Lafayette Seniors Writing Workshop Anthology (Spring 2014)

It was an absolute honor to be working with the senior citizens in Lafayette, CA from February until May 2014. I had the opportunity to not just impart the little knowledge I had in memoir writing, but also to learn about life itself from reading and listening to the stories that the participants shared.

Here’s an anecdote from the class.

I had prepared two readings, they were both experimental collage essays. One was “Considering the Lilies” by Rebecca McLanahan, and the other was Brenda Miller’s “Brief History of Sex”. Due to the essays’ similarities and time constraint, we had to choose one.

So I asked, “Which one would you guys like to read? Fashion or sex?”

And these senior citizens, without any hesitation whatsoever, said, “Sex!”

Senior Services Memoir Workshop Spring 2014 02

(Left to right: Nahide Craig, Joan Wahl Countryman, Yuska Lutfi Tuanakotta, Janet Clark, and Treva Perkins)

You’ve enjoyed short pieces by these writers on this blog, now you can read their longer work. Click here for the anthology.

At Our House

By Janet Clark

 

When my daughter was three years old we joined a nursery school cooperative.  Parents helped staff the facility on a rotating basis.  Angela was blessed with big brown eyes, a mop of shiny curls, her father’s imagination and her mother’s smart mouth.  She was a constant source of amusement for some of the more conservative parents.  Typical of three year olds, she was usually her most entertaining on the days I did not remain at school with her.

One noontime, when I arrived to collect her, the parents on duty were waiting for me.  They argued over who would get to tell me what had happened earlier that morning.   It seems that during snack time, while the children were all seated around little tables, munching slices of fresh fruit and drinking chocolate milk, Angela’s neighbor accidently knocked over his paper cup.  The contents spilled across the table soaking her napkin.   “Oh, shit,” she declared.

Shocked, one of the mother’s stepped over to the table and shook her finger in Angela’s direction scolding,   “No, no, Angela, we don’t talk like that here.”

Angela gave her an incredulous look and continued to mop up the spill with someone else’s napkin, then stopped.  Shrugging her shoulders at the other children at the table she smiled big and announced proudly, “Well, we do at my house!”

The Cherry Popsicle

By Edna Coulson Hall

 

I was ten years old when My Grandma Coulson died, my mother’s mother. I was told death meant Grandma was gone far, far away from this life, our life, all the way to Heaven where she would live with the angels, and we would never see her again until we went to Heaven ourselves one fine day. I said I understood.

At the funeral I stood by Mom while she talked to my aunts and uncles and other people who seemed to start every sentence with “She was.” It made a buzzing sound in my head. My Aunt Mildred said Grandma was in a place now where her heart was strong again and where she didn’t hurt anymore and never would again. She didn’t call the place Heaven, but I was sure that was what she meant because when someone said Grandma was with the angels now, Aunt Mildred smiled and
nodded.

Afterward, when we were home from the funeral, I looked at my picture book Bible and studied the images of angels there in their long flowing robes, their great white wings, their glowing halos. I had rarely seen Grandma except in a cotton house dress covered over with a long bib apron made from flour sacking. It was impossible to imagine Grandma among these dainty beings each strumming a small gold harp.
The only musical instrument I had ever known Grandma to play had been a pocket comb wrapped in waxed paper.

Before Grandma got sick, she would write Mom every week, ad her letters always came on Tuesday. The first Tuesday after Grandma’ funeral I was sitting on the front steps of our house sharing a homemade cherry popsicle with our dog. The mail man came and left mail at the end of the lane. Dust rolled up from the road.

I heard the kitchen screen door open and slap shut as Mom rushed out and started down to the road. As she neared the yard gat, she suddenly stopped and bent forward as if something had kicked her in the middle of her body. I watched and waited. Then she straightened and walked slowly on down to the mail box.

When I put the popsicle back in my mouth I could taste the dust from the road. I held it out to the dog.

“Here,” I said. “You can have it. My grandma’s dead.”

It Was One of Those Days

By Janet Clark

 

Today I ‘d waited longer than I should have to drag Lurch, my old and battered Honda lawn mower, out of the garage. Now the sun was high and after only two rows I began to sweat. There were a million other things I’d rather be doing. “Keeping up appearances” is what I call mowing. I tell myself I need the front yard to look well-groomed for the neighbors and that I don’t really give a damn. An attractive landscape makes people in the neighborhood believe that I am a good person. Intelligent, clean — trustworthy. What a bunch of rot. At my age, I could kill myself mowing this enormous lawn in the heat of the day. Sometimes I feel resentful that I’m one of only three people on my block who doesn’t have a gardener. The other two have strapping husbands who love gardening while poor little old me just can’t afford yard help.

Right in the middle of my “woe is me”, I spotted something shiny in the grass a fraction of a second before the mower gobbled it up. I’ve learned to react quickly because Lurch has been known to pick up things and spit them out at my knee caps like shot-gun blasts. Not needing anymore scars, I stopped the mower in the nick of time. It was half-buried in the grass. Turning it over, I discovered the sparkling object was a name plate – black plastic with white lettering. It had a shiny silver magnetic clip on the back, which apparently hadn’t worked very well.

Elder Thomas
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Now what in the hell had he been doing in the middle of my lawn?

Slipping it into my pocket, I resumed mowing with much more enthusiasm. Aided by my imagination, I walked Lurch back and forth across the grass thinking of various ways Elder Thomas’ name plate could have ended up on my property.

Possibly it fell off as Thomas was being carted away by a huge bird of prey.

Or maybe while canvassing my neighborhood, passing out religious literature, he was mugged by the Devil himself.

More than likely, my neighbor Jack got pissed off when Elder Thomas knocked on his door and threatened to hose Elder Thomas off the front porch. This name plate probably flew off the poor kid’s tie as he ran for his life.

Whatever.

It’s a lot of fun being a fledgling writer. You can find stories almost anywhere. If it isn’t book-length material, it might just enough to blog.

Today was just one of those days. Found a story while out mowing the lawn.

Treasured Memories

By Joan Wahl Countryman

 

Grammy’s Cookies

Take Four Grandchildren One By One

A High Stool

The Kitchen Aid Mixer

Brown and White sugar

Butter

Vanilla (enjoy the smell)

Add

Flour

Baking Soda and Salt

Chocolate Chips

Hersey’s English Toffee Bits

Mix gently with love, laughter, mess and disaster

Joyous memories held close as children grow too old to join me in the kitchen

Where treasured memories reside

Pick Up

By Joan Wahl Countryman

 

In February every year a hardy group of tennis players from Lamorinda join together for tennis in Palm Desert:

The youngest is around seventy five

The oldest is eighty eight

Levels of tennis from very good to not so good

All levels are accommodated with encouragement with good humor

This year my husband Jim and I decided to fly down instead of drive, we rented a car from Budget – a Toyota Yaris.  Upon our arrival the following ensued:

“Sorry Sir we don’t have the Yaris.  How about a VW Bug?”

“I do not want a Bug or a Ford whatever – I ordered the Yaris a month ago.”

“We have a Mustang which we will discount.”

After much wrangling we said yes to the Mustang. With keys, paperwork, suitcases and Jim’s cane we headed out to find parking spot E5.  That was the easy part.  Electric Green, two door with barely enough room to hold our suitcases in the trunk.  A not too happy Jim tossed his cane in the back seat and we were off.

Driving to the motel we began to notice people staring along the way – I gave a wink to a truck driver.

In the motel parking lot there was a team of young Lacrosse players getting ready to leave on a bus for a game – they stepped aside as we drove to the nearest handicapped parking spot.

The young men gave the car the once over while speaking among themselves.  As we alighted from the Mustang, they took a second look. Smiling, I said:

“Didn’t expect a couple of old fogies to be driving this – did ya!”

“It’s very cool,” one said.

“Great pickup,” Jim said.

During our stay, we made more friends because of the green machine.

Never lost it in the parking lot.

Every trip out was an opportunity to have a good laugh and talk to some young buck who wished he could be behind the wheel.

Jim, my old buck, enjoyed the green machine’s pick up – sure you are never too old to laugh and play!

Jim and the Green Machine

Jim and the Green Machine

Hook

By Edna Coulson Hall

 

June.  July.

Mowing, raking, bailing –
hay-making with Dad, with Granddad.

Wet?  Rain?  When?
And for how long?
How much?

Dry days and hot.  Hot.
Sweating, reddened deep,
shoulders blistered –
we bless the sun.

Atop the squat Ford tractor
pulling slow, pulling straight
through sweet scented alfalfa.

Hay hook in hand
stabbing bail and bail and bail –
lifting, twisting, stacking.
Neat.  Make it neat.
Winter might come early,
might stay late.
Pack the mow, snug’em tight
and neat.

Hay hook for hay work,
for carrying buckets heavy with grain,
for bolting a gate lock.

I scratch my name into
its work-slicked handle
with a rusty nail –
“Edna.”

Dotti

By Treva Perkins

A dear old friend of mine recently died.  In January.  Peacefully.  In her sleep. She was dear to me because she and I could talk forever about anything:  politics, women’s rights, food preparation, the arts, Los Angeles freeways, gardening, Mexico, news… any topic.  Dotti was an intellect.  Forward thinking.  Open minded.  Because of these attributes she never aged even though she lived to be 95.

In my mind, Dotti will live on forever.  Talking.  Laughing.  Insights that amaze with wit that amuses.

Here’s to you Dotti!  May your new journey be as rewarding as your life was a beautiful gift to all of us who knew you.

Oh, That Guy…

By Janet Clark

Who? Oh, that guy. Yes, I know him. No, no, he’s not Chinese, he’s from Vietnam. I don’t know when he immigrated, but you can see he’s not very old. Late thirties, maybe? You’re right. He’s not a big man, but what a hard worker. He’s been delivering newspapers in Poet’s Corner for about five years. Since he took over the route there’s never been a single day the papers weren’t delivered. Maybe a little late once or twice. If I’m awake I hear a comforting “thwack” as the paper hits the driveway around 4.30 a.m.

By the way – that guy happens to be one of the kindest people I know. For years I subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle Thursdays through Sundays. Then, one day the Chron raised prices to the point I could no longer afford delivery. I sent a note to that guy letting him know my reason for quitting the paper and thanking him for his reliable service. The morning I was to receive no Chronicle there was a newspaper on my driveway. Attached to it was a crudely penciled note.

“Good morning, thank you for the Christmas card you sent me. I always have extra Contra Costa Times papers. I’ll throw one every day and if you need me to stop, call this number. Dien Lam.”

For a year and a half he has faithfully left a Times on my driveway. From time to time I put a ten dollar bill in an envelope and mailed it to him.

Recently the San Francisco Chronicle ran a special “We miss you. Ninety dollars for the entire year!”

I signed up.

Now I get two papers every morning – carefully rubber-banded together so I only have to stoop over once. You know that’s getting harder to do early in the morning these days? Stooping.

Oh yeah, that guy is just the greatest!

Doug, the Guy

By Treva Perkins

Oh that guy!  There was no way that I was going to give him the satisfaction of even looking at him!  And those girls hanging all over him as they all walked the hallways ooogaling and cooing.  There were at least four or five of them at all times sauntering down the hall with him arm in arm.  It was disgusting.  Didn’t they know how ridiculous they looked?  And the guy had a big smile that said it all; he loved it! I couldn’t stand it.  All of this frenzy took place toward the end my ninth grade year at George Jacobs Junior High, in Eureka, CA.  This tall, slender Elvis look alike with his dark hair and creamy white skin had shown up at our school and was making quite a stir with the girls.  He and I didn’t have any classes together so the only time I saw him was passing in the hallways always accompanied by a bevy of silly girls.  No, I was not going to be part of the harem.

Probably the reason that I caught his attention was because I ignored him, thoroughly. Certainly I didn’t mean to bring this interest to myself because not only was I terribly shy, but I didn’t want to be pulled in to being part of the troupe.  It wasn’t too many days before one of the girls approached me and said that Doug wanted to call me.  After all of these years, details are few and far between but I did talk to Doug for at least an hour on the phone after dinner for several nights.  He didn’t live anywhere near me so popping over for a visit was not to be.   Doug asked me to the prom.  Considering all of the girls who had been dying to date him, I couldn’t believe that he picked me.  On the evening of the prom his aunt, who he was living with at the time, drove us to the school for the gala event.   This was my first real date and on the way home in the back seat with his aunt driving up front, I had my first real kiss.

With the end of the school year, Doug seemed to disappear as fast as he had swooped into town.  I can only imagine that my parents might have sighed a breath of relief when this whirlwind liaison ended.