Old School

The 100 State Street Writing Group. photos/Sarah Bouchard
The 100 State Street Writing Group. photos/Sarah Bouchard

Old School
Senior citizens learn to tell their life stories

By Elizabeth Peavey

We met in dining halls and be they middle-school boys (Remember libraries, in activity rooms and church vestries. We sat on hard chairs at folding tables. Some hobbled in with walkers or canes, but

others arrived on bikes. There were men with ponytails and women fresh from the beauty parlor. Few had more writing experience than producing a weekly grocery list, yet I rarely got the “dog ate my homework” excuse. (One participant, while on vacation, made everyone on a bike tour take a detour to find a post office in Key West so she could mail me her essay.) Each week, in they marched, armed with little more than a notebook, a pen and a story to share.

These were my students, and I was a little bit in love with each and every one of them.

For the past year, I’ve had the great pleasure and privilege to teach memoir writing to five groups of senior citizens: at the Betsy Ross House, in South Portland; at The Woods at Canco and 100 State Street, in Portland; on Peaks Island and in the Kennebunks. The requirements were fairly simple. Participants had to be current (or, in a couple cases, former) residents of the facilities. They had to at least plan on attending all the meetings. They had to be a senior, though that covered quite a span — from the freshly AARP’d to those nearing 100. Other than that, they just had to be willing to share their life stories and listen to others’. Oh, and laugh at my jokes. Definitely extra credit for laughing at my jokes.

I have been teaching and coaching memoir writing for over 20 years. While I always enjoy my students and clients — Remember second grade, when life was so much less complicated?) or established authors — I am increasingly drawn to working with the elders of our community. That’s not because they have more or better stories to tell, or the fact they have lovely manners and bring me jam and flowers. It’s the delight they take in learning and the zest they bring to each meeting.

At Betsy Ross, we’d all laugh so hard that other residents would line up to peer in the windows and see what was going on in their activity room. Peaks meetings always ran long, as we tried to squeeze in one more person’s essay. At 100 State, Mary, who regally sat opposite me at the head of the table, would shake her head at the end of each session and wonder aloud where the time went. After one discussion at the Woods at Canco, my 97-year-old Avis turned to me and said, “I wish I had started doing this…” I thought the next phrase would be “when I was a young woman,” but instead she said, “when I was 67.”

My Portland-area groups met once a week for six weeks. At each session, I gave a bit of instruction and provided a writing prompt (an opening line or a thematic suggestion) for the next session, then had participants read their essays or tell their stories inspired by the prior week’s prompt. After that, we discussed the work we’d just heard, but not with the old “I liked it” or “that was good” stuff. Schoolmarm me had lectured them on constructive critiquing techniques. I wanted to hear why a piece was perceived as being effective or not, with specific reasons and concrete examples. Then I would swoop in with my assessment.

Although feedback was delivered in the most loving manner, I did not go easy on my charges. Yes, we were simply sharing stories, but every participant wanted more. They wanted to improve as writers and storytellers.

And improve they did. The stories poured forth — some with exquisite detail, some with heartbreaking emotion, many imbued with unexpected humor. (What do you do when faced with the prospect of sharing a hotel room with your ex-husband 17 years after you’ve divorced?) I was surprised how little nostalgia there was. Childhood privation was shrugged off, a father’s sudden anger was examined with a clear eye, triumphs were downplayed. If one of these people had adorable grandchildren or cute pets, I never heard about it. Take away the rationing cards, the World War II backdrops and the cook stoves, and these stories could belong to any time, to anyone.

I often had to urge my writers to be more present in their pieces. “This is your story,” I’d explain, trying to undo rules their former schoolmarms had drilled into them. “We want to see you in the action.”

“Does that mean it’s OK to use the word ‘I’?” a brave soul would venture, posing the question as though I had suggested something naughty. Their eyes would widen in disbelief when I nodded in the affirmative.

I’d get a similar reaction when I told them a personal essay does not need an opening statement and a concluding paragraph. Regardless, week after week my writers would back their way into and out of their stories: “So, as you can see, that summer was a big turning point for me and family…” But gradually, they got it. They’d even suggest ways their classmates could end their pieces earlier. “What if you stopped right as your bike was about to tip over, instead of explaining what happened after you hit the ground?” My heart swelled.

The Woods at Canco Writing Group.
The Woods at Canco Writing Group.

My students were gentle and loving with each other. If someone contemplated dropping out, they were cajoled to stay. Those who had e-mail access relayed messages to those who did not. Notebook pages and oral stories were typed into computers and printed out. “It takes a village,” I wrote to Joyce on Peaks, thanking her for transcribing Bill’s essay. (Or, in their case, an island.)

I have designed the workshops so they can continue without me. So far, so good. My Betsy Ross gang from last winter is still going strong and has attracted new members. “We’ve learned so much about each other,” participants remarked during the second-to-last session at 100 State.

I concluded each program with a reading open to each group’s larger community. The readings at Betsy Ross and Graves Library were both well attended and enthusiastically received. I expect the others will be, as well. In fact, I’m so sure there’s a larger audience for these stories that we will be presenting a grand finale performance at the Portland Public Library’s Rines Auditorium on Sunday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m., with representatives from the four Portland groups sharing their “greatest hit.” I hope you’ll join us, because these stories are too good not to be shared.


A common prompt I use to start my writing workshops is to have participants describe a kitchen scene. The objective is to imbue the essay with concrete sensory detail.

“Strawberry Fields”
By Elaine Jones, age 80
Peaks Island

Barefoot, an apron down to my ankles, I’m standing on a stepstool, my nine-year-old body leaning against the stove, a wooden spoon poised over the old spatterware kettle. “Not yet,” cautions my mother, her hair tied back stylishly with a red bandana. She teaches art at the high school and basks in the joys of summer vacation.

The aroma of wild strawberries rises and glides across the ceiling and out through open windows over the sink where white curtains, formerly souvenir dishtowels, blow in the breeze. The curtains have red borders and depict boys, sleeping back to back, with sombreros over their faces.

“Now!” says my mother, as she pours the sugar in with the berries, trying not to cringe at the amount sliding into the pot. Sugar, as I well know, is rationed. She had set aside a cup here, a half-cup there, for months. I gently stir the warm sugar into the berries, leaning over and breathing in the hot sweetness, hoping it will also curl my hair.

Every year at this time, my father tosses berry baskets in the car, scheduling a business trip from Ithaca, where we live, to Binghamton, where he hopes to sell some life insurance. With an “A” sticker on the windshield of our aging Chevy, we’re allowed only four gallons a week, so he picks his timing carefully; there’s no going back. Just before dinner, Dad had burst through the door, his hands stained red, his tie off, his shirt pink where he’d rolled up his sleeves. A victory smile spread across his handsome Welsh face. He held out the treasure: the very strawberries we are now cooking!

After 10 long minutes, I dip a spoon into the glistening sweetness and let it drip onto a white saucer that my mother is holding. “It gels!” We smile broadly at each other. She carefully slips the cooked berries into the jars Dad has boiled and arranged on a bath towel. She picks up one and holds the ruby glow to the light for me to see.

The paraffin is melted and carefully poured to seal the jars. Squares of waxed paper go over the tops, and we tie them with string, a finger there to help tighten the knot. My dad sets them all on a tray and heads down the steps to the fruit cellar, our vault of great things.

A primal sound comes from some deep, distant place in his body, followed by an unending crash as jar after jar bumps down the steps. My mother screams. I run to the top of the stairs. The cellar floor is splattered with blood-red berries and glass. My father is hunched on the step.

Mother rushes down, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Are you hurt?” He jerks away from her touch and throws the tray. It skids across the cellar floor. I start to cry. He turns, “Get something!” a roughness to his voice I hadn’t heard before. “A dishpan! A wastebasket! A spatula! Anything!”

Carefully, they sort for glass, making me stand helplessly at the top of the stairs. The cleanup leaves them exhausted, so Mother makes scrambled eggs and toast for supper. No one has anything to say.

Dad carefully spoons a bit of the rescued jam on his toast. There’s a frozen silence: we all hear the gritty crunch of glass. Without a word, he gets up and spits everything in the sink, up-ends the bowl of jam and dumps it, rationed sugar and all, into the garbage.

Dabbing a bit of blood on his lip, he turns and says, “I’m so sorry.” I throw my arms around his waist. “I don’t even like wild strawberries,” I say. “They’re too little.” “And too sweet,” adds Mother, putting her arms around us both. Dad wipes his eyes and laughs a little. Then we laugh a lot, drying our wet faces with our arms. “And they’re too red,” he offers. Way too red.

The Betsy Ross House Writing Group.
The Betsy Ross House Writing Group.

“Dinner Hour”
By Cheryl (who prefers to leave her identity at that)

The burgers sizzle in the silver-and- black electric skillet on the cluttered kitchen counter. Smells of frying meat and fatty juices fill the room. The windows are steamed from the rolling pots of water, blocking the view of the Old Mill Pond below.

The kitchen is absent of normal chatter. The ringer on the phone is turned down low. My mother and I whisper as we prepare the few remaining items. The table is set. Supper is ready.

A loud snore comes from the living room. Dad sprawls on the blue couch. He is drunk. The juice glasses he filled with whisky 45 minutes earlier saw to that. The quiet is to not wake him until absolutely necessary. Dad is not a happy drunk.

“Dad, time for dinner,” I say carefully, not standing too close to the couch. I cringe, guessing what awaits us. Anger — a lecture or chastisement.


I have to repeat the word several times. The odor of alcohol radiates from him with each breath, setting off little alarms in my body. I tense, my reflexes on guard. A worrisome heaviness fills me from head to toe.

Struggling to get up, Dad smiles — glad to see me, I guess. My father is a large man. It takes several tries of bracing himself on the arm of the couch, and a helping hand from me, to get him standing on his rubbery legs. Swaying in t-shirt and work pants, he labors his wide girth to the table, grasping anything on the way to hold himself upright. He finally lands, dropping heavily into his metal and plastic chair in front of the bowls and platters of fragrant, steaming food. Mom and I sit, too.

Dad starts piling his plate with sweeping movements that are clumsy and slow. He sways on his seat. Miraculously, he doesn’t drop a bowl or knock over his iced tea. His speech is slurred, his eyes droop. His head tilts toward his plate, and food dribbles down his chin. I finish my meal long before he does, and I wait. Dad seems fairly calm. Still, I am careful not to say anything that will set him off. The steam has cleared from the windows, allowing a view of the Mill Pond.

Finally, he struggles from his chair to the living room, wobbling a bit less. He finds his way to the couch and soon begins to snore. Mom and I silently clear the table, and then I retreat quietly upstairs to do my homework.

The snoring may not last.


This writing prompt was for the writer to suspend a moment in time, as though in a snapshot.

“Trigger Happy”
By Espahbad Dodd, age 72
100 State Street

I’m five years old, and standing in the backyard in the hot sun is not my idea of fun. As usual, it’s my mother’s fault. She just has to have a family picture. And to make matters worse, she’s recruited Aunt Phillie to take it. Yes, none other than completely clueless Aunt Phillie. Can you imagine? So, my brother, sister and I are posing with my mom. She’s all smiles, holding my little sister, and my older brother is posing like the King of Prussia. Aunt Phillie is nervously tinkering with the camera. The sun is bright, so I keep my eyes on the ground. Who cares about silly old pictures, anyway? Not me.

I notice how uncomfortable my clothes feel. My pants are all bunched up around my waist like a scarecrow’s, and my cuffs are rolled so thick I have to walk bow-legged. My mother says I need clothes with room “to grow into.” She never buys me anything that fits right. Why doesn’t she listen when I tell her how klutzy and dumb they make me feel? She doesn’t care.

What? Stop moving around so much? Can I help it if a bug is crawling up my leg? Oh, there’s a giant bumblebee heading this way. Come on, Aunt Phillie. Hurry up and take the darn picture. I’ve got more important things to do. Butchy is waiting to play cowboys. I’ve already got my six-guns buckled on, and I’m wearing my cowboy hat. What? Stop staring down? But that bee is getting closer. Can’t you hear it buzzing? Can I hold Spotty? Come on. Hurry up.

What does an old fuddy duddy with a smelly bum like Aunt Phillie know about taking pictures anyway? Why doesn’t someone tell her she stinks? This is taking forever. I’ll never get out of here.

What? Hold still? What birdie do you want me to look at? CLICK. Is that it? Can I go now? What ? I was looking at my feet? Oh no. Do we really have to take another?


I met only once with my Kennebunk-area seniors. In a nod to the StoryCorps model, I asked them to tape-record a memory from childhood, through their younger self’s point of view. Students from Kennebunk High School transcribed those stories, and then the kids and I workshopped them together, drawing up a list of questions they could bring back to their elder partners to sharpen the narrative. What resulted was a wonderful collaboration, as evidenced by these samples.

“The Orange Roof”
By Joan Dawson, age 73
Kennebunk (in collaboration with KHS student Kacie Nelson)

I skipped into the restaurant with my daddy. It was a Wednesday, the middle of the day, in the middle of the week. The year was 1950, I was eight-years-old, and in the third grade. It wasn’t my birthday or even a holiday. My sisters weren’t there, not even my mom. I had never been in this restaurant before. Actually, we didn’t go out to eat very often. You see, there were seven of us at home: my mom, my daddy, my four sisters and me. I was the middle child; not old enough to have special privileges, not young enough to be babied. I was pretty independent. I spent each evening after supper in the room I shared with one of my sisters, playing teacher to my dolls. I felt grown up when I did. I wasn’t criticized or compared to my sisters, and my dolls loved me.

But here I was at Howard Johnson — the place with the orange roof. The two of us walked into the restaurant with its sparkly lights and music playing from a jukebox in the corner. I could smell French fries and chicken sizzling. A pretty lady with an aqua apron showed us to a booth and gave us large paper menus. We had a booth at home in our kitchen, but this was special. At home, all six of us squeezed into ours, three on one side and three on the other, my youngest sister in her highchair at the end. I was always squished in the middle. But here I was, sitting all alone on one whole side of my own booth and my daddy on the other.

All of a sudden he got up. “I’ll be right back,” he said, as he hurried off. I looked around the room and realized for the first time that there were all kinds of people in the world I’d never met and that there were people in this world who had never met me. It was an exciting thought.

My daddy came back within a few minutes, carrying a doll. She had curly blonde hair, just like me, and wore a blue, glittery gown. I hugged and kissed her and named her Marie, my middle name. After my daddy and I had our ice-cream cake, we left the place with the orange roof and got into the car. It was the first time I ever sat in the front seat of our station wagon.

I didn’t know why that special day happened, and I didn’t ask. All I knew was that daddy and I had gone to our small hospital that morning, and a doctor had put some medicine on my chest. I felt kind of funny and numb. He asked me to look up at my Daddy and to hold on tight to his hand. He cut the skin on my chest and did something there. Then he put some black thread over the cut. It didn’t hurt because it was numb, but I was really scared. Daddy said he was taking a funny lump out of my chest, but that I didn’t want to have it there anyway.

My parents would soon know that I did not have Hodgkin’s disease. I had a benign tumor — one that wasn’t sick. It was many years before I knew how scary that day was for my parents. For me, it was a day that I just felt special. Soon enough, I was back in my room, teaching Marie with the rest of my dolls. I was the middle of five sisters again and would be sitting in the middle of our booth for many years to come.

Elizabeth Peavey with The Woods at Canco Writing Group.
Elizabeth Peavey with The Woods at Canco Writing Group.

“Meeting the KKK”
By Bob Convery, age 78
Kennebunkport (in collaboration with KHS student Maia Mulcahy)

I watch my father step out of the bedroom, dressed head to toe in his Navy uniform. He lightly touches the .45 semi- automatic pistol that is strapped in his holster as he gets ready to report to his duty station. Navy personnel have to be on every street corner during the protest. He kisses my mother and then me on the forehead as he walks out the front door of our apartment. My mother quickly says something to him about staying safe. My confusion about what’s going on makes me want to ask Mother to explain, but I can tell by her worried expression that now is not the time.

Over the past few days, I’ve seen a blur of different grownups walking in and out of the front door to speak with my mother and father. I’ve been told to go to my room while they talk, but I can still make out words like “KKK” and “protests.” I’m only four or five years old and am not sure what those words mean or what they mean for my parents, but I’ve heard in one conversation that my father is being sent out to “control the masses.”

After 10 minutes, mother turns off all the lights and tells me to get back behind the couch. I wait there for what feels like forever, the sounds of our heavy breathing filling the empty space. After a while, I hear a commotion coming from outside. The shade to the window is down, further piquing my curiosity. Before I can help it, I rush to the window and pull the shade away.

There’s white, everywhere. White gowns, white masks, white crosses. I don’t know what’s going on, but I can sense it’s wrong. Large signs with words I don’t understand shake up and down. I hear loud whoops and hollers from the whiteness, some exclamations even reaching up to me. Many of the masked people hold crosses high above their heads. Pure dread fills my throat as a throng of people marches past my window. I hold my breath as I see them walking by, afraid they will notice me. A sheet of paleness completely lines the street.

“Get away from that window!” Mother hisses. I quickly move my hand from the shade and retreat to the farthest edge of the apartment. I have to feel around for the couch in the dark, but I slide myself next to Mother and sit down. Fear spins in my stomach like a top, gaining speed as I think about Father. Questions about why he is gone and if the masses of people are hurting him dart across my mind like bullets.

After about a half hour, my mother turns the lights back on. I look around the apartment. Everything seems unchanged, like nothing has happened. Everything is unaltered except for me.


The writing prompt that elicited this tale was “a journey gone awry.”

“Rite of Passage”
By Avis Johnson, age 97
The Woods at Canco

I knew I shouldn’t walk that far. But joining my friend Yetaish, a young teacher in the Ethiopian village I was visiting, was an adventure I couldn’t resist. Taking the old trail to Kulubi, where thousands of Ethoipians go to pray and be blessed on special days, was to honor a vow Yetaish had made the previous year. If I had known about the hills, woods and terrain awaiting us, I would have said “no way.” Yet, despite the fact I was nearing 60 and over twice Yetaish’s age, I agreed to join her on her pilgrimage.

I was the only white person on the overcrowded third-class car on our overnight train that brought us to Dera, where we met up with Yetaish’s brother and another teacher. While we waited, a schoolboy brought me his grandfather’s dolla — a stout, beautifully carved walking stick. He said the trail would be slippery. It was late afternoon when we finally started out. We crossed a field that was crisscrossed with paths. We met several women and girls returning home with large bundles of sticks or jugs of water carried on their heads. Beyond the field, we entered the woods. The trail seemed to go in all directions.

Soon, the boys admitted they didn’t know which path to take. It was almost dark. In the tropics, there is no dusk. Just Boom! and it’s dark. We considered turning back, but ahead was a man with a lantern. For the exchange of a few coins, he agreed to lead us to Kulubi. We were now five and grateful to have the man in the wraparound skirt and bare feet as our leader.

We walked on a narrow trail up a steep hill, over slippery rock and muddy slope and through the woods. I was thankful for the dolla. We stopped to rest wherever there was a space between rocks, trees, and sharp brambles. At one point, all my companions were sleeping. I shook them awake, knowing if they stayed there, they’d be too stiff to go on. We passed a tukul in a clearing — somebody’s home. We were very quiet. We might be taken for a wild animal, and the residents would surely own a rifle.

After another difficult climb, we came upon a clearing. Under a thatched roof supported by poles at each corner, two Somali men wrapped in blankets tended a fire and cooked something in a large can. On the edge of the woods, a long canvas tent housed women and cattle. I could hear mumbling and mooing. These were nomads who crossed the border into Ethiopia to graze their cattle. I tried to keep my white face covered while the boys bargained for cups of so-called coffee. My mug was filthy and cracked on the rim.

I needed a drink, so I took a couple sips without touching my lips to the cup, and what I tasted was vile. I later learned it was probably boiled coffee leaves.

Eventually, we came to an actual road, where vendors were selling candy bars and warm bottles of Coke. We had been walking for 10 hours and nothing ever tasted so good. An hour later, I saw light over a high peak. “It’s sunrise,” I shouted, but no — it was Kalubi.

The Cathedral seemed like a dream, with steeples rising toward heaven as awesome as any in Rome. The yard was already crowded with buses, taxis, wheelchairs, beggars and crippled persons walking, crawling and being carried on stretchers.

Yetaish hurried inside and urged me to visit the priest. Instead, I had the boys find me a cab, which I took to a friend’s house in Harrah, where I took off my shoes and slept for 11 hours.



Possessions can hold powerful sway over us, and that attachment often tells a larger story, like this one.

“The Gift”
By Bill Cooley, age 80
Peaks Island

Because my birthday falls one week before Christmas, it usually meant receiving one gift for both occasions when I was a kid. My mother would always ask me what I’d like and try her best to fulfill my desires. If she couldn’t find or afford the item I wanted, she always came up with a substitute. Her alternative gifts, while a disappointment for me, were practical — a pair of socks, soap, new gloves. I was thankful for the presents and hid my sorrow well.

It was 1942. There was a war going on. My dad began working as a rigger, loading ships in New Jersey destined for Europe. I was only seven years old but understood we were not well-to-do. His new job, while physically exhausting and miles from our home in the Bronx, afforded us financial stability for the first time. I asked my mom for a drum set. Her answer was, “We’ll see,” which was much more positive than her usual “When I get rich” story.

On December 23, my father borrowed my uncle’s car and drove us to New Rochelle to visit my mother’s two younger sisters. They had conspired with my mom to hide my present at their place. There, under the Christmas tree, was a child’s drum set. The lights on the tree reflected in the shiny cymbal attached to a bass drum. It seemed like a miracle. Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to me!

The euphoria was short-lived.

One week later at a New Year’s Eve party at our place, I was awakened at midnight by the sound of horns and shouts and laughter. The grownups were in an intoxicated, festive mood. They marched through our living room, shoeless, over my dad’s soft brown chair. Onward they marched through the hall to the kitchen, then back into the living room, up over our tan plaid couch, blowing horns, shouting, “Happy New Year!” The man in the lead was beating furiously on my drums. My drums.

When I awoke the next morning, the first thought I had was the drum set. I threw off the wool blanket, touched my feet to the ice-cold floor and raced to the kitchen, where we kept the trash. There in a pile sat my drums. The bass drum had a hole in it. The pretty blue striped decal on the snare was half rubbed off. The drumsticks and shiny new cymbal lay on the floor, broken, along with my heart.

Six years later, I was ready to try again. I prayed and yearned for a grown-up set of drums. In early December, I confided this to my sister and my Uncle George, who both had my mother’s ear. I dropped hints. I left brochures of drum sets on the kitchen table. I told my friends, our grocer, the mailman, anyone who would listen. They all said they were pulling for me. I was confident this would be the year. To my mind, the drum set was a done deal!

On my birthday, we did the traditional special meal of my choosing. After dinner came the funny cards, the scrumptious cake with pretty colored candles, and gifts from my siblings. I didn’t see anything that looked like drums. My mom wore a new yellow housedress under her blue flowered apron. She looked beautiful. Her black hair was newly permed. Her brown eyes were full of love and apprehension.

She put her arms around my shoulder and guided me towards my bedroom. She leaned down and whispered, “We didn’t get the drum set.”

She held me close. I shuddered and tried to hold back the tears. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach. Still holding me close, she opened the door to the bedroom. There stood the alternate birthday gift. My first reaction was to reject any substitute out of hand. I thought, “What am I going to do with a xylophone?”

It wasn’t a xylophone. It was called a marimba. “If you need to beat on something,” my mother said, “it should at least be musical.”

That was 67 years ago, and that “disappointing” substitute is still as much a part of me as my mother.


And then there is just good old-fashioned storytelling. This author was most often the one who had the Betsy Ross gang in gales each week. Here’s one of her oral stories, which was transcribed by a classmate. (If you want to achieve the full effect, invoke an “Elaine Stritch goes to Maine” voice in your head as you read this.) The writing prompt was “My Life In Crime.”

By Cathy Adams, age “eighty- and-a-half”
Betsy Ross House

Our middle daughter, Stephanie, had this little pet turtle named Darrell. She was going on vacation and asked us to “turtle sit” for a few days. So she brought the turtle and large bowl with rocks to our house, and it sat on our coffee table.

One afternoon my husband and I were sitting in the living room, and he decided Darrell needed some exercise on the living room rug. He scooped him out of his bowl and placed him in the sun, where Darrell crept along, looking pretty happy.

Well, I still smoked back then. At some point, I got up and went to the kitchen for an ashtray, cigarette and matches. I don’t know what I was thinking as I walked back through the living room lighting my cigarette, but it wasn’t turtles.

All of a sudden, CRUNCH. Oops! Poor Darrell was under my heel. I could feel the crunch through my sneaker. My husband sat up in his chair and said, “Oh dear, oh dear. Darrell’s dead. She murdered Darrell.”

No one did anything for a time. Finally, after I finished my cigarette, I picked Darrell up with a Kleenex and dropped him down the toilet. All my husband could hear was the sound of the flush. He walked past the bathroom to the back steps, where he sat with his head in his hands and said, “Oh dear, oh dear.”

When Stephanie returned from her vacation, she came into the living room and looked at the bowl and said, “Hi Darrell, hi Darrell.” In a lower voice, she said, “Hi Darrell… Darrell?” I said, “Talk to your father. He has something to tell you,” and I went outdoors.

Oh well, she’ll get over it. She’s a middle child.


“Senior Story Share” takes place Sunday, Nov. 8, at 2 p.m., at the Portland Public Library’s Rines Auditorium, followed by a reception. Free and open to the public.

Author’s note: All my Portland workshops were sponsored by grants from the Eunice Frye Foundation secured by the Portland Public Library’s outreach librarian, Lisa Joyce. The Betsy Ross workshops in South Portland were supported through a private gift, and the program in the Kennebunks received a Southern Maine Library District mini-grant thanks to Mary-Lou Boucouvalas, director of Kennebunkport’s Louis T. Graves Library. None of this would’ve come to be without the efforts of these dynamic and indefatigable women. People, you want something done? Put a library babe on it.

Speaking of librarians, I also received crucial assistance from master tactician and Peaks Island librarian Priscilla Webster, who frequently used her personal time to greet me at the ferry and help herd my independent islanders. Same thanks go to Ann Thaxter at 100 State Street, and Angie Langley at The Woods at Canco. —E.P.

%d bloggers like this: