Tag Archives: Lifelong Learning

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)

 

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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)

 

Ageless

NJ

She was sitting on a bench looking at the water. In fact, she was in my favorite spot at the Center Street Beach in Beach Haven, New Jersey where we had a beach house when our children were young.

It was early morning, around 7:15, and my ritual during the week while my husband was back home in Middletown was to ride my bike to the beach and sip an orange juice while gazing at the water, taking in the light and color changes on the waves. Between the wonderful light and the calm horizon I found the name of the beach to be completely suited to my mood. I centered myself at Center Street Beach.

This day, however, my solo excursion was interrupted by another person. I nodded in her direction and placed myself at the remaining edge of the only bench. In my brief glance at her face, I was surprised to see a woman older than I supposed from her posture. My first guess would have placed her in her forties; now I found it hard to assess her age.

woman on bench

I was distracted by her presence, though she sat motionless and took up only her own space. My eyes wandered away from the horizon and focused on her hands. Yes, she was definitely older. They were lined and leathery and strong; older hands. As I watched, her fingers seemed to move, keeping time to some inner tune; a slow, drumming tempo that started to have an affect on me. Without realizing it my breathing and heartbeat fell into the rhythm of her beating fingers.

While I watched her fingers, she slowly moved her top hand away and turned her bottom hand palm upwards. Inside her hand I saw a shell. It seemed extraordinary and different from New Jersey shells, which I had memorized from living by the beach for many years.

When had she extended the shell to me? And when had I taken it into my own palm? I couldn’t say, but there it was inside my hand.

shell in hand

In a mellifluous voice of a born story-teller, she recounted the life of that shell. She told of the formation of the sea creatures, then the first deposit of the hard white calcium that would organically develop, over ages, into that family of shell. She described the light and dark periods; ice and floods, animals and plants, and finally man and woman. She said the shell was living history to the creation of her and myself; both sitting on this bench.

I tried to hand the shell back to her, but she gently pushed my hand away. “It’s yours,” she said.

I walked my bike back home; feeling too weak to ride it. I held that shell tightly in my hand. At home I considered adding it to the pile of sea treasures I had gathered from beaches all over the world from years of travel. But this shell was different. It spoke in a different tongue. And it was a gift.

I placed the shell on the kitchen windowsill where the last rays of the setting sun would touch and caress it with the final glow of the day. Each time I glanced at it with grateful eyes, knowing that it was ageless in the continuum of time.

Geraldine Velasquez , OLLI Member, Writers Group, OLLI Instructor

 

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)