Tag Archives: feature

MEMOIR WRITING FROM MARGIE ARONS-BARRON

FISHING FOR A STORY…

By Margie Arons-Barron

They’re crammed into the glass jar, some gray or pinkish or maybe brown.  Some are inert, and others squirm.  All are slimy.  I force myself to reach into the jar and pull one out, holding it in my ten-year-old hand while, with the other, I force one end onto the hook, into the anus.  Or maybe it was the mouth.  I could never tell which.  I make sure the worm’s body covers the hook so the fish won’t know its dinner comes at a price.

I let the line out into Long Lake, dragging my “worm hand” in the water to wash off the slime.  I shiver with disgust, looking to my father for approval.  He knows everything about what the bass is thinking.  This inlet is rocky; he’ll hide in the vegetation.  A storm is coming; he’s more likely to bite.  Think like a bass, he tells me, and I nod as if I understand.

Sometimes the bass are not biting.  As the sun comes up, it’s pike that we entice.  We take them to our cabin to grill for breakfast.  Those shared times predate catch-and-release.

My father would face the bow, where I sat, his back to the motor, hand on the tiller.  Occasionally, our Johnson/Evinrude outboard would die, and I’d row the boat, stopping in one place or other depending on what my father believed the fish were thinking that day.

“Uh, Dad,” I said on one occasion.  “The motor is on fire.”

Swiveling on his seat, fearing conflagration, he loosened the clamps and dumped the engine into the lake.  “No point in going farther,” he shrugged, so I picked up the oars.  Blisters on my hands were a badge of our bonding.

Cynics dismiss bass fishing as a hobby, not a sport.  Bass fishing is hardly about reeling in a fifty-pound tuna.  It was my father’s sport, though, and I was grateful to share it with him.

Still, father-daughter bonding would go only so far.  Dad and his best fishing buddy were flying into Brown Paper Company property in northern Maine to fish for several days.  I longed to be included.  My hurt was extreme when he returned, sunburned and bearded, and revealed that the friend’s son, three years younger than I, had gone along.

Years later, when he lost his leg to diabetes, he couldn’t handle the instability of a small boat and settled for deep-sea excursions on charters.  The fishing was never the same for either of us.  Yet, on what would have been his hundredth birthday, my husband, sister, and I went deep-sea fishing out of Gloucester.  Post-hurricane, there were fifteen-foot swells.  Hearty men hung over the gunwhales, projectile vomiting.  Protected by pride and Bonine, I stayed the course and fished for six hours.

I owed it to my father.  My reward was fresh haddock for dinner—and a connection reaching well beyond the line cast over the water for some unsuspecting halibut with a big mouth.

BOLLI Matters Writer Margie Arons-Barron

After a long career in broadcast journalism, Margie has turned to writing memoir and fiction at BOLLI.  She has been a member of the Writers’ Guild and serves on the Journal committee.  She is also an avid and successful blogger.  You can read and subscribe to her blog at:  https://marjoriearonsbarron.com/

CREATIVE NONFICTION WITH DONNA JOHNS: THE LAWN MOWER MAN

The Lawn Mower Man

by Donna Johns

It started with a small act of kindness.

Rodney Smith Jr. saw an elderly man struggling to mow his lawn. He pulled over and offered to finish the job for free. While he was mowing, he thought about all the people who might need this kind of help: the elderly, the disabled, single mothers, veterans. By the time he finished his first lawn, he had committed himself to mowing fifty lawns. He found his clients through Twitter and word of mouth.

Fifty lawns turned into a hundred. Since Rodney didn’t own a mower and some of his clients didn’t have the equipment, he contacted someone on Craigslist who was selling a mower. When Rodney explained his mission, the man gave him the mower. That’s when Rodney realized he could ask for what he needed and people, inspired by his mission, would be happy to help.

Rodney’s next project was more ambitious. He decided to mow lawns in all fifty states. Underwritten by lawn mower companies and private donations, he set out in 2017 to meet his goal. Every family he helped was featured in his Twitter feed. They included veterans suffering from PTSD, moms working three jobs to keep food on the table, elderly widows living alone. He also sampled cuisine from each state; he was not a fan of New England clam chowder.

Returning home to Alabama, Rodney completed his Masters in social work but decided that his true calling was on the road, highlighting the needs present in every community. He grew his one act of kindness by forming a group for young people called the Fifty Lawn Challenge. Hundreds of children have pledged to mow fifty lawns in their communities for free, and the numbers grow with every state he visits.

After a second summer touring the fifty states, Rodney had raised a significant amount of money. He spent part of this past winter reaching out to the homeless in his home state of Alabama. Armed with a trunk full of survival kits (sleeping bags, heavy socks, warm jackets, gloves) and cash cards donated by businesses, he traveled through the state highlighting the plight and the dignity of the homeless. He would approach a homeless person and simply ask them what they really wanted or needed.

Many of them longed for a hot shower and a soft bed for the night. Rodney handed out vouchers for two days at a local hotel. A lot of them wanted cell phones so they could look for work and have a way to have an employer call them. Two brothers in North Carolina just wanted bus tickets so they could go home to see their family. Rodney left each person knowing that someone cared enough to reach out and connect with them.

His newest project? He’s raising money each month for someone in short term financial trouble. Each month he asks his supporters to vote on some candidates submitted to him through his huge social network. Last week he delivered a check to a single mother in Texas whose son has a serious medical problem.

And, of course, he still mows lawns when he sees someone in need.

You can support Rodney’s work at http://weareraisingmen.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer Donna Johns

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

 

STORIES FROM STEVE: Firsts

 

by Steve Goldfinger

At age ten, I went to my first opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. Its composer was Vaughan Williams. Its librettist, Gertrude Stein. The line, “Pigeons on the grass alas” was her most memorable absurdity. Some of my classmates who were there with me probably still remember it. They may also recall that, not long afterward, we were taken to see a play performed by the Jean Louis Barrault company. As it was entirely in French, I am certain not a single word of it remains in our minds.

So, why were we fifth graders bused from PS 193 into the big city for these bewildering performances? Well, we were a group of bright kids selected from various elementary schools across Brooklyn who would comprise a so-called “opportunity” class that would last from grades 5 through 8. Our curriculum was intended to maximize what was thought to be our potential.

It wasn’t all artsy stuff. Back in 1946, we had some serious discussions about the world and concluded that communism was probably best for China. That same year, Miss Sullivan taught us about propaganda techniques in advertising. I learned not to be duped by testimonials and glittering generalities.

My mind was challenged.

I witnessed my first death in 1946.  Fred Cornman’s father, a musician, came in to play the piano for the class.  We sat in the auditorium, listening. Suddenly, a clamor of discordant notes erupted from the piano as he slumped onto to the keyboard. And at that moment, for the only time in my life, I heard a loud death rattle.  I knew exactly what was happening. I raced from my seat down an aisle to the back exit to escape. Miss Sullivan was close behind me, running to the principal’s office.

I can still hear that rattle.

I fell in love for the first time in the eighth grade. Her name was Paula. She sat next to me. She was beautiful, clearly the most popular girl in the class. The rare Sadie Hawkins Day (February 29th) was traditionally when girls would ask boys to a dance. I couldn’t bear the thought that she might ask someone else, so I oafishly pre-empted her by inviting her to go with me. She accepted. Over the next months, my thoughts were torrid; our behavior was chaste. I remember the thrill of her allowing me to put my arm around her shoulder at a movie. I remember kissing her at her door. It was the first time we kissed. I mean really kissed.  And it was the last time we dated. We went to separate high schools.  So obsessed was I with Paula that I did not date again until my senior year.

My heart still skips a beat when I think of her seventy years later.

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.

MARCH CHEF’S CORNER: WHAT DOES A TEST COOK EAT?

WHAT DOES A TEST COOK EAT?

(Click on picture or on “America’s Test Kitchen” below  to connect to video)

from John Rudy

Here is a 1-week report detailing what a test cook on America’s Test Kitchen (my favorite source of recipes) eats all day, along with a good explanation of why things were done in the way that they were.  Enjoy!

“BOLLI Matters” 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 vegetables in boil-able packages.)

 

 

 

SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP INVITATION: Hardy Pond Watershed Talk

THE HARDY POND WATERSHED

Are you interested in the ecology of Waltham and neighboring areas?  BOLLI’s Waltham Matters SIG is delighted to pass along an invitation to learn more about the Hardy Pond Watershed.  Hardy Pond is a gem located in the Lakeview neighborhood of North Waltham and extends over 900 acres into Lexington.

On Thursday, March 21, all are welcome to join in a discussion of the Watershed at the Lexington Auditorium at Brookhaven (1010 Waltham Street, Lexington.) Organizers and discussion leaders are members of the Waltham Land Trust, the Hardy Pond Association and Bob Hartzell, a lakes and ponds expert.

Questions, comments, etc. about this venture and/or about the BOLLI Waltham Matters SIG should be directed to Sue Adams at:  scadams43@gmail.com

 

TECH TALK with John Rudy: Your Digital Data

Your Digital Data:  Thinking and Planning for Incapacity or Death

All of us have a lot of personal digital data available to us that may not be available to others .  Let’s start with a sample of the various categories:

  • You have files on your home computer, tablet, or smart phone. These may be photos, tax returns, passwords, etc.  In general, nothing will happen to these if you die and (1) IF SOMEONE HAS THE APPROPRIATE PASSWORDS TO ENTER THESE DEVICES and (2) knows the names of the important files.  You probably have thousands of files, and you might not have set up a file structure or named them in a way that is obvious to your heirs.
  • Professionals such as stock brokers, bankers, accountants, and lawyers have your files, and their protection systems are probably robust. In most cases, I suspect that you do not duplicate on your systems the data that they have on theirs, relying on your ability to log into their systems.  But can this data be shared?
  • You might have data with social media environments that your family doesn’t want to lose. Let’s limit ourselves to Facebook for now, but that, of course, is not the only social media platform out there.
  • You have email IDs that could be closed down.

Discussing all these areas in detail is complicated, and you not only have to be proactive, but you also have to understand any pertinent US or state laws that protect this data.  I’m going to provide my thoughts on a number of these issues, but I do not claim to understand all the laws that are in effect.  And some of these laws might differ by locale.

  1. Try to set up your computer folders so they are readable. At the top level. have something called PICTURES or PHOTOS and store all your photos in sub-files under this.  Have a file called TAXES and do a similar thing.  Then document what you have done and ensure that your heirs have a copies.
  2. Have a Password file, with all your passwords. It is best that you use a password manager, but, if not, set up an Excel list.  Keep it hidden, but be sure that your heirs have copies.  If you are sick or die, others may need to get into these accounts.
  3. If you die, some applications will become aware of it. Here is an example that affects me.  MIT provides me with an email address which I can link to whatever normal email I am currently using.  MIT also has a web crawler that looks across the Internet for obits of their graduates.  Six months after I die, MIT will cancel this forwarding service, and my heirs will be unaware that any messages sent to that address will bounce back.  That means that I better make sure that my heirs pay proper attention to all incoming messages for 6 months so that they can inform folks of the proper email address to use in the future.
  4. Companies like Facebook say that they close your page when you die. Is that what you want?  Here is an interesting article on the Facebook situation:  https://www.lifewire.com/facebook-account-after-you-die-4103721 There is even a Facebook app you can download, called “If I die,” that you can set up at any point before your death to control what happens.
  5. Do you want your spouse to have access to your calendar if something happens to you? This might be useful if you would want appointments cancelled or colleagues informed.  Of course, you should be sure that your spouse has access to your address book.
  6. I recently read the following in a newsletter: “Merely scribbling down your passwords on a sheet of paper isn’t always enough. In many cases, your relatives are still legally prohibited from accessing your account without express permission. Thankfully, 41 states have adopted laws that allow you to declare who has access to what data—as long as you include a provision in your will or revocable trust and your power of attorney specifies that they can have access”   Who would think of that?

I am not a lawyer, so I do not know what the legalities are (and they might be different for different states) for allowing your broker or bank or attorney to share data with a designated person.  I have personally addressed this problem by making my heirs trustees for my accounts.  You might ask whether a letter from you is sufficient to provide access (and whether it is effective for both death and disability).

While you are thinking about your digital assets, it might be appropriate to include your heirs’ names on a checking account and on the checks, so that they can pay bills on your behalf if you are incapacitated or die.  Obviously, you must think carefully about who you provide any of this linkage/access to.

And lastly, this is not a one-time endeavor. You should periodically review your approach and attempt to see whether the environment within which you operate has changed.

“BOLLI Matters” feature writer (both Tech Talk and the Chef’s Corner) John Rudy

A long-time technology expert and guide, John provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide John with questions,  comments, or suggestions future tech items to cover. 

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

STORIES FROM STEVE: I QUIT

I QUIT

By Steve Goldfinger

“Giving up smoking is easy,” Mark Twain said.  “I’ve done it hundreds of times”  

My tally is a lot lower, perhaps ten or twelve times.  My fervent intentions were almost always foiled after I drank a little alcohol with a pal who was lighting up. “Can I have one?” invariably led to more.

At one point, I was seeing a patient who flaunted a pack of Lucky Strikes in his front shirt pocket. How I craved one, and my ensuing strategy was craven. He was in for a routine health check up, and I strongly urged him to quit smoking. The best way, I assured him, was to go cold turkey. “Toss that pack into that waste basket. Right now,” I implored.  He did.  I went for that waste basket as soon he was out the door.

That was 50 years ago, and I’ve been clean for about that long now.

It wasn’t so easy when it came to golf.   I can think of dozens of occasions when, driving home from a horrendous round with my golf buddy, I assured him that the end had come.  Never again.  Why torture myself?  Why destroy a perfectly gorgeous Sunday morning by hitting one wretched shot after another, succumbing to outbursts of temper, and cursing–so unlike me during the rest of my week. He would smile and remind me of the two good shots I had made that day.  And, sure enough, during the week, I thought about those shots, remembered how many wonderful ones I had hit in my prime.  Just recapture the rhythm, the mind set, the joy of being out in nature, the camaraderie, I said to myself.  And the next Sunday, I was out there with him again.  And the ride back was no different.

There was only one way to truly quit, and I proceeded to do it. Last year, I prepared a professional looking affadavit entitled Goldfinger’s Last Round of Golf and in it, detailed all my foozled and otherwise mis-hit shots, hole by hole. I sent it out to all my golfing friends– recent ones and others from years ago.

So far, this has worked.  I even gave my clubs to one of my sons. But I had this dream last night: I was out on the course with a player who was hitting magnificent shots with a set of curious-looking clubs, a recent breakthrough innovation by a club manufacturer who was advertising them widely.

I asked if I could swing one. When  I did,  the ball soared high and far, in a trajectory that would have made me proud even at my golfing peak.

These clubs can be purchased online or at a nearby golf store. They are handsome and affordable.

Tune in next month.

 

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI a few years ago after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.  

A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT FROM LARRY SCHWIRIAN

THE LESSER OF TWO WEEVILS

By Larry Schwirian

Mavis and Marvin were a couple of happy-go-lucky boll weevils living in the deep South in the early 20th CenturyAt this time, boll weevils were decimating the cotton fields of practically every state in the south.  Marvin, being male, thought of himself as superior and the more destructive of the two as he had a heartier appetite, but Mavis, seemingly the lesser of the two weevils, was more discerning.  She also had a secret.

Either she happened to read the work of Swedish evolutionary biologists who discovered that female weevils live longer when mated with males bred to reproduce later in life—or she simply noticed that, the more she mated with other weevils, the more energized she felt.  And as weevils are not monogamous, she mated a lot.  Soon, Mavis started cluing-in her less observant sisters to these dynamics and became the leader of the weevil feminist movement. She set a new longevity record by living to the ripe old age of twenty-one days, outliving Marvin by more than sixty hours.

Mavis’ dedication and lust showed the citizens of Enterprise and surrounding Coffee County that they needed to diversify their crops.  It wasn’t long before they became the country’s largest producer of peanuts and, later, peanut oil.  In 1919, as a tribute to her leadership and appetite, the citizens of Enterprise, Alabama erected a statue in Mavis’ honor in the middle of town.

The Enterprise, Alabama Weevil Monument

 Note: There really is a town in southern Alabama called Enterprise, and it does have a monument to the boll weevil. Also, Swedish evolutionary biologists really did discover that female weevils live longer when mated with males bred to reproduce later in life.

“BOLLI Matters” frequent contributor 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 Committee.  

 

 

 

 

MEMOIR BY LARRY SCHWIRIAN: AUDREY

AUDREY

By Larry Schwirian

Her name was Audrey,  and she was the new girl in school in the fall of 1952.  She had long, black, wavy hair, big brown eyes, and blemish-free olive skin.  Wearing a sleeveless, bright colored dress, she wasn’t built like Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobridida, but, then, she was only eight years old.  I was instantly smitten, and she hadn’t yet spoken a word or looked my way.

Audrey was anxious to make new friends, and I was anxious to be the first in line.  Soon after, she invited me to have dinner with her and her parents at her home.  One of the most unforgettable experiences of my youth was playing spin-the-bottle with her in her living room while her mother prepared an exotic Italian meal.  I used the word “exotic” because my familiarity with Italian food was limited to spaghetti.  I had no idea what her mother was cooking, but it smelled great, and I wasn’t really there for the dinner anyway, even though I did enjoy the food.  Altogether, it was a very memorable afternoon.  I got my first kiss from Audrey and will never forget the aromas emanating from that kitchen.

My budding romance with Audrey came to an abrupt halt only a few weeks later when my teacher caught in the coat room hiding a love note in Audrey’s coat pocket.  Miss Weigle (which was, of course, pronounced “wiggle” by most) made me stand in front of the class and read the note out loud.  Needless to say, it was an earth-shattering experience for me, and I am sure Audrey was equally embarrassed.  It didn’t kill my ardor for her, but it definitely put a damper on our evolving relationship.  It would be another five years before I had the courage to admit to others that I had romantic feelings for a member of the opposite sex.  In our senior year of high school, she was selected by her peers to be homecoming queen and the most popular female in our class.

I have since learned never to write anything down that I would be embarrassed to have read out loud in front of other people.

BOLLI “Matters” contributor and co-chair of the Writers Guild Larry Schwirian

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

 

BOLLI AFTER DARK: Affirmations for Lin-Manuel Miranda

Donna offers something different this month –to which we can all, unfortunately, relate all too well!

AFFIRMATIONS FOR LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

by Donna Johns

My current theater crush, Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote a book of affirmations called G’Morning, G’Night. These were based on his twice daily tweets. I decided to have some fun with his work by writing my versions of his tweets, adding a dose of reality.

G’Morning darlings!

The wind blows cold today

So grab your hat and mittens, then

Go outside and PLAY.

 

G’Morning Lin!

It’s so cold my nose started to run and I didn’t have a tissue so I had to use my mitten and now it’s gross and tossed in dirty laundry so I have one cold hand for the next dog walk. Oh, and the dogs love this weather and stop every three steps to sniff the frozen plants and my toes are going numb waiting for them to produce something so I don’t need to mop the floor again. Does this constitute PLAY?

Perhaps PLAY was hauling all my accumulated trash bags down to the dumpster and how the heck does one person accumulate this much trash in two days although one bag contains most of the icky rotten stuff I found in the back of the refrigerator so that’s my bad. I should stop buying the healthy food. I never have to throw out English muffins, cake, cookies or candy. Just brussel sprouts. And kale.

The Weight Watcher lady told me to take a brisk walk every day so I decided to walk to the convenience store to buy milk and I stuck my one mitten-less hand in my pocket and I remembered to bring tissues and I walked as briskly as my bionic knees would allow.

I met a cheerful man with no hat or mittens driving an ancient Lincoln town car, and his co-pilot was a handsome grey pit bull who appeared friendly, but I’ve read those stories in the Enquirer so I merely waved and did not approach.  Milk procured, I discovered that the wind was blowing against me so the tissues were used up, and, yep, I had to use my one good mitten.

Still, Lin, I will call that excursion PLAY because there is no way I’m venturing out of the house again.

 

G’Night darlings!

How lucky are you?

A fireplace, a blanket,

Fluffy socks. Dream warm.

 

G’Night, Lin!

I don’t have a fireplace and the wind is whistling through my un-weatherproofed windows so I turned on the electric heater which looks like a fireplace but the dogs discovered a heat source and laid down in front of it so now they’re toasty and I’m freezing.

I grabbed a blanket but it smelled funky and I’m not sure whether the dogs did something or I spilled milk on it or whatever so I put it in the washer with my dirty mittens and I’m too lazy to go upstairs to look for another blanket so I guess I’ll just be chilly. My socks are not fluffy and they’re upstairs too so I think I’ll pass on that.

I will try to dream warm (whatever that means) and I can’t wait to see tomorrow’s affirmation.

“BOLLI After Dark” feature writer Donna Johns

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