The writers in the memoir class I teach grew up on Chicago’s south side, in the Philippines, on farms, as military brats, in plush Chicago suburbs. They are Catholic, Jewish, agnostic. One thing these seniors all have in common? They are resourceful.
Take Myrna. She lives in a Chicago neighborhood called Lincoln Park, and When she found out there was a waiting list to get into the current eight-week memoir-writing session I lead in downtown Chicago, she called to see if Lincoln park Village might be willing to sponsor a writing class of its own. A post on the New York Times New Old Age Blog this week describes Lincoln Park Village:
A two-year-old nonprofit serving 230 members in 165 households, Lincoln Park Village was organized by older adults who want to age at home. More than 60 such villages, modeled on Boston’s decade-old Beacon Hill Village, have formed across the country, and 100 more are in development.
Susan, another student from the “Me, Myself, and I ”class I teach downtown, offered to host a free introductory class in her Lincoln Park home last week. The event was a success, and starting in September, I’ll be leading two different memoir-writing classes for seniors every week: the Wednesday class I’ve taught for years downtown, sponsored by the City of Chicago , and this new Lincoln Park Village class on Thursdays.
Jeff Flodin was one of many writers from the downtown Chicago “Me, Myself and I” class who showed up at the Lincoln Park Village event Thursday to cheer me on. Jeff lost his sight in his thirties, and he and his Seeing Eye dog Randy took a bus to Susan’s place — Harper and I got a ride from a Lincoln Park Village volunteer. Jeff had never been to Susan’s house before, and the bus stop was four blocks away, but they made it. Talk about resourceful!
Since starting the memoir class a year ago, Jeff has come out of retirement and is working part-time at Friedman Place, a non-profit Supportive Living Community for blind and visually impaired adults in Chicago. He leads a writing class at Friedman Place, and has started a blog for the Guild for the Blind here in Chicago. The post he wrote this week about labels used to identify people who are blind was both thoughtful and funny — just like Jeff! Here’s an excerpt :
So, for everyone out there wondering what to call me, I’ll give you a clue. Blind is OK. But, to really grab my attention, “Hey, handsome!” sure does the trick, too.
One thing I preach to the writers in my class is the merits of keeping essays short: they’re do-able, you choose stronger verbs, and shorter pieces are more likely to get published. So as much as I’d love to go on and on about all the resourceful writers in my class,
I’d better practice what I preach. Just one last story.
Loyal Safe & Soundblog readers are familiar with Hanna Bratman, the matriarch of our writing class. Last year Hanna was featured in a Someone You Should Know segment on CBS television here in Chicago. The CBS interview focused on how Hanna has embraced technology to write her memoirs–she has macular degeneration and uses special software that enlarges the print on the screen for her. From the CBS web site:
what do you want to be doing when you’re 90? Hannah Bratman of Chicago is going high-tech to make memories. As CBS 2′s Harry Porterfield reports, she’s someone you should know.
Francine Rich, my publisher at Blue Marlin Publications had been so moved after reading excerpts of Hanna’s writing here on my blog that she volunteered to collect and format all of Hanna’s essays for her.
So while raising three lively children and running her own publishing business, Francine found time to reformat 64 of Hanna’s essays and professionally edit them, too. The essays are still Hanna’s words, of course. “I didn’t revise her essays. There was no reason to.” Francine wants to surprise Hanna now by presenting the essays in book form. “Any chance you can get me some photos from her childhood?” No chance. There aren’t any.
Hanna grew up in Germany. Her family was Jewish, and she didn’t think to take photos along when she escaped on her own before World War II. She was only 20 years old when she arrived, alone, in the United States. Others in her family didn’t make it out in time. “I’ll tell you this,” she often says to me. “I’ve always been very, very lucky.”
Thanks to Francine, we’re the lucky ones now. we have the opportunity to learn from reading Hanna’s story. I’ll leave you with an excerpt:
I had not told my mother that I had gotten a “B” on that important test, and now I had to confess. “On that last test that he gave us, after his Heil Hitler, he handed out the papers, and I had a B instead of an A. All of my answers were correct. I raised my hand and got up, shouted Heil Hitler, and asked him why I had a B instead of an A. His reply: I gave you a B because you did not follow the formula I taught. You followed a formula I had not taught as yet. Besides, you are a nervy Jew to challenge me. I will downgrade all of your papers.”
I said to my mother, “I didn’t tell you about it, but I will never go back to that school. They don’t want me there.” I started crying again. My mother said, “If you really don’t want to go back, I won’t make you. You know, Hitler will not last much longer. There will be a change in government, and Hitler will not last. In the meantime, even if you don’t go to school, you will have to keep up with all your schoolwork and study French and English. I will arrange to get the assignments, and when Hitler is gone, you can go back. You know, they can take everything away from you, except of what’s in your head.”