Claremont Manor writing class reveals deep joys, sorrows
By Mel Opotowsky | Special to the Courier
Martha Stephenson, 88, wrote about her cat and their relationship. Jeanine Mooneyham, 79, talked about learning of the attack on Pearl Harbor when she was 10. And, 80-year-old Steve Trott, explained how he moved from drums to guitar. They were among the seven seniors from a creative writing class at Claremont Manor retirement community who presented their short stories recently for an audience of about 60.
The readings, accompanied by nostalgic music, included both the expected and unexpected; one woman lost her place while reading her story and another was briefly affected by a cognitive challenge.
The piece by Trott, a retired judge from the U.S. Court of Appeals’ for the 9th Circuit, was paced with dialogue and rhetoric. When his family moved to Mexico City, he was told that the drum sticks he had used to practice regularly and with vigor so he could play like his idol Gene Krupa, were lost in shipping. His mother later told him they weren’t lost at all, but that his loud drumming, which had been reverberating from the basement to the cellar, was driving his family crazy. So, in Mexico, he switched to guitar.
A practiced name dropper (but with ample justification), Trott described playing with the well-known 1960s folk band The Highwaymen (not to be confused with the 1980s country supergroup of the same name) on the Ed Sullivan Showand Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, where they sang the group’s #1 hit version of the African-American spiritual, “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” with its iconic whistle opener.
Millie Hinkle, 87, taught the writing class and is the author of several books. She talked about how after a major family trauma she made a pie that led to an event that made everybody laugh and overcame the weightiness of the ordeal.
One of the presenters had the unlikely surname of Richard Mooneyham. He read a poem about “The wonder of memory” that touched a sensitive nerve with this particular audience. His wife, 79-year-old Jeanine, talked about when she was 10 and another child told her on a quiet Sunday, “The [Japanese] bombed Pearl Harbor.” She discussed how World War II was marked by sacrifice and patriotism. Her one complaint was they had to add coloring to margarine to make it look like butter.
Marti Gartlett, 77, spelled out details and commonality of two intimate friendships.
Another writer, 79-year-old Alicia Hernandez, told of the time she spent at a branch of the New York Public Librarynear Bryant Park watching people eat their lunches on the green amid the city’s steel and concrete.
Martha Stephenson, 88, described her relationship with her cat. She made it a toy out of a silk rose with a stick on it, which the cat hid during the day and brought out at night, putting it on a pillow for her.
A visitor, 77-year-old Phyllis Horn, remarked about how intense and focused the audience was at the reading.
At the end of Trott’s presentation he stood and sang “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” with its iconic whistle. When the audience finished singing it with him his eyes glowed with moisture.
Mel Opotowsky, 91, was a journalist for more than 60 years. He retired as managing editor of the Press-Enterprise, Riverside, in 1999. He lives at Claremont Manor with his wife, Bonnie. They have four children, 11 grandchildren, and “nine or 10” great-grandchildren.