Tag Archives: writers

WHAT’S YOUR STORY? GOLF, OF COURSE

A recent Writers Guild prompt brought this bit of memoir from Steve Goldfinger–for the inveterate duffers in out midst.

Breaking the Ice:  Aye, There’s the Rib!

by Steve Goldfinger

After my early days of hacking around scrubby Dyker Beach, Brooklyn’s only public golf course, I found myself playing The Country Club in Brookline from time to time. Yes THE Country Club, sanctuary of Boston Brahmans plus a handful of their chosen. Its name said it all.

My friend Tom, a fellow academic and ardent golfer, was one of their chosen. A few times a year, he would ask me to join him for 18 holes at this preserve available to but three hundred or so, a far cry from Dyker Beach’s availability to three million.

This time, it was for only nine holes. It was mid-January and the temperature had warmed up to 35 degrees, toasty enough for golf freaks who hadn’t teed up a ball for two months. The Country Club contained an extra nine holes that were kept open year round for such freaks.

Tom brought along his son Jeff, now 15, who was getting interested in the game. I had played with Jeff before, liked him, and was glad he was with us.

The air was brisk and the round uneventful, until we reached the seventh hole. Jeff’s drive put him about 150 yards from the green. I saw him pull a 4 iron out of his bag for his second shot.

“Use 6 iron,” I said. “You’ve grown a lot, and a 4 iron is much too much club.”

But 15 year-olds often have minds of their own.  He stuck with the 4 iron, hit it cleanly, and watched it soar well over the green.

“Now, drop another ball,” I said, “and try a 6 iron.”

He did and hit the ball the perfect distance….but it veered off to the left and rolled onto a frozen pond. When we arrived at the pond’s edge, we saw the ball sitting there, ten feet away. Just sitting atop the glistening ice, waiting to be fetched.  And feeling guilty that it was I who had consigned this $1.25 ball to such a fate, it was I who decided that I should be the fetcher.

I had gone two steps onto the ice when the inevitable crack came, and I crashed, sideways.   I managed to stand up, the water above my waist.  So cold I couldn’t utter a word.  Tom and Jeff ran over to fish me out by extending an 8 iron for me to pull on.  I noticed bleeding from my wrist where it had been scraped by ice as I fell through. Even then, I could barely say a word.

I was the shivering wretch of the three, though, insisting we go to the next tee to complete the round. I had just read The Right Stuff, and this was going to be my John Glenn moment. Tom and Jeff were still laughing as I teed up my ball.  Then, when I tried to swing my driver, I was nearly felled by a horrifically painful crunch in my left rib cage. The technical name is crepitus, and it denoted a rib fracture. I tried to swing again but could use only my wrists to wave at the ball.

They escorted me back to the club house, bleeding wrist, broken rib, freezing torso, numb legs, sunken spirit.

I later asked Tom to petition the club’s Governing Council to post a sign alongside the pond on the seventh hole, to read:  “Here Goldfinger couldn’t walk on water.”

BOLLI Matters contributing writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI about two years ago, Steve has been writing.  He’s taken  memoir courses with Marjorie Roemer and worked on fiction with Betsy Campbell.  In addition, he’s stretched his creative muscles into the world of acting as an intrepid CAST player.

WALKABOUT by Quinn Rosefsky

At our most recent Writers Guild session, we shared our work with a “conspiracy theory” prompt in which we challenged ourselves to stretch our imaginations into the “fantastic” and write with authority.  As autumn creeps upon us, this piece of fiction by Quinn Rosefsky took many of us right back to summer camp…  We thoroughly enjoyed it and are sure you will too.

Quinn says that:  “Walkabout” started as a chapter in a book I call: Camp Arawakee .The manuscript was on a shelf in my closet for over twenty-five years. At one time, the book had enough strength to entice an agent to take interest. However, no publishers ever bothered to take a nibble. That was disheartening. More recently, I summoned the courage to take a fresh look. After all, in the past several years, I have somehow managed to write and re-write many times, what on paper looks like a mere 200,000 words. That changes a person. Let me tell you! So, what we now have in “Walkabout” is the fresh, 2017 version of the sentiments which first came to life so long ago. I’d be interested to know if anyone can come up with an ending to the “story within a story.” Having said that, you should probably read the story before reading this brief essay

 

WALKABOUT 

By Quinn Rosefsky

Where was Louis? The boys in Turtle Cabin waited in the fading light for their counselor to return from chatting with the pretty dark-haired nurse in the infirmary. Charlie, Teddy and Sean made up a contest. Who could jump the farthest from the edge of the lean-to onto the ground? A few feet away, Pete and Michael began arguing about whose turn it was to sweep the floor the next morning. As the first stars began to appear, Louis strode into view.

“Story!” the boys said, one after another.

The boys and Louis, dangling their legs, huddled on the edge of the lean-to.

“It was as hot as an oven the day I saw my first opal,” Louis said, dumping a bag of strange pebbles into his palm. “I’d been behind the wheel of my truck for hours and the flies were driving me crazy. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. That’s when I drove the truck off the road into a ditch. There was no way I could get the wheels free. I sat down under the only gum tree around to rest.

“Just as I closed my eyes, something flashed at my feet. I bent over. There it was lying on top of the ground, the most fiery opal I’d ever seen.”

Louis paused to adjust the bush hat he always wore, even in the shower.

“What’s an opal?” Charlie said.

“It’s a jewel almost as precious as a diamond but still worth a lot of money.”

“Let him get on with the story,” Pete said, elbowing Charlie.

“Anyhow, just then, an Aborigine, his eyes so bright they looked like they were on fire, walked out of the bush and came straight towards me. He was wearing dusty blue jeans and no shirt.”

“What’s an Aborigine?” Ronnie said.

“They’re our native Australians, the ones who were there when Europeans first began to settle the continent. Same as your American Indians were here first.”

“Are there a lot of them?” Sean asked.

“Not any more. They’ve had a rough time.”

“Are they dangerous?”

“Not at all. They never were and never will be. They’re the ones who protect life in all its forms. That’s why the bush has been unspoiled for thousands of years.

“This particular Aborigine, who said his name was Jack, was on what’s called a walkabout. He’d been living alone in the bush for over a year, learning what he was to do with his life.

“As soon as Jack came to within a few yards, he stood still. He didn’t move for five minutes, not a muscle. It was as if he’d turned into a statue.

“Then Jack moved. First he pointed to my opal and then he took it from my hand and turned it over and over. Then he said: ‘Follow me.’

“We walked along an invisible track in the bush for about an hour. Finally, Jack stopped and pointed to the ground. I was completely mystified. Opals, dozens of them, were everywhere. I ran about like a man possessed. I was rich!

“Then I remembered my car was still stuck in the ditch an hour away from where I was. But what good would it do me to have all those opals if I never got out of the bush? I looked around to thank Jack, but he was gone. I was alone with no truck, no water and the hot sun beating down on me.”

“What happened next?” Charlie asked.

“You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” Louis said.

“It’s not fair,” Pete said stomping his feet.

“That’s enough, Pete,” Louis said, wagging his finger. “I’ll give you guys fifteen minutes to get ready for bed and then it’s lights out.”

“How can I fall asleep not knowing if you survived?” Sean asked.

“Tomorrow.”

BOLLI Member & SGL Quinn Rosefsky

Quinn is a familiar face at BOLLI where he takes courses, teaches courses, serves on the Study Group Support Committee, participates in the New Yorker Fiction Group, the Writers Guild, and more!

 

WHAT’S ON MY MIND? LOST & FOUND by Steve Goldfinger

Our Writers’ Guild prompt for this week was this “Keep Calm and Look in Lost & Found” image.  As always, some chose to use the prompt while others did not.  We all thoroughly enjoyed Steve Goldfinger’s approach, and  we felt that many BOLLI members might be able to relate!  

LOST & FOUND

By Steve Goldfinger

For a moment, my wandering brain lost the prompt, but now I remember.  Ah, yes.  “Lost and Found.”

Well, it’s easy to lose things.  Car keys, cell phones, shopping lists, hearing aids.  Names of people whose faces are imprinted in my skull, faces of people whose names are as secure in my mind as swallows in cliff dwellings.

I cannot find the treasured score card that documented the best round of golf I ever played.  I was 21 year old, knew I would never have so low a score again, and promised I would keep it to show my grandchildren.  But where is it now?  Hiding somewhere in my attic or moldering at the bottom of some forsaken garbage dump?

When I lost my virginity, I knew I had also found something.  But when I lost my wallet yesterday, the only thing I found was an empty back pocket.  My only consolation was that my credit card was not longer in it.  Once again, the piece of plastic was undoubtedly sitting next to the cash register of the last restaurant I ate at.  Again, I neglected to retrieve it after I signed the check.  Damn it.  I want it back.  Now, what was the name of that restaurant?

After driving to the MFA to see the new exhibit that so excited me when I read the review in The Globe, I forgot which one it was.  When a large sign reminded me and told me where it was, I had to ask a guard to direct me to the stairway I had marched to directly so many times in the past.  It was a great exhibit…fine paintings and etchings by…oh, shit!

And what have I found?

Perhaps a new internal tempo that allows me to drive more slowly, aware as I am that, in front of me, the lane seems to have narrowed, and too many dents and scrapes have appeared on my car.

Or the magic of the remote, being able to put a ball game on a 40 minute delay so I can then zip through the commercials to get to the action.

Or the ability to justify my lifestyle–couch potato, bacon and eggs, steaks, morning croissants, and evening ice cream–by “Hey, I’m 82 and just back from Alaska where I survived a strenuous hike.  Good genes.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.”

Or how easy it has been to depart from the world of medicine.  A satisfying six decades, but in the end, too many directives separating me from patients, too many memory lapses, too many teaching moments falling short of my expectations, threatening my pride.

Or my ability to respond to writing prompts in perhaps a better way than I have responded to social ones over the years.

Writers Guild member, Steve Goldfinger

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

Interested in joining either one yourself? During the fall term, the Guild will meet on Wednesday mornings from 9:45-11.  And CAST will meet on Fridays from 12:30-2.  All are welcome!

LINES FROM LYDIA: My First Girdle

Lately, Lydia has been focusing on memoir writing–and, here, she gives us all a little inspiration for memoir writing of our own.  We hope you’ll think about sharing some of your memories with other BOLLI members on  our BOLLI Matters blog!  

MY FIRST GIRDLE

By Lydia Bogar

Me and Daddy

Daddy was sitting at the dining table, back to the thermostat wall.  He was doing paperwork – shop stuff – not painting.  I had been shopping with Mom, maybe at R.H. White’s, and we had bought my first girdle.  It was a pink and white striped thing with garters that was not purchased for a look-thinner purpose but, rather, to hold up my first pair of nylons. I believe it was 1957 or 58, at least one year before he died.

Daddy was a brave and determined man.  In 1938, he had come from Europe to America from Europe to live with Papa, Mimi, and Paul–to have a better life.  To be a soldier.  To fall in love and raise a family.  To be an artist and a hairdresser.  To be an American.   He was suave, sophisticated, very conscious of his appearance–hair, mustache, posture.  Was that a generational thing?  A European thing?  A proud new American thing?  He was tall, thin, beautiful—with tanned skin that never hardened.  His hair never turned grey.  He never turned 50…or 60…or more.

Daddy was not only an immigrant, an artist, a husband, and a father. He was also a son, brother, uncle, Catholic, a craftsman, a golfer, a Main Street businessman, fisherman, and gardener.  He was then a photographer, patriot, and anti-Communist.  Finally, he was a patient and a survivor.

I look back now at the black and white photos of him–in uniform, on his passport, on his citizenship papers, with his fedora, with the puppy named Bobo, with me.  Golfing with Papa and Paul.  Fishing with Uncle Fred and Uncle Eddie.  Lots of images saved from the house that wasn’t sold until Mom entered a nursing home.

It seems a little strange to me that one of my more vivid memories of Daddy was him sitting at the dining room table the day I came home with my first girdle.  And yet, for us girls in the 50s, that first was a big one.  Having him there for it was just as important.  How I wish that my other memories of him were clearer and more abundant.

Maybe they are just deeper–and writing will bring them to the surface.

BOLLI Matters Co-editor Lydia Bogar

Former English teacher and health care professional Lydia Bogar joined BOLLI in the spring of 2016 after returning home from a stint in South Carolina where she dipped into another OLLI program.   (We’re glad she decided to join this one!)

 

 

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.”

 

 

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  ,

A “SWEEPING” MEMOIR by Margie Arons-Barron

A member of Marjorie Roemer’s current Memoir Writing course, Margie Arons-Barron recently shared this gem.  The group’s task was to write about a saying (or sayings) that was (or were) common in our families or communities.  Margie’s charmed all of us–and will do the same for you!

BURIED WITH HER BISSELL

By Margie Arons-Barron

bissell

Great-aunt Rose was a bookkeeper at Flah’s Department Store in Syracuse, NY and a spinster.  I understood neither term. What I did know was that she had a pinched face and lived by the credo that “you clean up as you go along.”  I learned that that meant you didn’t wait for people to finish their meals in a leisurely way.  If their forks paused mid-air for conversation, she swooped in, scooped up their plates, and removed them to the kitchen.

Her sister, my nana, apparently inherited the Klein girls’ clean gene.  Nana had a big nose, ample bosom, and ear lobes like a cocker spaniel’s. She smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, especially when talking on the phone. When the call ended, she’d put out her smoke, dump the ashes, and wash the ash tray.  As soon as visiting friends started to leave, she’d appear with her Bissell carpet sweeper, methodically removing every piece of lint from the grey/green broadloom. She asked to be buried with the Bissell.

Nana taught me the rudiments of cooking, but it was really cook, clean, cook, clean. Wash and dry measuring cups halfway through the recipe. Wipe counter immediately when flour spilled. “Clean up as you go along,” she’d repeat.  “It will be so much easier.”  Her compulsion came from the shame she’d experienced long ago.  After a party she and Grandpa had given, they went to bed without cleaning up. Grandpa took sick during the night. When the doctor arrived at the house, he saw ashtrays overflowing, pots and pans in the sink, gold-edged dinner plates covered with congealed gravy, and high-ball glasses with Scotch diluted by melted ice cubes. Nana never got over the mortification.

Though doctors no longer make house calls, the obsession survives with me.  I still wash, dry, and put away the measuring spoons before the pan is in the oven. No matter how late guests depart, when I go to bed, the crystal is hand-washed and replaced in the cabinet. The serving pieces are dried and put away, the dishwasher is loaded and running. The table cloth and napkins are in the washing machine. It, too, is running. It’s a wonder I still entertain.

I’m not as bad as my Aunt Ethel. Once, when Uncle Mitch awoke at three a.m., she made his bed.  Grumbling, he took a pillow and went to sleep in the bathtub.

My husband grew up in a household where a trip to the refrigerator was an archeological dig. Chaos was called creativity. He has yet to learn that his cereal bowl gets dried and put away, not left to drain; that the knife from his banana will clean more easily if it doesn’t sit on the counter all day; that overnight soaking of casseroles is just an excuse for leaving the scrubbing to someone else.  He’d like to cook more, but he needs more clean-up practice to make that work.

“Clean up as you go along” is why I take care of the finances, not putting off paying bills on a monthly or even weekly schedule. It’s why my kids learned they could outwait me when it came to straightening their room, making their beds, or putting dirty jeans in the washer.

A clinician might accuse me of being anal. I say it’s efficiency and high executive skills.  Besides, it’s easier to clean up as you go along.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 10.25.19 PM
Margie Arons-Barron

After a long and successful career as an editorial and political news director, Margie shifted her focus to writing memoir and even fiction when arriving at BOLLI this past year. In addition to Marjorie’s memoir course, she has taken Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing courses and has been an active member of the BOLLI Writers Guild.  She is now a member of 2018 BOLLI Journal staff as well.  She still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here.

 

 

A CLASS ACT: Memoir Writing

WHAT HAVE WE HERE?

by Marjorie Roemer

The following pieces represent just one week’s response to a writing prompt in my BOLLI course Journeying Toward Discovery: Writing and Remembering (fall of 2014). The assignment was a classic one:   write in response to a photograph or other visual image, a painting or a drawing.  Put yourself in the picture, or write about the history of the photograph . . . how you see it now, how you experienced it then.

For me, these pieces are not necessarily examples of the best writing to come out of this remarkable group of writers, but they are significant for the spotlight they throw on what BOLLI members bring to their courses.  The assignment is an old chestnut, one we might give to kindergartners as well as to senior citizens . . . write about an image, a task that brings to the fore the depth of experience that informs everything we do and say.

The pieces which follow give some insight into the range of that experience and how imagination and history together shape consciousness.

 

CHIACCHIERA

By Sam Ansell

SAM

What have we here? Why it’s a Ken Heymen photograph of three little girls enjoying a hen fest.  (In Italian, “gossip” is the onomatopoetic word chiacchiera, pronounced key-AHK- ee-AY-rah.)

The redhead on the right is no doubt dishing up the dirt on some mutual acquaintance.  She’s leaning forward in confidential mode but is glancing to the left to make sure unwanted listeners aren’t overhearing.  Notice how she’s clutching her stomach as if trying to contain her excitement.

On the left, the little blonde beauty is leaning forward so as to drink in every detail.  She’s so absorbed that’s she’s on one leg, scratching it with the other. (God help the local boys when this one reaches adolescence.) Meanwhile, the brunette in the middle seems somewhat limp and uncomfortable, her pained expression hard to read.  Maybe she’s a little out of her depth with these high-powered gossip mongers. Maybe she’s afraid the gossip will get back to the person or people under discussion and she’ll be blamed.

What makes the episode especially ironic are the dolls, reminding us that these are the future mothers of America.  Our lovely blonde is clutching her doll tightly in a sort of protective mode. The girl in the middle again shows anxiety: she almost seems to have forgotten that she has a doll while the little redheaded babbler on the right has left her doll in a baby carriage – gossip is more fulfilling than doll supervision.

Another remarkable fact about the picture is the symmetry. The four heads (including the middle girl’s doll) form an elongated diamond while the same doll is the fulcrum of the whole shot.

This picture is an example of what the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson calls “the decisive moment”: The moment in which an experienced photographer, taking in a thousand details, grasps that those details will shortly coalesce into something very special and has a camera at the ready.  The Inexperienced would only have seen three girls yakking, but Ken Heyman instinctively recognized that something extraordinary was about to happen and got the right shot. It takes only a fraction of a second to shoot a great picture; it takes a lifetime of experience and great talent to anticipate and get it.

 

RE-READING A PHOTOGRAPH

By Marjorie Roemer

marjorie

Nobody liked this picture.   Nobody even liked the vacation.  It’s March 1992, a celebration for my mother’s 86th birthday.  We are at Penn State, where my daughter Liz was working on her PhD. After having done a big party in New York for my mother’s 75th birthday, I decided that we should do something special for each one of her birthdays. I can’t remember all of them. This would be the next to last, a long weekend visiting Liz in State College. I arranged to have my son David and his wife Celeste fly up from Boston, my mother fly up from Florida, and I flew in from Cincinnati. We had a suite at a Sheraton hotel, I think, replete with Jacuzzi. It should have been fun. My husband Don decided, perhaps wisely, to pass on this particular festivity.

I don’t remember too much about the weekend. We went out for a number of dinners at the best restaurants in town. I remember ordering a cake from a bakery and having it served at one dinner. What went wrong? Liz was probably distracted with work and felt this to be an intrusion. I have only three clear memories: Liz’s car was making a funny sound and my mother said: “Let your brother look at it. He’ll know what’s wrong.” That didn’t play well. Then at the big dinner for her birthday celebration with the cake, I said to my mother: “You have a piece of spinach stuck in your teeth.” She replied: “Can’t you ever say anything nice?” And finally, I ran the Jacuzzi and somehow managed to turn it on when there was not quite enough water in the tub. The water went flying around the bathroom like some kind of dramatic wind and rain storm. I can’t remember now if I had to call for help in my naked predicament. I just remember it as a small disaster.

And finally, the picture. I thought it would be fun to have a family picture taken, so I arranged for this one at the Mountain View Studios. The photographer was very nice, and that part was sort of fun. He took a lot of shots. In the end, when I got the proofs, they were pretty disappointing. There was not one picture where everyone looked good. I remember going to a bar in Cincinnati with my friend Susan Durst, a photographer, and asking her to help me choose the best. We spread them out on a table and studied them. Finally, we hit on this one as the one where no single one of us looked embarrassingly awful. When I sent the pictures to the family, everyone complained. “That’s a terrible picture of me. I hate it,” they said.  My mother wouldn’t even look at it.

Now, some twenty-two years later, I don’t mind looking at it.

 

MISSING PIECE

by Jane Kays

jane kay 1

The torn black and white photo leaves me in the dark. One person was ripped away, and it is my father who survived the separation. He is fancily suited and shod as if for an occasion.  In another photo, wearing the same attire, he stands beside his daughter, Charlein. I could call her my sister or step-sister, but she was born in 1918, and the years between us create a disconnect.

jane kay 2

            Who tore the photo, and why?  More importantly, who was removed? I have studied this off and on for some time, always wondering and creating different scenarios.  In the one unripped photo where Charlein stands with our Dad, her white dress, soft and innocent at her ankles, the crushed band that encircles her waist, and then more softness surrounding her breasts, perhaps not yet fully developed, support the idea that she may be a teen.

Her Dad, my Dad, wraps his arm around her waist, a dad-hug way. She reaches across his shoulder to drape her fingers along his arm, making these two a snug fit, genetically entwined. How often have they embraced while Charlein spent most of her life, since infancy, living with her aunt, away from her father?

I sleuth through other photos looking at my father’s hairline, new wrinkles, and the style of his suits to appropriately age him as he poses in this picture. I notice he wears wing-tipped spectators, popular in the thirties. And I decide that these photos were taken when he was married to his second wife, Dorothy.

Was it Dorothy who was torn away and even thrown away? And might this be Charlein’s high school graduation? And did they all attend together? The weather is warm, springlike. My imagination buoys me and I am ready to answer all my questions about the torn photograph.

When my father met my mother in the late thirties, perhaps even while married to Dorothy, he brought his belongings to their new apartment in Lynn, Massachusetts. Before he packed, he sorted through pictures and tore the one remaining picture he had of his former wife and himself. And eerily, my mother, his new wife, would have these as keepsakes to show me what my father looked like.

Rousseau once wrote, “The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.”

So, in the boundless stretches of my imagination I decide that this is what happened to the torn part of the photograph until I look closer with a magnified interest. I notice something white along my father’s pant leg, and something dark near the side of his face, and I notice fingers on his shoulder. They are traces of Charlein that survived the tear, her hair, dress, and her hand laying upon our father’s shoulder.

Now I know the real story. She was the one who tore the photograph because her high school boyfriend wanted a keepsake.

 

WHERE THE PATH LEADS

by Margie Nesson

margien

The ancient arches of this passageway reflect my personal images of my family’s inspirational history.  Their winding journey began from two different geographical starting points–my maternal grandfather Yisroil Myerson began his exodus in Odessa, and my father Mendel Garb left Komai, Lithuania. I envision their two paths converging at the entrance to this painting.

This cobblestone alley opens with sheltered light that represents the ways in which the lives of Yisroil and Max were illuminated by the teachings of their faith and the love of their families, guiding them toward a brighter future.  Yisroil and Mendel left home with lessons learned from their own fathers in regard to the importance of family loyalty and their obligation, as Jews, to study Torah.

The bright entrance to this artfully rendered passageway soon leads me to its dark and shadowy recesses. The shadows represent Yisroil and Mendel’s memories of their families’ struggles to survive the tyranny of Russia. Their perilous and disparate journeys, represented in the darkened shadows of this passageway, are the foundation on which our family’s commitment to justice and our compassion for those traveling difficult journeys was built.

Yisroil’s memories, represented in the dark shadows before me, bear witness to the oppression he experienced in the Russian pogroms of the 1890’s. Mendel’s shadowy memories began with the slaughter of Russian Jews during the 1917 Revolution.   I imagine this amber-colored passageway as similar to those that Yisroil and Mendel trod upon during their escapes to freedom.

A pious young man, Yisroil, began his journey from Odessa to Palestine in 1896. Leaving home, he and his brothers were bound to seek refuge in the land of our ancient ancestors, now known as Israel. Together, the three siblings made it as far as Vilna, but amidst the city’s crowded streets and alleyways, Yisroil became separated. He searched for his lost family for weeks, to no avail.  He was alone and set out to make own way.  His path took a risky detour, diverting him from the direction of Palestine.  Alone, bolstered by his faith in his God, he made his way to London where he found employment as a tailor’s apprentice.   After two years, he had saved enough money to purchase passage on a ship bound for America.

Twenty-three years later, in the middle of the night, Mendel narrowly escaped from his family home in Komai.  With only the clothes on their backs and a satchel containing their prayer book and Sabbath candlesticks, Mendel and his younger brother escorted their ailing mother on a harrowing and heroic journey.  Hiding from the murderous mobs advancing on their village, this brave threesome crept through neighboring villages in the dark of night, finally reaching the train station in Rokiskis. Hiding in a freight car, they made their way to Denmark where they boarded the ship that brought them to America.

As Yisroil and Mendel embarked on their treacherous and winding journeys,  they finally reached their  sunlit paths. Quite possibly, their dark passageways were illuminated from above, as is the one pictured here.

Yisroil and Mendel’s families had instilled in each of them a strong faith and a sense of determination that provided them with the strength they needed to overcome the incredible obstacles each encountered on his journey to freedom.   Their collective faith and individual acts of bravery provided their progeny, my family, with an inspiring legacy as we make our way in the modern world.

 

OLÉ

by Carolyn Allen

CAROLYN

For several fun years, Bob and I were invited to a Halloween party at a big house on West Newton Hill. Despite the fact that most of the other guests were outfitted as elaborate French kings, Russian peasants, or whimsical unicorns straight out of a box while ours were home-made-in-NewtonAmerica, we always walked away with First Prize.

One year, I decided Bob would make a perfect Spanish Lady, and, being the good sport he was, he readily agreed. I climbed the rickety ladder to the eaves of the garage.  Ignoring the November cold and those scary might-be mouse droppings, I rummaged through boxes of costumes, many sewn by me, and others filled haphazardly with sleeping pieces waiting to be awakened by imagination.

I discovered a ruffley red underskirt, black stretchy slippers, a black bejeweled sweater and a lushly fringed shawl.  At CVS, I found queen-sized sparkly black pantyhose.   A long black wig with saucy bangs, a big red rose, and an ivory fan completed The Look.

Bob took the costume for a trial run. Have you ever seen a man put on pantyhose? Bob lay down on our bed, stuck one leg straight up in the air, and, holding the pantyhose at arms’ length, vainly tried to wriggle his whole leg in from the top.

The night of the party, our daughter Laura channeled Percy Westmore, make-up artist to the stars.   In the mirror, As Laura blue-shadowed his eyelids and layered on rouge and lipstick, Bob wiggled his brows at himself provocatively, flirting mercilessly with his own reflection.

“You know,” he said fetchingly to his image, “I could go for you.”

Laura finished the transformation by penciling a black beauty mark atop Bob’s cheekbone.

“Laura,” he complained, “shouldn’t the beauty mark be bigger?”

“Dad,” she snapped back, “it’s in proportion to the beauty!”

Another First Prize in the bag.

We made our costumes do double-duty. After Halloween, they became the theme of our annual New Year’s cards, with appropriate punny greetings:

  • Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” (“Would that you be granted a Happy New Year”)
  • A Medieval Serf (to my Queen Pretensia) (“Happy New Year from the Middle Agers”)
  • A Chocolate Moose (to my Julia Child)
  • A Bag of Bovung Cow Manure (to my Burpee Seed Catalog)

As I stare at this picture of Bob the Spanish senorita of 25 years ago, I am drawn back to a time of innocence, a time we didn’t know couldn’t last forever.

Olé!

LOST AND FOUND

by Lois Sockol

boys

At times, I was lost. Sometimes I still am. So much of me was consumed by mothering that that is who I became. It’s hard to move away to begin again the search for whom I might still be. Torah says, “God loves becoming.”

For so many years, school schedules, after school sport teams, school reports, doctor’s appointments, tending scraped knees, comforting hurts, and the routine daily tasks,. . . washing, shopping, preparing meals. . . consumed my days, infusing them with purpose, meaning, occasional tears, much laughter and love. That was the surge of my life.

Then, slowly and surely as they must, my sons’ wings took flight. First there was college, which meant less and less time as a family unit living together under the same roof where we were busy in our own and each other’s lives. Time morphed into natural separations: new jobs away from home, happy marriages, independent self-sufficient lives. How blessed I felt by it all. Our sons grown to be the fine character-driven men I had hope they would become. And how splendid and lovely were the women they married.

Yes, we had transitioned through life’s big moments. The ones I always knew were coming but for which , to my surprise, I was emotionally unprepared. I hadn’t imagined the emptiness.  I was teaching school, doing the work that satisfied me. There were activities. . . town meeting, Temple committees, the library trusteeship, friends, the trips Ron and I took, the dictates of writing and the demands of teaching, but still, it was not enough to squelch the loneliness.

Grow up, I told myself. Did you really expect to stand still, to halt the natural cycles of life? To stop the world from spinning? Did you really want that to be? Is that who you are? Of course not, I love my life as it’s unfolded, my boys as men, and cherish the children they brought into my world. The truth is that the good things that are gone have paved the way for the splendid life I now know.

In time, I too broke free of my chrysalis and, with a nascent sense of liberation, stretched my own wings a sense of release I’d never been conscious of before.

Time need not be spent but savored. No rush to manage all things. I drank in the luxury of reflection and contemplation. There is no preaching in solitude. There are no demands or obligations, no shifting of ideas in order to please.  These quiet times are sanctuaries, where, if I listen, a spark, a thought, a truth may be revealed to help me answer my greatest puzzle.  Who am I? What does my existence mean?

And so, just as my life was once a turbulent sea, it is now a quiet pond, still fed endlessly by my love for my husband, my grandchildren, my grown sons, but also the waters where I leisurely move closer to me.

 

THE INCIDENT AT ROCKAWAY BEACH, 1943

Was It My Fault?

by Eleanor Jaffe

eleanor

The war was on. My uncles were in the army, but my family was intact. In that summer of 1943, my parents rented an apartment on the beach block, 128th Street, in Rockaway. The apartment was one flight up in a small brick house. The landlord lived downstairs. This living arrangement was a great novelty for us since, the rest of the time, the five of us lived in a Brooklyn apartment on the fourth floor of a large apartment house.

The summer before, when our baby brother was born, my sister and I had been shipped to sleep-away camp for two months.  But this summer was different. We were all together, and the sand and the ocean were just one half block away.  No streets to cross, just load our stuff–blankets, towels, snacks, and pails and shovels on to a wagon and shuffle under our loads down the hot pavement to the hotter sand.  Mother and baby brother David led the parade down the street.  Dad worked in Manhattan most of the time.  The beach was so big, and we could play all day, making wet sand pies, slipping in the wet sand at the water’s edge, in, then out of the water.

In August of that summer, I turned seven years old, and Frances was then.  In the faded color photo of us, she is a full head taller than I am, and I am looking up at her. I always looked up to her. She is blond, and my skin and hair are dark.  I trailed after her; she more or less ignored me in favor of her friends.

The beach was wide and deep, maybe five miles long.  Tides shifted, and the water crept up the beach, then slowly backed down the other way.  Often, the waves were big and came crashing down on us. The undertow could be very strong. I think lifeguards were supposed to be on duty every few blocks, but they must have been few and far between. There was a war on, you know.

I learned to plow through the crashing waves to reach the relative calm water beyond.  I loved the swirling ocean waters, floating on my back, the water too turbulent to swim in more than a few strokes at a time. I suppose our general instructions were to stay together, and so, Frances and I would plunge into the waters together, often with another tall ten-year old friend for company.  I stayed right up with them, dancing from one foot to another in the deep and deeper water, struggling.

I can’t remember being in trouble in the water; it hadn’t registered that way with me. I don’t remember feeling panicked, but I must have been in deep, dangerous waters because I recall that a little skinny lady grabbed me and pulled me to the shore. She asked where my mother was.  I pointed her out: the lady with the baby on the blanket, reading.

My rescuer marched determinedly over to my mother, and proceeded to let her have it! Her little girl had been in danger of drowning, and where had she been?  Didn’t my mother know that the ocean was dangerous? Little girls needed active supervision. The undertow was strong. A good mother should be responsible and should stand and watch and supervise, not sit on her rear end.

I just stood there, not knowing what to think. This lady was yelling at my mother. Nobody ever yelled at my mother. How could this be happening? I think my mother stayed quiet. My mother certainly could raise her own voice and yell and criticize, but not this time. Baby brother David played quietly in the sand. I stood awkwardly at the edge of the blanket. Other people must have been looking and watching.

There the memory and the scene end. I don’t know if we girls had new rules for the beach. I don’t know if my mother hugged me after my rescue, my almost drowning. I don’t know if Frances was criticized for ignoring me in the water. What I learned that day was that Mothers, too, might act in ways that lead others to yell at them. That was a shock. Somehow, I had made that happen. Maybe it was my fault….

WHAT IS EVERYONE THINKING ABOUT?

By Suzanne Art

SUZANNE

It’s a beautiful warm summer day, and the boaters have stopped along the Seine at Maison Fournaise. They are relaxing on the balcony, savoring the remnants of fruit, cheese, and the local wine. It’s a time of warm comradery, isn’t it?  And yet, everyone seems lost in thought.

Aline, the seamstress who will soon wed the painter of the picture, Renoir, sits at the table in the foreground. She coos lovingly to her shaggy little grey lapdog, Foufou.  There’s no one else around that she’d care to talk to, since the man of her dreams is busily wielding his paintbrush.  She can’t wait for him to finish his sketch so that they can all resume their leisurely voyage along the Seine, and she can snuggle once again in her lover’s strong yet gentle arms.

Opposite Aline, while she is absorbed with Foufou, impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte seizes the moment to gaze longingly at her.  If Renoir were not his very good friend, how swiftly he would act upon his strong attraction to the fetching young girl. He is unaware of the dark eyes of the actress, Angele, who looks at him as longingly as he looks at Aline.  She, in turn, doesn’t seem to notice the attentions of young journalist Adrien, standing behind her.  It seems as though everyone only has eyes for someone who only has eyes for someone else.

Louise, the daughter of the proprietor, leans casually on the railing, taking in, with a bemused smile, what is going on at Aline’s table. She fails to notice the young man in the brown bowler who has turned in his chair and is so absorbed in her.  Louise’s brother Alphonse leans against the railing directly behind Aline, feeling bored. He’s hoping it is almost time to end the luncheon and get everyone back to the boat.

To Louise’s left, in the center of the picture, Ellen, an actress, drinks from her glass, paying little attention to her table companion. He seems to be waiting for her to take notice of him, but she is lost in her own thoughts. Or is it the young man in the brown bowler who occupies her attention?

In the background stands a man in a tall silk hat.  He is Charles, wealthy art collector and the editor of the Gazette des Beaux Arts. He is chatting amiably with his personal secretary Jules. But is he really listening to his underling?

In the upper right corner are Renoir’s close friends Eugene, an art collector, and Paul, another artist. Paul has his arm around the waist of an actress named Jeanne. She responds to the flirtations of Eugene and Paul by putting her gloved hands up to her ears. Not the response they were hoping for.

It certainly does seem to be time to move on. No one is really enjoying anyone’s company, since everyone seems to be at cross-purposes.

This painting reminds me of what is wrong with our modern society. Picture a bustling café, perhaps just your local Starbucks. Every customer is totally absorbed in his own media device – even the servers are making notes on the store computer – and no one seems to be aware of what’s happening in the here and now.

 

WHITE MAN’S HISTORY

by Quinn Rosefsky

Quinn

1919, a bitter cold morning on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. ‘Hehaka Sapa’, Black Elk, wraps his blanket snuggly around his shoulders. He watches as black smoke belches from the stack of a steam engine pulling a short line of passenger and freight cars. The chuffing slows and brakes screech as the mighty beast clanks to a halt. An eagle, its wings spread wide, flies high above the desolate railroad spur. The door of a weather-beaten box car slides open and a duffle bag hits the frozen earth with a thud. A tall young man in a khaki U.S. army uniform quickly follows, hoists the bag over a shoulder, and walks towards Black Elk.

Black Elk: “Eeeyuh, ‘Matoskah’, White Bear, my son, how was Europe?”

Black Elk knew in his heart that his son would return from fighting in The Great War and was proud that his son had served, fighting for the Great White Father in Washington. As did many others, he hoped that Lakota men fighting for their country would gain white man’s respect.    

White Bear:     “I was a sharp-shooter. I scared many Germans.”

Black Elk:        “Or sent them to the Creator.”

White Bear:     “I said a prayer for each one I killed.”

Black Elk:        “That is our way.”

White Bear opens the duffle bag and rummages inside. “I met a photographer on the troop ship that carried us home; but he got sick, as did many others, from what they called ‘The Flu’. He didn’t think he’d survive and gave me this album. It is filled with pictures.”

Black Elk’s eyes darken. “Show me.” Black Elk grasps the worn album tightly and turns the pages slowly, releasing one of the photos, which drifts to the ground.

White Bear picks up the photo, turns it over, and reads names written in faded black ink. “Buffalo Bill, Capt. Baldwin, Gen. Nelson A. Miles, Capt. Moss, and others, on horseback. These names mean nothing to me.”

Black Elk:        “We must do a sweat. Then we will know.”

Holding an eagle feather to waft smoke, Black Elk smudges White Bear with burning sweetgrass. Both then enter the sweat lodge and sit. Black Elk lights a fire beneath a dome of rocks, waits until the rocks are hot, then pours water on them, filling the room with mist. The two men close their eyes. When they know it is time, they open them. Men in blue U.S. army uniforms and others in dark black suits shimmer in the mist.

First Soldier: “First thing you know, they started shooting at us from all directions. Painted warriors. We held our fire, but there were too many of them.”

Second Soldier: “We only fired at the ones with rifles. But there were so many.”

Third Soldier:  “Fortunately, we had the Hotchkiss Gun.”

Man in dark suit: “You were brave men. Our country thanks you. You have paid the debt owed to the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry who died with Custer at Little Big Horn.”

The images fade. Black Elk again pours water on the rocks, releasing more mist. The images return. “These men speak no truth. They murdered women and children, old men. I was wounded, unable to raise my rifle, the dead piled on top of me. My shame still haunts me.”

Man in dark suit: “These men deserve medals for their bravery.”

Black Elk:        “Were our women and children so frightening?”

White Bear:     “White men have the power to write the history they need. We do not.”

White Bear and Black Elk remain in the sweat lodge, watch the white men congratulate one another and curse the Lakota until their images vanish. Then Black Elk pours water on the fire and, with his son, walks out of the lodge into a bitter cold starry night.

Twenty Medals of Honor were awarded to U.S. soldiers who fought at Wounded Knee.

 

THE PICTURE ON THE WALL

by Barbara Webber

barbarawebber

I used to skip by it, run up and down the hall by it, play with my blocks in front of it, idly stare at it, directly look at it and ponder a bit. What I pondered, I don’t know but what I do know is I did not like this picture. It showed two different kinds of leafy trees one on each side and in between some women arranged in old timey dresses standing on steps. Their severe demeanor scared me. I guess I dismissed it as something grandmothers kept around. It hung in the hall next to the far more interesting glass device filled with amber liquid which climbed up and down a spout and forecast the weather. I liked that one a lot. At ten years of age, I realized that the picture was talking about the lifecycle of women with the bottom step displaying a baby on the left under the spruce tree and a shriveled 100 year old woman under the drooping willow tree on the right. At the pinnacle point, rose a woman of 50 years and women of intervening ages stood tall on all the ascending steps and progressively stooped on all of the descending steps. Many of the women looked blank or unhappy and the older ones looked pinched and crabby.   An inset at the bottom contained a tombstone saying “Sacred to the memory of:  _______________”  where you could write in someone’s name.  My budding but limited awareness was such that death and life’s end was not my focus; what I really puzzled about was why my grandmother kept such a gloomy picture on the wall; surely there were happier scenes to put up.

My grandmother, my father’s mother never talked about it; my parents never said anything to me about it, but I doubt they thought the picture wonderful . Years later, after my father died, I must have packed it up and brought it to Boston in one of my many cardboard boxes.

I recently found the box and pulled out “Stages of a woman’s life from cradle to the grave. According to the picture, I am presently located on the second downward step and, the accompanying verse for each age notes, I am old, seek solace but only through church and when there, sit only in my allotted seat. The next step lower, shows me at 80 prattling nonsense, and at 90, I become a useless cumberer or burden on the earth; at 100, I am chained to a chair by age and knit, listlessly awaiting death.

It amazes me that this mass-produced 1850s Currier and Ives Lithograph rattled around my family for at least three and possibly five generations surviving move after move. It has minimal antique and no sentimental value and yet we all kept it. It is offensive to 21st century sensibilities and I should throw it out. But I won’t. Maybe my niece will know what to do with it.

 

A PHOTO IN  MIND

By Muriel Ladenburg

It is the summer of 1961 on one of the last days of our “Europe on $5.00 a Day” trip.  I am wearing the polished cotton dress with the scoop neck, three-quarter sleeves and dark green background splashed with huge orange flowers.  Although I have worn this dress throughout the two-month trip, it has kept its luster and shown none of the signs of wear I am feeling.  I have a toothache, and a friendly London Bobby sends us to the local station where he promises that one of the boys will “pop down to the commissary” and get me an aspirin, but when we arrive, we are invited to “pop down” ourselves.

It turns out the commissary is also an off-duty pub, and while one officer insists on sitting us at a small table and bringing us tea and sandwiches as well as my aspirin, the men at the bar are singing off-color songs about America.  As we get up to leave, having refused invitations to join the men at the bar, my husband decides to repay their hospitality by offering to buy a round.  Before I know it, we are involved in a drinking game in which I consistently win and drink and Tom repeatedly loses and pays, but we are charmed and entertained.

At some point, I am ushered to a chair, and sitting in my crisp and flowered dress, flanked by two officers, I am wearing a silly smile and a tall Bobby’s hat complete with chin-strap.  When my husband snaps the picture, I do not know that I will soon be sick and regret having had too much to drink.  I do not know that the offending tooth will need to be pulled the next day and that I will fly home with a mouth full of Novocain.  But of all the many slides we took that summer that now lie in a jumbled heap we never manage to sort through, this one in my mind has made the greatest imprint in my memory.

Jane Kay and Quinn Rosefsky continued to work on these pieces, submitting them to the 2016 BOLLI Journal which can be accessed by clicking below.  (You can increase print size by clicking on the magnifying glass icon.)

The BOLLI Journal is published every two years.  The 2018 issue is already in the planning stages.  Consider trying this exercise yourself and submitting the result!

 

 

 

MEET MEMBER LARRY SCHWIRIAN: Drawing on Experience

MEET MEMBER LARRY SCHWIRIAN: DRAWING ON EXPERIENCE

Larry
Member and Writer Larry Schwirian

I was born and raised in a small town on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh, the second of five children. I guess you could say my father was a small business person–he owned a milk hauling route, picking up raw milk from farmers and hauling it to a dairy. As cows give milk twice every day, this was a 365-day a year job, so we never took family vacations. Still, he managed to serve on the town council for over thirty years and twice served as mayor of the town. When my mother was fifteen, her mother died, and she became surrogate mother to her six younger siblings. So, I grew up with not only an older brother and three younger sisters but with sixteen girl cousins who all lived within walking distance. Our house was where everyone congregated for morning coffee, gossip, and news analysis.

At eighteen, I went off to Case Institute of Technology to study engineering but decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I transferred to Western Reserve to study architecture. It was there that I met my wife Caroline. A year after graduation from Case Western Reserve University, we were married, and a year after that, we moved to the Boston area, working as architectural novices in large firms in Cambridge. Very soon after that, the first of our three sons was born, and a few years after that, we moved into our historic home in the Auburndale section of Newton.

Over the next forty plus years, I worked for a number of large firms in the area and eventually became a project manager and/or a project architect. I had the opportunity to work on projects all over the country in addition to doing local projects like the Harvard Square Subway Station, The Wang Ambulatory Care Center at Mass General Hospital, Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown, the addition to the old Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, and One Newton Place in Newton Corner.

In 2010, Caroline and I retired from our positions in large firms, and in 2011, we established our own firm, Caroline & Lawrence Schwirian, Architects LLC.  We still do some residential work, and I still do some technical consulting with larger firms, but for the most part, we have enjoyed retirement, watching our grandchildren grow, and trying to keep up with gardening, yard work, and house maintenance.

In the fall of 2015, we joined BOLLI, and, for the first term, just attended the Lunch & Learns. I also participated in the Sages & Seekers program and joined the BOLLI Writers Guild. For the second term, I signed up for Betsy Campbell’s “Five Stories in Five Weeks” writing class, Peter Carcia’s “The Art of Storytelling” class, Mary Ann Byrnes’  “The Elephant in the Room” class about metaphors, and Larry Koff’s class on “The Death and Life of Cities and Towns in Metro Boston.”  I enjoyed all the classes, but I especially relished the opportunity to refine my writing and storytelling skills.

Here is one of the nonfiction pieces Larry has done as a participant in the BOLLI Writers Guild.

GIFTED OR TALENTED

(In Response to the Prompt: “What a Remarkable Gift”)

What is the difference between being “gifted” and being “talented?” Although there are no generally agreed upon definitions for these two words, they are similar in meaning but are generally used in different ways.  The term “gifted” is most often, but not always, used in conjunction with intellectual ability and implies an innate quality. In many school placement decisions, individuals with IQ scores above 130 (the upper 2% on the bell curve) are generally classified as being “gifted.”  While a person’s IQ may or may not be a true measure of intelligence, it at least measures some innate ability. The term “talented” is most often used to describe someone with an acquired ability to perform significantly above the norm in any one of many different endeavors, including but not limited to music, art, food preparation, or athletics but typically not intellectual pursuits. A person becomes “talented” after much hard work and practice.

I am aware of no numerical scale that can be used to evaluate “talent” in music other than the number of records or albums sold by an artist, but it would be unfair and foolhardy to compare the “talent” of a classical violinist to a pop singer by this method. Similarly, there is no logical way to numerically evaluate a painter, a sculptor, or a chef.   Sports may be the exception.   In baseball, for example, the batting or earned run average can be used to evaluate a player’s performance.   In football, a quarterback can be evaluated based upon the percentage of passes completed, touchdown passes thrown, or number of games won, but you can’t really evaluate the “talent” of a defensive lineman by comparing it to the “talent” of a running back or quarterback.

Using the above meanings, it is possible to be “gifted” without being “talented” and “talented” without being “gifted.”   It is also possible to be both “gifted and talented,” which is probably the case for most people who rise to the very top in their respective vocations. It could be said that people like Madonna and Shakira are both “intellectually gifted” and “musically gifted” as well as being “talented.”   Many people would agree that Elvis Presley was “musically gifted” and “talented” but not “intellectually gifted.”  Many who don’t make it quite to the top can be very “talented” but not necessarily “gifted.”  Similarly, most lists don’t include Sharon Stone as being among the one hundred most “talented” actresses, but I have read that she has a nearly genius IQ of over 150.

While it appears there is at least some standard way to evaluate whether a person is “intellectually gifted,” there is no universally accepted, objective way to evaluate and compare the “talent” of two or more individuals.  One would have to say then that “giftedness” is innate, but “talent” is in the eye, ear, nose, or taste buds of the beholder.

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MEET MEMBER MARGIE ARONS-BARRON: A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

Meet Margie Arons-Barron, accomplished “wordsmith” and enthusiastic BOLLI member.

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BOLLI freshman Marjorie Arons-Barron is president of Barron Associates, a communications consulting firm, and a blogger at www.marjoriearonsbarron.com

If she looks familiar to you, it could be because for 20 years she may have been a guest in your living room, telling you what to think about anything from the local sewer bond issue to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. You may not always have agreed with her. Even her husband doesn’t. Not all the time anyway.

Margie is well known for her long career as editorial director at WCVB-TV, Boston’s ABC affiliate. From 1979-1999, she also produced and often hosted Five on Five, back then the nation’s longest running, locally produced public affairs discussion program.

Margie has been honored with numerous awards, including three New England Emmy Awards and, for five consecutive years, the National Award for Excellence in Television Editorials from the National Broadcast Editorial Association.

Prior to Channel 5, Margie was an associate producer of PBS Television’s The Advocates (which, she confesses, was the most fun she ever had at work); a national political affairs writer for The Boston Phoenix (she’s glad she’s no longer covering national conventions); a reporter for WGBH-TV’s Ten O’Clock News and political editor of The Newton Times. (Covering the local scene is hardest of all because you end up in the CVS line next to someone you’ve just criticized in print.)

Margie is a passionate overseer emerita of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a director of the Mass. Broadcasters Hall of Fame. An honors graduate of Wellesley College, she received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Regis College.

Margie joined BOLLI last summer. Contrary to some critics of her editorials, she jokes, she has never written fiction. At BOLLI, she is now writing fiction and also memoir. She’s loving all her courses and exhilarated to pursue interests sidelined for nearly 50 years as she pursued a career and raised a family. Her two sons and five grandkids are still what she is proudest of. Her husband and best friend, Jim Barron, is an attorney and consultant and is writing a book with a working title of The Greek Connection, to be published next year by Melville House.

Margie wrote the following piece in response to “A Hole in the Bucket” Writers Guild prompt earlier this year.

 

A HOLE IN THE BUCKET

by Margie Arons-Barron

Tick. Tock.  Tick. Tock.  Warned the grandfather clock in the living room. Liza was running late. Nothing had gone right this morning. When the alarm went off, she wasn’t sure where she was. It took her a while to get her bearings. As her feet hit the hardwood floor, it suddenly came to her. She and Henry had an appointment at ten to take care of something legal. Was it their mortgage? No, they hadn’t had a mortgage for years. Update their wills? Yes, that was it. They were meeting the attorney–Asa what’s-his-name?–at the law offices because Henry had had an emergency appointment with the dentist to glue a crown back in his mouth. Liza and Henry had been together since they were children. After 45 years of marriage, it was patch, patch, patch.

She went to the closet and grabbed a pair of grey flannel pants with an elasticized waistband along with a tailored shirt. Was this grey or blue? It didn’t matter. Where were her socks? Maybe the ones left rolled up last night in her weather-beaten running shoes would do. She pulled them on and struggled with her shoelaces. Maybe it was time to go Velcro, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. It just didn’t look dignified. Finally, she was dressed.

There were two pink post-its on the bathroom mirror. “Brush teeth.” Which she did. “Put on lipstick.” She applied it as carefully as she could, her hand shaking slightly. Eyeliner and mascara were a thing of the past. She did the best to smooth her hair, noticing the widening band of grey at the root line. She’d have to do something about that. Maybe next week.

Tick. Tock. Tick.  It was 9:30. Henry had told her to take a cab to the lawyer’s, but, she figured, she still had time and wanted to drive. Where were her keys? Not in her purse. She looked frantically on her dresser, on her desk, in the front hall, in her coat pocket. Did Henry hide them? He really didn’t want her driving anymore. Neither, for that matter, did their son Malcolm or daughter Christine. But Liza was determined. She raced through the bureau drawers, then headed for the kitchen. Utensil drawers? Not there. Pots-and-pans shelf? Nope. She opened the refrigerator, and, there on the top shelf, were her keys. This was crazy. What had she been thinking? Had she also left a bottle of milk in the medicine chest?

Liza started to tremble, tears tumbling silently down her softly lined cheeks. What was happening to her? It was one thing to forget people’s names, especially if she hadn’t seen them in a while. She had done that for years. She remembered a concert reception when a familiar looking, elegant woman came toward them, smiling broadly.

How are you?

Fine, and you?

It’s wonderful to see you. It’s been too long. (What was her name?)

Do you know my husband, Henry Snodgrass?

“Nice to meet you, Henry, and do you know my husband, Burt?”

They parted five minutes later, Liza still unable to recall the woman’s name.

Lately though, things had gotten worse. If Henry hadn’t reminded her it was meal time, she would have forgotten to eat. Sometimes she had gone out to walk and had difficulty finding her way back home, though they had lived in their quiet Victorian neighborhood for nearly half a century. She had double paid some bills and neglected to pay others. So Henry had taken over the household finances, and Liza had raged against the loss of control. Some days, she just didn’t want to get out of bed. It was warm and safe, and she didn’t have to confront the myriad frustrations that plagued her daily life.

Tick. Tick. Time was running out. It was almost ten o’clock. She’d have to call a cab. As she reached for the phone, it rang. An unfamiliar voice asked, “Is this Liza Snodgrass? Ma’am, this is Captain Lynch at precinct 4. Are you the wife of Henry Snodgrass? Ma’am, I’m afraid there’s been a car accident. You’d best come to the Emergency Room at the General.”

“Ma’am? Ma’am? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

A garbled sound rose from deep inside her.

What was he saying? What did it mean?