Friday, November 25, 2011

N is for “New Friendships,” By Nora Scechy

Nora joined our class several years ago and we all were blessed by her presence. Although she calls herself a "rookie," she is an established writer, having completed and published her life story, a memorable and delightfully readable book which you can see here:   Nora's Website

Nora is not currently attending class, but we still consider her very much a part of our group.

“He alone has lost the art to live who cannot win new friends.”
S. Weir Mitchell

When I signed up for a memoir writing class, I had no idea this was an ongoing class which had begun several years ago. I had some weird misconception that I would be joining a bunch of rookies like myself. This said, I soon realized that I was in the company of a friendly and intelligent group of writers under the guidance of a dedicated and encouraging instructor, Ms. Bonnie Mansell. Looking around the room, I was happy to recognize two familiar faces: Margaret Takacs, a dear Hungarian lady I have known for many years, and Shirley Mark, who volunteers with me at Downey City Library.

I liked the arrangement of the long tables, which gave plenty of room to spread out books and papers; and I liked the fact that the students had in front of them their names printed in large letters on cardboard plaques. I was barely seated when Judy came over to me, introduced herself, and supplied me with helpful handouts and notes from previous classes. At break time, Ray showed me where to get coffee, tea, or a cold drink (supplied free of charge), and he showed me where the restrooms were. Kacie invited me to play a board game with her. Everyone in this group showed me unexpected kindness.

We were given a class assignment to write “A Movie of My Life.” As each story was read, the class listened attentively. They clapped at the end, asked questions and made encouraging and sometimes humorous comments. When it came to my turn, I was nervous about reading aloud for the first time. I was soon put at ease when, at the end of my story, the class smiled and clapped, and Ms. Mansell commented that she thought I would be an asset to the group.

After only a few weeks, I feel quite at home and accepted by these talented and kindly seniors. I have made new friends and realize that I have not lost “the art to live.”

Friday, November 11, 2011

E is for “Enlighten,” By Janet Utermohlen

I know that “E” is out of our alphabetical order, but I have reason to post this particular story by Janet. Janet was part of a memoir-writing group that I facilitated for about six years in La Mirada. Sadly, that class was cut several years ago when the California budget crunch forced Cerritos to cut a number of classes (a situation Janet dreaded). I learned yesterday that Janet had passed away last month. I was, of course, saddened to hear that news.
            There was, however, some encouragement tucked into the delivery of that sad news. It turns out that Janet spent her last days in the care of a Korean woman – a woman with many stories to tell. During their days together the caregiver shared her stories with Janet, telling her about triumphs and tragedies in her own life. She knew that her stories were important, but never thought about writing them down. Janet persuaded her to take time to put her stories on paper. She has now begun that project, “enlightened” by Janet’s example.  ~ Bonnie
        I am 85 years old and in good health. By living this long, I have many stories to tell, but I really did not know how to get them down on paper. By attending this class, “Memoir Writing for Older Adults,” I have learned simple ideas to enlighten my memories, and I have written four essays brought about by what I have learned. This has given me great pleasure.

        By coming to class and fulfilling the assignments, I have become centered, and I can start and continue writing my memories. I have felt very enlightened by this class, and have enjoyed listening and learning from all the members who attend.

        I would be devastated if it were to be discontinued.

        The letter I was assigned is the letter “E.” The word I picked to use in this essay is “enlightened,” so I feel this class has enlightened my mind and gives me, Janet Utermohlen, a purpose in life, which I have been unable to perform until now.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

M is for our “Memoir Group,” By Yolanda Adele

When I walk into our memoir group on Thursday afternoons I often feel as if I have “come home.” This sense of belonging together, regardless of our differences, is part of what frees us to create our best work. Thank you, Yolanda, for expressing our hearts in your words. ~ Bonnie
Our memoir group is a treasure. I once read that there are families that we are born into, and there are families that are formed in the heart. The latter is what many find in our memoir group. Through sharing our stories, we have formed friendships that are based on trust and acceptance. There are few places in this fast-paced millennium where people can come together to be listened to with willing minds and hearts. We are able to do this because in the process of writing about our life experiences, we have learned to understand ourselves and others in the group. That understanding shows us how we are all connected by our humanness, regardless of our background, economic status, or religious affiliation.

Our group’s leader, Bonnie Mansell, is a profoundly caring, insightful teacher. Bonnie teaches her students that they can have a trove of personal, historical legacy to share what may be otherwise lost.

Our memoir group is a treasure for those who know the true wealth stored up in life stories.

Monday, October 31, 2011

L is for “Love,” By Margaret Takacs

Although this story has already been posted, I want to repeat it this week in its alphabetical sequence. I posted the story on May 9, shortly after Margaret ended her journey in this life. Once again, I am humbled to have had such a friend. I hope that those who read Margaret's story will have an inkling of what a special person she was. Her life was so much harder than most, yet she approached each day with an attitude of gratitude, modeling her values through her actions, as well as her words. I am blessed to have known her.  ~ Bonnie 

“L” is the beginning letter of the most powerful world of our dictionary. It covers a multitude of emotions, which can trigger a multitude of events from history and from individual lives.

“Love is a Many Splendored Thing;” so says a lovely old song I have heard my daughter Kathy sing so many times. It can take many forms: love of family, friends, cherished pets, plants, favorite possessions, and foods – all the colorful mosaics of our lives. It surely has taken me to the pinnacle of happiness and to the depth of despair in my lifetime. Throughout the years, as my daughters heard (maybe too often) the stories of my life, they always encouraged me to put those stories down on paper. I don’t know what held me back: maybe procrastination, laziness or reluctance, not knowing how to reveal the tumult of my life.

Then in my retirement, when my physical disabilities started to affect the vitality of my life, came an unexpected pleasure I greatly value and enjoy today. Before that, one of my daughters, Judith, gave me a book to read and record the important events of my life. It touched my cord of resistance, and I thought it would be a lot easier this way. And then my other daughter, Kathleen, met by chance with Bonnie Mansell, and she sort of enlisted me in Bonnie’s memoir writing class, leaving me no more excuses.

Joining Bonnie’s memory writing class brought many pleasures into my life. Her sunny-spirited guidance overrides my occasional glum and my resistance to writing. We have a wonderful company of classmates who become friends while sharing each others stories ~ sometimes with tears of sorrow, sometimes with joy, sometimes with great humor and laughter. We value and enjoy the stories of each other’s lives.

In my writing class I find companionship sharing each other’s joys or sorrows or burdens, and in the process we rediscover that love is a many splendored thing, which can teach even my ninety-year-old heart to sing. Yes, love is truly a “many splendored thing.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

K is for Kindness, by Shirley Mark

It is especially poignant to read stories from our classmates who can no longer share our Thursday afternoons with us. This piece is a reminder of a very special friend. Shirly was one of my very first students when I began teaching memoirs in Downey. She stayed with me when the Downey class was closed and participated in our Norwalk group for many years. Although she can no longer be with us in class, we remember her with love and gratitude. ~ Bonnie

Kindness – the quality or state of being kind; good will; graciousness; kindhearted.

        All of the above reflect the kindness I have felt in the Downey writing class and in this one in Norwalk. How fortunate I was – how fortunate I am.

        Last week I went into my son’s old room, which is now used for anything and everything, looking for a photo. Going through papers, scrap book pages, etc., I found a letter from a Downey student expressing how much she enjoyed hearing about my travels. Next to it was a photo of the class which had been given to me, “in friendship.”

That was and is typical of the kindness that begins with the instructor and filters through the excellent and kind students. Am I lucky to be a part of the warmth, friendliness and kindness of that class? You bet!!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

J is for “Jotting my Journey with Joy,” By Evelyn Watson

Isn't it funny how so many of us have a "secret" desire to write? It takes courage to give expression to that desire, but it brings so much reward. Are you letting fear keep you from taking the chance of putting your ideas down on paper? Take encouragement from Evelyn. ~ Bonnie


          I have always had a secret desire to write about my life. I doubt, though, I would ever have attempted doing so without the invitation of a friend to attend the Norwalk Senior Center memoirs class. Ironically, my friend who had persisted in getting me to come to class, stopped attending soon after I began.
        What a joy within my heart to actually be writing and to have the help, inspiration, ideals and encouragement I needed for jotting my journey by attending this class. What a joy to find compatibility among so many who are so diverse in their talents, ideals, and beliefs. Along with jotting my journey stories I’ve have the added bonus of getting acquainted and making friendships beyond time spent in class.
        Some class members are real journalists, while some jargonize their stories. Some are jiffy writers, having stories each week, while others spend time contemplating what they will write next. Some write about their jaunts, others about their jobs. Some write jingles, and some are jovial writers, but all write because they enjoy doing so.
        Every story reveals some part of who we are, and jogs memories from each of our memory banks to jot down for future stories. It takes courage to share some of our stories, exposing ourselves. Yet the acceptance among us helps us deal with issues we want or need to express. We voice our feelings and share our concerns as we join together in common bonds through our stories. We are companions for each other in writing our stories. For me, this is an important fulfillment.
        How thankful I am that my friend recognized in me the longing to write even though it wasn’t something she desired for herself. Just maybe she came upon this group because I was the one who was supposed to be here. And so the years spent attending this class have also become part of my life’s journey story. Could I not find joy in this class jotting my journey? And what a joy it is!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I is for Inspiration, by Lois Tannehill

One of the best things about our group of writers is that we are all inspired by other members of the class. We have come to appreciate the fact that we have all become better writers simply by being in the presence of others who share our struggle. Thanks, Loie, for expressing this so well. ~ Bonnie
          I have met so many lovely people in my memoirs class. We all get along and enjoy each other’s company. The people and their stories are so diverse. They make the class so interesting. I look forward to class at 2:00 p.m. on Thursdays.

        I get inspiration from most of them to write my stories. They help me recall my life experiences. Some of their stories bring me to tears; others bring smiles. Bonnie, our teacher, gives us ideas that jar our memories. There are several in class that should publish their stories because they are so good. The stories the individuals write are heartfelt.

        I am writing my life story for my children and my children’s children. I’m glad that Yolanda invited me to join the class several years ago.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

H is for . . .

During the month of September I have been blessed with two trips to the Central Coast -- one with my husband and one with a special friend from college days (oh so long ago!). Besides this unusual addition to my schedule, I have also purchased two (yes two) new computers this month. I'm not keeping them both. After a week or so of using the first one, I decided that although I loved the computer, it was just too big. Each computer purchase involves time transferring information from the old computer to the new one. All this extra activity has resulted in my neglect of various responsibilities, including this blog. I am sorry that you have had to wait so long for this next installment of alphabetical memories of our class.

Please read and enjoy the two "H" stories we have for this week -- and let the writers know you appreciate their work.

And, Lewis, if you happen to read this, we would all love to hear from you again!

H is for “Happy Healing”

By Lewis Hildreth

          This class has been a place for healing. All the stories, true or fiction, upbeat or sad, well said or not, have made this class interesting, enriching, and encouraging for me. I have been encouraged to say what at first I dare not say, to stand up and read my writings aloud, to give voice to what hasn’t been easy to say in the past.

        I know by my feelings that this class has been supportive and always encouraging. I always look forward to coming to class every Thursday. This class has been a place for wholeness to mend fragmented memories. The class has given encouraging feedback to help with creative isolation. The class overflows with supportive camaraderie to keep this writer cheerful in a dangerous world, gone insanely unconscious.

        I enjoy writing my assignments for every Thursday, trying to meet the deadline of the next class meeting. It takes effort to work through inertia, giving voice to my own ideas. The excitement of the creative process has brought a measure of healing happiness to me. If I never publish, it is immaterial to me, for writing my stories down and reading in class is so much fun and rewarding as I have said above. I feel healed both in heart and mind; that’s why I can say this class has been a place for healing.

H is for “Hiatus”
by Annette Skarin

My writing group has given me a much needed hiatus from life’s difficulties.

I had returned to California from Washington State a few years after my mother passed away, and after an unsuccessful operation to repair her heart. Two years after returning, and unsuccessfully trying to get a job, I was ready to give up. Life had been very difficult during most of my sixty years. I had never had a break from the relentless torment of the way my brain dysfunctioned. Finally, I began shaking my fist and yelling at God, “Why did you make me this way?” (He can take it, by the way). I came to a place in my journey of life where I was finally able to ask for help for a disorder that was beyond my control. God did hear my prayers, as He always has, and led me to the right help. I now feel more balanced and calmly joyful than I can ever remember.

I had been attending a large Bible study group consisting of women from many denominations and cultures. A lady from my group named Evelyn, continued to pester me about trying out a writing group she belonged to. I resisted at first because I didn’t believe I could write. I finally agreed to come along – just to get her off my back.

Well…here I am a couple of years later, and find that my strength to write about my struggles continues to be bolstered, and I continue to blossom into the writer I am today. I stumbled and stuttered and read too fast in the beginning. My class called, “Creative Writing/Memoir Writing” gave me the courage to continue in spite of my weaknesses.

Today, I’m a different person, as I continue to heal. I’ve taken off with my “writing wings” – into the flabbergasting future. I joined a Toastmasters group, called Cheerful Chatter, and learned how to speak with poise. I am now attending; the California Writers Club of Long Beach, once a month; and most importantly, I am using the gift God has given me, by exercising my writing muscle daily.

I hope this is not just a brief hiatus but a long one. Thank you, fellow writers, and teacher Bonnie – you’ve been a blessing to me. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

G is for “Growth,” By Barbara Goodhue

One of the reasons I love this class so much is that it has helped me to grow as a person, as a writer, and as a teacher. Barbara reminds us that we must be seeking places that nourish our hearts and minds; and when we have found such a place, we need to come back for more. ~ Bonnie

This class has been a place for growth, generosity, goals and good times. It has motivated me to start writing some memoirs. However, I have a long way to go.

People love to be generous with their stories. Everyone has a good time trying to meet their goals. We all enjoy listening to the stories people write, which are very good and about a variety of places and experiences. I think I have grown by being able to write, and I am very grateful to all who have contributed to my growth by allowing me to listen to their stories. Sometimes I am envious of those who are so good at writing. Maybe with time I will grow and get better.

Monday, August 15, 2011

F is for “Fellowship," By Judy Brandemihl

I have already posted this story once on this blog -- it was when we were freshly grieving the loss of our dear friend, Judy Brandemihl. Since I am going through the alphabet stories now, it is time to publish it again. I hope it reminds us to treasure the moments we have with those who mean the most to us. ~ Bonnie

         Where would I have been without the fellowship of my friends from memoir writing class?
        You see, when we get older, friends (true friends) become more and more important. We’re retired for the most part, so we don’t have the daily interaction with co-workers, customers and associates that we once took for granted. Sadly, too, we often outlive our mates and sometimes many family members. Now too many of us live alone and depend on our Senior Center for a social life and the Memoir Writing class is the perfect place to find the very best of it. My husband and I are fortunate enough to still have one another’s companionship. Still, we need outside interests. I joined the memoir writing group several years ago and last year my husband joined me. Now he’s hooked and can’t wait for each Thursday afternoon with our friends there.
        At our memoir writing class we not only exchange the mundane news of our week, we share our memories and our pasts. No, that’s not exactly it; what we share is our lives. Those folks who were once strangers that we might have passed without pause are now some of our closest friends. We freely confess our fears and our faults, knowing we will not be judged or ridiculed. We are among true friends, and they are like family. As in any family, there are some that we’re closer to than others, but they’re all there for you when you need them. They’re happy for you and sad for you. They celebrate with you and pray for you. They’re all a dear part of my life each week, and without them I’d feel as if I had lost my family.
        We write our stories and exercise our brains at the same time. We laugh and we cry. We joke, encourage and give advice. We need and are needed. We’re not only writing our memoirs, we’re creating them.
        In 2004, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, my friends from class were there for me, giving me their support during the next difficult eight months. Just knowing this was a big part of my recovery.
        Then, earlier this year, they were there for me again, this time to celebrate when I won a memoir-writing contest for the Long Beach Press Telegram. They didn’t allow me to stay shyly in the background. No, not them. They collected copies of the newspaper, asked for my autograph and praised my writing to any who would listen. My victory was their victory.
        They are my classmates, yes, but even more they are my friends. Of course, more than anything, they are my “family,” and I’d hate to think of not spending each Thursday afternoon with them I’d hate to think that I wasn’t able to be there for them when they needed me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

E is for “Encouragement," By Virginia Murrell

This class has been an encouragement for me to write my memoirs. I meet other people who enjoy writing their memoirs and a fellowship has come about in the class.
I found after my grandparents and parents died that I became interested in their lives, but now they were gone and couldn’t answer my questions. So I am writing my memoirs so that at some later date, my children and grandchildren may be interested in my life story. Some of us have found that our families are not that interested in our memoirs at this time.
I get many ideas for my writing by listening to others in the class read their stories. The class provides me a place to read my memoirs. I enjoy sharing my writing with others. When I hear others read their stories, I am touched by their lives. This also encourages me to write more.
Also I get feedback from the teacher, Bonnie, and the other students. Corrections are good feedback to get from the class. I was uneasy about writing. I really struggled to write my papers in college, so I was not comfortable about writing. But with the encouragement in this class, I feel much better about writing. My main focus is to get the memories on paper. If I do a good job, it is an extra bonus.
Having the class to attend helps push me to write my stories. If I didn’t have the class, I would procrastinate. I am so happy with the stories I have written and I have many more in my head waiting to be written. I need the class to continue writing my story.
We all need encouragement from time to time. I love this reminder that our class is one of the places where we can find it. It’s also good to remember that if we don’t write our stories our children and grandchildren may never know what truly mattered to us. Thanks, Virginia, for this word of encouragement! ~ Bonnie

Monday, August 1, 2011

D is for “Delightful,” by Dora Silvers

Dora took the challenge of writing something for the letter “D,” and came up with this “delightful” reminder of how lucky we are to have Dreamy Dora in our class! ~ Bonnie

          In our memoir writing class we share delightful memories of our parents and grandparents. They delight our hearts, but sometimes there is a dash of dreadfulness. There are far away places where our classmates lived or vacationed at various times. Now, we are the grandparents sharing the antics of our dandy grandchildren. Sometimes there is a bit of danger. Photographs made their stories a distinct image in our minds.
        From grandfather clocks to our digital cameras, we have come a long way from our grandparents. Times have changed; our memories can be computerized and recorded for generations to come. We walked in our classmates shoes for awhile and traveled to distant places with their memories.
        The view from Sun Valley Idaho was so breathtaking. It was beyond description. The photographs brought the distant place into direct focus. We were able to travel in our imaginations on Amtrak to Denver, enjoying the dramatic view of the Rocky Mountains. Over the loud speaker on the train came the delightful voice of John Denver, singing “Rocky Mountain High.”
The members of our class have so many different experiences to share. It actually makes a delightful afternoon in our memoir writing class. You can call me “Dreamy Dora,” as their stories are a delightful dream for me.

Monday, July 25, 2011

C is for the “Classroom," By Alice Santillan

This piece is by a student who only came to our class for a few weeks. Alice, if you happen to read this, please know that you would be welcome to come back to join us again. ~ Bonnie

          As I considered attending this class, I kept wondering if it was for me. I have had some entertaining and uncomfortable episodes in my life, and wasn’t sure I was ready to write or share them with anyone.
        As I sat in class, listening to everyone express and share their stories, conversations and their great camaraderie, I began to think that the class could be fun for me. Maybe this class would be educating and exciting and maybe I would discover myself! Wouldn’t that be fun!
        The class is composed of both men and women who have shared their anecdotes with us. It was interesting to hear each story. For some, the stories were sad. Others were documentaries. Still others were comedic and I enjoyed them all.
        There have been some stories that have been published so we have a few authentic authors in this class. Imagine that! What a great compliment for these students. Congratulations!
        Our teacher is extremely caring and helps us out readily. She is a very enthusiastic teacher and very well versed. Thank you, Bonnie Mansell. Congratulations to you, too!
        This is my first attempt at writing, so I’m sure it’s not adequate. I have only been in this class twice. I am still learning, of course, and would like to continue, just to see what I can deliver.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

B is for “Bonnie’s Bunch”, By Randy Brandemihl

This short piece is especially poignant because we so recently lost Randy. It is a good reminder that life is short, and we need to cherish our time with those who mean the most to us. ~ Bonnie

When I joined the senior memoir writing class, I found something that had been missing in my life, a group of real and beautiful friends. They were much like a military boot camp, Boy Scout pack, or any group of friends that I’d known in my younger years, who gather together to share and practice their common interests or needs.

But these people were more important because as you grow old, these groups no longer exist for seniors. That’s why this group of friends is special, so special that it is irreplaceable.

We’ve shared our entire life experiences, love, family, heartaches, joy and victories and, yes, on occasion, the loss of one of our own. And, like family, when we must part the pain will be unbearable for us all.

It is for this reason that I’m thankful for every day I spend with this beautiful bunch of friends. . . Bonnie’s Bunch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A is for “Acceptance,” By Kathy (Kacie) Cooper

Here is the first in a series of ABC stories from our class (after my introduction and Jeanne's overview). I hope you enjoy this delightful story from Kacie. It's such a great expression of who she is and what she has found in our class. You can't help but "love" a line that says, "acceptance actually is love, but it's not as mushy"! ~ Enjoy ~ Bonnie

          Is “Z” the first letter of the alphabet? No. “A” is, and they put it there for a reason. When something is rated excellent, we always go back to the beginning of the alphabet, to that first letter, to that “A.”
        It’s a good system. It wouldn’t sound so good if people found out that the rating for their favorite restaurant was a “Z” because that is the end, the last letter. So it is fitting that “A” is always considered the best, as this class is. Of all the classes I have taken in my lifetime, I would easily give this class an “A” simply because it stands for something which I have been searching for all my life: acceptance, something most people would be grateful for even if they were without “love” because acceptance actually is love, but it’s not as mushy.
        Some folks aspire to be rich and famous. I feel I’m both. Since joining this group I have acquired many wonderful friends and through the telling of my stories I have become famous with this group of encouraging, thoughtful listeners.
        It all began the moment I walked into the class. “Read your story,” our teacher, Bonnie, said, and what a reception I received! At first, I thought my reading would be critiqued, but it wasn’t. I didn’t think that I would improve without it. I have taken several creative writing classes, script writing for T.V. and several English classes. 
       My one creative writing class was identical to Billy Crystal’s Throw Mama from the Train, where everyone was putting each other down for their writing. There was no acceptance in that class. But in this class I have found an abundance of acceptance. Through this acceptance I feel that I am understood. Since signing up for this class I have written more stories than I ever have in my entire life. That acceptance has freed me to be more creative, resourceful, free, aware, inspired, ambitious, artistic, friendly, accepting and oh so very happy.
        One day I read the play I had written for Cerritos College. The people in this class were so receptive to me. They praised me on the voices that I used for the play. They laughed; they marveled; they bragged about me. It felt great.
        Not only do I get my stories written and told, but I end up feeling really good about me: not a bad thing at all!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

ABC's, By Jeanne Seldon

I hope you enjoy this very creative piece which captures the essence of our class in such a fun way!   -- By the way, I love all of these, but I think that "K" may be my favorite. Which one is yours? -- Bonnie

A    Is for awakening as better writers, by writing weekly with a good teacher.
B    Is for belonging to a group of supportive writers.
C    Is for considering new ideas and choosing new topics for writing each week.
D    Is for deciding what we think is important to write about from our lives
E    Is for exploring our thoughts and expressing our ideas through our writing.
F     Is for finding our voice as writers and for expressing our feelings by writing.
G    Is for growing as writers and gaining insights about our lives as we write.
H    Is for hearing the ideas of other writers as they share what they write.
I       Is for inquiring about a variety of ways to approach our writing.
J     Is for the joy of joining a friendly group of supportive fellow writers.
K    Is for kicking ideas around in our heads until we find the best way to write about them.
L     Is for listening to others and gaining feedback about our writing.
M    Is for meeting each week to discuss and share what we write.
N    Is for needing feedback from an audience of writers to help us get better.
O   Is for opening up to others to become more comfortable about our writing.
P     Is for planning what we want to write about next and putting it on paper.
Q    Is for questioning ourselves and each other about our writing.
R     Is for reading and re-reading what we write and revising it to make it better.
S    Is for sharing our writing with others and saving our writing in our memoirs.
T    Is for our terrific teacher who really helps us to think about our writing
U    Is for understanding our lives better by writing about what matters to us.
V     Is for volunteering to share our writing in class without fear of criticism.
W    Is for writing willingly with wisdom about what is important in our lives.
X     Is for eXamining new ideas, strategies, and approaches for writing.
Y     Is for yearning to improve our writing by learning and writing more.
Z     Is for zooming in on our life experiences and writing about them with zest.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A is for Alphabet, By Bonnie Mansell

Several years ago I asked the members of our writing group to share the memories of our class in an "ABC" book, which we published as About Bonnie's Class. I have decided to go back to those stories and publish them here for a wider audience. This first entry is my introduction to the book. In the weeks to come, I will publish one alphabet story in additon to the stories currently being written and submitted. I hope you enjoy them. If you would like to add your own "alphabet memory," please do so, following the guidelines on this page.

If you are having trouble making comments on the stories you read, please send an email to me at, and I will be glad to post your comment.

A is for Alphabet

The alphabet is one conglomerate whole, made up of 26 individual items. It might be considered a storage container for its parts, or, perhaps more appropriately, a home for its family. In fact, when the individual letters are written alone or in alphabetical order, we can discern very few meaningful combinations. It is the purposeful grouping of letters, the parts of the whole, which allows us to generate sense in an endless variety of ways. So, the alphabet is dependant on its members to give it significance, and the letters are dependant on one another to create a meaningful flow of thought.

Sometimes two letters can seem to be so widely separated that they cannot possibly come together to create meaning. “A” and “Z,” for example, are polar opposites. There are very few words that combine these two letters. But some of those few words conjure up striking images. Azaleas are among the most beautiful flowers; the Aztecs were among the most creative and advanced people of the ancient world; and azure is the color of the clearest blue sky.

People are much like the individual letters of the alphabet. The analogy breaks down, of course, as all analogies do. Unlike a single letter of the alphabet, we each have value and meaning. But it is also true that we discover that meaning through our interaction with others. As writers we know the need for alone time. We know that we often need to free ourselves from external distractions in order to distill our thoughts into words. But we also recognize our need for community. It is in community that we express the ideas we formulate in private. And it is in community that we listen to the ideas and stories of other individuals. It is community that makes us two-way people.

Madeleine L’Engle, expresses the thought this way:

"My moments of being most complete, most integrated, have come either in complete solitude or when I am being part of a body made up of many people going in the same direction." (The Irrational Season, p. 158)
She also says that although, as a writer, she must write alone, she recognizes that her solitude must be “encircled by community.” In the memoir class many of us have discovered that we are, in fact, “encircled by community,” and that encircling has provided us with protection and strength, as well as the opportunity for personal growth. We find that our little circle is made up of individuals who may have little or much in common, yet our interaction helps us to focus on the things that unite us, rather than those that divide us. And, like the letters of the alphabet, we come together and make new meaning. Again to quote L’Engle:
"Wherever there is unity in diversity, then we are free to be ourselves; it cannot be done in isolation; we need each other." (Circle of Quiet, p. 237)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kodi, by Allison Mansell

I have been trying all week to write my thoughts about Kodi. I even thought about posting them on this blog, but I couldn't get much further than my title, "How can this hurt so much?" Today Allison posted a story on Downey Daily Photos. I am reposting it here because she has captured my ache and written the words that I could not. This is the first time I have published something on this blog without permission from the author, but I trust she will forgive me.  ~ Bonnie

A week ago, an amazing dog was taken away from this world tragically, prematurely, and terribly. He was hit by a speeding car and died forty minutes later in the hospital, licking his human's faces and wagging his tail, still loving them to the end.

Heart broken doesn't begin to cover the feeling of loss. Kodi won the heart of anyone close enough to see his tail wag. His face was always smiling, even during his tantrums when we wouldn't throw the ball for him. His fur was the perfect place to nuzzle your face after a long day of being with people.

All he wanted in life was to be with his humans. Playing, sleeping, running, barking, he lived to love them. He loved without conditions.

He was a good dog.

He went with them everywhere. Stores, parties, in-law's houses, vacations, etc.

I mourn. Not in a way of a human death of course, but in a way that I have never felt before. Never again will I see his sweet face cocked to the side like he is trying to understand me. Never again will I hear his bark as I'm walking through the door. Never again will his tail wag ceaselessly for those he loved.

"One last word of farewell, dear master and mistress. Whenever you visit my grave, say to yourselves with regret but also happiness in your hearts at the remembrance of my long happy life with you: "Here lies one who loves us and whom we loved." No matter how deep my sleep I shall hear you, and not all the power of death can keep my spirit from wagging a grateful tail."
Eugene O'Neill
To read Allison's blog, with more stories and photos from Allison, Joan, and Pam, please see: Downey Daily Photos

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Design From The House Of Eva, by Barbara Sparks

Barbara's beautiful tribute to her mother is modeled after a poem called, "My Mother Pieced Quilts," by Teresa Palomo Acosta. To read the original, please click here: Original Poem. After you have read and commented on Barbara's inspirational piece, try your own hand at this model, writing about someone special in your life. I will post those that are submitted according to the guidelines. And I'll publish my own version in honor of my grandfather, who baked bread.~ Bonnie

They started out as
simple bolts of cloth
without shape
without a defined purpose
sitting idly on a table
without a hint of what they were to become.

Choose me, use me
make me come alive
may have been their cry
if they could speak.
They longed for that loving touch
of a skilled seamstress
to transform them
to give them a home
away from that lonely, cold store.

Mother, you came and rescued them
You had that loving touch
Your hands gave life to the cloth
Your hands turn cloth into works of art.

You may have chosen the special form it took
from a pattern book
But sometime patterns were not good enough
so you searched the expensive stores for that special look
that you couldn’t find in the pattern book.

You wanted the outfits of the rich and powerful elite
and when you spotted them
you simply sketched a picture of what you felt was worthy of your child
added your special unique touch
drew a pattern on newspaper
cut it out and the the magic began.

Sometimes you transformed those bolts of cloth into
an entire wardrobe for summer camp
or a wardrobe for a new year of school
A bolt may have been a beautiful dress for a fraternity court.

What a sight your daughter was as she entered the room
on that special night
No one knew how small the price for such magnificent clothing
No one knew that your daughter’s outfits were not from a store but were one of a kind
A Design from The House of Eva
More precious than any commercially made ones could ever be
Mother, the creations made with your hands were yet another way you expressed your love for me

Thursday, June 2, 2011


A couple of weeks ago we had the very special privilege of participating in this milestone in Dora's life. Did you know that one can be Bar or Bat Mitzvahed at 83? Because David says in the Psalms that the average life span is around 70 years old, you are more or less "starting over" at 70, so 83 is the equivalent of 13 -- the second time around! Thank you, Dora, for letting us share in this event! 

My 3 brohers attended Hebrew School, they were all Bar-Mitzvahed. At that time Girls were not permitted  to be Bat-Mitzvahed.  My Brother Jay taught me to sing "Ein Kal La Heinu.  I was 8 years old.
When I was 10, I was sewing buttons on a blouse on a Saturday morning.  My father said "Dora, you had all week to sew, today is Sabath.'  Papa went to the bookcase and gave me the 5 Books of Moses to read, that was my introduction to the Torah.

Today, I reflect on the past and live in the present.  On Friday night services, when the names of the sick are read, it gives me the opportunity to make phone calls, to chat and cheer them up.  When the names on the Yarzeit list are read, I remember those that are gone.  When I lost my son Mitchell and my Husband, I had a very heavy heart.  Now, I have a lighter heart. through my Jewish faith, God does make your heart lighter.

I love my Religious Faith and being Jewish.  I learned many things from my studies with my Rabbi and Cantor.  "Thank You"  Rabbi Warshaw and Cantor Ken for all your help to prepare me for my Bat-Mitzvah.

I am grateful to have my Family:  My Brother Jay, 4 children, 3 Grandchildren and 3 Great-Grandsons.  I am blessed and life is good. 

                                L'CHAYIM    ---    TO LIFE.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Remembering My Mom, by Charlotte Boquist

Here is a short sweet memory, appropriate for the month of May, when we remember our mothers. ~ Bonnie

“Hi mom,” I said softly, rousing her from a nap. She was sitting in the recliner in her room at the Good Shepherd nursing home, where she was spending her last years. “How are you this morning?”

She smiled, “Oh hello honey, have you been here long?”

“Just got here,” I assured her, “The weather is gorgeous this morning the sun is out and not a cloud in the sky.” I sat down in the other chair and felt a pang of sadness, looking at her once robust body now so shrunken and fragile.

Mom replied that she already knew it was a lovely day, the nurse had described it for her earlier. My mother has lost her sight to glaucoma and now must rely on others to describe the delights that lay outside the big window of her room. She had been an artist, creating beautiful paintings of landscapes and the animals that populate the Wyoming mountains and prairies.

“There is a robin hopping around on the lawn this morning”, I said.

“He is probably looking for a worm for his breakfast”, she said with the authority of an avid bird watcher.

“I’ve brought the paper, should I read to you for a while?” She smiled and I unfolded the newspaper and began to read the news of the day.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Teen Ager, by Gail Earl

In 1968 my family moved from Michigan to Santa Monica, California. I had one year of high school left. We loved living right on the beach and spent many hours riding the surf and enjoying the beautiful weather.  I remember the anxiety of starting back to a school filled with strangers.  I didn't know a soul and didn't really go out of my way to initiate any friendships. 
My boyfriend then, (husband now) moved out here with my family, so I had no desire to meet new people.  He and I were in our own little world. I tried to be invisible at school.  Of course, being "cool" was most important at the age of 17.  I had always believed that I was cool, but none of these new people knew that yet. There was a very fine line between being cool and being invisible.  I never did anything to draw attention to myself.
One day while waiting in the hall for a class to end, I put my finger in into a little hole in the locker I was leaning on.  I'm not really sure what that hole is for, but some lockers had them punched out and some didn't. As all the students gathered in the hall talking to their friends, I amused myself by hanging my finger in this little hole. When the class emerged from inside the classroom and my classmates began to enter the room, I discovered that my finger was stuck.  Not just a little stuck but really stuck.  My finger was definitely not coming out. Now this is not good for an invisible girl!
The teacher came out and tried to help but had no luck.  He called the janitor who greased up my hand but also had no success.
Well as you can imagine, a crowd gathered and everyone watched as I stood there humiliated as students laughed and gathered their friends to come and see the girl with her finger stuck inside the locker.
After what seemed like forever, they ( 2 rent-a-cops and a janitor) decided that the only solution was to take the locker off the wall and go to the nurses office to work on my finger some more.  Of course, one locker would have been too simple.  This locker was attached to a row of six lockers.  So off the wall they came and I had to walk through the history building and down through the center quad, where all students gather and socialize.
Believe me, heads turn when they see a row of lockers being carried carefully so as not to injure an already swollen red finger.
Once we were in the nurse’s office, they iced the hand on the outside and greased the finger on the inside of the locker.  Eventually my hand was free from the row of lockers. 
So much for being invisible. From that day on, I'm afraid that everyone in the school knew just how cool I really was!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kindergarten Debutante, by Margaret Takacs

Margaret wrote many wonderful stories. This one was a favorite for so many of us. I want to repost it today in remembrance of a life well lived.  ~ Bonnie

During a span of our lifetime certain childhood memories will stay with us, because our families and friends don't let us forget them. This is such a story.

My father died in World War I. At the age nineteen, my mother became a widow with one child. We had to go to live with her parents in a small rural town in Hungary.

My grandparents’ house was a long, rambling building with not much frontage toward the street, but reached far back toward the backyard and garden. At the whole length of the house was a veranda with lots of potted plants on it, and outside there was a flowerbed with roses. The front of the house was our living quarters; the back was used for grandpa's workshop and the students’ bunk Beds. I was not allowed to go in there, but I loved to peek in the window and watch how the boys were singing, hammering, and putting pieces for shoes together. Singing, always singing and bantering with each other.

Grandpa was a master shoe maker and president of his guild. Students who wanted to learn a trade had to do it the old fashion way, moving into the master's house. They paid for room and board as tuition, and spent years  practicing and learning their trade till they become masters of their own.

I was four years old, going to kindergarten. We went to school earlier than in the U.S.A. We learned to count, build with blocks and paint. We spent time making crafts, cooking with baby small utensils, and, of course, playing a lot. Good manners and social graces, getting along with each other was a very important subject.

At the end of the school year our teacher always put on a show for our parents showing off our accomplishments. At the end of the show she let us individually perform something of our choice. I told my mother that I had a surprise for her which would make her very proud of me. I could hardly wait the day to come.

Finally the day arrived. There I was, dressed in my prettiest pink pinafore dress, velvet ribbon bow cascading down my hair. I curtsied to the audience and whole heartedly delivered a song -- a dirty, bawdy song, which left my audience in the state of shock! I curtsied again and looked around waiting for my applause to come. Stone silence from the audience, except my mother’s wish to be dead from embarrassment came a sobbing question; "My God, Where did you learn that?" I said, "From the boys in grandpa's workshop.” By that time I was in tears.

The audience sized up the situation feeling sorry for the heart broken child gave me applause, saying my performance was one what they would never forget. And they didn't ~ teasing me from time to time, asking when my next performance will be scheduled.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Randy and Margaret

I received an email from Nora this morning, telling me that our dear friend, Margaret, had passed away peacefully on Saturday, May 7, 2011. Within less than an hour of reading that email I received a call from Kacie, telling me that she had some sad news. I assumed that she was going to tell me about Margaret. Instead she informed me that another former member of our class, Randy, had also passed away this weekend, just shy of a year after the passing of his wife and another special friend of ours, Judy.

As a tribute to these two precious souls, I have posted a story from both Randy and Margaret. The stories were written several years ago as a part of a class anthology, in which each writer wrote about their memories connected with our class.

As you consider posting comments on the following stories, please think about your memories of these friends and use this space to share your thoughts with other readers of this blog.

Thank you.

Two by Randy

V is for “A Valued Class of Vintage Memoirists”
By Randy Brandemihl

My senior memoir class is a very special group of people. The variety of their vivid backgrounds is one of the very things that make them valuable. Their vintage years and vivacious friendship is the very thing that binds us all together.
In the very beginning, we all came here seeking a variety of pleasurable pastimes, such as humor, knowledge, companionship and, of course, memoir writing.
Of that goal I feel, without a doubt, that we have all vanquished a darkness and found a very fine and victorious bright day.
Viva la Vida!!!

What Makes this Group Special?
By Randy Brandemihl

I would like to say thanks to this special group of memoir writers and explain what makes you more special than any group I’ve ever known.
The groups I’ve known in the past, beginning with my youth in grade school and going forward into my high school years and then my military service, all provided me with great memories. We were young then and shared such good things as movies, birthdays and first kisses. The groups in the military were different from the school groups. We were no longer children; we were men and women. My military friends and I shared good memories, but we also shared our fears and losses. My memories of those years are some of the worst and some of the best.
As we grow older we make all these great memories as we move down the long epic road of life. I’ve come to this group, here in one bright cheery room in Norwalk, all these years later and a million miles from where I was born. I’ve found a place where I could tell all my stories that I’ve collected over these years; not only that, but I’ve found great people that will listen and even enjoy my stories as I enjoy theirs.
Unlike the stories we told in school that revealed our youth and inexperience, the stories in this room are stories that reflect, collectively, over a thousand years of lifetime experiences. To tell them and to tell them well, we have become poets, storytellers and playwrights. Each one of you has touched my heart.
Thank you and our great group leader, Bonnie.

L is for “Love, ” By Margaret Takacs

“L” is the beginning letter of the most powerful world of our dictionary. It covers a multitude of emotions, which can trigger a multitude of events from history and from individual lives.
“Love is a Many Splendored Thing;” so says a lovely old song I have heard my daughter Kathy sing so many times. It can take many forms: love of family, friends, cherished pets, plants, favorite possessions, and foods – all the colorful mosaics of our lives. It surely has taken me to the pinnacle of happiness and to the depth of despair in my lifetime.
Throughout the years, as my daughters heard (maybe too often) the stories of my life, they always encouraged me to put those stories down on paper. I don’t know what held me back: maybe procrastination, laziness or reluctance, not knowing how to reveal the tumult of my life.
Then in my retirement, when my physical disabilities started to affect the vitality of my life, came an unexpected pleasure I greatly value and enjoy today. Before that, one of my daughters, Judith, gave me a book to read and record the important events of my life.
It touched my cord of resistance, and I thought it would be a lot easier this way. And then my other daughter, Kathleen, met by chance with Bonnie Mansell, and she sort of enlisted me in Bonnie’s memoir writing class, leaving me no more excuses.
Joining Bonnie’s memory writing class brought many pleasures into my life. Her sunny-spirited guidance overrides my occasional glum and my resistance to writing. We have a wonderful company of classmates who become friends while sharing each others stories ~ sometimes with tears of sorrow, sometimes with joy, sometimes with great humor and laughter. We value and enjoy the stories of each other’s lives.
In my writing class I find companionship sharing each other’s joys or sorrows or burdens, and in the process we rediscover that love is a many splendored thing, which can teach even my ninety-year-old heart to sing. Yes, love is truly a “many splendored thing.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A PRELUDE TO A SLEEP, by (Kacie) Kathy Cooper

My emotions exceed my power to contain them
And so I sleep...
Should I raise my voice and complain then?
T'would only make me weak

For who would hear my deepest sighs?
A trailing of the wind
And who-so-ever would recognize
The sadness I hide within

Only He who towers high on high
Beyond the marvels of existence
No time or space can ere deny
His beauty, his consistence

Be with me then, inside my darkness
Erase my "worldly" view
Tighten up my sense of sharpness
And let me see, see only You

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brother Bill’s Conversation with Toby, by Charlotte Boquist

(As told to Mary Jane and Charlotte March 3, 2011)
            Toby, son of a Baptist lay teacher, is married to Bill’s granddaughter, Carolee.  These two men had a special relationship; they were buddies and shared much through the years.  They had, on several occasions discussed Heaven and Hell at length, while sitting out on Bill’s patio.
            Visiting him in the hospital, Bill not being able to call out indicated that he wanted to speak with Toby, so Carolee traded places with her husband who was minding the children outside the room. 
            Toby leaned down close to the bed since Bill was so weak that he was only able to whisper, the first thing that Bill said was, “Don’t think this is from the drugs or that I’m hallucinating.”  Then he told of seeing friends that some had been dead for twenty-five years, walking around, waving to him on the other side of something that was hazy, like looking through a glad bag”.  Bill was reaching out and grasping at something in the air.  Toby asked what he was doing.  Bill said that he was trying to get though the veil.  He wanted to be there, “But” he said, “Don’t tell Grandma because she will fight to keep me here.”
Toby asked if his friends talked to him.  Bill replied no, just the lady spoke to him.  The lady was dressed in white, all fluffy like lace or ruffles.  She was first up in the corner, then in his face, and then over there.  She was flitting about the room.  Bill asked her who she was and she replied that she was “The Greeter”.
            Toby asked if he saw anyone else.  Bill replied that there were lots of people walking around and that he wanted to get over there, and he kept picking at the veil.   (Toby told us that Bill would reach up with his hands and pick at the air).  Toby asked him if they said anything, Bill said he couldn’t hear them.  He couldn’t see his Mom and Dad, but he knew they were there.
            Later Bill told Shirley (his wife) and Debbie (his daughter) that he just wanted to go home.  They, of course, thought he meant back to Basin, but he meant “over there”.