Category Archives: Members

Fairies

GV FAiries

 If I believed in fairies, which I don’t, I wouldn’t have looked for them around the trees in my neighbor’s yard.  But that is where I found them early this morning on my walk. It’s before eight a.m. and I am startled by a view that stops me in my tracks: hundreds of sparkles of light around the trees; rays of dancing, frolicking pinpoints that could only be described as fairy lights.

GV Fairies 3

They are tumbling down shafts of water droplets between leaves and branches between and around the trees, cascading onto the ground in discreet balls of brilliance.

Geraldine V Fairies Nov 2018

It could only be fairies as nothing matches the sheer awe and joy the sight gives me. Laughing, I take out my cell phone and snap picture after picture. A gift has been bestowed upon me, touching some fundamental childhood self that always wanted to find a fairy. And now I have, hundreds and hundreds of them displayed before me in living proof that dreams can come true.

Geraldine Velasquez (OLLI Member, OLLI Instructor, OLLI Writers Group)

 

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Transcendental Wild Oats

The wolf shall dwell with lamb

And the leopard shall lie down

  With the kid; and the calf and the

     Young lion and the fatling together,

 And a little child shall lead them.

                                 Isaiah 11:6

 Human longing for a “peaceable kingdom” hasn’t ceased since the seventh century,   B. C. when the prophet Isaiah uttered those words. The idea has had particularly strong appeal among certain groups of people, such as, for example, the Quakers, with their history and tradition of pacifism. Edward Hicks (1780 -1849) a Quaker minister and naive artist, painted no fewer than 62 pictures portraying the scene suggested by Isaiah’s vision.

Animals

Another group inspired by visions of a pastoral utopia were the Transcendentalists in 19th century New England. Not content with mere depictions, some of those Transcendentalists actually attempted to found communal agricultural colonies. Brook Farm, founded in West Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1841, is probably the best known. Among that colony’s founding members was Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novel The Blithedale Romance draws upon the author’s experience of life in the colony.

Brook Farm failed in 1847, but another such experiment, also in Massachusetts, was even shorter-lived. Named Fruitlands, it’s now a museum. It lasted a mere seven months; but during that brief time it housed an 11-year-old girl who was destined to become another famous American writer. That girl was Louisa May Alcott.

Farm

In some of his 62 paintings of “The Peaceable Kingdom,” Edward Hicks deviated slightly from scripture by having the lamb lie down with a lion rather than a wolf. Louisa May Alcott did likewise in her satirical sketch of Fruitlands, written some 30 years after her childhood sojourn there. One of Fruitlands’ two principal founders was Charles Lane, whom Alcott renames “Timon Lion” in her sketch, titled Transcendental Wild Oats. Her model for “Abel Lamb” is her own father, Bronson Alcott, Fruitlands’ other principal founder, whom Louisa May depicts as an ineffectual dreamer, dominated by Lane’s more forceful personality.

Alcott has great fun mocking her father and his bookish, intellectual colleagues who know nothing about farming and who furthermore are unfit for the physical rigors of farm life. In her satire, as in reality, it was the women who provided such practicality as the colony experienced. The following excerpt will serve to illustrate:

“About the same time the grain was ready to house, some call of the Oversoul wafted all the men away. An easterly storm was coming up and the yellow stacks were sure to be ruined. Then Sister Hope gathered her forces. Three little girls, one boy (Timon’s son) and herself, harnessed to clothes-baskets and Russia-linen sheets, were the only teams she could command; but with these poor appliances the indomitable woman got in the grain and saved food for her young, with the instinct and energy of a mother-bird with a brood of hungry nestlings to feed.”

Despite such heroics, the first year’s crop yield was insufficient to see the colony through the winter, and so it disbanded. Charles Lane joined a Shaker colony. Bronson Alcott was devastated. Recalling his pain, Louisa May drops her satirical tone and reflects on how unforgiving conventional society can be.

Lyle Adley-Warrick (OLLI Member, OLLI Writers Group)

 

LISABONA

Lisabona was Lisbon’s name in the sixteenth century. Lisabona came from Olisipo, the name the Romans had given the city more than a thousand years before – Municipium Cives Romanorum Felicitas Julia Olisipo. In the 1500s, amid the fever of the discovery of new maritime routes to countries where the commerce of spices and other riches originated, and driven by the hope of fortunes and fame to be had on those endeavors, the whole world converged into Lisabona. The crowds in the city center had Bretons, Catalans, Normans, Castilians, Genovese, Dutch, Venetian, Africans and, of course, Portuguese. Some came to spy, trying to get the secrets of maritime navigation the Portuguese had developed, others to try their fortune. The chroniclers of those days describe Lisabona as a cosmopolitan city, bustling with people, business and opportunities, the place to be within Europe.

Lisabona

My wife Amy and I just came back from a long vacation in Lisboa, as we Portuguese have been calling Lisbon for centuries. When we walked downtown, for a moment we got the feeling we had traveled back in time to the 1500s. We heard English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, and Romanian and hardly any Portuguese. Nowadays these foreigners do not look for fortune or fame; they respond to the slogan Lisbon is the place to be this year. They follow the sun, they come to taste food specialties and wine vintages, to explore beautiful views, historical sites and monuments. They come looking for fun and leave their Pounds, Euros, Yuan, Rubles and Dollars in Portugal. The Portuguese are having a bonanza brought by tourism (more than 20 million people last year), albeit with possible downfalls down the road.

Waterside

Amy and I joined the tourist crowds in Lisbon and throughout Portugal, visited many of the fantastic views and historical monuments, ate in many, many restaurants, mainly fish and seafood, trekked up the mountains, traveled down south to Algarve and basked on the beaches, absorbing the warm sun that crossed the cerulean blue sky, like none on earth. We visited museums and it seems now in Lisbon there is a museum for anything imaginable, some better than others. We visited a millenary church and monastery in Alcobaça with its cloisters, and some obscene golden altars, with beautiful art that centuries of foreign invasions, fires and earthquakes could not obliterate. In Lisbon the aqueduct from 1744 and its distribution water pools were the highlight of one of our days; I was born and raised in Lisbon but had never visited it. We traveled north to Coimbra’s University, one of the oldest in Europe, with its magnificent ancient library, then traveled to Nazaré’s promontory over the ocean, where the tallest wave in the world (78 Ft.) challenges ‘”crazy” surfers every year, and close to home we visited Cabo da Roca one more time, the most western point of continental Europe.

Thus, like all the other tourists, we joyfully, gladly and happily scattered our Dollars from the north to the south of Portugal.

Lisbon from water

Henrique Gomes, OLLI Member, OLLI Writers Group Coordinator

Some Recommended Reading to Start Your New Year!

Are you seeking great nonfiction books to start out 2019? I have some interesting suggestions for you.

boys in cave

“The Boys in the Cave: Deep Inside the Impossible Rescue in Thailand,” by Matt Gutman. For two weeks in June 2016, the world watched while scores of people tried to rescue 13 soccer boys and their coach stranded in a cave filling quickly with water. Gutman, an ABC news correspondent, covered this harrowing story and was asked to write a book about the rescue. He interviewed all the major players to unfold the politics, egos, dangers, and finally the triumphs of this perilous cave-dive rescue. Even though I knew the rescue was successful, Gutman’s writing of the details kept me on the edge of my seat. I could not put this book down, and I bet you won’t either.

fbi

“Priceless,” a memoir by Robert Wittman, the only undercover FBI agent assigned to recover stolen art nationally and internationally. It was through a tragedy early in his FBI career that Wittman took up a hobby of collecting unique baseball cards and selling them at a profit when he moved into Civil War memorabilia. Wittman took an art course that not only advanced his work at the FBI but led him to his career in recovering stolen art. It’s a personal journey, a multi-layered lesson in history, art history, and the reasons behind the people stealing art, and how he honed his skills to play to the egos of the thieves allowing him to get into their circle. It’s compelling, well-written, draws you in and keeps you there.

library book

“The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean. She writes compellingly about the Los Angeles Library fire in April 1986. Most of us never heard about this as the fire happened the same day as the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant meltdown. This old and glorious building, loaded with safety violations, was in the last stage of being approved for remodeling and brought up to date and code when the fire alarm went off. Staff and patrons, used to many false alarms, figured the firemen would give the all-clear to go back inside soon. Instead, they discovered their beloved library was engulfed in a fire that would burn for over seven hours requiring nearly all of Los Angeles’ fire equipment and firemen, reached sustained temperatures of 2000 degrees, and that the tinder of millions of books and the oxygen surrounding their literary treasures was stoking the ghostly, light-blue fire. You want to savor every word she writes about the fire and the logistics of the firemen who fought it, the librarians, the books lost, the thousands of volunteers who went in after the fire to salvage the water-soaked and smoke damaged books. Orlean writes a beautifully woven story that introduces you to an array of characters—library staff, L.A. Library directors over the years, patrons and how all have impacted the library as well as being impacted by the library, that a library more than a repository for books, that it is as necessary as food and oxygen for people. This extremely well-researched book is worth the journey.

Nancy Huber, OLLI Member

 

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

 

 

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