Despite sketchy cell service at my Northwoods retreat, the signals aligned that day in August 2018 when my phone rang and a friend’s voice asked, “Would you want to go to France in November?” Raleigh Sister Cities was sponsoring a group to visit Compiegne for the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice ending WWI. We would be hosted by families in Compiegne for four days. “I’ll think it over and get back to you.” Three minutes later, “Yes!” I was ready to pack my bags for an adventure. I got so much more.
An hour northeast of Paris, the Compiegne of the Middle Ages is evidenced in winding cobblestone streets. Joan of Arc was captured here in 1430. An imposing 16th century Gothic Town Hall dominates the square. An adjacent forest surrounds medieval villages and the glade that is the site of the Armistice Memorial.
Flying into Paris in the early morning, we were met and delivered to our host family – a couple and their teenage daughter in a home near the town center. We walked with our hostess a few blocks to the Palais de Compiegne, originally built by Louis XV, restored by Napoleon, and today a museum which we toured with our Sister Cities group – American visitors, French hosts.
Our hosts became family. They generously spoke their broken English (my high school French had evaporated from memory). Each morning’s breakfast included a fresh baguette, bought on an early morning walk with their dog. They spoiled us with elegant home cooked meals and gracious company.
The Compiegne Sister Cities group had organized an itinerary of memorable experiences. A highlight was Armistice Day, when the magnificent L’Eglise Saint Jacques, dating from 1200, held a solemn service of remembrance. Raleigh’s mayor was in attendance, as were representatives of Compiegne’s many sister cities. That afternoon – appropriately drizzly and gray – we visited the Memorial glade and museum with a replica of the train car where the 1918 Armistice was signed. The day before, many world leaders were there for a service at which French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel dedicated a plaque confirming their continued commitment to peace.
So much was packed into four days. We wandered around Chateau Pierrefonds, a “fairytale” castle on a hill, built for Napoleon but made to appear medieval. We spent a sobering afternoon at the Memorial of Imprisonment and Deportation, a WWII prison and deportation camp. The images that come back most vividly may be from the day we traveled a half-hour northeast to the Franco-American Museum, Chateau de Blerancourt.
Traversing high open farmland, once torn apart by WWI trenches, we spotted small graveyards in gentle hollows, witness to the horrors of the war. The museum, a stunning piece of architecture blending Middle Age and 17th century ruins with bright, open modern spaces, celebrates the long friendship between our countries. Three distinct areas present this relationship in the time of the American Revolution, through two centuries of artistic exchanges, and most revealing to me, around World War I. The story of humanitarian Anne Morgan – well-known to the French but obscure to us – was a revelation. The daughter of financier Pierpont Morgan, she spent 1917 – 1924 here, supporting the recovery of this devastated region. Visiting from the US, it was humbling and heartening to learn of an American in whom we could take such pride.
While travel is said to be broadening, it can also add a depth of understanding. I brought home a deeper sense of our interdependence in the world and gratitude for this experience.
Yes this is what we would all love to be doing right now, but circumstances dictate that we all stay home as much as possible. We hope OLLI at NC State members have the opportunity to sample some of our online classes, which are off to an incredible start this week. But if that is not possible for you, we will be sharing other resources on this site and our Facebook page over the next few weeks. Please send your ideas and contributions to email@example.com.
Classes on happiness and well-being have been very popular with OLLI members in recent years as we all become more aware of the importance of paying attention to our overall health, not just physical. Yale Psychology professor, Dr. Laurie Santos, developed a course for students titled “Psychology and the Good Life,” which has become the most popular course ever taught. One in four Yale students enroll in the course. Now the wider population can benefit from Professor Santos’ findings because the course is available free of charge online by the education website Coursera.org
The online version of the course is “The Science of Well Being” and features lectures by Dr. Santos on things people think will make them happy but don’t necessarily, and how to identify what is more likely to bring lasting satisfaction with life. Activities and and reading material are provided to accompany the lectures.
If science is more your thing, OLLI members have recommended World Science U, a website launched by Columbia University professor, Brian Greene. Greene is a theoretical physicist, mathematician and string theorist. The Science Unplugged section has dozens of short videos and animations to answer questions you may have on topics like dark matter, quantum mechanics, relativity and much more. The site is very easy to explore and courses are free. “Greene has a rare gift for explaining the most challenging scientific ideas, and everyone can appreciate his refreshingly insightful explanations.” — Jennifer Birriel in Astronomy. Watch Professor Green explain the Anthropic Principle in this short video clip https://youtu.be/xPrpurvoX0Y
Are you a knitter? Let’s Knit-For-Note from Home! OLLI has been collecting scarves, hats and mittens from members to donate to Note in the Pocket. They are included in packages of clothing distributed to children in Wake County who need a supply of clothing to be able to go to school. Keep your items until we meet again!
We hope you have enjoyed this selection. We would love to have your contributions. Favorite quotes, movie and book recommendations you think your OLLI friends would find interesting, a short review would be helpful. Or you can have a whole OLLI Voices segment to yourself if you write a short article or piece of creative writing -500 words or less. Please send your ideas and contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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As a member of the trip committee for the Happy Hearts, Cary First Baptist Church, I suggested we do a two-night, three-day trip to Bryson City NC. We would stay at The Hemlock Inn and ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City to Nantahala Gorge. Of course, the one that suggests a trip becomes the planner and leader of the trip. I was hoping we could fill one of our church’s 15-passenger buses. Little did I know the interest, and by the sign-up deadline, we had 29 adventure seekers.
We left on Thursday, September 19, at 7 a.m., stopping at Kostas’ Family Restaurant in Dillsboro for lunch. We arrived at the Hemlock Inn at about 3:00 p.m. Our rooms were ready upon arrival, and Penny, our official Happy Hearts leader, and I gathered the keys as Mort White, the proprietor of the Hemlock Inn, dealt them to us for distribution to our group. We unloaded the luggage, and like a mini-scavenger hunt, everyone retrieved their bags, received their room keys, and scurried to find their rooms.
Dinner was to be served at 6:30. With about two hours to fill, most discovered the rocking chairs on the dining room porch and found out they fit them perfectly. The view from the porch was stunning, with three ridges of mountains stair-stepping to the highest ridge in the distance. The field in the foreground gave us an unobstructed view and, although I did not see them, deer would sometimes wander into the field. “Ghost like,” was how one of the lucky sighters described them.
With great anticipation, we all gathered on the porch and game-room waiting for Mr. White to ring the dinner bell. Precisely at 6:30, we heard the bell ring, and we all filed in and stood behind our chairs, facing the large, Lazy Susan tables for ten. Nobody sat until Mr. White said grace. Each table was laden with delicious fried chicken and rice; steamed vegetables; homemade, spiced apple chips; and corn bread or home-made biscuits. Iced tea and coffee were repeatedly filled, when our glasses and cups showed the slightest need for refilling.
The lively conversations slackened as we filled our plates with the offering, as the table slowly turned by guests seeking food they especially wanted. All you had to do was wait, and every dish would come past you. Our delightful and congenial table hosts kept our drinks full and as any dish was about to empty, replenished it immediately. My guess is we spent at least an hour eating and engaging in small conversation. Nobody was in a rush. It was a throw-back to times past.
After supper, some of our group delighted in a lively card game, several worked on a jigsaw puzzle. Others chose the rocking chairs on the front porch and at least one hiked on the large 65 acre Hemlock Inn property. Retiring to our rooms as sleep became the highest priority; many turned off their air conditioners, opened the windows, and enjoyed God’s night air. It was delightful!
The next morning was bracingly cool. The sun was about to break over the mountain tops and I snuck out with my smart phone camera, ready to take a few pictures of the sunrise and the disappearing shadows of the Hemlock Inn’s rustic buildings and flowers. Returning to our room, I found my wife, Georgeanne, ready and anxious to find out what delectables awaited us at breakfast. At 8:30 sharp, we heard the bell ring for breakfast and filed into the dining room to gather at different tables and wait for Mr. White to say grace. The lazy Susan was once again laden with food. Of course, it was breakfast, so we had eggs, bacon, cereal, biscuits, and muffins (my favorite); as well as orange, apple, and cranberry juices and the obligatory bottomless coffee. We had to be at the train station by 9:30, so our lingering was limited, yet I believe everyone ate heartedly and left energized for the busy day ahead.
At the train station, Penny found our train travel agent, who had made our reservations, and she had all the tickets ready for me to hand to each one of our group. She told us we were assigned to car 3, and we should begin walking toward our car, ready to load. Car 3 seating was arranged four to a group, two facing forward and two facing backward. Georgeanne and I settled in an unoccupied seat waiting for another couple to fill the other side of the seat. Soon, two of our group, Don and Cindy, came by and asked if they could be our seat mates and what a delight it was to get to know them better. Both had a farm background and hailed from Tennessee. Since I was also raised on a farm, we swapped stories for the entire five-hour train trip.
We enjoyed traveling along the banks of Fontana Lake, crossing a long, 700 foot trestle, and observing the rock ledges that the workers had to blast out with gunpowder. Our car host reminded us that the work was all done with horse and hand power, which seemed almost an impossible task to most of us. As we approached Nantahala Gorge, the lake was left behind and replaced by angry white water. Soon we spotted rafters and kayakers, decked out with life vests and helmets, plunging through what were now up to class three rapids, maybe approaching class four. Stopping beyond the gorge the engines disengaged from the train and, using a siding, reengaged the cars at the other end for our return trip. Pulling us back to the gorge, we were told we had about an hour to detrain and catch a sandwich from one of the restaurants and re-board for the return trip. When we returned to the train, everyone was asked to swap sides to get a different view coming home.
It seemed to me the return trip was a bit shorter. Funny how my perception works. When we arrived at the Bryson City station the group opted not to spend time in the train museum. Our bus drivers quickly retrieved the buses, and we started the adventuresome 10-minute drive back to Hemlock Inn. I call it adventuresome, because of the steep, hairpin curves to the motel. I heard some oohs and aahs from some thinking the bus might fall off the road. It didn’t. I think our drivers reveled in making the trip as exciting as possible.
The evening meal was different food, but the same ambiance of gracious eating and fellowship. After the meal the card games resumed in earnest, the jigsaw puzzle afficionados studied the picture on the box and began to painstakingly find pieces that fit the picture. By now, our group had become rocking chair experts. Some suggested we stay another night, because the quietness and, laidback atmosphere was becoming addictive. I agreed with their assessment, but said they might be sleeping in tents, since our rooms were probably rented to others.
The next morning, breakfast was a repeat of the previous morning, with a few extra treats added to each table. We had more leisure time this time, so after our big breakfast we said our “thank yous” to Mr. and Mrs. White, our waitress, and new friends we made; and with some disappointment upon leaving such an ideal place, we loaded our buses and headed for home. I made last minute instructions to my drivers to stop at the first big produce stand, so we could buy some of the delicious mountain apples that we spotted in orchards just miles from Bryson City.
We stopped for supper and, of course, necessary rest stops and arrived back at Cary First Baptist about 5:00 p.m., excited and ready for our next trip adventure to Horne Creek Living Historical Farm.
A big thank you go to our two bus drivers, Bruce and Jake, who were assisted by two excellent navigators, Penny and Suzanne .
About the author:
OLLI member, Larry Kingsley, a member of OLLI Writers Group, began writing stories about 18 years ago. He draws much of his material from his rich boyhood days while living on his grandparents’ farm in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. He uses both fiction and non-fiction story lines to add to his exciting adventurous writings. He hopes his writings are educational, inspirational and fun to read. Grippo TheFriendly Shark was written, and published, in response to a request by the first and second grade students at Briarcliff Elementary School, Cary NC. When the author asked them what other stories they would like to hear, following their summer vacation, they answered in one voice, “shark story.” And in response, GrippoThe Friendly Shark was born.
Larry now resides in Cary NC with his wife, Georgeanne, and their dog Archie. They have nine grandchildren scattered from Apex to Durham to Charlotte.
As many OLLI members have learned, librarian Wanda Cox-Bailey is an expert on Raleigh’s African American history. She notes that there was no public library here for people of color until 1935, when Mollie Huston Lee, a Columbia grad, took action. Mollie was a librarian at Shaw University, and she started a campaign to raise money for Raleigh’s first storefront library for blacks. “A penny and a book” did its job, and the new library was named for a famous actor named Richard B. Harrison. He was playing “De Lawd” in “The Green Pastures,” with the first all-black cast ever to perform on Broadway. When it was touring, he taught acting at local colleges. In 1935 he became the first African American to appear on the cover of TIME magazine – and that was the year he died.
Wanda was born in Fayetteville. “I was a military brat,” she said, and she helped care for her three siblings while her father was stationed from Germany to Okinawa. She studied at the University of Maryland at College Park, earning degrees in Social Work and Library Science. A librarian from high school steered her into the field, thinking she’d enjoy being a school librarian. So Wanda took every course the university offered in this subject “I fell in love with cataloging,” she said. To earn money for Christmas, she was among four grad students who worked in a library’s children’s section. “And I was hooked,” she said. “I love kids!”
Wanda has one child, a son named Brandon, now 35, who has autism. “Folks know me in the world as ‘Brandon’s mom,'” she said. There were no services for him in the Washington area, and after some research, she said, “we moved to Wake County because it has the best schools for autism, thanks to lobbying by parents. He lives with me and I take him everywhere, from concerts to my speaking engagements.”
Asked about her views on North Carolina’s racial history, she noted that her great-grandmother had been a slave. When she drove from Maryland back to Fayetteville, they passed signs saying “Welcome to Klan Country.” She saw the movie “Green Book,” about a guide for safe travel by African Americans, but said it didn’t go far enough. She said the Green Books “were a valuable tool for anyone traveling throughout the United States, not just the South.” One of her OLLI courses is “Harlem Hellfighters: Black Soldiers in Work War I,” who were hailed as heroes in Paris — awarded the Croix de Guerre medal for valor – but faced harsh segregation again back home.
Wanda said that today Wake County has 23 libraries — open to all — and the Harrison’s rare book collection is named for Mollie Lee, who worked there for 26 years. Wanda is now the regional manager at Harrison and is still a story teller. “I focus more on stories for adults, as opposed to children,” she said, adding that when a national conference a year or so ago for children and adults met at the Cary Theater, she was in charge of touring to schools. Her personal interests include gardening, geneaology, “and quilting as a spectator sport.”
Wanda is president of the Triangle Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, a member of the Black Caucus American Library Association, the Wake County and N.C. Autism Societies, and the N.C. and National Associations of Black Storytellers.
This spring at OLLI, Wanda is teaching “Cultural Landscapes: Raleigh’s Historic African American Neighborhoods.” No surprise: It’s attracted a full house.
~ Barbara Haddad Ryan
Barbara is a long time OLLI member and member of the OLLI Voices team. She graduated with an English degree with honors from Swarthmore College and went on to achieve a Masters with honors from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Her career began at the Denver Post, 1962-1976: were she held various posts including feature writer, art critic, classical music critic, “first female editorial writer on a major Western daily” and TV Critic and columnist on this newspaper for five years.
Subsequent moves in her fascinating career were as political reporter and feature writer for the Rocky Mountain News (Scripps-Howard daily) from 1976-1982, Public Information Officer for the State of Colorado Office of Energy Conservation from 1982-1986, Associate Vice President for External Affairs, Swarthmore College from 1992-2000, Public Affairs Director for the National HQ of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, Washington D.C. from 2000-2006
I am a dancing windmill, turning freely in the wind. Birds fly around me cawing and screeching as if scoffing my solo performance. I don’t care what they think. The wind is my music, a varying tempo pulsating against me, around me, pushing me into a carefree state like bubbles floating, flitting into the cornflower blue sky. When the wind stops, I stand tall and proud like a general addressing his troops or a ballerina posed beautifully, perfectly still on her very straight, trained tips of her toes. A small breeze teases me, an encore to perform again like a peony blossom revealing itself in stages until all the colorful layers are peeled back. I do not perform for anyone. I dance for myself: the wind and I, partners in life. I am a wind dancer.
Nancy was an OLLI staff member for almost 10 years before retiring in May 2018. Born the middle child in a family of seven kids on a farm in northern Illinois she has lived in North Carolina since 1999. She loves reading, swimming, brisk walks, writing, old movies, and filling her bucket list with travel ideas. This piece was inspired by a photograph she saw while in a writing class.
On a sunlit Saturday morning in the fall 0f 1993, Dad and I, an empty-nester, sat together on the ground in his backyard digging up daffodil bulbs. Dad wanted to relocate the flowers to a spot where he believed they’d be happier. I was delighted when he designated a milk carton full of our finds as mine to take home and plant at my new house on the other side of Pittsburgh. I asked him what I needed to do to ensure the bulbs would flourish. “Oh, just put them in the ground. They’ll be able to find their way back up and out without any real fuss.”
The visit with my parents was low-key, just going along with their routine, eating dinner from trays in the living room, watching The Lawrence Welk Show – Dad never failed to admire the tenor’s voice or to remark on the bouncy exuberance of the honky-tonk piano player. Unique for me to be alone with them after years of having a husband and children in tow. I watched Mom and Dad share everyday life, bringing quiet joy to one another. And I gratefully embraced my container of daffodils to take along home to keep the connection with the weekend alive.
Sure enough, in April, Dad’s daffodils emerged from the soil around my north Pittsburgh mailbox, and in August Dad died and was returned to the soil in a south Pittsburgh cemetery. For three more springs those daffodils bloomed in ever increasing numbers, putting on a show that drew compliments from my neighbors. I wondered how daffodils would manage in the heat as I dug up every bulb I could find before moving to South Carolina. I carefully replanted them under the crepe myrtle tree in the enclosed back patio of our Columbia townhouse. They reappeared early and I feared for their survival, but apparently Pennsylvania’s April is South Carolina’s February. They seemed thin and small that first year, but gained in number and robustness until I hastily grabbed a few out of the dirt to take with me when I left that house and my marriage five years later.
After a year in an apartment, I found a cottage on Adella Street, moved in, planted the daffodils, and hoped for the best. When the remnants of my milk carton fully emerged, the bulbs and I had learned a lot about our abilities to adapt and thrive. With a house and yard and job and social life to manage on my own, I found little time or energy for any more labor-intensive gardening and had increasing appreciation for the resilience of the well traveled daffodils.
Dad’s South Carolina memorial relocated one more time to Cary, North Carolina, in 2010; the hardy flowers now stand proudly in my newest front yard where I can regularly enjoy them and our independence. Let us hope that we all keep finding our way back up and out without any real fuss.
By Lynne Sparrow (OLLI Member & OLLI Writer’s Group) Lynne rummages around the recesses of her ever-suspect memory for humorous and transforming experiences, people who mattered and made her think, and places that carved lasting impressions on her character, and then turns it all into memoir. Born and educated in Pennsylvania, she has lived in numerous states, traveled abroad several times, raised a family, and had a few short stories published in an on-line magazine, Persimmon Tree. Lynne’s been an enthusiastic and grateful participant in the OLLI Writers Group since retiring and relocating to Cary, North Carolina, in 2010.
Our tour group stopped at a restaurant for lunch on a hot February afternoon on the way to the rainforest in Sarapiqui, Costa Rica. My tablemate, Donna, wouldn’t be continuing with the group. She had been having intermittent chest pains and since the next site was so remote, she felt, with the encouragement of the tour leader, that she should have this checked out at a nearby clinic. “Life’s a crapshoot,” Donna said as she left to get into the taxi. I thought it ironic that she uttered the same term I had been using for the past two months. Random episodes of mishaps started soon after my husband and I downsized to a two-story townhouse, rather than move into an apartment in a continuing-care-community.
First, I came down with bout of the flu. The flu morphed into “walking pneumonia.” As the pneumonia symptoms subsided, I slipped on a wet floor, lacerating the side of my face as I hit the corner of a table. I dropped-in to Urgent Care for the second time within a couple of weeks.
We had planned a vacation to Costa Rica months before the move. Thoughts of my recent vulnerability began to circulate in my head. Would the active pace of this tour prove too great a challenge? But if life was indeed a crap shoot, I had no reason not to take this trip. Our first morning in Sarapiqui, we woke to a thunderous rain pounding on the roof of our cottage. I had signed up to go white-water rafting for the first time. The rapids were a class three. How rough was that, I wondered knowing that the international rating classification goes up to a six. Besides the storm didn’t cancel the event. I knew I would regret not going. Ten gutsy, or clueless, participants, out of fifteen in our group, showed. Most of us were in our seventies. One man admitted to being eighty. We stood by the water’s edge as the downpour plummeted us.
After listening to brief instructions, we donned life jackets and helmets, grabbed a paddle, and took a seat in one of three inflatable rafts. The rafts rose, dropped, and tossed in the swirling currents. Our guide shouted orders over the noise of the river and rain. “Row” “Stop.” “Down.” “Down” was the scariest. I can still see the raft rushing toward a thick tree trunk extending over the river. The leaves from the tree swept across my face as I hunched on the bottom of the boat. Had I sat up, I surely would have been decapitated. The rain subsided. The three rafts drifted on the calm river as our guide pointed out the birds and reptiles that watched us from the trees and shore.
Halfway into our trip, we beached the rafts, shared a pineapple and watermelon snack and posed for a group picture. (I am fourth from the right) Finally, we pulled the rafts to shore and relinquished our oars. Hiking back to the hotel, tired but exhilarated, we congratulated ourselves that none of us fell into the rapids. Later that afternoon Donna returned. She had gotten a clean bill of health.
Marianna Crane, OLLI Member
Marianna was one of the first gerontological nurse practitioners in the early 1980s. A nurse for over forty years, she has worked in hospitals, clinics, home care, and hospice settings. An award-winning author, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Examined Life Journal, and Stories That Need to be Told: A Tulip Tree Anthology among others. Her memoir, Stories from the Tenth-Floor Clinic: A Nurse Practitioner Remembers, has been recently released. Her web site is http://www.nursingstories.org. She is a member of the OLLI Writers’ Group.
Views and comments from the members of OLLI at NC State