Category Archives: General

Footprints to Believing

red sled

The home I lived in a as a child had no fireplace and that always worried me at Christmas time. I was assured that that would be no problem for Santa; he would simply enter through the front door. This explanation seemed sensible to me and I easily accepted it. Hadn’t Santa always found me? I would just make sure the front door was unlocked on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas I was ten I longed for two things: a muff and a sled. My heart was set on a white fur muff I had seen in the store window. The fur was the softest and purest I had ever seen and there was a doll’s face with eyes that blinked open and shut on the front of the muff. The inside was white satin, and a white cord would go around my neck. For weeks I dreamed about that muff.

The second thing I wanted was a sled. I wanted to fly down the hill with those flashing red runners skimming swiftly along on the hard packed snow, the cold wind blowing in my face making my eyes water and my nose run.  I was told maybe I shouldn’t count on the sled. I didn’t ask why.

On December 24, the snow began falling early in the day. By the time family members had all gathered in the evening for the traditional Christmas Eve celebration, many inches had accumulated and the snow continued to fall.  During the gift exchange, I did get my beautiful muff, but there was no sled. I told myself the muff was plenty.

window

Every year at the end of the Christmas celebration, Uncle John would say, “I think I hear sleigh bells,” but this year there really was a noise on the front porch.  I ran to the window. Leaning against the railing was a shiny sled with red runners, and it had my name on it. Footprints in the snow led from the sidewalk to the porch and back down.

fottprints in the snow

I grabbed a coat and went outdoors.  The footprints were clearly visible in the fresh snow. I turned right at the sidewalk, and although I could see no one about, the tracks were easy to follow. I went to the corner of the street where the tracks intermingled and got lost there with other pedestrian prints. The night was quiet and still. I could see no people outdoors anywhere. I walked back home looking over my shoulder many times, trying to piece everything together.

I was overjoyed with the sled, but the adults were truly bewildered. No one had an explanation, and no one had left the house. All whispered that it was not their doing. But none of this was a mystery to me.

At future Christmas gatherings, the talk always got around to the year I was ten and an unknown visitor came to the house. The adults held steadfastly to the claim they didn’t know the benefactor.  To me, however, it was always very simple. Santa brought me a sled that special Christmas I was ten. Since then, when someone asks if I believe in Santa Claus, my answer is the same.

“Oh, yes. Indeed I do”

For, you see, I saw his footprints in the snow.

 

Mercedes Horton, OLLI member since 1991

 

 

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President George H.W. Bush: Quick with a Quip!

goergoe-h-w-bush-e1543958405228.jpg

George H.W. Bush visited Denver briefly in 1980 when he was running against Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination. I was then a political reporter.  His staff told me he wouldn’t have time for a conventional interview, but an unconventional one was possible.

So I went to what was then Stapleton Airport to be picked up by a BMW, driven by the son of Michigan’s GOP governor. Mr. Bush was already in the back seat, where I joined him. We were driven around while I asked him a lot of questions, mostly about the many international crises that had developed around the globe. He was impressive: This former C.I.A. chief had clear-eyed, well-informed answers to all my questions. On both international and domestic issues, he was running as a pragmatic alternative to Reagan, deriding “voodoo economics” and other aspects of Reagan’s campaign. (He did not tell me that he had “the Big Mo,” his famous term for momentum.)

The next step was to attend a private reception that evening for Mr. Bush, where he was expected to speak. I drove to a very upscale neighborhood and entered a mansion, where I was led to a handsomely landscaped courtyard. A stage had been constructed, with velvet curtains on both sides. I was given a chair behind one curtain, and I noticed one of Mr. Bush’s senior advisers behind the other one.  When Mr. Bush came onto the stage, he looked over the glittering members of Denver’s high society, clinked the ice in his glass, and said, “Gee, it’s great to be back with the grass roots!”

The commemoration of Mr. Bush’s passing also reminded me of something I learned when I was working in Washington. A Democratic friend who had connections with Bill and Hillary Clinton told me that the two couples treated the White House staff very differently. The Bushes had always lived lives of privilege, and were accustomed to servants in their homes. So they quickly got to know those in the White House, treating them “like family,” one of them told my friend. But the Clintons came from much humbler roots and weren’t used to having “strangers” around them at all hours. They made no attempt to be friendly. My friend said that his White House contact conceded that they talked about the Bushes among themselves, and the Clintons may have suspected that the staff gossiped about them. This liberal hopes that the relationship changed as the years went on.

 ~Barbara Haddad Ryan

(OLLI Member and  OLLI Voices Team)

 

In Our Own Backyard – Johnson’s Restaurant, Siler City, NC

Johnsons exterior

Sometimes we think we have to drive hours to find a unique place.

My wife and I wanted to “get out of the house” today, so I said, “let’s go to Johnson’s Restaurant.”  40 miles and 50 minutes later we pulled into the parking lot at 11:48.  This was not the first time we have eaten there, so we knew to get there before noon to find a seat.

Johnsons interior

Luckily there were two seats left at the bar next to the cash register.  Cash register is correct, because they only accept cash, no plastic. We ordered what almost all do at Johnson’s, a cheese burger all the way, an order of fries and sweet tea.  What makes the place unique is who shows up to eat.  I have never eaten there without getting to know some interesting couple from someplace that were very engaging and delightful.   The couple next to us at the bar today was from Lenoir County not far from Kinston.  The husband was going to some sawmill north of Mebane to get some heart pine lumber available only at that place, to build some piece of furniture. They just saw the restaurant sign and stopped.  I always think we would get the prize for driving the farthest.  But Cary qualifies only as yet another town because people come from all parts of North Carolina to experience the 1946 dinner.  However by far, the locals make up the most clientele.

Owner

The owner, Claxton Johnson, has been running Johnson’s Restaurant since 1946 and is still the driving force for its success. Located on US 64 it’s one of many food places, along that stretch of road, but apparently it’s never hurting for customers.   Claxton, said, “We started out as a curbside place back in ’46.  I was only about 5 when I started.  It’s been in the family ever since.”

To prove his statement two of his grandsons, Tristan and Caemon Johnson, cook burgers, run the cash register and seem to fill in where necessary to make sure customers are well taken care of.

chef

I was able to get a picture of our waitress only when she slowed long enough to take the order of our new friends from Lenoir County.  My other pictures of her were too blurry to print.  She hardly ever stopped.  The same goes for the other waitress.

waitress

“How many burgers have you cooked?” I asked Braxton.  His reply, “I have no idea.”  “A million, two million?” I queried.  “No idea,” he once again replied.  I didn’t ask him how much hamburger he ground before opening, since I knew the answer from my last visit, “I have no idea.”

I also knew when the restaurant closed for the day because, I had asked him that question before, “it’s when the hamburger meat gives out,” was his pat answer.  Somehow I was supposed to know that.

So, if you just want to “get out of the house” and take a short trip, give Johnson’s Restaurant in Siler City North Carolina, a try.  You will be blessed with a good meal and make some new friends.

Larry Kingsley

Writer’s Group, OLLI member, Author

Vermont Teddy Bear Factory

The store

 

Christmas, and Valentines, are the big times of the year for what has become a tradition of a heartfelt gift that has a message of I Love You implied just by sending a Vermont Teddy bear. The company was founded in 1981 by John Sortino when he started sewing cloth bears on his wife’s sewing machine for his newborn son.  His first creation was named after Groucho Marx because of the thick black eyebrows.

He soon moved to Vermont from Plattsburg New York after obtaining a degree from Plattsburg College in mathematics.   He sold 50 bears in 1981 and in 1982 his sales went to 200 and he gave up his full time jobs with The Boy Scouts and UPS.  Nearing bankruptcy in 1989 he began promoting the teddy bears in the New York City market through popular radio programs and experienced a sudden and spectacular growth.  By 1993 sales had reached $17 million and he was well on his way to becoming the biggest manufacturer of teddy bears in the US.

Assembly Line

Today the factory is a one of the hottest tourist destinations in Vermont.  The tour shows busy artisans cutting out outfits for the bears, stuffing the bears, and preparing them for shipment all over the world.  The tour ends at their store where you can actually make your own teddy bear. The $4.00 admission is well worth the two hour visit.  The factory is located in Shelburne Vermont in the beautiful Champlain Lake Valley and not far from Burlington Vt.

Outside View

I didn’t make or buy a teddy bear, but at least I bought a frisbee for my grandchild’s birthday.

Larry Kingsley

OLLI Member and OLLI Writers Group

Minor Amends

Corolla wild horsesOur guide’s name was Winston. I remember him as craggy, angular, with weathered skin and wearing a floppy straw hat over pony-tailed hair. His lanky body slipped easily behind the wheel of the open-sided red Jeep and off we went in search of wild horses, Winston and four women enjoying a week-long vacation on the Outer Banks.

We got more than anticipated in both time and attention. Winston drove slowly. He answered our questions without seeming bored by them. He found several wild horses for us to photograph grazing near the few houses scattered at the north end of the island. He told us about the people who lived in this far-flung place with no access roads other than the beach, how they and horses sought isolation but were being encroached upon by civilization. How one wild horse had ventured inside a Harris Teeter in the newest shopping strip. We wondered if we should feel guilty for being here, but Winston wouldn’t go that far. After all, without the likes of us, he’d have no job.

FulgariteBesides wild horses, Winston took time to find lightning-struck sand called fulgurites to show us. He picked up the clump of fused sand and we passed it around, turning it over in our hands, then let Winston put it back where he’d found it. I was humbled anew by Mother Nature’s power and my limited awareness of the world around me.

When we finally returned to the excursion company’s parking lot, we expressed gratitude to Winston and said farewell. Only as we pulled purses from our car’s trunk did it occur to us that a tip might be in order. Before we could get our heads together about how much and who had the right amount, Winston had disappeared. We drove back to the rental house sensing a small cloud darkening our enjoyment of the day.

A year passed. We returned to Duck and the same rental house. We recalled our dune exploration and remembered Winston and his kind quirkiness. We remembered not tipping him and felt guilty all over again. We called the excursion company and learned that Winston still worked there, that he was out but should be back in an hour or so. Did we want to leave a message? No, we did not.

Tip

Four of us drove north and hung out on the office porch and watched for Winston’s Jeep. When he arrived, we waited near-by while he said goodbye to the current group. Then we pounced, all four of us a-jabber about being there a year ago, not tipping him, feeling guilty, and now coming back with our belated offering. Winston looked bewildered, but eventually grasped what we were saying. He gave no indication that he remembered us, pushed his straw hat back, and accepted the money with a smile.

We drove away in a happy fog of atonement knowing that life doesn’t always give us an opportunity to right a wrong. This time we were lucky.

Lynne Sparrow

OLLI Member

The Day I Met Mister Rogers

Mr Rogers NHood

When Fred Rogers decided to make PBS his neighborhood, just about every American child near a TV screen instantly became his neighbor.

And by the time my daughters were old enough to watch his show, I was the Denver Post’s TV critic. So I was delighted when Bill, the PR man at our PBS affiliate, invited the three of us to join Mister Rogers for a lunch interview at a fancy restaurant. But why, I asked, did he want to include Annie, age 3, and Jenny, age 5? Because, Bill said, Mister Rogers much preferred the company of children. I thought he was joking.

As I envisioned an award-winning column, I put the girls in their best dresses and headed for the restaurant. Bill had alerted me that we’d be in a private dining room, and the other guests would include the station brass and a few major donors. When we arrived, Bill started to introduce me to Mister Rogers. But he didn’t have a chance — our guest of honor had spotted the girls and immediately started chatting with them.

So I joined the other adults and made idle conversation while waiting for my chance to do an interview. But when it was time to take our seats, I couldn’t find my daughters. Someone nBrush Teethodded toward the fireplace. And there were Annie and Mister Rogers, sitting on foot stools facing each other. Both were leaning forward so that their foreheads touched. “Do you brush your teeth?” Annie asked. “Yes,” said Fred, adding in an earnest tone. “And do you?” I held my breath to hear her response. “Yes, three times a day,” she said.

Just then Bill directed them to their assigned seats, Mister Rogers to be surrounded by those big donors, and we three at the end of the long table. But he’d have none of it: He beckoned to the girls and had them sit with him at the other end, rearranging the silverware so they’d all be safely away from the big people.

I can’t remember what I wrote in my column, and I certainly don’t recall any prizes. But I do recall chatting the next Sunday with a minister at my church, who told me he’d gone to seminary in Pittsburgh with Fred Rogers. He said he was amazed that I was able to get any quotes from Fred. “I always got the impression that he preferred kids to adults,” he said.  Trying not to roll my eyes I replied, “And your impression was correct.”

Odd CoupleAs this experience indicates, being a TV critic was often full of surprises. Another indelible memory dates to 1971, when I’d flown to Hollywood to interview stars of the upcoming season’s’ shows. I arrived a day early, so ABC invited me to be in the first live audience for “The Odd Couple.” The stage play had been turned into a popular movie, and now Tony Randall and Jack Klugman had brought it to the small screen. The first season had the customary laugh track, but Randall didn’t like what it did to his comic timing. And Klugman complained about “the rotten canned laughter.”

So the producers decided to try live laughs for the second season. Everything seemed to be going smoothly — until wisecracks started coming from someone seated behind me in the small studio audience. I could tell from the pained look on the director’s face that the sound track was picking up the voice.  Randall and Klugman carried on bravely while the network people huddled, debating what to do.

What was the problem, I wondered — why not just throw the jerk out?

The reason this wasn’t possible became clear after the credits started rolling and the mikes were turned off.  Randall came to the front of the stage and announced grandly to the live audience, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, now you can tell your grandchildren that you were in the same TV studio as Groucho Marx!”

 

Groucho Marx

   ~ Barbara Haddad Ryan

My Love Affair with Tennis

We’re keeping that tennis theme going since I don’t have a piece about football!

Doubles

My Love Affair with Tennis……..

It’s all right, my wife knows and tolerates this addiction.  You might think that someone who spends hours on court almost every day would be a terrific player.  In my case, you would be wrong.  My fellow players agree that I’m slow, but I’m also clumsy.  My main strengths come from my size.  I’m 6’3” and my wide wingspan of nearly 7 feet helps me cover the net. Serving in tennis involves leverage on the ball, and tall players have more leverage.  My role model, John Isner, is the classic example of a tall man with a killer serve. In addition to being a famous tennis star, John is from Greensboro and graduated from my alma mater, UGA!

Exercise

So, what do I get from tennis? Sunshine, a mixed blessing – vitamin D is good, skin cancer isn’t.  Wear sunscreen and a hat, and remember to avoid the heat of the day (11:00 am – 3:00 pm).  Night play is a cooler option, especially during Raleigh’s extended summer.  Another benefit of being outside is fresher air – indoor air may be filtered but, usually, it’s more polluted than the great outdoors. Exercise – any time spent on your feet is good for your heart and other muscles.  Much of the time between points involves walking from side to side, bending over to pick up balls, and those steps can add up – I walk at least 2 miles for each hour on court. During points, we run and whack balls (great stress relievers), yell and laugh at ourselves.

Monster

Tennis is a great way to meet fun people and enjoy their company – this is especially true of the senior tennis group at the Raleigh Tennis Center (Millbrook Exchange Park) and other facilities throughout the Triangle.  Tennis is a lifetime sport – just ask the kindergartners and their great grandmothers and grandfathers

 

Dad and Son

Most tennis centers have coaches who will help you learn to play and improve your game.  I found that coaching helped my game, as long as I listened to the coach and practiced doing what they told me.  A key part of coaching is found in the phrase: “keep your eye on the ball.” The US Tennis Association (USTA) has a “Try Tennis” program to give beginners of any age a chance to see if tennis fits their lifestyle. Students receive a Wilson racket, six weeks of professional instruction and a “Try Tennis” T-shirt for $40.

Coaching K

Lessons learned on the court often apply to life, for example: 1) don’t think too much; 2) you may lose today, but tomorrow brings another chance for redemption; 3) there are always players better and worse than you, so do your best and enjoy the game; 4) doubles is easier on senior bodies than singles; and finally, 5) the Hopman Rule: stick your racket out and something good might happen.   See you on court!

 

Mark Long (OLLI Member and Volunteer Instructor)