Tag Archives: Memoir Writing

MORE MEMOIR WRITING FROM DENNIS GREENE: FERTILE NEW MEXICAN TOPSOIL

Fertile New Mexican Topsoil

By Dennis Greene

            I have always wondered if my mother’s penchant for cleanliness prevented me from achieving my dream of playing for the Celtics.

In July of 1958, I went to work at Philmont Boy Scout ranch in Cimmeron, New Mexico.  When I set out, I stood five foot nothing but was full of enthusiasm.  But, by the end of the summer, after I had immersed myself in this unbelievable outdoor adventure, I had grown almost eight inches.

I  kept a low profile on the ranch work crew to avoid the attention of Smith Mullens, the trail boss. He was a tough little cowboy who didn’t say much but had a formidable look.  On one day, though, I was assigned to work with him  in a well shaft where it was impossible to avoid his notice.

“Hey, New England, when was the last time you took a shower?” Smith asked.

“I’m not sure, ” I answered. “There ‘s not much water out here in the desert.”

“It looks like there’s enough dirt and grit on your neck to grow taters, and I don’t want to think about what’s crawling in your hair, ” Smith drawled. “I have a mind to take my horse brush to you.”

“I’ll be sure to shower the next time we are at base camp, ” I promised, without any real intention of following through. I believed my filthiness might be the cause of my recent growth spurt, and I didn’t plan on washing until I was much taller.

“I’m not sure it can wait that long,”  Smith said ominously.

Smith was more of a doer than a talker.  Shortly after we finished installing a pipe, I found myself surrounded by the entire work crew. They grabbed me, threw me down in the grass, and stripped me naked. There was lots of laughing and taunting, but I wasn’t amused. I fought like a crazed wolverine but was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Two buckets of icy water hit me, and I was soaped up, head to toe, with a bar of rough laundry soap.

Then Smith Mullens appeared.

“OK, New England.  Time to shed some of that rich New Mexican topsoil,” he said,  approaching with his horse brush.

For the next few minutes, it felt as if I were being flayed alive. The laughter and taunting receded into the background as that brush scrubbed the dirt from my flesh. I thought I could see mud or blood running down my limbs and torso. It was a relief when the guys lifted me up and tossed me into the watering trough. I came up sputtering to the sound of fifteen teen-age idiots laughing their asses off.

I was so mad I wasn’t even a little embarrassed, but that night, I had to admit to myself that I felt a good deal less gritty.  But because of the kind of work we did, I soon managed to become just as dirty as I had been before the bath, and I remained covered with that New Mexican topsoil for the rest of the trip.

When my parents met me at the bus station in Albany, my mother was aghast. I thought I noticed a few tears forming, but she brushed them away quickly. We were supposed to meet a bunch of my parent’s old friends in Pittsfield for a little vacation, but she would not even allow me in the car. She got a hotel room within walking distance of the bus terminal where she ordered me to disrobe, threw away what I had on, and told me to remain in the shower until she returned with new clothes. Then, she had my dad escort me to the nearest barber for a haircut and my first shave. When I was finally presentable enough to pass her inspection, she allowed me to rejoin the family, and we headed to Camp Winadu.

I still wonder how tall I might have been if she had let me continue to grow in that rich New Mexican topsoil for just another month or two. At six-foot five, I think I could have made it to the NBA.

BOLLI member and SGL, Dennis Greene

Dennis spent his early years in and around New Bedford, Massachusetts as a reclusive bookworm, avid Boy Scout, high school basketball player and thespian.  He now lives in Wellesley where he is writing a coming of age memoir, trying to improve his golf game, attending courses and leading a new science fiction course at BOLLI–and taking frequent naps. 

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                Share your memoir writing with BOLLI Matters readers!                 Send items to susanlwurster@gmail.com

MEMOIR WRITING FROM STEVE GOLDFINGER: TWINKLE TOES

The Writers Guild prompt was “Show us your fancy footwork!”  which took Steve back in time.

Memoir Writer Steve Goldfinger

TWINKLE TOES

by Steve Goldfinger

They don’t call me “Twinkle Toes” without reason.  No, they do it for laughs.  In fact, they call it”Danse Macabre” when I get on the floor.

It all began–or, in truth–didn’t begin when my mother insisted that I take dance lessons from an adolescent neighbor.  The girl was 2 years older and  7 inches taller than me as we partnered in her parents’ living room.  As her Victrola played out scratchy tunes, I looked up at her slightly sweaty, acne-laden face.  I watched her nod as she counted out the rhythm.  My feet would plunk down on the spots on the floor that she pointed to with her eyes.

I told my mother not to worry because I would never fall for a girl who liked to dance, so there was no need for me to acquire that particular skill.

And please, Mom, I do not want to take elocution lessons.

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When I married Barbara, she had just graduated from Brooklyn College where she had been president of the modern dance company.  It was a culmination of years of classes, practice, and performances.  I loved watching her dance.  I loved everything about her.  I foresaw a marriage challenged only at bar mitzvah and marriage celebrations when hired bands would blast out their dance invitations.  She was really pretty good at leading me around the floor, smiling as though enjoying herself and not wincing when one of my feet would squash one of hers.  Thanks to a lot of at-home practice, the one dance we could do passably well was the cha-cha.  I somehow thought of it as a Jewish dance, probably because it was so popular at all those celebrations.

My friend Sam knew only one dance step, which I saw him perform in ludicrous manner many years ago.  It was at El Bodegon, a very good Spanish restaurant in Washington that had a small stage facing the tables.  Once each evening, the music would boom out from speakers, and two beautiful girls in frilly costumes would come out and perform wild flamenco dances.  Then, invariably, they would try to get one of the diners to get up on the stage with them.  The Latin music blared when Sam was cajoled into joining them.  Then, he launched into the one step he knew…the Charleston.  It almost worked if you had drunk enough Valencia.

My most ridiculous dance experience occurred during my internship year at the Massachusetts General Hospital.  On a weekend when Barbara was visiting her folks in Brooklyn, my resident–a charming and very persuasive guy–asked…no, virtually commanded…that I “double date” with him.  He was going to a square dance with his girlfriend, and her housemate was to be my partner.

And so, she was.  Guilt shrouded every second of my time with her.  Betrayal, thy name is Stephen!  Abandon, ye, all hope of reparation!

I wonder if Myrna is still telling the story about the deaf mute who once took her to a square dance.

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Share your memories with the BOLLI community by submitting memoir writing (of approximately 500 words) to BOLLI Matters co-editor Sue Wurster at susanlwurster@gmail.com

 

MEMOIR WRITING FROM DENNIS GREENE: ESCAPING TO IMAGINARY WORLDS

ESCAPING TO IMAGINARY WORLDS

by Dennis Greene

In 1952, when I was an undersized, under-aged, socially inept eight -year–old, my family relocated from a working class neighborhood in Queens, New York, to one of the most disadvantaged school districts in New Bedford, Massachusetts. For the next seven years I tried to find my place in this unwelcoming new world, and when the struggle got me down, I escaped to the amazing worlds created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne,  H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, E.E.”Doc” Smith and all the other extraordinary science fiction and fantasy writers of the early and mid-twentieth century. Many of these books were out of print in the 1950s, but I searched the glass-floored stacks of the New Bedford Free Public Library to obtain transport to these imaginary worlds. These flights of fantasy turned a potentially lonely and unhappy period of my childhood into a time I look back on with fond nostalgia.

I recall a time in tenth grade when it seemed the arc of my adolescence was finally on the upswing. I had a bunch of new basketball playing friends, and I was one of the better players. We played every afternoon in Buttonwood Park or in the Dartmouth High gym. I had finally experienced a growth spurt, and my jump shot had improved to the point where I was confident I would be selected to play on the JV team. All the other guys striving for places told me I was a sure bet to make it. On the Friday when the team roster was posted, the whole bunch of us crowded in front of the bulletin board to see the list. I ran my eyes over the list several times quickly, then a few more times very slowly; then I just stared at it with a sick, empty feeling in my gut. I didn’t make the team. The names of several much weaker players were on the list, but no matter how long I stared, mine was not.

I was devastated. After staring at the list for an eternity, I fled for home without saying a word to anyone. I made myself a ham, Swiss cheese and tomato sandwich on seeded light rye with mayo and retreated to my room. There, I spent the weekend re-reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Princess of Mars and doing lots of sleeping. I emerged on Sunday evening, still pissed off and disappointed but ready to again face the world. That quick trip to Barsoom to be with John Carter, Tars Tarkas and the incomparable Deija Thoris helped me get through a tough few days.

Like many disappointments, failing to make the team turned out to be a good thing. After moping around the house for a week or two, my mom and dad had had enough. One way or another, they convinced me to fill my time doing other stuff while all my Dartmouth friends practiced basketball. I grudgingly took their advice, and during that tenth-grade basketball season, I tried out and got a role in a high school play, joined a co-ed bowling team at the Jewish Community Center, and there met a group of guys who invited me to play on their church league basketball team. We won the New England Championship, and I acquired a new group of wonderful friends, including several girls. If I had made the JV team, I would have missed all that.

The following year, I did make the JV team, and my senior year I was a starter on the worst varsity basketball team in Dartmouth High’s history. The coach was not impressed with the basketball ability of our collection of short, slow, honor society members, as we compiled a losing 6 and 9 record, but in later years, he referred to us as the “smartest” group he ever coached. So everything did turn out fine.

Fifty-seven years later, on Nov. 9, 2016, I woke up and tuned in to the election results to learn that Donald Trump was our President-elect. I stared at the television with the same blank stare I had used in 1959 to peruse that JV basketball roster, but again, the result did not change. Again, I made myself a ham, Swiss cheese and tomato sandwich on light rye with mayo and retreated to my bedroom.  This time I re-read a collection of  Poul Anderson’s Polytechnic League stories about the heroic intergalactic traders Nicholas van Rijn and David Fayaden. I emerged a few days later, ready to face the world we live in.  I still believe that speculative literature can be a remedy for depression and despair if the right works are selected and the reader is able to escape to that other world and let his or her imagination embrace the epic scope and optimistic outlook of these heroic adventures. So if you are ever feeling down, just pick up a copy of Dune or Game of Thrones and go on an adventure.

Dennis Greene joined BOLLI a year ago and for the past two semesters has begun to acquire a liberal education. He spent his early years in and around New Bedford, Massachusetts as a reclusive bookworm, avid Boy Scout, high school basketball player and thespian. After graduating Dartmouth High School, Dennis obtained a vocational education studying engineering, business administration and law. He then spent over four decades as an engineer, lawyer, husband, father of two daughters, and pop culture devotee. He now lives in Wellesley where he is writing a coming of age memoir, trying to improve his golf game, attending courses at BOLLI and taking frequent naps.

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Share your memories with the BOLLI community by submitting memoir writing (of approximately 500 words) to BOLLI Matters co-editor Sue Wurster at susanlwurster@gmail.com

 

MEMOIR WRITING FROM SAM ANSELL: THE RIGHT NUMBER

The Memoir Writing Course prompt was “The biggest risk you ever took.”  Sam was inspired to share a very special memory.

Memoir Writer Sam Ansell

THE RIGHT NUMBER

by Sam Ansell

At the time, I was living in a third-floor walk-up in Manhattan and earning a precarious living writing promotional material for a company that made tollbooths–no, not “Phantom Tollbooths.”  Real ones.  Hardly a chance to be creative.  I had no relationship whatsoever with with my fellow employees, nor, for that matter, with anyone else in New York.  So, every evening, I remained in my cramped little flat, either reading or listening to the radio, this being the pre-TV era.  Yes, I was very lonely, and my awful cooking only made things worse.

Then, early one evening, the phone rang.  An unknown young woman said, “Hi!  It’s me!  I’m visiting relatives in New York, so how about taking me out for dinner and a show?”

I was about to tell her that she had called the wrong number but thought better of it.  Why not take her out?  She might even be pretty–with any luck, a real cute number.  So, an hour later, I was pushing the doorbell of a Manhattan apartment.

The door opened, and there was one of the loveliest numbers I had ever encountered.  And one of the most indignant as well.

“Who are YOU?” she demanded.

“You called ME up,” I said.

Well, after about twenty minutes, we got it all straightened out.  And we did go out that evening.  And the next.  And the one after that.  And we’ve been inseparable ever since.

So, I’ve never been lonely again.  Or had to eat my own–ugh–cooking.  And she’s still a lovely number.

All of which goes to show you that, if you’re very lucky, a wrong number can get you the right number.

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Share your memoirs with the BOLLI community–just send pieces (of approximately 500 words in length) to BOLLI Matters co-editor Sue Wurster at susanlwurster@gmail.com