The Ancient Desert Curse

Marilyn Myerson

Part the First

All signs and portents spoke of disaster befalling the project. Rumors abounded, warning of the ancient curse.

Easily disregarded was the curse as fictitious superstition if you were on the dig for money or fame. Both were promised in abundance if the early research proved to be well-founded. Not as easily dismissed was the curse if you were a knowledgeable local worker, recruited to help dig through the age-old ruins for the usual paltry wages and miserable working conditions. But other jobs were scarce and there were mouths to feed. You swallowed your foreboding so the young might swallow their ration of bread.

Me, I observe the scene with detachment, as is my wont.  (More…)

Will the Turkey Catch on Fire?

Diane White

Will the turkey catch on fire? This was the “burning” question that fascinated us kids at Thanksgiving. I suspect the adults were secretly wondering the same thing. (*Spoiler alert – if you are a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – you can probably figure out the answer.)

You may remember my story about the search for my grandmother’s potato salad recipe at the start of the pandemic’s “safer at home” order. As I was excavating my recipes – bits of paper here and there, forgotten recipes stuffed in cookbooks – I found more of her recipes, including this hand-written one. It is just called “Roast chicken in bag,” and on the other side – “Turkey done same way….”  (More…)

You Can Go Home Again

Diane Russell

The day after my father died was a busy one. My sister Jan and I drove our sister and her fiancé to O’Hare International Airport to catch their flight to California to prepare for their destination wedding in three days. We then drove to our family home in Des Plaines, Illinois – the first time since our dad passed away – and took care of some urgent chores. We had not stayed at the house since it had been on the market a week earlier. The 57-year-old ranch-style home was well-maintained and convenient to commuter trains and O’Hare International Airport. We received several offers that were based on FHA financing, so an inspection would need to be done. We were concerned that many repairs would need to be made for any FHA loan to be approved.

How could I leave my childhood home for the last time? In 1955, my parents and I excitedly watched our new three-bedroom brick house being built in a brand new subdivision. Moving from Chicago to the suburbs with wide open spaces for kids to play was a dream come true for this energetic three-year-old girl.  (More…)

The Clock That Played Moulin Rouge

Ceci LaDuca

Man in uniformI’m working on my memoirs. It’s 1957 again, I’m ten years old and my handsome young Air Force daddy just returned to our home in south Florida from a tour of duty to Europe and North Africa. He always returned from these trips with gifts for my mother, my sister and me.

This time it was a beautiful set of porcelain dishes for my mom in wispy springtime colors, a round brass tray a full three feet across to be used as a coffee-table top, an exotic leather camel saddle from Morocco, fragile Hummel figurines from Germany.

For my little sister and me he had bought exquisite little musical clocks from France, about 6″ tall, painted in shiny enamel and overlaid with hand-painted pink rosebuds. I chose the black one  that played the theme from Moulin Rouge when you wound it up. My sister’s was identical, but white, and played Clair de Lune.    (More…)

How I Almost Worked for the President of the United States

Robert Strozier

In 1979 I was hired as a writer by a well-known and flamboyant marketing-and-sales-management consultant named Stanley Arnold, who over a long career had created many a successful promotional campaign for various blue-chip companies, such as:  “Win Your Height in Dollar Bills” for Lever Brothers, “Win a Bathtub Full of Cash” for Dove Soap, and “Win a Mattress Full of Money” for Simmons.

One of Arnold’s more memorable promotions helped introduce a new line of specialty foods from General Foods, and the unveiling of the “horse-of-a-different-color” theme to marketing executives featured just that—a white horse dyed a bright blue. Another client of his—a man seeking a high-paid position at an advertising agency—brought a belly dancer along to the job interview…his resume written on her undulating abdomen. The list goes on and on.  (More…)

A Post-Pandemic Quest

Vern Schmitz

Socrates is alleged to have said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Was he talking to the elite of ancient Greece? Or are his words still applicable to us, even though we are separated by thousands of years?

Bruce Feiler, in his most recent book, Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, would appear to agree wholeheartedly with Socrates’ idea that we benefit from examining our own lives. After interviewing 225 people who had experienced horrific and some more common life-altering events in their lives, Mr. Feiler states: “Life is the story you tell yourself.”

Feiler says that our life transitions, which he calls “life disrupters,” and for the very largest of these events, “lifequakes,” require us to rewrite our life story. I had one of these “lifequakes” myself; it was my heart attack on the eve of my 49th birthday. To compound the difficulty of this medical event, it also led to the subsequent loss of my first career.  (More…)

If You Could See Me Now

Peter Terzian

Ever since my wife died a couple years ago, my life has taken a turn in a completely new direction. My son moved away with his girlfriend, got married and had a couple of kids. The house full of stuff was no longer necessary, so I sold all of it. Any work I was doing was now done online, from anywhere in the world. So, I moved to the South of France and opened a small brew-pub. I call it Un Voyou.

Every morning I get up early. The first thing I brew is some coffee. Then I tend to my other brewing: beer. Every day there’s something to do:  brewing, fermenting, packaging, and ordering ingredients. Sometimes I imagine this is how the Belgian Monks lived. Not bad at all. Then, I walk to one of the cafes nearby to get lunch or just relax with some fresh fruit, a cheese sandwich, and some wine.  (More…)

What We’re Reading Now

Linda Feeney

Planning an OLLI social event in today’s world presents challenges. Robyn Cheung decided to try a form of book discussion and I offered to moderate. The result was an invitation to a virtual Book Lovers’ Happy Hour on September 4. Would anybody come? Should we prepare some back-up questions in case the discussion lags? Silly us.

The 15 participants signed in more than ready to talk about their books. There was very little moderating to do except to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak —  plenty of time to marvel at the variety and depth of both selections and accompanying commentary.  (More…)

My Mother: Ugly Duckling

Mother with two childrenMy Mother, Margaret Lucile Burnett, was the first-born child to a wealthy couple in Denver, Colorado, in 1911.  She was her father’s dream come true, but not so much so to her mother, Lucile, since Margaret was an unattractive child.  Lucile much preferred her next child, Chuck, a handsome boy, and her beautiful baby, Jean.

Mother grew up feeling ugly, especially as she moved into her teens.  When she was 13, she sprang into her full 5’8” height, with much extra weight to boot. She often told us of the time that her parents invited a German couple to visit.  As Mother descended the stairs to greet them, Mrs. Higgenbottom exclaimed, “Oh what a backfisch!” which Mother interpreted as a devastating put-down.  (More…)

Cold War Warrior

Don Menzel

The 1960s was a decade of hope embedded in the prospect of a nuclear holocaust. I was there; I was a Cold War warrior in every way imaginable. When I signed up for navigator training in the U.S. Air Force, I wanted to be on the front line, and that meant getting assigned to a B-52 Stratofortress crew. This awesome 8-engine plane was the Air Force’s answer to the need for a strategic bomber force that would win the war against Communism and take down the Soviet Union. This bomber fleet was also an essential component in the planning to assure that the U.S. could survive a first strike and deliver devastating destruction to the enemy—this is the language of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).

In this essay, I want to describe the training and experience that I had in order to become wedded to a weapon of mass destruction. I also want to share with you the spine-chilling atmosphere that I and many other Americans shared about a nuclear future.  (More…)