from our front stairs and shed its joyous leaves in the fall. Brooklyn had more than a few trees, you know, but let’s face it, the “Garden City” of Newton is a hell of a lot more arboreal.

On this early evening, as I sit at the picnic table, grilling herbed chicken and nursing a gin with tonic and lime, I am surrounded by mature trees, really tall ones, at the boundary edge of my back yard.  These days, I consider them my protectors. I recently learned that our home is nearly one hundred years old, so some of the mighty trees that look up to the evening blue sky from our front and back yards could be pretty old.  I’m sure they have witnessed a lot of barbecues, birds, wild turkeys, rabbits, mice, deer, and especially, noisy joyful children. Like the Liberty Mutual commercial jingle, my trees “have seen a thing or two.”

As I admire the wonderful late afternoon’s yellowed-green light shimmering through the leaves on my favorite oak, white birch, and linden trees, I have to admit that I am nearly in awe at the myriad of dappled tones of their wonderful leaves. This is a very peaceful spot for me. I am safe here.

Whenever I am out here grilling, admiring my back yard, and relaxing, I also find myself reminiscing about my dad. He relaxed on the fairways and greens of the golf course, and he loved to charcoal grill chicken after a day at the links. Dad was the family Grill King on our small back porch in Brooklyn while Mom was the undisputed Queen of our Kitchen Cuisine. But as far as grilling, the times have not changed that much.  For me, outdoor grilling is still a man’s domain.

My dad loved his chicken, and he loved cooking it, turning the legs and breasts with long grilling tongs.  It was one of the times he could be quiet, almost meditative. He also loved his Dewar’s Scotch on the rocks which he always had while grilling.  That time on our modest back yard elevated porch was the heyday for charcoal briquette grilling, with none of this contemporary gas grill-heat ’em- right-up kind of thing.  When I did my residency training in psychiatry in Ann Arbor, I used to do charcoal grilling on my tiny back porch and still did so when I first moved to Newton.  The cooking process took too long once I had a family, though, so I finally capitulated to the gas grill for its convenience.  But I sure miss that charcoal flavor and all those aromatic carcinogens!

As my father’s son, I have inherited his fondness for food, grilling, and, especially, herbed chicken.  I will admit that a bit of alcohol helps as well.  Dad would wait for those charcoal briquettes to be just right before adding the chicken to the grill-top, enjoying the sizzle as he nursed his Dewar’s. When it comes to grilling chicken, like father, like son. No worries now–just good food!

BOLLI Member, SGL, and Writers Guild 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.



Quarantine Days

by Lois Sockol

The morning sun streams through my bedroom window. Definitely, I will walk outdoors today. But what day is it? Silly how the days have lost their individuality. Wait, I know. Yesterday I had a BOLLI class, so today must be Tuesday.

BOLLI and other streaming sites help define my calendar, and Zoom is the engine that drives my days. No need to fight the Rt. 128 traffic or search out a parking space. Just steps from the comfort of my bed, through the breakfast eating area to my office, I sit in front of my computer screen, click my mouse, and grin as the world opens before me.

Each day, there are courses, or lectures, or both, as well as family meetings and chats with friends. Although not as gratifying as the warmth of human touch, seeing welcoming faces and animated gestures is far more satisfying than merely hearing voices through the telephone line. Funny how Zoom, an impersonal innovation, can so successfully enable a sense of intimacy. Never would I have anticipated it penetrating the wilderness of my quarantine.

Now that I know it’s Tuesday, I can plan to take my walk after the Rotary meeting, which runs from noon to 1:30. I have set a goal that, for each hour I sit at my desk, I will walk for either 15 or 20 minutes.

With each passing day of isolation, it seems that more and more people are leaving the confines of their homes to walk along a sidewalk that borders a once heavily trafficked street, the thoroughfare to Rt.128. Whether it be families, couples, or individuals, walkers and joggers stream by my window, some wearing masks, all appropriately distanced. Perhaps this healthy, social activity will continue even after the hovering cloud of COVID- 19 is lifted.

I have always enjoyed walking, but, these days, it feels even more pleasurable. The trees are definitely greener and more vibrant, the pink azaleas and red rhododendrons are more dynamic. And the birds. Never have I seen so many red robins hip-hopping across my lawn, not flying but walking and pecking. And yesterday, a most unusual experience.

As I walked along the street, a sudden shadow hovered over me. I lifted my eyes and gazed at the wings of a huge hawk. The sight startled me! Hawks in Needham!  That wonder was followed by a quick flash of scarlet as I caught sight of a brilliant red cardinal in flight.

Can it be that the reduction in carbon is encouraging the natural wildlife to leave their hideaways? Now that’s a consequence I can happily live with.

BOLLI member, SGL, writer, and friend Lois Sockol

“I’ve been blessed with a 65 year marriage.  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!”