FROM MYSTERY MAVEN MARILYN: MEET FLAVIA DE LUCE

MEET FLAVIA De LUCE

Speaking from Among the Bones

In case you haven’t met her already, allow me to introduce Flavia de Luce.  The third daughter of an impoverished British former army officer, she’s a delightful character who appeared fully formed in the first book of Alan Bradley’s series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Now she’s back in Speaking from Among the Bones.

The de Luce family traces its roots back hundreds of years in England, but they have fallen on hard times.  The estate of Buckshaw, the ancestral home of Harriet de Luce, the girls’ late mother, is in arrears for back taxes that Colonel de Luce is unable to pay.  Harriet went missing, as the British expression goes, on a trek in the Himalayas shortly after Flavia was born twelve years ago.  Although Buckshaw is no longer the elegant country estate it once was, it’s the only home that Flavia and her two sisters, Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely) have ever known, and the thought of having it taken away by Inland Revenue is casting a dark shadow over the family.

The village of Bishop’s Lacy, home to the de Luces, is preparing for the five-hundredth anniversary of the death of its patron holy man, St. Tancred.  Exactly why this should necessitate digging up his coffin and removing his bones is unclear, unless it is, as Daffy says to Flavia, to see if his body remains uncorrupted, if he has “the odor of sanctity.”  Whatever the reason, the Church of England authorities gave the vicar of St. Tancred permission to remove his coffin, but now they want to revoke that.   The vicar protests that plans have gone too far, but when the crypt is entered (and Flavia, of course, is present) to unearth the casket, the group finds the much more recent remains of the church’s organist, Chrispin Collicutt, who has been missing for several weeks.

Flavia, of course, wants to be in the midst of everything, reflecting that her past successes with local crimes should entitle her to assist the local police whether they want her help or not.  And her vast knowledge of poisons will come in handy, she is sure, in solving any and all crimes in the village, including that of the murder of Mr. Collicutt.  Astride her trusty bike, Gladys, there’s no stopping her.

Bishop’s Lacey is filled with fascinating characters.  There’s  the church’s vicar and his wife; Miss Tanty, a middle-aged member of the choir who suddenly fancies herself as a detective; Adam Sowerby, a friend of the colonel’s with a business card that identifies him as a horticulturist, flora-archaeologist, and investigator (the last under the somewhat misleading wording of “inquiries”); and the two remaining members of the once-grand Buckshaw staff:  Mrs. Mullet, cook and housekeeper; and Dogger, gardener and general handyman, formerly in the service with Colonel de Luce.

Alan Bradley has written the fifth novel in this delightful series with the same wit and verve as he did with the previous four.  You can read more about him at this web site:  alanbradleyauthor.com

BOLLI’s Mystery Maven, Marilyn Brooks

My son Rich told me the world needed a mystery review blog written by me.  Next, my husband Bob suggested that, after writing the reviews, I write to the authors to alert them to these posts.  I was sure none would respond to my emails, but much to my surprise, more than half do, sending short notes of thanks or longer items about themselves and their work.  

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site:  marilynsmysteryreads.com   When there, you can subscribe to Marilyn’s blog so that you are notified whenever she adds a new post.

MARCH SCREENING ROOM: Another Gem

A TIMELY CONFECTION

from Sue Wurster

What better way to spend a snow day than cruising through Netflix for a nice movie?  Today, I found one of those little British gems that is still making me smile.

In Dough, Jonathan Pryce plays Net Dayan of “Dayan & Son,” a struggling Jewish bakery that has been in his family for generations. His days are proscribed.  His routine is intact.  Alas, his own son chose a career as a lawyer over the business, and, now, he’s being pressured to sell out to a grocery chain with a store next door that has actually poached his baking assistant.

The woman who cleans for Dayan is a Muslim woman from Darfur whose son Ayyash has been making some unfortunate choices.  She asks her boss to take the boy on as his assistant, which the baker decides to do “on a trial basis.”

Add to this mix the ever charming Pauline Collins as a lonely widow, and you have the ingredients for a satisfying confection.

Enjoy!

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

 

A confirmed snow day couch potato, Sue has an affinity for the British approach to both film and TV.  

 

 

MARCH SENIOR MOMENT with Liz David: Legacy Letters

LEGACY LETTERS

by Liz David

As we age, we begin to think about legacy.  We write health care proxies which may or may not include ”do not resuscitate” orders. We may designate  a family member or independent person as having our power of attorney.  We write wills as to how we want our financial assets distributed and include lists of those we wish to receive our personal items such as precious jewelry, family heirlooms and special, meaningful, possibly sentimental items.  We may agonize about who should get what and how much, who should receive this or that item, or who even wants anything!

Some of us offer our children and grandchildren these items as we age, before we die.  “Thank you, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa–but we don’t have any room.  It just doesn’t fit.”  Or, worse, “it isn’t our taste.”  Or, even, “You still have a lot of years ahead, and we want you to continue to enjoy the item” of the moment while you still can.

There is another legacy, though, that may be even more meaningful than the above and doesn’t depend on legalities or whether or not anyone wishes to receive the item.  It is a “Legacy Letter,” or, as described in ancient times, an Ethical Will.  A Legacy Letter is a letter we write to our loved ones, either to be opened after death, or shared whenever you decide the time is right.  It is a way to synthesize our thoughts and feelings in a meaningful  and loving way. It is a way to transmit our love, our special stories, anecdotes, and the lessons we have learned over a lifetime.

As older adults, we consciously, or not, are models. Our behavior, attitudes and values are transmitted to those around us.  We teach by our lives, our examples, our deeds, our spoken and unspoken words. It is normal for us to think about what is important for us to transmit to those in our sphere, our family, loved ones, closest friends.

Don’t get me wrong.  Keeping our relationships “current” should be a top priority, either through confronting difficult subjects or, simply, giving a peck on the cheek as we walk out the door, knowing that, given life’s unpredictability, we may never see that person again. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true!

Here are some guidelines that I’ve used  when helping Legacy Letter participants through the process.

  1. Are there specific things you wish to say to specific people?
  2. What are the important teachings, messages, etc. you would like to leave as your legacy?
  3. What qualities in the people you are writing to have given you pride or pleasure? What do you want to affirm about them?
  4. If you have a life partner, would you want to give him or her encouragement to re-couple?
  5. What acts of charity would you like survivors to do in your memory? Do you want money donated? To a specific cause
  6. Discuss funeral plans. Remember funerals are for your survivors.

Do’s and Don’t’s

  1. Do include your favorite jokes and memories of the good times you’ve shared.
  2. Don’t scold, criticize or use this as a guilt trip to punish people.
  3. Inform loved ones where you have stored your Legacy Letter.
  4. Update periodically

Regarding whether to write your Legacy Letter on the computer or handwritten–I suggest you do both. There is nothing so precious as receiving a handwritten letter,  and it will reflect your style and personality in ways that will be appreciated beyond measure.

May you go from strength to strength.

Senior Moment feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

When we were in our 40’s, my husband and I bought a sundial with the saying “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”  I then felt a “calling” and, at age 45, earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and became a bereavement counselor.  Later, a friend encouraged me to join BOLLI where I began to offer courses in which we discuss our aging–from the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of our lives.  My passion is to help others to gain deeper understanding of themselves and the changes, losses, gains, and glories of aging.  So, “grow old along with me–the best is yet to be.”

A Little Writing Inspiration: Try Creative Nonfiction!

So, what is Creative Nonfiction?  The simplest, clearest, and probably most “apt” answer is this:  true stories, well told.     Recently, Steve Goldfinger shared a piece about Henry and Claire Booth Luce, and now, Lydia Bogar provides her thoughts about her local childhood library and the woman for whom it was renamed.

A FAVORITE HAUNT AND THE OLD LADY IN THE PAINTING

by Lydia Bogar

The Greendale Branch, Worcester Public Library

Even as her vision failed, my maternal grandmother always had her Bible, The Morning Telegram, or The Evening Gazette) in hand.  As she grew older and needed both a magnifying glass and a bright lamp to help her, she continued to read, every day, until her death at the age of 94.  She passed her love of reading on to me, and it wasn’t long before the library became a favorite haunt.

The Greendale Branch of the Worcester Public Library was built in 1913 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie.  The children’s section of the library was on the left, divided from the adult books by an enormous, heavy, oak desk where you showed your card to the librarian and were then able to borrow books to read at home.

I started with the Little Golden books and got hooked.  Years later, I decided to turn a sharp right inside the front door and, over the course of that summer, read everything in the fiction section.  That was when I met Mary, Queen of Scots and Ernest Hemingway.  Eventually, I would drive my mother’s car there to “study” with friends.   In my family, women passed on not only our love of reading but books as well. I have been hooked on mysteries since an elderly aunt left me her collection of Perry Mason paperbacks in 1968.  My mother helped me to grow by passing on The Power of Positive Thinking, Silent Spring, and The Quiet American.

In the library, there was an enormous marble fireplace along the back wall.  A portrait of Frances Perkins, for whom the library was renamed in 1944, rested above it.  When I was a child, I had no idea who Frances Perkins was.  To me, she was just an old lady in an old painting.

Frances Perkins

Eventually, though, I learned just who this remarkable woman was.  Born and educated in Worcester, she started learning Greek from her father as a child, took classes in physics and chemistry at Mount Holyoke College as a young woman, and worked with poor, undereducated women in Illinois as an adult.  After her graduation, Frances devoted herself to mentoring working women, black and white, especially those in factories who were trying to support their families on miniscule paychecks.  She later earned a Masters Degree at Columbia University, writing her thesis on malnutrition among public school children. It is difficult to imagine how many glass ceilings she shattered just in her own educational efforts.

In 1911, when Perkins was in New York, she witnessed dozens of factory workers leap to their deaths in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire—a turning point in her life.  From that point on, she dedicated her life to seeing labor conditions improve for workers.  She worked with a legislative committee after the disaster and became a consultant to Governor Al Smith.  Eventually, her lobbying efforts caught the attention of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who appointed her to serve as his Secretary of Labor, the first woman to serve in a U.S. Government Cabinet position.  Serving in that position for over 12 years, she championed such causes as the Civilian Conservation Corps, Federal Emergency Relief, Fair Labor Standards, and Social Security.

Years before Rosa Parks or Gloria Steinem made their marks on our culture, Frances Perkins said:

                                  “I promise to use what brains I have                                         to meet problems with intelligence and courage.”

Quite a resume for a woman from Worcester whose portrait still inspires young visitors to the Greendale Branch of the Worcester Public Library.

 

Frequent BOLLI blogger, Lydia Bogar

Lydia has become a frequent BOLLI Matters contributor, even creating her own monthly feature, “Lines from Lydia.”

 

 

A PATRIOT FOR THE BOOKS: MALCOLM MITCHELL

A PATRIOT FOR THE BOOKS: MALCOLM MITCHELL

by Sue Wurster

I’m sorry.  I’m just not all that into football.  I come from solid, Cleveland area, die-hard Browns fans, and maybe that, in itself, explains my lack of interest.  The Browns just never seemed to me to be a particularly stellar bunch.  And then, of course,  Cleveland was plunged into the depths of a dense, dark, clinically critical depression over what it still rancorously refers to as “The Move”  (complete with shudder) – when Art Modell fired coach Bill Belichick and tried to move the team to Baltimore.  (The Ravens are still considered by said die-hards to be “an extension” team.  Like some sort of sports off-ramp.)

So, when Super Bowl season rolls around, I find it easy to ignore the hype.  This year, though, the weeks of build-up to the whole thing was thrust into my face when coverage of how it was all going to go down was everywhere.  It eventually supplanted one too many Jeopardy airings, and I shifted to PBS, exclusively, for the news.

And yet, this isn’t even what really got me—and continues to get me.  I thought that, after the Patriots won and came home to a big parade and waved that big trophy around and flashed the rings, it would finally be over.   But the whole thing just keeps dragging on.  Last night, on the news, there was an item about people getting Patriots logo and/or Tom Brady (TB12) tattoos to commemorate the whole thing.  (They actually even showed a guy having one done on his bum…) Really?  This is news?

BUT I found a bright spot in the midst of all this hoopla–Malcolm Mitchell.  This young man, in my humble opinion, is one Patriot who deserves even more attention.

Mitchell grew up in Georgia where he played football for Valdosta High School and, early on, caught the eye of a scout from the University of Georgia.  He also caught the attention of VHS principal Gary Boling who helped the young athlete prepare for college by encouraging him to take on a more challenging course load and to explore his options for his college course of study.  Mitchell says that Boling changed his life—but the principal wasn’t the only source of inspiration and help that set him on a unique path.

Malcolm says that, when he arrived in Athens and the University of Georgia campus, he was not a confident reader.  So, he decided to focus on building his strength—by reading as much as he could.   At one point, while in an Athens bookstore, Mitchell apparently asked a fellow customer for a book recommendation.  Kathy Rackley was happy to provide suggestions and indicated that she was picking up a copy of Me Before You, her book club’s choice for their next meeting.  They talked, and, soon, Mitchell left the store with a copy of the book—and an invitation to join the group at their next meeting, which he did.

It didn’t seem to matter to Mitchell that the group consisted of middle-aged women with whom he had little in common.  The women were welcoming, and the books took him to new worlds and pushed him to think about new ideas.  (Besides, in the club, there were no papers or exams.  No wrong answers.)  “The book club helped me grow into a better individual,” he said in a Boston Globe profile in last May, “a person who learns and grows throughout life in general,” he said.

Malcolm with the Silverleaf Book Club.

He has certainly continued to learn and grow ever since.  In fact, his love of reading led him to launching a program to promote youth literacy and book ownership among students in underserved schools.  The program, Read with Malcolm is part of the Share the Magic Foundation and has expanded exponentially over the years.  He has also written a children’s book, The Magician’s Hat, about a boy who discovers the magic of reading.

Georgia school children “Read with Malcolm”

It is exciting to see this young man experiencing success on the field, but seeing him focused on helping kids the way that principal and those women in the Silverleaf book club helped him.  Now, THAT’s just “super.”

To find out more about the Read with Malcolm program, click here. 

For the May 23, 2016 Boston Globe article about Malcolm Mitchell, click here.

BOLL Matters editor, Sue Wurster

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my father brought an old Remington typewriter home from a yard sale or auction and set it atop the desk he had recently refinished for me (which sits in my front hall now).  My very own typewriter. The result?  The laboriously typed (with carbon paper) Maple Street Gazette which informed the neighbors of such riveting events as the Harrisons’ new puppies, the Lanagans’ new patio, who dressed up as what at Halloween, and more.  Every issue was sold out (at a whopping five cents per copy). I guess it’s in the blood…

FEBRUARY BOOK NOOK with Abby Pinard: Two You May Have Missed

This month, Abby reaches back to the relatively recent past for two books you may have missed.  And if you did, both are worth your attention!

 

THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON

by Adam Johnson, 2012

There are many books I’ve loved, many writers I’ve admired, some whose talent has been awe-inspiring. But it’s not often that I read a novel wondering “how the hell did he/she do that?” This is one of those times. How did Adam Johnson imagine his way into the dystopia of Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea and create a world so real to the reader that when Americans show up, they seem oddly alien?

The book is darkly comic and desperately sad, always teetering on the brink of complete absurdity but true in its heartbreaking depiction of people just trying to survive the stories of their lives that the state has determined for them.

“Where we are from . . . stories are factual. If a farmer is declared a music virtuoso by the state, everyone had better start calling him maestro. And secretly, he’d be wise to start practicing the piano. For us, the story is more important than the person. If a man and his story are in conflict, it is the man who must change.”

In the first part of the book, the protagonist, Pak Jun Do, is plucked from the orphanage run by his father and becomes a fighter in the tunnels under the demilitarized zone, then a kidnapper, a spy at sea intercepting radio transmissions, and, when a mission to Texas goes hilariously wrong, a prisoner in a mining camp. In part two, the picaresque gives way to intrigue and romance among the upper echelons and the Dear Leader himself as Jun Do evolves from a tool of the state to a man determined to fashion his own story.

This is a remarkable accomplishment, at once compellingly readable and scarily disorienting. It is every bit as good as its Pulitzer Prize (2012) would suggest.

 

THE GOOD LORD BIRD

by James McBride, 2013

James McBride walks a fine line in the National Book Award-winning (2013) The Good Lord Bird. Treating tragic and painful historical events with humor is risky business. His subject is John Brown and the failed raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry in 1861. Brown was a zealot whose plan to free the slaves bordered on lunacy but McBride succeeds in humanizing him in a rollicking romp of a story that is both irreverent and historically astute.

The narrator is Henry Shackleford, a twelve-year-old slave mistaken for a girl and swept up by “the Captain” to become his good-luck charm in the war against slavery. Henry/Henrietta is a wonderful character who doesn’t understand John Brown’s religious zeal and doesn’t want any part of war but figures out how to survive both.

“I couldn’t make head nor tails of what he was saying, for I was to learn that Old John Brown could work the Lord into just about any aspect of his comings and goings in life, including using the privy. That’s one reason I weren’t a believer, having been raised by my Pa, who was a believer and a lunatic, and them things seemed to run together. But it weren’t my place to argue with a white man, especially one who was my kidnapper, so I kept my lips closed.”

Henry lives for a time in a whorehouse, falls in love twice, escapes the clutches of Frederick Douglass, meets Harriet Tubman, and plays a role in “hiving” (recruiting) Negroes to the cause. He comes to know Brown as a “good, kind lunatic,” a man as unique as the rare bird of the title – a bird “so pretty that when man sees it, he says  ‘Good Lord.’”  The portrayal of John Brown — both hero and fool – is a great accomplishment, as is this brilliantly entertaining amalgam of history and imagination.

“BOOK NOOK” feature writer Abby Pinard

A lifelong book nut, Abby retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

 

FEBRUARY CHEF’S CORNER with John Rudy: Chocolate Chip Cookies

THE BEST BIG, FAT, CHEWY CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES EVER

from John Rudy

It is hard to find chocolate chip cookies that have enough chocolate, the right taste (thus the brown sugar), and are chewy-soft.  Do not stint on getting the proper chocolate.  I use Ghirardelli 60% Cacao.  For starters, they must be large because the outer edge will always cook faster, and if the edges are most of the cookie you have a problem.  Second, the cookies continue to cook as long as they are hot and sit on a hot pan.  So they must be removed from the oven when not fully cooked.  My suggestion is to make a small pan first, do what you think is right, and then adjust from there.

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks), melted

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease cookie sheets
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended.  Beat in the vanilla, egg, and extra egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon.
  4. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.  They really should be that far apart or as they cook they will merge together.
  5. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.
  6. It is fine to freeze them for later–and they even taste great when frozen.
“CHEF’S CORNER” feature writer John Rudy

John says that it was his mother who inspired his love of cooking and baking at an early age.  (She cooked exclusively vegetables in boilable packages.)

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

LINES FROM LYDIA: Remembering Bill, the Bat Man

REMEMBERING BILL, THE BAT MAN

By Lydia Bogar

When old friends die, we try to remember the happy times, the jokes and laughs, the parties and vacations.  Sometimes, though, that’s a stretch—as it was with Bill.

A year or so after my divorce, I dated a man who had grown up with my ex-husband.  Bill was a carpenter with a young daughter, two interesting and diverse sisters, and parents who lived down the street.  Unlike my ex-husband, he loved to dance and be social.   His friends welcomed me, including some that I knew from my job at the Town Hall.   But Bill had a problem.

Bill loved a beer (or three) at noon on Saturday, whether he was watching a ballgame or working.  One of his favorite social venues was the Knights of Columbus Hall.  Not because of the Catholic connection but because what this group of Knights were good at in the early 80’s was drinking–a lot.

On Tuesdays, the Knights went bowling (and drinking) at an alley within spitting distance from my house.  On one of those Tuesday nights in the spring, a nice breeze blew in from the west, and I opened my windows to catch the fresh air.  Around 2 am, a noise woke me up.  Not the girls.  Nothing electrical or mechanical.  Must be an animal in the backyard, I thought.  I rolled over and went back to sleep, but within minutes, the noise woke me again.

This time, I turned on the light.  And when I did, something flew across the room.  I screamed, turned off the light, reached for my robe, and rushed to close the doors to the girls’ rooms.  That bird was not going to crap all over my house!  So, with flashlight in hand and a large towel over my shoulder, I began my search for my intruder.  Hearing the noise again, I realized it wasn’t a bird.  It was a bat–and he was scared.  With the window fully open, I flapped the bath towel around in an attempt to chase the darn thing back outside, but my efforts were in vain.  I called Bill.

After at least a dozen rings, he finally picked up, and soon, his truck pulled into the driveway.  He came to the door with a plywood box which proved to be of no help.  Finally, Bill grabbed my chenille bathmat, quietly sneaked up on the creature, threw the mat around him, tossed him—mat and all—outside, and slammed the window shut.  He headed for his truck, waved good night, and I tumbled back into bed.

Within what seemed like ten minutes, the alarm went off, and the day began.  I didn’t tell the girls about the bat, nor did I mention it to my co-workers at the Town Hall.  Mid-afternoon, as I drank another cup of coffee to stay awake, Bill arrived in my office and told me he had had a weird dream. He said he dreamed he came to my house during the night and followed a bat into my bedroom through an open window.  Then he said that he was going to stop drinking.  Somehow, with a straight face, I replied that, yes, that was a weird dream and that abstinence was probably a good idea.

Bill never heard the true story, but I shared it with his sisters at his funeral, and they laughed along with me.  Funny, the laughs that bond us.

There has never been another bat inside my house. The few that fly around the back yard at dusk don’t give me a second glance. Maybe the story about that long ago warm Tuesday evening in the spring has been passed down through the bat generations and–remembering Bill the Bat Man–they keep their distance.

“Lines from Lydia” feature writer Lydia Bogar

Renaissance woman Lydia Bogar has been English teacher, health care professional and more.  She joined BOLLI in the spring of 2016 after returning home from a stint in South Carolina where she dipped into another OLLI program.  “It’s good to be here!” she exclaims.  (And it’s good to have her.) 

 

 

FEBRUARY SENIOR MOMENT with Eleanor Jaffe: My Aunt Sally

MY AUNT SALLY

by Eleanor Jaffe

     My Aunt Sally died a few days ago.  Today was her funeral.  She was 95 years old.

      I am not sure if she really is my aunt any more because, you see, my “real” Uncle Sam, my mother’s kid brother,  divorced her about 5 years ago.  They had been separated for 20 or 30 years by that time, but Aunt Sally would never let him go.  She refused to divorce him.  They lived separately.  He supported her.  He dated other women and began living with Jane at least 20 years ago, and Jane finally became his second wife about 5 years ago. Still, Sally took her rightful place at all family functions, luncheons, Thanksgiving Day dinners, birthday parties.  I even invited her to my son’s wedding 18 years ago in New Orleans along with Sid and Jane.  After all, she was still my aunt, and she and my Mom had fun together, despite the fact that Mom always considered her an airhead.

     Sally and Sam were a gorgeous couple when they first met in their early 20’s.  Sam was a decorated war hero.  He’d been shot out of the sky with his crew and was one of the two out of twelve who survived.  Ronnie was curly haired, pretty, and very curvey.  I was about 8 or 9 years old when they were engaged and came to visit my family.  I was enthralled by their movie star gorgeousness and glamour.  They married and lived together in Florida for about 30 years — far from our home in Brooklyn.  They had 3 children together.  My cousin Sarah, their oldest child, died from cancer a long time ago.  Sam searched everywhere with her for a cure–all over the U.S. and Mexico to Germany–and was broken by her death.  He still seems broken.

     I understood, I thought, why Uncle Sam no longer wanted to live with Sally.  He was a complex man–intelligent, well traveled, well read, an athlete, interested in Chinese art.  Sally was simple.  She liked buying $2 and $3 “tschochkes,” according to some who eulogized her today, and then giving them away.  She never recognized a rebuff, so she went through life perpetually cheerful and resilient.  Most people, it seems, went out of their way to help her, and they liked her.  Was she insensitive?  obtuse? or loyal and forever loving?  She lived with her son and his wife, both of whom adored her.  Her daughter-in-law wept from the pulpit as did her son, her grandson, and two other grandchildren.  Clearly, Sally lavished her love on them, and they cherished her.

     People are complicated.  We can’t know what is in their hearts and minds.  We guess.  We tell ourselves stories that we believe.  Some of us are quick to judge others.  We become locked into our own opinions (or are they the opinions of others?).  We overlook, we simplify, and we think we know.  We take sides.  And yet, we can never know the whole story.  How can we?

     I felt very sorry for my Uncle Sam today.  I love him and respect him.  He sat next to Jane, his second wife, and listened to almost everyone in his family speak of their love and praise for their adorable and adored mother and grandmother—without a word about the father and grandfather who sat two rows behind his first wife’s coffin, which was blanketed by an abundance of roses. 

“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David

As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends, and my 102 year old mother.  To satisfy my ever growing curiosity about what it means to grow older in our society, I created and taught three BOLLI courses on this topic.  My experiences as a high school English teacher and social worker plus a lot of reading about aging and loss (and, of course, living, so far, to 80) have                                               prepared me to write this blog.

Please share your own thoughts and feelings by commenting below–

MEET MEMBER STEVE GOLDFINGER: BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE

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

BEST FRIENDS FOR LIFE

by Steve Goldfinger

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

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

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

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

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

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