Friends play such an important role in our lives. When we were young, we played with our friends, whether it was games of pretend or riding bikes or playing sports. Often, the time we spent with our friends enabled us to do something we couldn’t do alone. You might play Solitaire by yourself, but you couldn’t play Go Fish alone. Nor could you play any of your board games alone. Monopoly and Scrabble definitely needed at least one friend, if not two or three. A bike ride was always more fun when friends joined you to ride through the neighborhood. Sports, from “Hit the Penny” to tennis, always needed friends not only in order to play but also to cheer us on.
As we got older, our friends were there to spend time with, whether to talk, reminisce, or think up new adventures. A friend was there to help sort out our ideas, to dream with, to share our ups and downs, especially during our teen years. Through high school and college, we spent hours talking about people we dated, teachers who frustrated or challenged us, songs and singers we liked, our future lives.
While our friendship groups changed as some married, moved away, or ventured in directions we wouldn’t follow, there were always some who remained in our lives. These are the friends who knew us when we were young, knew our homes, our parents, siblings, and even our cousins. They have served as reminders, knowing who we were and who we still are. We have been there for each other as we have aged, and we still remember the younger versions of ourselves. They have seen us in the best and worst of times – through the joys of marriage and the pain of divorce, sharing the joys and difficulties of children and grandchildren, and supporting us through the deaths of loved ones.
It’s the friendships that last over time that remain the most important to us. In many ways, they keep us centered. They know what upsets us and what brings us joy. They know just what to say to raise or keep our spirits us. They recognize the parts of us that have grown with us, and they reflect how we have matured over time. Only our siblings and cousins may have the same sense of who we have been and who we have become.
So, make time to be with your friends as well as relatives whom you consider friends. It’s reminiscent of a song from Girl Scouts: “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”
I have never had occasion to go on a romantic dinner date with anyone other than my wife. She and I were classmates and friends for three years before we started dating, so we already knew each other pretty well. I never had to worry about what I could or couldn’t say with her because I already knew many of her likes and dislikes. Plus, while we were still in school, there wasn’t a lot of money for going out to dinner anyway. Going out for pizza, taking a trip to the art museum, or going to an occasional movie were more typical of our dates. As I had a full class load and drove a cab part time while in school, I didn’t have a lot of time for dating anyway.
I’ve never given a great deal of thought to what it must be like, as a full-fledged adult, to sit down for a nice dinner with an unfamiliar female companion just for the sake of getting to know one-another…it must really be awkward.
Imagining what it might be like for a young adult in today’s digital world, all kinds of questions come to mind…
Who wrote the algorithm that paired the two of us as compatible, and what were the primary traits or answers to questions that resulted in this pairing? Did she research me on the web and find out what a dweeb I really am…I hope she at least learned that I’m not a direct descendent of Jack the Ripper. I Googled her, but my search gave me dozens of women with the same name. Why did she pick me instead of dozens of others…or was it the algorithm? Should I be my normal, boring self, or should I pretend to be what I’d really like to be? Was the photo she sent really of her? Was it current, or was it ten years old? Should I let her start the conversation, or should I be bold and jump right in with both feet? Is she looking for a significant other, or is she just looking for a good time? And what am I looking for?
Maybe we should begin the conversation by agreeing on a “safe word” that will allow either of us to bail-out if questions become too personal.
Why am I doing this?
I don’t envy young people. Dating–along with everything else these days–has just become too complicated.
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.
Hunkered in my recliner, I was cheerfully wasting an hour immersed in General Hospital. Will Sonny and Carly’s baby be all right, or does it have birth defects? When will they discover that baby Wiley, adopted by Brad and Dylan, is actually Michael’s son? And who pushed Liesel off the boat during Liz and Franco’s wedding?
Then it starts. Frantic Breaking News music. The meteorologist on duty quivers in excitement, his voice an octave higher than normal. “We are interrupting this broadcast to warn you of a string of thunderstorms bearing down on us.”
No kidding. It’s 90 degrees out, and you can cut the humidity with a knife. Of course there are going to be thunderstorms. That’s why I ran my errands early and planned on a quiet hour in Port Charles, watching characters with big problems to be unraveled and solved in six months.
Anyone who’s been on the planet for a few years knows from personal experience that heat and humidity mean that thunderstorms will follow. So, pray tell, what new information do you have to impart to me, Mr. Meteorologist?
“The storms are forming in Western Massachusetts.” Yep. They usually do.
“Strong winds, torrential downpours, thunder, and lightning.” Sounds like a thunderstorm to me.
“The storms will move east through Worcester and Central Massachusetts. They should arrive in the Boston area by four o’clock.” Marginally useful information. So I should be able to finish General Hospital before the storms hits and the power fails. Candle, lighter, and flashlight are on the table, just in case.
“There may be power outages. Prepare with candles and flashlights.” Duh. Can I watch my soap opera now?
Mr. Meteorologist’s voice begins to shake slightly. I swear his upper lip is trembling. “There is a chance of flash flooding. Also tornadoes.” He looks anxiously at his radar screen. Despite my abundant common sense, I quickly check to make sure I have sufficient toilet paper, milk, and bread to survive the coming apocalypse.
“We will update you as the situation warrants. And now, we return you to our regular programming.” Finally! After four commercials designed for the elderly (reverse mortgages, laxatives, life insurance, compression stockings), General Hospital resumes.
Ten minutes later, at 2:30, the thunderstorm moves into Waltham. Mr. Meteorologist reappears as thunder shakes the windows and lightning illuminates the living room. “The storms should reach the greater Boston area by 4:00.”
I turn the TV off.
I long for the good old days when Don Kent would check his barometer, poke his head out the door to scan the skies, and deliver a calm and mostly accurate weather forecast. Those days, alas, are gone for good. Now we have computer models, hysterical meteorologists, and wildly inaccurate forecasts.
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.
Last week, my 22-month old great-grandson Carter erupted in an itchy rash, head to toe. He was miserable! And I immediately thought about measles. He had had his first measles shot, but two are required, and he is not yet old enough for the second shot. And how would such a young child contract the disease these days anyway?
Unfortunately, today, more American children are contracting mumps, measles, and rubella than they have for decades. And one reason seems to be the misguided, incorrect belief of some parents that vaccinations can cause autism.
This episode reminded me of my own experiences with measles. When I was in the seventh grade, my younger brother Stevie came down with measles. I caught it from him, and so did our mother, even though she had had measles as a child. And despite being sick, she got out of bed to scrub the entire bathroom before our beloved pediatrician Dr. Green made that house call. Even he couldn’t understand how she could have contracted the disease after having had it as a child.
A year later, Stevie contracted measles again. Dr. Green said he wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen my brother’s first case with his own eyes. At the time, I was in the eighth grade, and, as a serious student, I did not want to be quarantined with my brother. So that I wouldn’t miss school, I stayed at my Aunt Clara’s house while Stevie was ill, but Dr. Green warned, in no uncertain terms, that, if I felt that I was getting sick, I was to go straight home instead of to my aunt’s house after school. Yup, that happened! Mommy, Stevie, and I were the only people he had ever heard of who had measles more than once. I still feel guilty that his son Dicky, who sat next to me in school, caught the measles from me…
At any rate, it turned out that my great grandson Carter did not have the measles after all, and he is back at his Montessori school, where he probably contracted his itchy virus in the first place. We can now stop worrying that baby Tucker, who is one month old, will catch the measles from his big brother!
“18 months after my husband passed away, I heard about BOLLI and decided to try something new . That was in 2008, and I have been taking classes and enjoying new friends at BOLLI ever since. In the past, I have been a dressmaker, a math teacher, and, since 1976, I have been with Mary Kay Cosmetics (driving my Mary Kay pink Buick!), still not ready to stop making people feel great about themselves.”
I took 12 weeks away from BOLLI (and the rest of my regular life) this spring and traveled all around the United States. If I were writing a detailed book about my journey, it’s working title would be:
America: the Beautiful, the Stolen, the Resourceful, and the Generous
Here is a brief summary of what I gathered from my trip.
This is a great-looking country, and I’m glad I got to see so much of it in person. The 48 contiguous states have land area similar to Europe, Canada, China, Brazil and Australia but, I suspect, more diverse terrain and features than all of them. The mountains, canyons, plains, deserts, lakes, rivers, and coastlines are amazing.
A couple of years ago, I read an op-ed that attributed a large portion of this country’s historically great economic production to two thefts: land from the indigenous peoples and over two centuries of labor from African slaves. I certainly saw much evidence of this in my travels. The latter, from a long list of civil rights sites I visited – in particular, the Underground Railroad Center for Justice in Cincinnati, which laid out in great detail the history of the slave trade in North America, going all the way back to the first group of slaves sold by Portuguese traders in Jamestown Virginia in 1619. The story of European and later United States appropriation of the ancestral lands of our first inhabitants also started in Jamestown. I followed this thread throughout my travels–the French and Indian Wars and conflicting loyalties during the Revolutionary War; the Trail of Tears as native tribes were sent west of the Mississippi once the new United States expanded beyond the Appalachians; the further relocation of most of the tribes to Oklahoma Territory when the Homestead Act made the land in the Great Plains valuable; and finally the discovery of gold in the only remaining sovereign native land (the Black Hills of South Dakota), which led to Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, Indian reservations, and boarding schools for native children where their culture and language was forbidden.
THE RESOURCEFUL – NATURAL RESOURCES AND GREAT INVENTIVENESS
The land of the United States certainly was blessed with abundant natural resources–salt, coal, iron ore, natural gas, oil, the fertile soil of the Great Plains, abundant forests for timber, gold, silver, copper, uranium, borax, and all kinds of other minerals. And the American people quickly learned how to use all of these to their economic advantage.
A partial list of the great ideas invented or further developed by the ingenious and entrepreneurial minds of our countrymen and women includes:
The steamship, the cotton gin, canals (like the Erie), the railroad, mechanical farming, mining, anesthesia (at Mass General), the telegraph, electricity, the telephone, the phonograph, automobiles, assembly lines, airplanes, radios, radar, nuclear power (for better or worse), television, space exploration (including, of course, that moon landing we’re commemorating this month), and just about everything related to computers, the world wide web, the internet, smart phones, and artificial intelligence.
In the last hundred years, as the most powerful nation on earth, the United States has been generous in supporting democracy around the world. Entering World War I helped end the stalemate on the Western Front. The United States supported Great Britain’s solo stand against Nazi Germany through the Lend-Lease program in 1940-1941 and then, of course, joined World War II after Pearl Harbor, helping to turn the tide in Europe with the D-Day invasion of 75 years ago. Then after the War, the Marshall Plan enabled war-ravaged Europe to rebuild itself, and NATO and the United Nations managed to end the first Cold War.
But I witnessed the benefits of great things that our government has done to improve our lives over our history. Again, here’s a list:
Public education (starting with my two alma maters, Boston Latin School and Harvard), land-grant colleges and universities, the Homestead Act (not so good for native peoples but good for settlers heading west for economic opportunity and independence), the transcontinental railroad, our national parks, canals and dams, and all the building done by the Civilian Conservation Corps as well as the WPA during the New Deal, Social Security and Medicare, the GI Bill for Education and low-cost housing loans after World War II, and the Interstate Highway System.
Individually and collectively, the people and government of the United States of America have done amazing things in the last nearly 250 years. I remain confident that we have many more wonders in our future.
Mark, a native of Boston, worked as an actuary for 35 years and retired in 2017. He immediately joined BOLLI with his wife Rachel and has thrown himself into classes, performing in the theatrical productions, and writing presentations.
It is the morning of my 86th birthday, and I open my eyes to a shower of sunshine. ‘Tis early. No need to rise yet. Sinking still deeper into my pillow, I close my eyes. I’m walking in a forest, down a path awash in light. Ahead of me is a giant oak. It is not until I approach that I notice that it’s bowed crown is draped in unseasonably yellowed leaves. Deep, letter-like gashes mark its trunk R-O-N. I wrap my arms around its bole and feel it pulsing.
Circling the venerable oak are four clusters of pines. At the center of each is a strong regal twosome overlooking less mature pines. Letters are etched into the base of each. I know their names. It is a heartwarming, comforting site, the four clusters jointly surrounding, guarding the elderly oak.
I hug each before I continue, almost skippingly, down the path. A bit further, to my right, stands an arch of trees reminiscent of a Temple. A powerful stream of light flows my way. More tree clusters, all shapes and manner, surround me. I peer more closely, stroking each trunk. Tall and firm stand my friends, a lifetime of playmates, companions, and soulmates.
Suddenly, a clearing appears. A large lake, its translucent water shimmering before me. I peer into its silvery blue surface. From its depth float figures, reaching almost to its surface. My mother rises, her large blue eyes shining, her laughter bubbling up. Beside her, his strong arm about her shoulders, my father waves to me with his free hand. He, too, is laughing. But how can that be? “No, no wait, don’t go,” I cry, my eyes locked to the spot as my parents sink back into the depths. Almost immediately, my dear sister Ellen appears, taken from me too soon, before I had a chance to tell how much I loved her. She , too, now laughs and reaches out to me. I lean forward to take her disappearing hand.
Within a breath, everything disappears. I lose everything–my family, my friends, the forest, the lake, all gone.
I pull myself up from the floor where I lay next to my bed. Unhurt, just a bit achy. Why, why had my mind concocted such a fantasy? What is my subconscious trying to tell me? That surely we would meet again? That there is time to change the things I want to change?
The sound of the phone cuts through my thoughts. Both phones, my cell and land line, calling to me simultaneously.
“Happy Birthday, Mom. We love you.” Repeated again. “Happy Birthday, Mom, we love you.”
All through the day, a bouquet of calls from grandchildren and sons. And I embrace them all.
Before night falls, I drive to my favorite walking spot, Cutler Park, where a forest of trees surrounds a large fresh water lake. I smile. 86, like any age, new beginnings, new ending, choices.
Lois says, “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. Professionally, 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 my town of Needham as a Library Trustee and a Town Meeting member for 36 years. And now, I have the joy of being a member of BOLLI!
Our BOLLI Matters blog provides opportunities for all BOLLI members to share thoughts on the issues of the day, memories of issues of other days, stand-out BOLLI moments, favorite Lunch & Learn speakers or programs. You can recommend books, television shows, movies, and more to your fellow BOLLI members. Just write about whatever is on your mind, in your own voice–the way you’d talk to your friends.
In addition, it offers “showcase” space in which to try your hand at writing–creative nonfiction, memoir, fiction, poetry. It gives you a gallery for sharing your photography, drawing, painting, print making, weaving, furniture making, glass, mosaics…or whatever your particular creative venue is.
You might be surprised to find out how much your fellow BOLLI members appreciate and enjoy your efforts. And, who knows? You might surprise yourself and find that you enjoy the process as well–there could be a regular feature or column in your future!
Send items to me, Sue Wurster, at email@example.com. I am happy to help by making suggestions for strengthening your work and doing some judicious editing.
And if you have ideas for features or columns that you might like to see in BOLLI Matters, please pass them along!
Known in some circles as “Wurster, the Wily Word Woman,” I have happily worked on all things word related–public speaking, acting, writing, working on newsletters and newspapers, editing literary/visual art journals–since creating “The Maple Street Gazette” at age 8…
The ring was oval-shaped, and we stood about midway on one side watching the ponies. It was a glorious fall day. We were in no rush.
My granddaughter held my hand. She had not yet decided about having a ride; it’s scary to try something new. So we waited as she carefully appraised each pony as it passed by with its mounted child.
There were brown ones and black ones, some with mixed colors, and others with patterns.
I wondered what she was thinking. Was she intimidated by them, simply afraid, or was she considering what color pony she’d like to ride? What goes through a four-year-old’s head? Lots!
“Would you like a ride?” I asked her.
“Yes,” was her reply, and there was no question about it.
“But I don’t want to ride on a big pony.”
“Okay,” I assured her.
“But I don’t want a small pony.”
“Oh,” I mumbled. Where was this outing going?
In silence, we watched a few more go by and then, she said, “Papa, I want to ride on a medium pony.”
A medium pony. Not too big or too small. Moderation. And, given the times we are in as a nation, not too far left or right.
The extremes we deal with each day can make most of us uncomfortable whether in a pony ring or in politics. Whether we are four or eighty-four, white or black, male or female, conservative or progressive, we are all simply part of the human web that connects us.
When faced with complex choices, compromise most often points the way to a lasting solution. Sounds pretty basic, and it is. Not rocket science, if egos are parked at the door.
Too many of our leaders need to get off their donkeys or elephants and mount a ring full of medium ponies. If they just go on pony ride, they will help us all get “there” faster and “fairer.” If not, we need to send them home on their donkeys or elephants, never to return. We can’t allow any leader’s ego and dated ideology to screw up what can be a good pony ride for America.
And, oh, yes! The pony ride—on a medium, light brown and white pony—was a great success.
Barry says that he and his wife Liz began taking courses at BOLLI “almost from the beginning while winding down my career in the computer field as GM of ADP. Love taking subjects that I’ve not had exposure to before. Being snowbirds, we’re delighted that spring semester is build the five-week offerings. BOLLI has been and remains an important part of our life.”
During Thanksgiving, I told my four Salt Lake City grandchildren about the lives, challenges, and sacrifices of my parents’ generation. My mother, their Great-Grandma Fannie, had just died four months earlier. I showed them documents and photographs of her grade school and high school graduations, my parents’ courtship, and their young children, including me, their second of four.
I also told them about the generation that preceded my parents, the children’s great-great grandparents. All four of them had emigrated from Poland/Russia. All four of them suffered poverty and persecution, fear of conscription into the czar’s army, and traumatic family separations. They had, in fact, survived the hardships of most Jewish immigrants to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.
I tried to impress on the children that we are all incredibly more fortunate to have grown up in the U.S. than in Eastern Europe. Or even more to the point, the Holocaust would have ensured our deaths and the end of our lineage. Their survival made our fifth generation possible. We owe these great-great grandparents our gratitude.
When the visit ended, my husband and I flew east across the vastness that is our country, and I thought about “allegiance,” loyalty to these great United States that enabled our five generations to not only survive but be educated and thrive. I thought about my cousins, on both sides of our family, and realized–as if for the first time–that five of my sixteen first cousins had left the U.S. to live elsewhere. One married a Frenchman and has live din Marseilles for almost fifty years. One married a Japanese woman and has lived in Tokyo for twenty-five years. Three female cousins, who grew up just blocks away from my home, moved to Israel. In fact, two of my aunts and one uncle followed their children and are buried in Jerusalem.
What happened to their “allegiance” to the United States, their gratitude for what this nation made possible for our family? What happened to their first language, English? Was it supplanted by the languages of their adopted countries? In what languages do they dream? Are their attachments to the stories of what their grandparents suffered, the summer camps they attended, their colleges, and their loyalty to the land where three of their fathers served in World War II still strong?
I recall that, when I was young, the romance of becoming a “sabra,” a pioneer in the new land of Israel seemed heroic, almost compelling. It seemed to be the Ultimate in Leaving Home–I could go without being challenged. And yet, after all that day dreaming, the ties that bind me to the U.S. have held tight, and I have stayed.
Today, huge political divisions assail our country. Nevertheless, my sense of allegiance, of loyalty, to the land that made our family’s survival possible and democracy’s hopes still percolate within me. They animate me to take political action because I can no longer take our freedoms for granted.
We cannot know what effects these family stories will have on our children and their children, but I hope that they are filled with awe and gratitude for those who came before them. I hope their allegiance motivates them to make this country as great as it may yet become, almost as great as our grandparents hoped it would be.
“As I grow older,” Eleanor says, “I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of over 50 years, and my friends.” To that end, she has led BOLLI study groups focused on aging, immigration, and more. In addition, along with Elaine Dohan, she chairs BOLLI’s political action special interest group.
Recently, Barry and I received the phone call we had been looking forward to and dreading from a Continuing Care Community in our area.
Our name has been on their list for two years. The marketing representative told us about a unit that was available that met most of our specifications. We agreed to meet the next week.
Upon arrival, I asked whether the unit was empty or occupied (with furniture). The only way “suites” become available is when the resident dies. She responded that it was occupied. It is in the North wing on the first floor with easy access to the main common areas.
Upon entering, we discovered that the daughter of the deceased occupant was there with another person who was sporting a clipboard. I surmised that he and she were deciding what to do with her mother’s belongings. The place was cluttered with stuff. There were spots on the carpet, kitchen utensils and dishes on the counters–all signs of a former life, well lived or not. Who knows?
She showed us around the “suite.” If we didn’t linger, it would have taken five minutes. The space is compact–a master bedroom that would fit a queen bed; another single small bedroom; a small but efficient kitchen; a living/dining area; two full baths, a walk-in closet and one other. The unit doesn’t get the sun, and the patio faced a parking lot.
As we were leaving, I thanked the deceased’s daughter for allowing us to see her mother’s home. She became animated and made it a point to show us the electric fireplace she had installed for her mother. She switched it on, and we saw the warm glow that emanated from the coils. It is a nice feature. Our marketing person suggested that we install recessed lighting around the living room to brighten things up.
After leaving the unit, we learned that another couple who are ahead of us on the waiting list would be looking at it the next day. What a relief! We hope they like it!
It was a stressful, depressing experience! Believe it or not, we’ve never lived in an apartment; well, maybe once! Since coming home to our eleven room “castle,” we’ve talked and talked and talked. By the way, we declined the unit. It turns out that being in a section where there is sunshine coming in through the windows is a must for us.
Of course, there are other factors involved with such a decision. We are already giving away “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the years that we don’t need or can bear to part with; all those things that we may use “someday”, especially my clothes and Barry’s files of papers. The local shredder has been working overtime! And then there are the books, books, books; Native American artifacts, jewelry, jewelry, jewelry; my grandmother’s and my bone china tea cups, sculptures, art work, etc, etc, and so forth. Get the picture?
Then there are the holidays. Recently, for Thanksgiving and Hanukah, we hosted our family of nine, sometimes ten, sometimes twelve, occasionally fourteen. After dinner, the kids, as always, went downstairs to the basement playroom while the rest of us schmoozed. Those precious gatherings will not be possible in the same way in a “suite” of 12/13 hundred square feet.
Barry and I have 83 and 84 years of life experience and are in decent shape for the shape we’re in. So, when it comes to continuing care–
To be continued.
Liz is a familiar face at BOLLI having been an active participant in both courses and committees as well as an SGL and a writer for the blog.
A blog devoted to the interests of BOLLI members and potential members