Life Lessons
Life Lessons
Writings From The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at The Florida State University
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One of Tallahassee's richest cultural entities, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at FSU, has collected here an anthology of mostly true and some fictional stories and poems, all rich, warm and seasoned.

You get tales: bird dogs sprayed yellow and sulfurous; a white girl walking dusty red clay Georgia back roads and meeting her first black woman alone; an offbeat mom zanier than Lucille Ball; a magical memory with hooting owls echoing across a Suwannee River of the past; the chilling monologue of an old man set on his last revenge. In a poem, the narrator talks about finding an old friend on line with whom she tests recipes “for rescue and disaster.”

What's not to love about a renaissance of words from a generation which has navigated its way through one world war, the cheery ‘50s, change-happy ‘60s, groovy ‘70s, greedy ‘80s, rich ‘90s, and into the next century? They have plenty to show us here.

Mary Jane Ryals
Poet Laureate of the Big Bend
Tallahassee, Florida

Snippets from a few of the works in this collection of stories and poem are listed here. From "Excess Baggage" by Beverley Booth: I saw a mother with three small children begin to work the crowd, begging. Two of the children were toddlers, with big bellies and the reddish, wispy, sparse hair typical of malnutrition. The mother held a young baby in her arms. The baby was obviously ill; he was very thin, had a high-pitched cry, and arched his back in an abnormal way. As a pediatrician, I made the sidewalk diagnosis of TB meningitis. I dreaded her approach for help, knowing that opening my knapsack to get some money would quickly draw more beggars, leading to an excellent chance of losing some of our luggage. From “A Fallen Soldier” by John Van Gieson: Jenny was lying on our bed with her back toward me. I knelt on the bed, holding Terri in the crook of one arm, and tried to comfort Jenny by stroking her arm. My lips brushed her cheek. Jenny stiffened. She neither touched me nor looked at me. Her face was buried in a pillow. “Don’t say it! I can’t deal with it!” she blurted into her pillow. “We have to deal with it,” I said. I could think of no good way to say it so I just let it out: “Dylan’s dead, Jenny. I don’t know why. I don’t know what happened. All I know is he’s dead. He was killed in the war.” From “Invasion” by Eileen Sperl-Hawkins: Watching the feathered creatures react to my presence thrills me. I wait, alert to a breeze rattling their shelter, expecting their escape to be sudden. The spreading of their wings wide, their lifting up into a direction unknown, electrifies me. Silence in this watery, glassy cove stirs anticipation. This sense of wonder I have experienced before. I remember delightedly observing my infant grandson awaken in his bassinet, checking his tiny environment. His long, dark brown eyelashes blinked in the light; his face lifted to feel the breeze of a fan. His excitement at the unscripted motion registered on his face. From "The Magic of the Spring" by Charlene Capellini: Claren moves out into the dewy morning, grabbing a towel from the clothesline. The wet grass tickles her bare feet. Carefully making her way across the compound, through the open gate toward the silent springs, she sees the tall cypress trees perfectly reflected on the water’s surface, fringed by plants. At water’s edge, her big toe tests the clear, cool stream. Behind her she hears her father; he runs past her and sails through the air, then cannonballs into the water with a great, “WHOOP!” She giggles with delight. Although he executes this ritual every morning of their vacation, it always brings her joy to see her father become a boy again—transformed at the springs. From "Old Dogs" by Judy Hansen Ray: “Sarge, we have someone for you to meet,” I told him, getting him to follow me to the back door. Slowly he padded along after me and went through the door that I held open for him. The minute Ginger saw him, she started howling as though someone were torturing her. We all started laughing at the big noise coming out of this pint-sized pup. Even with Sarge’s hearing problems, I believe he heard Ginger’s howl, too. Ginger was scared to death, so I picked her up and held her while the two got acquainted. Our sweet old man was in love at first sniff, but at the moment, it was all a one-sided love affair. However, it didn’t take Ginger long to figure out this old guy wasn’t going to hurt her. She had him wrapped around her paw very quickly. From “The Nature of Good Art” by Sandra Spatz-Wiszneauckas: Art is food for the soul. Good art is a feast. Depth, reflection, tone, vibrancy and stillness nourish the soul. Visit nature. Nature nurtures. Nature inspires. Nature is good art. From “Prison Break” by Linda A. Wright: The prison guard instructed, “First, put all personal belongings into the locker. You can’t carry anything in,” he cautioned sternly, “not even a tissue or a cough drop.” This was the first time I had been in a prison. Carol, the prison librarian, had warned me in advance not to wear an underwire bra. It could set off the alarm, then I would be strip-searched. I stood in front of the metal detector and hesitated momentarily, then walked through. No alarm sounded. I was cleared to go inside. From “Rudy: My First Bird Dog” by Mike Crowley: Hunting along a narrow strip of grass and weeds beside the edge of a field of wheat stubble, the Brittany suddenly stopped on point. The dog’s head was turned sharply to his left side and held motionless, right leg raised and bent. With Rudy frozen in a classic point, I kicked at the vegetation to his left. “Rooster,” I yelled. A large pheasant cackled as it burst into an unusually low flight across the field, no more than three feet off the ground. Anticipating a pheasant’s typical vertical rise into the air, my shot was high. The rooster was soon out of sight. Rudy gave me a look of incredible disbelief, as if to say, “You missed the bird!” From "Plucking Pearls" by Louise Rill: Between ink dark and hazy grey, They leave the comfort of warm beds, For cold, wet ones to carry out their daily ritual. The motor breaks the silence like thunder in a night sky. Furrowed brows on wizened faces, Intent upon their charge, they search the sea, Balance through the chop and swells. The bar is sighted, the time is now. From "My Elementary Education in a One Room Schoolhouse" by Kate Kerr: In addition to the two recesses, we had an hour at noon for lunch, during which we ran home, got something to eat and were back in time to get to play for a while, unless Mother had something for us to do, which she often did. One of the chores we might be asked to do was to catch two or three chickens and cut their heads off so we could have fried chicken for supper that night. That wasn’t too difficult since we had our dog, Silver. We let her know which chicken we wanted, and she ran it down and held it with her front paws until we caught up with her. We carried the poor thing by its legs to the slaughtering block.

Members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, are enthusiastic creators of poetry, photographs, nonfiction and fiction. Life Lessons is a panoramic view of a generation older than fifty; the authors reveal moments from life as travelers, people-watchers, lovers of family, nature, and learning.

OLLI at FSU Member Editors:
Bonnie Armstrong
Beverley E. Booth
Roberta Burton
Jenny Huston Crowley**
Ruth S. Garrison*
Gay Howard
Kate Kerr
Nancy O’Farrell*
Judy Hansen Ray
Louise Rill
Marianne Elizabeth Ryan
Sandra L. Spatz-Wiszneauckas
Eileen Sperl-Hawkins*
Linda A. Wright*
**Chair, OLLI Publication Committee
*Member, OLLI Publication Committee


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