Tag Archives: OLLI

Dad's DAffodils

On a sunlit Saturday morning in the fall 0f 1993, Dad and I, an empty-nester, sat together on the ground in his backyard digging up daffodil bulbs.  Dad wanted to relocate the flowers to a spot where he believed they’d be happier. I was delighted when he designated a milk carton full of our finds as mine to take home and plant at my new house on the other side of Pittsburgh. I asked him what I needed to do to ensure the bulbs would flourish. “Oh, just put them in the ground. They’ll be able to find their way back up and out without any real fuss.”

The visit with my parents was low-key, just going along with their routine, eating dinner from trays in the living room, watching The Lawrence Welk Show – Dad never failed to admire the tenor’s voice or to remark on the bouncy exuberance of the honky-tonk piano player. Unique for me to be alone with them after years of having a husband and children in tow. I watched Mom and Dad share everyday life, bringing quiet joy to one another.  And I gratefully embraced my container of daffodils to take along home to keep the connection with the weekend alive.

Sure enough, in April, Dad’s daffodils emerged from the soil around my north Pittsburgh mailbox, and in August Dad died and was returned to the soil in a south Pittsburgh cemetery. For three more springs those daffodils bloomed in ever increasing numbers, putting on a show that drew compliments from my neighbors. I wondered how daffodils would manage in the heat as I dug up every bulb I could find before moving to South Carolina. I carefully replanted them under the crepe myrtle tree in the enclosed back patio of our Columbia townhouse. They reappeared early and I feared for their survival, but apparently Pennsylvania’s April is South Carolina’s February. They seemed thin and small that first year, but gained in number and robustness until I hastily grabbed a few out of the dirt to take with me when I left that house and my marriage five years later.

After a year in an apartment, I found a cottage on Adella Street, moved in, planted the daffodils, and hoped for the best. When the remnants of my milk carton fully emerged, the bulbs and I had learned a lot about our abilities to adapt and thrive.  With a house and yard and job and social life to manage on my own, I found little time or energy for any more labor-intensive gardening and had increasing appreciation for the resilience of the well traveled daffodils. 

Dad’s South Carolina memorial relocated one more time to Cary, North Carolina, in 2010; the hardy flowers now stand proudly in my newest front yard where I can regularly enjoy them and our independence. Let us hope that we all keep finding our way back up and out without any real fuss.

By Lynne Sparrow (OLLI Member & OLLI Writer’s Group) Lynne rummages around the recesses of her ever-suspect memory for humorous and transforming experiences, people who mattered and made her think, and places that carved lasting impressions on her character, and then turns it all into memoir. Born and educated in Pennsylvania, she has lived in numerous states, traveled abroad several times, raised a family, and had a few short stories published in an on-line magazine, Persimmon Tree. Lynne’s been an enthusiastic and grateful participant in the OLLI Writers Group since retiring and relocating to Cary, North Carolina, in 2010.

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

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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)

 

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

Take Me Away, OLLI!

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We were in our seats and waiting for “takeoff,” but this was different: So many of the “passengers” seemed to know one another! In fact, I had seen a friend at the doorway. We had chosen seats next to each other and were catching up.

A studious looking man came around the seats and stepped up to the podium. No, this was not a limited-space airliner, but an auditorium in the McKimmon Center of NC State University. For just ten dollars, I was about to “travel” overseas, and hear fascinating stories and unparalleled information about the archeology of Petra, the anthropological UNESCO World Heritage Site, a place most likely created in the fourth century BC. With the aid of photographic technology, I would see pieces of human existence from the settlement that took place at Petra, and hear a lead instructor of the dig tells us the Petra story!

This fall, OLLI members can choose to be “taken” across the Atlantic twice, once to Turkey to experience a bit of the life of a Phrygian during the time of King Midas, and another to the Johannesburg area of South Africa where scientists have discovered many very, very old human fossils with a link to the discovery of a previously unfound species of human ancestry. Imagine!

This armchair travel is a privilege of membership in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at North Carolina State University. Great friendships and added social life are the desirable and free extra.

The overseas travel study trips offered by OLLI are not only by proxy, however! In past years, study trips have included going to Costa Rica, Cuba, and last year, Spain. In spring 2017, OLLI will offer travel to Croatia and the Adriatic Coast, with an itinerary to rival any world travelers’ plans.

Study trips and lectures also transport us to sites within the US, North Carolina, and here in Raleigh. Some trips come about in coordination with a course which has taken place that year, through the instructor of a course, or in response to a local event or media article. Stimulation abounds throughout any trip, and all of them come with friends and unbeatable long-lasting memories.

Take me away, OLLI!

Phoebe Johnston – OLLI Member