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Pilgrims to share poetry, wares, wisdom at annual festival

Along with a traditional Thanksgiving meal, you can get food for the soul at this weekend’s annual Pilgrim Place Festival, in the form of The Poetry of Aging.

Retired journalist and book editor Jean Lesher served as general editor for the 52-page chapbook, which will be sold for $5 at the festival’s Authors and Composers booth. It poses a single question: What does it feel like to grow old?

“Not the everyday getting older but the really, really old—those of us in our 70s, 80s and 90s, after all of our family elders and most of our peers have long gone,” she elaborated. “We elders are part of a cohort of the oldest citizens in the history of this country, the vanguard of the larger generation to come—the Boomers. We arrived before World War II.”

With 51 poems written by 39 Pilgrim Place residents, the answers are as varied as life itself. Sometimes, aging feels like loss.

In “Strangers” by Pat Patterson, a recently-widowed man finds comfort among people he doesn’t know, a situation where, without friends’ well-meaning concern, he is free to “grieve alone in a world crowded with memories.”

In “Dementia Becomes Us,” Michael Witmer learns that, when someone he loves forgets everything they once knew, a new self, marked by authenticity and love, emerges.

And as Millie Tengbom finds her self-sufficiency ebbing, she looks for courage in a passage in the Bible. “Jesus was thirsty/He saw someone who had what he needed/Jesus asked for help./Why do I find it so difficult to do so?/Ask for help?”

And, as many of the works in “The Poetry of Aging” demonstrate, getting up there isn’t all bad.

With retirement and what John F. Anderson calls “the Precious years. . .the years of gratitude” comes the gift of time, long stretches in which to read, spend time with friends, create and learn new things. There are also simple pleasures, as comfortable as sitting by a warm fire. “I await a nap right after lunch,” Ward McAfee shares, “And then a glass of wine/Just before the news.”

With old age, love can deepen. In “Long Time Lover,” John Denham shares his growing tenderness for the “old woman” sleeping by his side. And Jim Manley rivals the devotion of Yeats when he writes, “Now winter whispers in my soul/Yet springtime love in you I trace/My summer wife I still behold/With Autumn in your face.”

And, so long as the heart is beating, old age can offer a chance at new romance, as evinced by Marie Losh’s five-line love story: “A widower sat comprehending/That his lonely heart needed mending/A wonderful gal/Also needed a pal/So a storybook ending is pending.”

Ms. Lesher produced the book with the help of 11 co-editors, who helped her cull the best of the 174 poems submitted by Pilgrims: Donna Ambrogi, Anna Bedford, Don Chatfield, Judy Chatfield, Mary Douglas, Judith Favor, Connie Kimos, Paul Kittlaus, Peter O’Reilly, Nancy Rice and John Rogers.

There were no names attached to the poems and the votes were cast by secret ballot, ensuring that the only criteria for publication was literary merit.

The result is a book of poems, by turns funny and moving. Proceeds from its sale will be used to raise money for a fund devoted to provide expenses for residents unable to continue covering their health and living costs.      

Too often, seniors are marginalized in the United States. “The Poetry of Aging” reminds us to take note of what the long-lived have learned.

“My life is brief/born in power/driven by power/Learn from me,” Charles Rassieur entreats readers.

And Ms. Losh takes a stance against self-pity in “Still Good to Go,” a poem in which she counts her blessings, including happiness and relative health. “But life’s still worth living; I’ll keep having fun. And if I stop smiling just call 9-1-1.”

The 66th annual Pilgrim Place Festival, 625 Mayflower Road, will be held on Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15. Booths open at 10 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. Admission is free; some attractions have a minimal charge.

The festivities will include booths selling an array of goods, including: books, jewelry, art, clothing, plants, rare stones and gems, woodworking items, baked goods, preserves, coins and stamps. There will also be an international bazaar and rides and face painting for the kids.

The food court will be open throughout the festival. A turkey dinner will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. ($8.50 for a adults, $3.50 for children.)

Entertainment will include group sing-alongs with the Pilgrim Pickers as well as other musical acts, opportunities to learn about the lifestyle of the original Pilgrims and storytelling. The famous Festival Show will begin at 1:45 p.m. This live drama, called “The Golden State,” spotlights the California Gold Rush, the railroad coming West and California’s true natives.

 —Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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