Category Archives: Creative Nonfiction Writing

Creative Nonfiction by Larry Schwirian: Henry


by L. Schwirian

It was on the 10th of May in 1843 that Henry received the fateful commitment letter from the woman he adored and had been courting off and on for the last seven years; she had finally agreed to his proposal of marriage.  His first wife had died of a miscarriage eight years earlier while they traveled in Europe, and a few months later, he met Fanny, his wife to be, and her father in Switzerland.

Henry’s first wife had been embalmed, laid in a lead-lined oak casket, and shipped to Boston for burial.  After the funeral ceremony,  he took up his new post as a Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard and began living as a boarder at Craigie House near Harvard Square.  Fanny, whose real name was Frances, also returned from Europe, with her father Nathan Appleton, to their home on Beacon Hill.  As one of the original investors in the first integrated textile mill in Waltham, Nathan was quite wealthy.

After receiving Fanny’s letter, Henry was so energized that he pulled on his boots and started the three and one-half mile, 90-minute trek down Broadway Street and across the Boston Bridge to Beacon Hill to make sure that Fanny wouldn’t change her mind. It was a journey he made many times over the past seven years, and he had become something of a legend in Cambridge for his unrequited ardor, perseverance, and refusal to quit.

He and Frances married shortly thereafter and parented six children before Fanny died in 1861; she was sealing letters with wax when her dress caught fire, and she succumbed only a few days later. Henry, in an attempt to save her, suffered wounds to his face and body and was unable to attend her funeral. He retired shortly thereafter and devoted the rest of his life to writing and became one of the best known and popular poets of the 19th Century.

He and both wives are now buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and the “Boston Bridge” that he crossed so many times while courting Fanny was re-christened “The Longfellow Bridge” when it was replaced in 1906. The pedestrian bridge recently built over Storrow Drive near the Hatch Shell has been christened The Fanny Appleton Bridge.

The Fanny Appleton Bridge


BOLLI Matters contributor, SGL, and Writers Guild co-chair Larry Schwirian

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


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 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. 




Brooklyn Public Library

by Abby Pinard

When I turned 13, in the mid-1950s, having long since exhausted the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library, I was finally granted an adult card. Oh, the wonders that were now available to me! Not just the books but the soaring, sunlit space, the hush, and the certainty that important grown-up people were doing important grown-up reading there.

Early on, I read a book called (I thought) A Small Rain. I remember no other single book from that time, but that one stuck with me. There was a scene in which a young girl who plays the piano is asked if she plays well. “Yes,” she says. I was thrilled and appalled! Who could be so immodest? I played the piano, pretty well for 13, but I would never have said so! I was a gawky, nerdy, shy kid, and boasting — or even believing I had anything to boast about — just wasn’t in my repertoire.

Over the years, the book would periodically penetrate my consciousness, and I would think that I should re-read it to figure out why it had been important to me. Was it just that one scene? I had a vague sense that the girl was growing up in New York City but that her city was very unlike mine, and I didn’t remember anything else about her. I couldn’t remember the author’s name, but I clearly remembered that the physical space in which I’d found the book was in the section for authors from J-M. We were a long way from the Internet, and although any librarian could’ve helped me, life intervened; there were lots more books to read, and I never tried to identify the book.

Until twenty or so years ago when I read an article about Madeleine L’Engle that mentioned her first book. The title varied from my recollection only by the difference between “a” and “the,” and her name fit alphabetically. When I read a synopsis, I was certain I had found it, and I bought the book. I re-read it closely but had no clear insight as to why it was meaningful to the 13-year-old me. It’s a coming-of-age story, originally published in 1945, featuring the lonely daughter of mostly absent parents. Maybe I was as shocked by the sixteen-year-old’s relationships with grown men as I was by her immodesty, or perhaps I was fascinated by the glamorous bohemianism of her life in Greenwich Village and Paris. Or maybe it was just that one scene that was so startling that I never forgot it.

The Small Rain sits on a shelf where I can see it from where I now sit. I no longer think it has anything to tell me about who I was at 13, but I may read it once more just to be sure.

BOLLI Matters “Book Nook” Feature Writer, Abby Pinard

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





By Elaine Pitochelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOLLI member and writer Elaine Pitochelli


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







By Jo Klein


Evidently, I have free mattress karma.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOLLI Matters writer Jo Klein

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


            RAPT WATCHING            

 by Jean Carr               

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BOLLI member, writer, and raptor watcher Jean Carr

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




George Seldes (photo obtained online)

by Margie Arons-Barron

He was slight, five-seven-ish, with a round, mottled face, watery eyes, wispy white hair, and a kind expression.  Dressed in draw-string pants, frayed shirt and sweater vest, he sat on a cushion in a straight-backed chair, eyeing a pile of newspapers on the coffee table. “Did you see today’s Times?  Mandela’s out.”

George Seldes, 99, investigative journalist, foreign correspondent, historian of the 20th century, author of 23 books, and press critic, still read four papers a day.  Stories of injustice or ineptitude rankled him.

We admired his 18th century brick house at Hartland-4-Corners near Dartmouth. “You know,” he said. “I bought this house for $4500. Sinclair Lewis put up the money and said I could live here as long as I want. The only condition was that his family could buy it back from my estate for the same price.”  One could imagine what the house would bring today.

“Sometimes I see Lewis’ granddaughter walk by en route to church. I imagine she’s impatient, waiting for my demise.” He chuckled, but his smile faded.  “It’s hard being 99.  The friends of my youth are gone. The friends of my middle age are gone. The friends of my old age are gone.”

And what friends he had. Isadora Duncan. Albert Einstein. Emma Goldman. George Bernard Shaw. Theodore Roosevelt.  He interviewed William Jennings Bryan, Lenin, Hindenberg. He covered the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. He knew Mussolini when the future dictator was a reporter. Seldes got Trotsky to pose for pictures in Red Square. He was there for the Russian Revolution. He spent 18 months with Hemingway in a Madrid hotel during the Spanish Civil War.

Seldes believed that the American people, given the facts, could rise to any challenge. He started the nation’s first magazine of press criticism in 1940.  It was called In Fact, and it fell victim to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting. My husband had used Seldes’ press criticism in a college course he taught. When Jim learned that Seldes was still alive and 2 ½  hours away, he contacted Seldes, and we went for a visit.

It would not be our last. In 1990, we did a month of interviews in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We brought Seldes memorabilia from the first elections in unified Germany and posters from Hungary, where he had covered Nazi collaborator Cardinal Mindszenty. We talked more than an hour.

He checked his watch, prompting concern about his fatigue.  “Cocktail time,” he said. It was only three thirty. But we were not about to decline his invitation.

He shuffled in his terry cloth slippers toward the kitchen. From the yellow wood cabinet, he took down three plastic glasses, the kind given away at gas stations, placed them on the counter and mixed martinis. I let the burning liquid slide down my throat, listening to him reminisce, privileged to share his daily ritual.

In 1995, George Seldes died at age 104.  A journalistic titan, barely remembered.

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. In addition to Marjorie Roemer’s memoir course, she has taken Betsy Campbell’s fiction writing courses, and Sue Wurster’s “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” course in creative nonfiction writing.  She has been an active participant in the BOLLI Writers Guild and is also a member of the BOLLI Journal staff.  Margie still keeps her hand in politics and issues of the day on her blog which you can reach by clicking here.