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CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM ELAINE PITOCHELLI: HUMOR & PATHOS

HUMOR & PATHOS: ROBIN WILLIAMS REMEMBERED

By Elaine Pitochelli

The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States. The first test tube baby was born. Cult leader Jim Jones told nine hundred members of his church to commit suicide. Girls were playing with Barbie Dolls and Easy Bake Ovens. Boys were playing with the Simon game and hot wheels.

And in his comedic persona of Mork from Ork, Robin Williams exploded on the scene.

In our household, television viewing was reserved for a couple of evening family shows, during which we let Williams, that comic genius, into our home and our lives. He first appeared on the show, Happy Days, and then sequed into the memorable Mork and Mindy.

I enjoyed the show very much, but Williams’ persona puzzled me. This enigmatic soul of comedy poked at my inner places. I needed to look deeper at him.  I felt the need to study him. How could he keep up this crazy, oddball act? How could he keep up this raving wildness?  I worried about him, which seemed odd to me. For God’s sake. I didn’t know the man personally.

Yet, on some essential level, I did know him.  His depression, his mania, his genius was there for anyone to see—anyone, that is, who dared to, anyone who had lived with the same proclivities. I can’t let him go without a tribute to his gifts.

Mork is gone, and so is the planet Ork.  So are Peter Pan and Hook.
Gone are the Happy Feet that rocked and zoomed across the frozen tundra.
Gone is The Fisher King whose craziness bore pins into our eyes and icy shards thick from the frozen wasteland into our hearts.
Gone is Mrs. Doubtfire who absorbed a child’s tears in her vast bosom.                                                                                                                             Gone is the booming voice that awakened Vietnam and promised relief from travails.                                                                                                    Gone is Patch Adams restoring rosy cheeks to ashen children whose souls would soon be winging their way to heaven.
Gone is Jacob the Liar who gave solace, grace, and laughter to a tiny girl destined for the Nazi ovens.
Gone are those eyes of bottomless sadness, the depth of the deepest desert sands.

What’s left is a man whose own soul cried while he gave sustenance to millions with insane laughter and fathomless tears.
What’s left are our memories and yearnings to restore to his heart and soul that which he gave to ours.
What’s left is the knowledge that his pain couldn’t be healed.
What’s left is his profound imagination and creativity, someone who brought his emotions to soaring heights and allowed us unbridled laughter and play in Humor and Pathos.

BOLLI member and writer Elaine Pitochelli

 

Elaine considers reading her passion and inspiration. Writing is her muse, the creative influence in her Being.  Her family is her All.

 

 

 

 

CREATIVE NONFICTION FROM JO KLEIN: Mattresses and Signposts

MATTRESSES AND SIGNPOSTS

By Jo Klein

 

Evidently, I have free mattress karma.

Years ago, I wanted a “heavenly bed” from the Westin hotels. I searched for a discount and finally found one at an online retailer.  I called customer service and spoke to Rita, an affable woman and a fellow opera lover.  We spoke several times as I verified the details of the mattress and discussed recent productions at the Metropolitan Opera.  I was easily sold.  Would a person with such good taste in music lead me wrong?  I don’t know what happened to the voice in my head that should have said, “Jo, she’s a saleswoman.”

The mattress came. It wasn’t heavenly. The retailer wouldn’t take it back. Out of frustration, I wrote to Westin.  An executive there acknowledged I was sent the wrong product, and eventually I received a free, very heavenly mattress.

My friends were still talking about my free mattress years later when my back started talking back to me.  It took eight tries to get the organic, foam, non-allergenic mattress I needed.  My next to last purchase came from Essentia.  As I walked into the store, I overheard the saleswoman talking about guruji, an affectionate term for one’s guru.  Of course, meeting a fellow spiritual seeker and yogini assured me I was in the right place so I plunked down enough money to make the heavenly bed seem cheap.

I’m going to skip what went wrong.  I returned the mattress, but I couldn’t get my money refunded.  Finally, I did what any teenager knows to do: I tweeted the CEO and received  an immediate call from the person in finance who hadn’t responded to my persistent emails and phone calls. She promised my money would be refunded the next day. But it didn’t happen for over two months.

Meanwhile, I had filed a complaint with my credit card company, and they ended up refunding me the money at about the same time Essentia did, so I had a double refund.  Then I started round after round of phone calls with Capital 1 trying to give back the extra money.  They asked Essentia to clarify the situation. When Essentia wouldn’t respond, Capital 1 closed the case and sent me a check for the full amount of my purchase. I argued with them on 3 different occasions because I felt the money wasn’t mine to keep, but they said it was. The money was about twice what I needed to buy my ideal mattress from Gardner Mattress.

I’d like to report that I learned a lesson about following signs, but, last Saturday,  I was listening to the opera Romeo and Juliet while surfing the internet for a new cabinet.  The one I liked best was called the Verona.  I don’t know if I should order it…

BOLLI Matters writer Jo Klein

Formerly known as Jo Ann the Phillies fan, Jo moved to the Boston area to be close to her grandchildren and a winning baseball team.  After satisfying careers as an elementary school principal and a marketing research analyst, she now practices alternative healing modalities and enjoys yoga, the Boston Symphony, and frequent trips to the Metropolitan Opera.

JUNE SCREENING ROOM WITH DENNIS GREENE: SOME OVERLOOKED GEMS

Later this month (June 23rd), the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge will be showing Philippe Broca’s charming King of Hearts to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release in 1968.   Many may remember its historic four or five-year run at the Central Square Cinema where I enjoyed it several times during the early 70’s. Though It was not an initial box office success, over the decades, the film acquired an avid group of loyal fans.

As I made plans to see this revival, I thought about other films which are often overlooked in those “best ever” lists, but which I watch again and again, and include among my favorites. How many of you can identify Charles Plumpick, Peachey Carnahan, Lewis Tater, Celest Talbert, Hub and Garth McCann and Miles Kendig? Not many I’ll wager. But around these characters, all but one of which is portrayed by an Academy award winning actor, have been constructed brilliant screen gems which are each worth a couple of hours of your time when you need a shot of enjoyment. So, here is my list.

Charles Plumpick is the kilt wearing Scottish pigeon handler attached to an English battalion fighting against the Germans in World War I. He is ordered to disarm a bomb in a small French town. By the time he arrives at the town, the townspeople have fled, and the inmates of an unlocked asylum have taken over. Plumpick, played by Alan Bates, falls for a beautiful tightrope walker (Genevive Bujold) and is chosen the town’s leader, the “king of hearts”.  Bates is the one non-Academy Award winner in the group, though he was nominated for his role in The Fixer.  The film begs the question, “Who is more crazy, the residents of the asylum or the men killing one another outside the town with guns and tanks? This is a French film in which the inmates speak French,the British soldiers speak English, and the German soldiers speak German, but there are subtitles for all.

Peachey Carnahan is one of the two principal characters in John Houston’s masterful film version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King.  This is the ultimate “buddy”movie which Houston sought to make for over twenty years.  During that time, he approached Clark Gable and Humphry Bogart, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, and Robert Redford and Paul Newman to play the pair. Newman felt it should be English actors and suggested Michael Caine and Sean Connery. I can’t imagine anyone else in the roles.

Lewis Tater is a aspiring young writer who heads west to write about the frontier.  Hearts of the West is an obscure little film about the origin of the film industry and the rise of Hollywood. Jeff Bridges is endearing as the young Tater, and a supporting cast including Blythe Danner, Andy Griffith and Alan Arkin, make this film shine.

Celeste Talbert, a role perfect for Sally Field, is the star of a long running TV soap opera. The twists and turns in Soapdish are serpentine and hilarious. The cast of this rollicking comedy says all you need to know. Kevin Kline, Robert Downey, Jr., Elisabeth Shue, Whoopie Goldberg, Teri Hatcher, Cathy Moriarty, Gary Marshall, Kathy Najimy and Carrie Fisher. Enough said.

Hub and Garth McCann , played perfectly by Robert Duval and Michael Caine, are two cantankerous old brothers with an unbelievable back story and a rumored vast fortune. They become responsible for their shy 14 year old grand-nephew when he is left with them by the boy’s irresponsible and daft mother. There the fun starts, including the purchase of an aging circus lion who roams loose on their little farm. Secondhand Lions is a charming and uplifting romp. I admit to an urge to shed a few tears at the end, and so will you.

 Miles Kendig, the final name on my list, is my favorite. Kendig, played by the incomparable Walter Matthau, is an aging CIA field agent approaching retirement. After he completes a successful operation, Kendig’s right wing idiotic boss takes him out of the spy game and assigns him to the file room to end his career. Here is where the fun starts. Kendig shreds his own personnel file, goes on the run and informs his boss, and every major embassy in the world, that he is writing a memoir about the CIA’s “dirty tricks” and will circulate each chapter as it is completed. The chase begins, but Kendig is the best at this game. Again, the supporting cast of Hopscotch, including Glenda Jackson, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston, Herbert Lom, as well as Matthau’s son and daughter-in-law, are well cast and the chase around the world is pure fun. I watch it every time I am down, and I root for the old guy against the bureaucratic bully. Better than a shrink

These are my favorite overlooked gems. If you believe I omitted others that deserve mention, and I’m sure I have, I’d love to hear from you.

BOLLI Matters writer of memoir, movies, and monsters 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.  (To say nothing of books and movies as well!)

 

LINES FROM LYDIA: BUENOS DIAS

BUENOS DIAS

My watch was still on Boston time.  Waiting in line for customs, I had decided not to change it to El Salvador time.  If I wanted a real getaway, then I needed to leave time and home behind, but that did not mean my loved ones.  I had already thought of my grandsons.  Brady, age 11, would love the van driver’s speed and his music;  Henry, age 6, would love the two cats and frantic little puppy that live in my friends’ home; and my daughter Diane, her Nana’s girl, would love the flowers and the warm breeze off the Pacific.  I am eager to walk on the black sand beaches of the Costa Del Sol.

My 1968 Spanish is weak; the CDs are still at home in the box. There has been no time to listen to them in the five weeks since I bought my ticket.  Today, I sit in my casa du amigos within a compound with armed guards at the gate and razor wire atop the 12 foot high wall. Escuela Americana.  It is 73 degrees at 8:00 a.m.   My grandsons are enjoying a snow day.

The coffee here is wonderful, as is the homemade Greek yogurt with local honey and oat bran. The taste is different from the diet that I follow at home. This is when I decide that I will eat to fill my belly, not my appetite.

Outside the small bathroom window, the skies are hazy. Pollution? Fog? I learn that it is a little of each. Tall concrete buildings tower over the tin roofs, palm and mango trees, and more cement.  So many different textures, foreign to me and fascinating.  Another difference is the bathroom itself.  The tub and shower is a large concrete box covered in white ceramic tile. The shower head is American, and there is a faint whiff of chlorine in the water, not unlike Miami.  From the window, through the haze, I see a mountain looming large over the neighborhood. Later, I am told it is a volcano and there may be an occasional, small earthquake.

My first day in El Salvador begins, and I am hungry for it all. As the daughter of an immigrant, I am very conscious of this first use of my American passport.  San Salvador is thousands of miles from my Worcester birthplace.  I travel with courage and focus to learn of a new culture and to embrace my religion where it is strongest, where clergy and missionaries were assassinated and, later, canonized. I ask God to keep me safe on this journey.

Today, I pray for the people of El Salvador.   Those who are victims of gang violence, and for Sergio, our former BOLLI custodian, whose family is in the capital city–as are my friends who teach at the Escuela Americana.

BOLLI Matters Co-Editor, Lydia Bogar

Our own “Renaissance Woman,” Lydia has done everything from teaching English to doing volunteer emergency service.  She says she “hails from Woosta–educated at BOLLI.”

 

 

BOLLI PRESENTS A NEW SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP: MAKE A DIFFERENCE

WHO SAYS WE’RE TOO OLD?

by Eleanor Jaffe

Eleanor and Husband Burt

Where political action is concerned, I’d say we are not too old.  I’d say we have strong ethics and opinions that are well informed by our personal lives and professional experiences,  and we have potentially strong voices.  BUT – we must use them!

We watch our beloved country overrun by scoundrels, those with no moral compass or sense of history.  Those who cannot (or will not) defend the rights of children separated from their parents at our borders.  Under this administration, we see  families that have trekked many hundreds of miles from their homes where they lived in danger from gangs and governments unable to protect them  to our borders seeking asylum.  (They are highly motivated;  wouldn’t they make ideal citizens?  Highly motivated, strong, ambitious people, sacrificing and striving for democracy and safety for themselves and their children.)  And we watch, dumbstruck by cruelties performed in our names by our government’s benighted policies:  these official asylum seekers, whose entry is not illegal,  are being separated from their traumatized children.

Thousands of children have been separated from their parents and are being “warehoused” in large detention centers, suffering the cruelties of fear and separation  that will shape their lives forever.  And our own government is the perpetrator of this policy!  And our tax dollars are supporting these arbitrary cruelties!

No matter what you think of our immigration policies…do you think they are inconsistent, have loopholes, need attention and correction?  Do you really believe this is the way to implement our current practices?  

Who says we are too old to do something about this heinous, cruel “immigration policy?”

Many of  us already make our voices heard by writing letters and making phone calls to our elected officials.   Others financially support organizations like the ACLU, the League of Women Voters, or other worthy organizations.  I hope that all of us might raise our  voices, write those postcards, support voter registration and candidates whose policies we admire so that our government represents the policies and programs that are synchronous with who we are as  moral persons   Ask yourself, does your government now reflect your ideals, experiences, and hopes?  If it does not, get active!  We are not too old!

One way to “get active” is to attend the meetings of our newly formed Make A Difference special interest group at BOLLI to see what we are doing.  We will be meeting on June 12 at 1 pm.  We will also meet once a month in July and August.  We will then set a regular meeting time come September.  You and your righteous anger and determination to “Make a Difference” will be heard.  We are not too old!

After serving as a delegate to Chicago’s 1968 Democratic Convention, Eleanor’s activism took a back seat to her other pursuits.  But today, she says, fear and loathing of the Trump administration has propelled her from “arm chair activism” (talking back to TV anchors) to small acts of resistance.  In the 2017 fall semester, she was sufficiently motivated to create a BOLLI course, “Resistance and Resilience in Politics and in Life.”  Now, she and Elaine Dohan are leading, “Make a Difference,” a new special interest group devoted to doing just that–through phoning, writing, and other acts of protest.  She invites others to join.

A NEW FEATURE: BOLLI AFTER DARK WITH DONNA JOHNS

Welcome to Bolli After Dark!  In this column, I will highlight stage plays, movies and videos to dive into after a day of learning. Comments and suggestions are always welcome at my email: mamasigs126@gmail.com.

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Summer in the greater Boston area used to be an entertainment wasteland, with only concerts on town greens and baseball games for diversion. Not so this summer.

Let’s start with the biggest original musical coming in to the city. Moulin Rouge, based on the Baz Luhrmann movie, is slotted for the newly renovated Emerson Colonial Theater starting on June 27. Broadway veterans Aaron Tviet and Karen Olivo headline the show, which will be heading for Broadway next season. It tells the story of an ambitious young writer and an enchanting chanteusse who cross paths at the decadent French nightclub. Here’s a teaser from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFay0SVFxVI. (through August 5) Preview the story by watching Lehrmann’s film which can be rented through Comcast, Fios and Amazon Prime.

Most of the repertory companies remain dark during the summer but American Repertory Theater has two robust shows extending into June and July. Jagged Little Pill is an original story inspired by the Alanis Morrissette album. The Healey family, living a pleasant suburban life, is rocked to its core and must examine the values and morality of their lives. (through July 15)

A perennial A.R.T. favorite, The Donkey Show, retells Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a disco beat. The show is performed in the intimate Oberon theater, where cocktails and audience participation are part of the fun. (through June 30)

One of Shakespeare’s greatest villains, Richard III, strides onto the Boston Common from July 17 to August 5. Commonwealth Shakespeare’s free performances are always well done and you can’t beat the picnic atmosphere on a sultry summer night. I saw a brief scene from Richard III done by this group last month and it was a chilling picture of an ambitious man seizing and trying to keep power at any cost.

Don’t feel like driving into Boston? Shakespeare is coming to the Waltham Common on July 28th. J.T. Turner presents a one man show which highlights the Bard of Avon’s life as well as scenes from his comedies, tragedies and histories. The parking is plentiful, the show starts at 6:30 and carryout is nearby. Bring a lawn chair and prepare to participate as well.

If you’ve been out in the hot sun all day weeding your garden, you may not feel like going out at all. Settle in with one of the Oscar nominees you might have missed. Better yet, rent The Black Panther.

I am not a comic book/superhero fan and saw this film under protest. Boy, was I wrong. It’s visually stunning, full of humor and action and big ideas. Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Black Panther was touching and inspiring as he made the difficult transition from prince to king.

So get busy marking up your calendars for an exciting, entertaining summer. In my next column, I’ll be looking at that great American institution, the road trip.  Lots of great films to explore as we hit the road.

BOLLI After Dark feature writer Donna Johns

Donna Johns is a teacher/librarian, writer of unpublished romance novels, sometime director of community theater, and new BOLLI member.  (Welcome, Donna!)     

WRITERS GUILD CELEBRATES SPRING: HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?

The Writers Guild special interest group was recently given the prompt “How Does Your Garden Grow?” and, as always, about half the group chose to address it.  We had such fun seeing how five different writers approached the same topic and thought our BOLLI readers might enjoy seeing their efforts as well.    

I)  How Does Your Garden Grow?  By Katherine Wangh

 

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockleshells

And pretty maids all in a row.

 

“Au contraire! Au contraire!”

Said Mary,

Picking a spider out of her hair,

“None of my silver bells will grow in a row!

(to say nothing of my cockleshells and pretty maids!)

What do I know from gardens?

 

A hole is to dig

‘Til you sweat like a pig,

A hose is to water

Like a dutiful daughter,

Mulch is to mix

In the gulch with some sticks,

Fertilizer is to throw

If the plant is to grow,

A plant is to plant

While your back screams, ‘I can’t!’

 

Feet get all muddy,

Face gets all ruddy,

Brain gets all dizzy

Till you need something fizzy…

 

How does my garden grow?

All higglety-pigglety,

All helter-skelter,

All topsy-turvy,

Et,

Voila!

Le jardin,

C’est moi!”                                                                                                   

New Writers Guild participant, 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 nearly 50 years!  Now enjoying grandchildren, singing in the Concord Women’s Chorus, curating my father’s artistic legacy, writing, and even–gardening!

II)  Contrary Mary by Steve Goldfinger

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow?

Screw you!

Silver bells, damn, why did I ever plant them? I know, it was a song my mother sang:

    White coral bells upon a slender stalk,

    Lilies of the valley line my garden walk.

Planted just a few of them to line the walk. But the damn things just kept spreading and spreading. Overgrew everything. My petunia bed. My stand of Viagras. And, worst of all, my fentanyl patch. Shit, that’s where the money was.

And cockleshells.  Do you know how hard it is to get cockleshells? Czechoslovakia was my main supplier, but then those bastards jacked up the price. Can you imagine? $7.80 for a single cockleshell! Oh, you could get a cockle for $3.00 and then buy a shell for $2.50. But how to put them together? And the $2.50 shell is plastic, not the real thing. So now I have to search the web for cheap cockleshells. Like there’s not enough to do.

And the pretty maids all in a row? Pretty maids indeed. Gotta tell you, it was one helluva row. Never saw such fighting. Thought I was doing a nice thing by opening my garden for the annual outing of the wenches from the village brothel. Before I knew it, they were tearing up the petunias and stuffing them into each others bosoms. Stomping on my lilies of the valley.  Throwing cockleshells all over the place.  Mud everywhere.  One cockle separated from its shell and hit me in the eye.

Never again.

Writers Guild “regular,” Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring new ventures.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre).  

 

 

III)  Gardening in Maine by Maxine Weintraub

During those wonderful years we lived in Maine, we would move upstairs to the front guest bedroom during the month of April. The peepers’ nightly concert was not to be missed.  The slow rolling sound of the ocean would come in from the half-open windows, and they would sing their song from the small pond at the side of the house. The full moon would light the ocean like the sun shining on a vast meadow. And that was the good news.  The moles declared war on the back lawn.  The chipmunks were everywhere, with an underground network of tunnels that would make the New York City subway system pale.  And I would spend hours weeding and turning over the flower beds.  My back was killing me!  But, it was the start of the long awaited gardening season.

The first year in Maine was a vicious black fly spring, and I gardened down by the road, resplendent in haute couture protective gear.  Yellow sweat pants and an orange sweatshirt.  My socks were pulled up over the sweat pant bottoms, and I wore a purple, green, and pink designer scarf a la Jackie Onassis wrapped over my head and around my neck.  Topped it off with a straw hat and wrapped the entire package in mosquito netting.  Voila! Who cared?  It was early in the day, and we didn’t know anyone in town. Later that spring, I spoke on the phone with a local merchant, giving him my address for a delivery.  He burst out laughing.  “My God, don’t tell me–you’re that lady in The Outfit!”

So that is how our first summer in Maine started as I returned to the land!  On a grand scale.  Bigger is better, so a landscaping friend arrived with fairly heavy equipment and turned over a plot–a large living room sized plot–at the bottom of the driveway.  Full sun.

The knees could bend back then, and after days of putting down cow manure mixed with peat and pulling left over weeds, I still had enough energy left to shop for a king’s ransom worth of seedlings.  Peppers, herb, tomatoes, cukes, summer squash.  And marigolds to keep out the varmints.  So naive.  I didn’t pay much attention to the large hole that bordered one corner of the garden.  Construction detritus perhaps.  I was in my element and filthy, exhausted, and mosquito bite covered, I survived a day well spent and trudged back to the house for a long hot shower and a cold gin and tonic, collapsing on the porch swing.

Early the next morning I walked—stiffly–down the driveway to view the results of my labor.  Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair. Hubris.  Gone  Gone!  Every last seedling was gone.  One word. Woodchuck.  Living, obviously, in that big hold adjacent to the garden.  Duh.  Well, what do you do about those miserable buggers?  That is easy, I was told.  Buy a .22–only thing that will work.  Right.  A .22 going off across the street from the Bush summer home.  I didn’t think so.

I let the garden go.  Put cukes in pots on the porch.  They got mildew.  Planted day lilies at the bottom of the driveway.

Round One:  Woodchuck

Maxine Weintraub reading
Long time Writers Guild member, Maxine Weintraub

Maxine has been taking writing classes with both Betsy Campbell and Marjorie Roemer since joining BOLLI three years ago and was a founding co-chair of our current Writers Guild group.  She also served as the editor of the current BOLLI Journal.  In her spare time, she  mines her closet for unique outfits.

IV) How Does My Garden Grow?  by Margie Arons-Barron

How does my garden grow? Better you should ask Peter Rabbit. Or Brer Rabbit, Roger Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, or Predator Bunny. They devour my garden. Indiscriminately. They relish young shoots, but the foundation for their food pyramid comprises hostas, lilies, and azaleas of any age. Whatever the varmints can’t reach on the azaleas, the deer will top off. Most exasperating is the bunnies’ predilection for roses.

You’d think the thorns would deter them. But they don’t. Hybrid teas. David Austins. Floribundas. Doesn’t matter. And they amplify damage they inflict chomping on leaves by bracing themselves on lower branches, breaking them and leaving them, slain victims on the battlefield.

And war it is. We’ve tried predator pee, which has the side effect of attracting coyotes. Enviro-friendly Repels-All, made of dried blood, egg solids and garlic oil. Liquid Fence, and granular Rabbit Scram, bought in 25-pound drums. The white-tails hesitated, then signaled, “Bring it on.” Our most recent effort is Nature’s Mace. Encouraged by the name, we’re into our second drum, the company’s liquid concentrate our back-up weapon.

We’ve tried solar-powered motion detectors, which emit blue light and sounds to scare off the long-eared beasts. Neighborhood dogs hold back, but not Thumper. This year we’ve planted a Maginot line of perennial geraniums, whose odor repels rabbits. We’re in wait-and-see mode.

We’ve tried garlic, but never found it discouraged garden pests. Take my many attempts to grow tomatoes in pots on our deck. The squirrels and chipmunks would take a bite from each of several tomatoes and leave the others with gaping wounds. A friend suggested garlic cloves in the sprinkling can would help. After evening watering, garlic cloves would cover the soil. By morning, the pieces would be flung across the deck, and the tomatoes would be chewed. Next strategy? Garlic powder. No more luck. The back of the house smelled like marinara sauce all summer. By autumn, the cost of the yield averaged $17 per tomato.

For years, the rabbits’ evening itinerary had them checking in around five o’clock for hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. I’d be standing at my kitchen window aggravated by their audacity. By end of summer, some are large enough to put saddles on. Sometimes I grab a spray bottle of repellent, run out to my deck and chase after them. “Take that, you little bastards,” I scream. They disappear into the neighbor’s yard but return within minutes. I’m mortified to think the neighbors overhear me haranguing the herd.

I gaze at my garden and admire what’s left of it, the begonias, rhododendron, peonies and daisies. But, wait, who’s that rustling the leaves of young lilies? Not again. I look to the right. I look to the left. Which weapon to choose?

This time I head for my office, looking in the closet for my old Rolodex.  Goldman. Governor. Greater Boston Legal Services.  Ah, there it is. Gun Owners Action League. 508-393-5333. Maybe this will be the ultimate solution.

Writers Guild member Margie Arons-Barron

After her long career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI two years ago.  She has taken Marjorie Roemer’s memoir classes, Betsy Campbell’s fiction courses, and Sue Wurster’s nonfiction course as well.  She is also a member of the BOLLI Journal staff and still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here: marjoriearonsbarron.com

V)  The Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden by Lydia Bogar

I could talk about the Shasta daisies and blue elephant Hosta from my mother’s garden or the invading poison ivy army that is marching up the ban and into my yard, threatening my health and sanity.  But instead, I will seek the serenity found at the magnificent wonder of a garden that will last forever: The Doctor Seuss Sculpture Garden in Springfield honoring Ted Geisel formerly of Sumner Street, Springfield.

The Garden is tucked amidst three deckers, pavement, and a dozen examples of American architecture–a free attraction with free parking–surrounded by the library, two churches, and four museums.

The concept of the Garden was hatched over thirty years ago as cautiously as Horton’s egg. With blessings and money from her mother, Audrey Geisel, California sculptor Lark Gray Dimond-Cates dedicated six years of her life to creating the garden’s amazing bronze characters which honor her stepfather.

When entering the garden, The Good Doctor can be found sitting at an old school desk, with his famous Cat standing beside him, looking at an oversized edition of Oh, The Places You’ll Go!  The Grinch peers around the corner as Gertrude McFuzz looks on from above.  For the Good Doctor’s hands on this statue, Lark used a cast of Ted Geisel’s hands that had been made several years before his death in 1991. A work of love and great respect.  A chair–accessible to children of all ages–stands in front of the book.

A  stack of ten turtles, Yertel and his friends, bask in a side garden.  And in the center of the Memorial is Thidwick, Thing One, Thing Two, Sam I Am, Sally and the kids from Whoville. A ramp in the middle of this cluster of characters makes it possible for handicapped children to touch Horton’s curly tail.

When leaving the garden,  the Lorax–perched on a bronze stump– reaches out his arm to say goodbye to a child his own size.

On a rainy Sunday, the boys and I added another happy memory to our dozens of visits to the land of Seuss.  Brady is 14 and Henry is 9. We’ve been coming here for over ten years, in sunshine and snow, to seek the smiles and share the wisdom of Ted Geisel.

My grandsons seem to have grown out of this wondrous place, for now,  but I never will.

BOLLI writer Lydia Bogar

Since her arrival upon the BOLLI scene two years ago, Lydia has been a regular contributor to our BOLLI Matters blog for which she now serves as co-editor.  She has also taken Marjorie Roemer’s memoir and Sue Wurster’s nonfiction writing courses.  

For more information about the garden, click here:  www.springfieldmuseums.org

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 Over the summer, the Writers Guild meets on Thursdays.  On June 7 and June 14, we will meet at 12:30 to accommodate BOLLI’s upcoming seminars.  After that, we’ll meet at 10:30.  The group is always open to new participants, and we are always happy to see “drop ins” who come to try us out.  We are a low-key and supportive bunch, so check out our prompts on the weekly Bulletin, try your hand at a brief piece of writing, and come share the results with us!

 

JUNE SENIOR MOMENT WITH LIZ DAVID: The Checklist

THE CHECKLIST

by Liz David

Here I go again, bringing up stuff that makes us uncomfortable.  Let’s face it.  We may not be thinking about “end of life” issues, consciously, all the time.  But don’t tell me the topic is not just below the surface, nagging at us when we least expect it. Believe me, I don’t think about these issues all the time even though, over many years, I’ve taught courses on “aging with meaning.”

They say we teach what we need to learn.  And I’m still learning!  Is it possible to get dying right?  What is right anyway? How will we know when the time comes?

Like the Boy Scouts motto “Be Prepared,” I offer a checklist that’s meant to, at least, possibly, maybe, give us some peace of mind regarding ways we can be prepared, knowing full well that it’s impossible to be fully prepared in the moment.

                    CHECKLIST FOR CREATING PEACE OF MIND                                     FOR HEALTH, LEGAL DIRECTIVES, AND END OF LIFE ISSUES IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER

Personal Preferences:  Where would you like to be during your last moments, days, or months? Whom would you like to be present? A comforting presence.  Whom would you like to care for you? What would you like your surroundings to look like? 

What music would you like played as you are dying? What poems, prayers, writings or texts would you like recited?  What food can you imagine eating?  Your favorite?  What scents would you like to smell? What objects would you like to have nearby to touch?  What would you like your last moments to be like?

Practical Tasks:  Do you have a living will, health care proxy?  Do you have a will for possessions, investments, income?  Where is your will located? Who has copies?  My insurance policies are located? If you have a safe deposit box, where is it? where are the keys?  Who is authorized to access it?  Have you discussed funeral arrangements?  And if so, with whom?  Do you wish to be buried or cremated? Any particular funeral parlor? Clergy?  Who will make arrangements, and have they agreed? Who will arrange Kaddish/Mass or other prayer service?  Who will take care of my unfinished business whether legal or otherwise?

Anything else?  Brainstorm your own questions about your individual preferences…

So there you have it!  If you haven’t already, create your own personal checklist.   What are you waiting for?

One thing is for sure–we don’t get out of this life alive!

Offered with love,

Liz

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

Years ago, 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’m not sure whether or not I believed it then, and I’m wondering whether I believe it now. Stay tuned!

CREATIVE NONFICTION WRITING FROM JEAN CARR: RAPT WATCHING

            RAPT WATCHING            

 by Jean Carr               

It started when I lived in New Jersey in the 1980s.  Driving along paved highways, a flicker of movement would catch my eye.  Looking up, I would see a bird, huge wings fully spread, dark red bands inking the white feathers . . . soaring.   As it flew, it crossed back and forth above the road.   Was it hungry and looking for something to swoop down on?   Why did it seem to hang out there?   All I knew was that seeing it lifted my heart.  I envied the bird’s freedom, its independence, its view of the world below.  I found it hard to keep driving at high speed while trying to keep the bird in sight.

After some research, I discovered that the birds I most often saw were red-tailed hawks.  As raptors, hawks seize and eat rodents, birds, and other small animals. Many people see them as nuisances and even somehow evil. Chicken farmers or pheasant hunters, interested in protecting their animals, shoot and poison hawks and other raptors.  But the hawk is part of a healthy food chain and feeds mostly on mammals and insects that are either harmful to the environment or too weak to survive.

But now I wanted to see a hawk up close.  I went to meet Len Soucy who ran the Raptor Trust, adjoining the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge.  Len’s lifelong project to rehabilitate wild birds began in the 1960s when he found, on his doorstep, a hawk suffering from a gunshot.  Over the years, Len took in increasing numbers of raptors and other injured birds, eventually hiring staff and building medical and educational facilities.  By 2016, the Trust annually took in over 5600 birds and released 2300 of them to the wild. Those who could not be released live on Trust property and continue to educate and delight people of all ages.

Len was someone who would understand that, every time I drove on a highway,  I kept an eye out for my talisman, who gave me good luck for my journey.  As we sat down to talk, a volunteer walked over with a red-tail on her fist.  “How does the hawk hover so long, seldom flapping its wings?” I asked him.

“Hawks use rising air currents called thermals to stay aloft,” he said. “Thermals form on sunny days over paved roads and near hills. Riding a thermal, a hawk doesn’t need to move its wings very much.”

“So, is it looking for prey as it soars?” I asked.

“Nope,” answered Len. “Red-tailed hawks hunt by sitting in a tree and jumping down on a mouse.  If the hawk saw one from 5000 feet, which he probably could, do you think he could get down in time to catch the mouse?”

Not giving up, I asked, “Then why does he soar like that?”  Len responded immediately, “It must feel good to be able to do that; hell, that’s what I’d do if I could just hang out and look down from up there—why not?”

BOLLI member, writer, and raptor watcher Jean Carr

As a wordsmith, Jean used her love of language to pursue two careers – as an editor and then an attorney.  While still doing some consulting to help nonprofits, she’s mostly retired to enjoy family and friends, hiking, writing, genealogical research, and travel.  Nature gives her solace and inspires her to learn.

 

A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT FROM LARRY SCHWIRIAN: GREENBACK, PA

GREENBACK, PA

by Larry Schwirian

Due to the number and steepness of hills and mountains in Pennsylvania, it probably has more small towns and villages than any other state in the nation.   It probably also has more places with idiosyncratic names than anywhere else in the western hemisphere. Lancaster County alone has the towns of Intercourse, Paradise, Fertility, Blue Ball, Mount Joy, Bird-in-Hand, and Climax.  Many of these towns utilize their names to attract tourists, and local businesses do a booming business selling postcards and other paraphernalia. But this is only a small sampling of the numerous other strange place names one can find in the Keystone State. You can also send postcards from Egypt, Holland, Mexico, Scotland, and East Berlin, or you can stop for lunch in Mars or Moon. You can even go to college in California or Indiana without leaving Pennsylvania. I’m not sure just what you can do in the towns of Balls Mills, Bath Addition, Log Pile, Two Lick, or Lickdale, but I’m relatively certain the residents of Shickshiny, Smock, and Moosic have a decent sense of humor. If you want to live a laid-back lifestyle, you might want to relocate to Friendsville, Live Easy, Library, or Economy; and if you are particularly patriotic, you might move to Liberty PA.  I don’t know why anyone would want to live on Squirrel Hill or in Seldom-Seen, and one can only hope the towns of Virginville, Stalker, and Panic aren’t located in close proximity.

It was because of this rich imagery of place names that a not-so-young, affluent real estate developer of Scottish and German descent decided to buy a large tract of land in the Pocono Mountain region of Pennsylvania.  His name was Dewey Stump, and he intended to develop a new town that would be unlike anything ever previously attempted.  His conception would be totally unlike Levittown, New Jersey or Columbia, Maryland.  He wanted to build a town that would be a model for the future of America, a town that would be exclusively for the very rich and the super-rich. Conceptually, the town’s north and south sides would be divided by the town’s main street, Stump Boulevard, running east/west and  aligned with the World Trade Center on Wall Street. The north side would be for old-money people and the south side for new-money people. There would be a large traffic circle in the middle of town with a two-story high bronze statue of himself, the founder of “fake news” and the Twitter King of North America. Each side of town would be further sub-divided by a red section and a blue section signifying whether it was ideal for conservatives or progressives… the color of street signs would change from red to blue or vice versa depending upon the current state of political realities. Major arteries on the north side would be named after robber- barons of old and, on the south side,  after more recently affluent billionaires. Secondary streets would be named after well-known millionaire celebrities. There would at least be one golf course in each quadrant, but only residents of that quadrant could use that course.  Finally, the town, to be called Greenback, was to have a nine-digit zip code consisting only of ones and zeros, with no dash between the first five and last four numbers. This was to signify the minimal net worth of anyone wishing to reside in the town.

As this was all just in Dewey’s head, he needed to consult with both an architect/planning firm and a marketing firm to begin to bring his wonderful vision to fruition. The architectural firm advised that his two-dimensional, rather flat conception of a site plan wasn’t practical in the mountains of Pennsylvania. The marketing firm advised that true conservatives wouldn’t want to live anywhere near true progressives and vice versa.  The firm said, too,  that old-money generally had nothing but disdain for new-money, and new-money could care less about old-money.  They also thought the site was too remote from most urban amenities like five-star restaurants, theaters, and international airports. The post office also indicated that they couldn’t assign him the nine-digit zip code he wanted.

Dewey decided to charge ahead anyway, because, in his gut, he knew it would work. He borrowed heavily from a number of foreign banks, thinking he could easily sell the first hundred plots while construction was underway.  But multi-millionaires and billionaires were stupefied by the concept and stayed away.  He had to trash his brilliant idea and finally had to sell the land at a bargain basement price, causing him to file for bankruptcy.  He lost his golf pants on the deal but managed to hold on to his “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.  He never did pay either the architectural firm or the marketing firm, claiming that they didn’t give him the advice he wanted.

BOLLI Matters contributor and Writers Guild leader Larry Schwirian

Architect Larry and his fellow architect wife Caroline live in an historic preservation home in Newton and, together, lead 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.