Category Archives: SPecial Interest Groups

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

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

 

 

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)