Category Archives: SPecial Interest Groups

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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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

The Sandwich

Sandwich

“The sandwich was named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, an eighteenth-century English aristocrat. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread, and others began to order ‘the same as Sandwich’… Lord Sandwich was fond of this form of food because it allowed him to continue playing cards without using a fork…”

With time the Americans took the sandwich and acculturated it as the most common way of eating. The Americans love any food they can eat with just one hand. Hot dogs and hamburgers, heroes, hoagies, submarines, and sandwiches made of almost anything. They add to the meat, or fish, cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato, optional mayo, salt and pepper, and the dreadful ketchup. Voila, all the food groups in one meal that may be eaten with one hand, without any preconceptions of the environment. It’s low cost and practical. Ethnic variations invaded the sandwich culture. The Middle Eastern pita bread, with its pocket, accepts almost any type of food. The Mexican burritos, chalupas, and enchiladas are fodder for any lunch, even dinner. The pizza slice, rolled up, may be eaten with one hand.

To sit a citizen at the table with food that needs fork and knife is, for some, maybe the majority, painful.  The fork, in the right hand, brings the food to the mouth, while the left hand, without any use after briefly cutting the fare, falls down to the lap. If some piece was not completely cut the fork is then painfully used, like a blunt knife.

Flag

In 1986, after six years in the US, I took the family back to visit Portugal. We toured the places that tourists normally did. As a guide to my children, Angela and Ricardo, I brought them to the places that were probably already fuzzy in their memories. The vistas, the sounds, the smells of the city of their upbringing were my old experiences too but, I didn’t realize then, became their new experiences.

I took them for lunch to a well-known place, the Suíça Coffee Shop, in Rossio, a center square of the town, flooded with tourists siting in the café terrace, enjoying the sun and the city bustle. One of my favorite dishes there had always been a small flat steak, drowned in a creamy sauce, with an optional fried egg on top, served in a plate with French fries and a roll on the side.

HG Pastry Shop Portugal

The waiter brought the steaming dishes. I smiled at the family, foretasting the grub. I picked up the fork and knife and ordered on: “Enjoy”.

We all started cutting and munching the steak, and the French fries bathed in the delicious creamy sauce. Through the corner of my eye I watched everybody’s enjoyment, except for my son Ricardo. He took his knife, opened the bread roll, soaked it on the sauce, forked the stake and tucked it in between the two pieces of bread; secured the sandwich with the right hand and began to savor it, while dropping his left hand on his lap.

I realized then that my son Ricardo was already an acculturated American, a citizen of the sandwich country.

Henrique Gomes (OLLI Member & OLLI Writer’s Group Coordinator)

Daddy’s Art

 

 Mary King and Father

 My father was an artist in every sense of the word. He sold his paintings from the front lawn of our home in east Tennessee. They didn’t garner much money but what he earned could still be considered income since it was at least steady. When I was a little girl I used to sit on the front porch step to watch him mix his paints on a sheet of windowpane glass, and clean his brushes in cans of strong smelling water that I now know was turpentine. Since we didn’t have much, I thought that he was just doing things the poor people’s way, making do with what he had. And since he could barely read or write, I wondered how he knew what he was doing. How could he be a real artist? I have since come to understand that people do not necessarily have to be able to read or write to learn how to do something they love. Being able to read and write is very good. It is the standard for life in modern society, but there is also much to be gained by sitting at the feet of the wise.

Unfortunately I don’t have any of my father’s paintings to show you. I wasn’t smart enough or appreciative enough to collect and keep them when I had the chance, so now, all I have to help me tell you about them are memories. Daddy painted on cardboard, wood, glass, and occasionally canvas when he could get it. He loved oils and sometimes he would spend hours trying to get a single color right. Many of his paintings were versions of the pictures he saw in his Bible. His work was hardly comparable to that of the great masters, but daddy had a quiet nature, focus, and a steady hand; gifts that gave his creations their own life, vitality and appeal.

palatte

Each painting had a story that went with it. When Daddy explained the meanings behind the scenes of Mary and the baby Jesus, the Last Supper, the Garden of Eden, and Satan, whom he referred to as “Lucifer, the original serpent,” he did it with authority and a flair that baffled me to the bone. I learned countless Bible stories sitting at his feet watching and listening. Still, I couldn’t help wondering how he knew what the pictures meant. Had he stared at them so long that the meanings became clear? Or did God tell him what they meant? Now I understand that he too, had once sat at the feet of someone; someone very special, his own father.

Without having fancy words to describe his work, Daddy moved from biblical scenes to cubism. Cubism was the least popular in our community because it was the least understood, and daddy’s first cubist paintings accompanied the early onset of dementia. People just assumed his paintings were proof of his mental descent. I am sad to say I was among them. By the time I saw an original Picasso or anything like it, Daddy was gone.

Looking back I see why people came back again and again. Not always to buy; sometimes to just watch and listen. Whether literal or abstract, Daddy’s painting techniques were spellbinding; especially on glass. He would draw the scene on one side of thick glass, and using flawless strokes, paint on the opposite side.  Watching things being painted was like watching things being created; it was magic.

I am modestly educated, and I can definitely read and write, but I will never be the painter or the story teller my father was. My joy is in knowing that each time I pick up a paintbrush or attempt to tell a story I will think of him and try to produce something he would be proud of.

Take A Knee

 Take a Knee 2017 – By Mary King – inspired by a movement, but peppered with gifts from my father.

Rufus Blair 1924-2001- Left a lasting impression on everyone who knew him, especially me. I am still using everything I learned sitting at his feet.

Mary King (OLLI Member and Writer’s Group Participant)

 

 

 

Betsy The Car

Chevy Sign

In 1953 my father bought our first car. It was a 1935 Chevrolet with large metal spoke rims and a hint of a running board on each side. The tires were what were known as white walls.  The car was royal blue.

My mother was leery of cars and in particular the one my father bought to surprise her, since we lived in New York City and took public transportation everywhere. In 1953 there were few private cars on the road and almost none on our block.  No other neighbors in our building owned a car.

It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. My sister and I just stood and gawked at the sleek, movie-star vehicle. It was like the getaway car in an Edwin G. Robinson movie. Elegant, not at all like the long, super finned modern cars in 1953.

White Wall Tire

“You would not believe the deal I got,” Dad said to us. Mom had a skeptical look on her face and kept glancing between Dad and the car. “It belonged to a school teacher who only drove it on weekends.  My boss lives next door to her and he told me she was selling this car and I went over to look at it and, wow!   I drove it around the block and it is perfect.  I paid her cash and picked it up today.”

Now truly, in 1953 even I had seen signs in some autos that claimed to be driven only on weekends.  It was almost believable living in the city because people went picnicking and to the beaches only on the weekends in the spring and summer.  Besides, my Dad was no fool; he would know a good deal.

“You know how to drive?” my sister and I shouted almost in unison.  When, how, we never saw you drive a car?”

My mother looked at my Dad and a smile grew across her lips. “He drove a two-seater with a rumble seat in back to pick me up for our first date. The car belonged to his older brother Eddy. Your dad is quite the catch.”  Dad was beaming.

He pointed to our new prized possession, “Her name is Betsy.”

Jones Beach

And Betsy it was. She took us to beaches and on country drives and to Westchester for picnics and out to Long Island to Jones Beach. Betsy opened a world to us, or at least the world within a thirty-five mile radius of New York City. And even though we lost her a few times in the humongous overcrowded parking lot of Orchard Beach or at Coney Island, we always found our distinctive car. All we had to do was Dad hoisted me onto his shoulders to look around and point to the blue car that stood taller than any other car in the lot; our Betsy.

Geraldine Khaner Velasquez (OLLI Member, Instructor and Writer’s Group)

Stories for Morning Coffee

old guys on bench 5[5]

This is the 51st episode of morning conversations between Leon (on the left) and Max.  They typically talk about their daily travails, as well as one social issue or another. I record their conversation each Thursday.

A little background:  Leon, 80, is a former managing editor of the Denver Post, and Max, 80, is a former principal of the largest High School in Denver.  The two men, and their wives, Cora and Bev respectively, both deceased, were neighbors and best friends in Denver for 30 years. Their four children (two each) were practically raised together.  About the time Leon and Max were ready to retire, all four of their hard-charging children moved to NY. To be closer to their children and grandchildren, both moved to as fancy condo building in Manhattan.

These two down-to-earth men prefer the back of the building to the front, which is too up-scale to suit them. Also their good friend, Simon, owns an excellent little bakery/café across the way.  He joins them almost every morning, bringing coffee and bagels.

That’s pretty much it.  They spar each morning only like two men who feel like brothers can do.  Their personalities are similar in many ways (e.g. with regard to social issues) but differ in other ways (e.g., Leon tends to be more plugged-in than Max.) They goof around with each other, argue, and always talk about some social ill affecting the country.

_ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _

“Leon, did you know that the DOW topped a new number yesterday?”

“I keep up with the news, Max.  Of course I know. Do you know the number?”

“22.”

“23. Twenty-three thousand.  But I’m impressed, Max.  You were close.”

“There are better things to do when you’re 80, Leon, than burying your nose in that phone of yours.  Like smelling mulch.”

“What?  You go from the DOW to smelling mulch just like that?”

“I was walking down the hall on the way down here, and I smelled mulch.”

“And…”

“It took me back to the days when we had yards.  And yours was two doors down.  And we had a street we called our own.  And the four of us played bridge a lot.  And I spread mulch.”

“And you spread mulch…”

“Every couple of years, I’d get a truck load of shredded walnut and spread it over the side yard and under the shrubbery.  You usually helped.”

“Usually…?  And I do remember the smell.  Rich, like fresh cut grass. The two of us even painted our houses one summer.”

“Must have been a slow news summer.  You worked longer hours than I did, Leon.  The ever-lovin’ Denver Post couldn’t run without you.  I had lots of school events at night, but I managed.”  We both did.  And we enjoyed doing nine things at once.”

“What’s really bugging you this morning, Max?”

“We need to do more.  We need to spread more mulch.”

“Max, we do a lot.  We go to shows, attend lectures, tutor, and work at the food kitchen…  There’s only so many hours in the day.”

“Leon, ol’ buddy, the world still needs more sweet-smellin’ mulch.  One pail at a time.”

“And we need to look around and admire what we see.  Look at all the dimensions in people.  And enjoy the gardens all around us – real and metaphorical.”

“The ‘silo’ thing drives me nuts.  I was talking to Dusty, the gun fella, the other day, and Mrs. Collins walked by and looked daggers through me. One dimension is all she sees.”

“Dusty a good guy.  He’s built a plumbing contracting business from scratch. I’ve met his wife and kids.  They’re nice people.”

“Yeah.  We’re on a different page with guns, but I sure do like ol’ Dusty.”

“Dimensions, Maxie.  Everybody is more than just one thing.  Politics for example.  People shouldn’t judge you solely because you campaigned for Woodrow Wilson.”

“I’m not that old, Turkey neck!  Here comes Simon.  Man, he’s got zing in his step this morning.  His wife must be feeling better.”

“I hope so.  They’ve really been through it the last couple of weeks.”

 

Tim Hoyt (OLLI Member, Writer’s Group SIG participant, Hospitality Committee and all-round OLLI enthusiast!)

 

The OLLI Book Group

Book Group

If you enjoy reading diverse genres and participating in stimulating book discussions, the OLLI Book Group is for you.

The group meets at 230 P.M. on the second Tuesday and third Thursday of each month at Quail Ridge Books in the North Hills Shopping Center. The same book is discussed at both sessions, and you are welcome at either—or both.

Once a year members are asked to recommend books. A list of these with a short abstract about each one is submitted to each member along with a ballot sheet. Members are asked to select twelve books from the list, and the winning books make up the reading list for the year.

The books for October, 2017 – September, 2018 are:

Oct. 10, 19:            Redemption Road by John Hart

Nov. 14, 16:            Dreaming in Cuban by Christina Garcia

Dec. 12, 21:           The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery by Gabrielle Zevin

 Jan. 9, 18 (2018):  Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

 Feb. 13, 15:           The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

 March 13, 15:       The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by

Jeffrey Toobin

 April 10, 19:          One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash

 May 8, 17:             The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

 June 12, 21:           Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purcell

July 10, 19:            The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

 Aug. 14, 16:           Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

 Sept. 11, 20:          Friends in High Places by Donna Leon

For more information contact the OLLI office at 919-515-5782

Mercedes Horton