"People think they see me, but I go around disguised as an old man." -- Elderly participant in a Prose Workshop for Seniors
Inside most older people, says Martha Dudley, 71, "there is a pent-up store of emotion, wisdom and personal lore that is aching to burst out.
"But usually they are so iisolated that opportunities to express themselves creatively are rare. What older people really need is the chance to communicate on a level that is not superficial."
Four years ago, Dudley began providing this kind of creative outlet for residents of several District senior citizens' centers, ranging in age from 62 to 91. She started her first creative-writing workshop at the Roosevelt for Senior Citizens, after weekly visits to an aged relative there sparked her interest in the "sad/funny" realities of aging.
"Nothing gives me greater joy than writing," says Dudley, a former schoolteacher, social worker, lobbyist ("against the Vietnam War") and author of several children's stories. "So when I was asked to volunteer at the Roosevelt, leading a writing workshop seemed like a good idea.
"I use writing as thearpy -- when I'm angry or sad or particularly moved. I know that the process of putting things down on paper gathers your inner forces and provides a forum where your thoughts, feelings and memories can be savored and shared."
Dudley broke through participants' initial "writer's block" by encouraging them to "tell that story you have in your head that no one else knows; the essence of what's imporant to you."
Since "every writer wants to appear in print," Dudley got a $500 grant last year from the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities to compile into a looseleaf book (The Harvest) the best writing from her workshops at the Roosevelt and St. Mary's Court.
Last fall she added workshops at Garfield Terrace and Quaker House, and recently published (with the aid of a second, $800 grant from the commission) the best writing from all four workshops. Some excerpts from The Second Harvest follow. Personal History
When I was born I weighed only 2 1/2 pounds. My mother thought she could not raise me. My grandfather, who was a Cherokee Indian and 6 feet tall, took me over to his house.
My mother said, "Why are you taking her to your house? I am going to take her to the hospital to have her legs straightened."
He said, "No, you are not. I can do that myself through the help of God."
He took me to his house and raised me on catnip tea and herbs. He used to rub my legs down with plain cabbage liquor before the sun rose.
My grandfather had a big yard. He carried out a large, red flannel blanket and laid it on the grass. When the sun got hot he laid me on it. Every three hours he would come out with herb water that he made by boiling the roots in an iron kettle. He would bathe my legs with this and say his prayers and chant over me every day.
When I was 5 1/2, my grandfather nailed my baby shoes to a board and placed this board upright in my bed. I wore the shoes at night to help straighten my legs. In the daytime my feet and legs were bare.
When I was 7, my legs were strong enough so that I began to walk. My mother wanted to take me home with her but I didn't want to leave my grandfather's house.
This was told to me by my mother. -- Ida Ten Eyck, 76 Death of A Grandfather
My grandfather was my closest male relative as I grew up. He taught me to be skeptical of anything that could not be proved, as he was a celebrated lawyer and agnostic. He would be surprised that I would tell this story of his death.
When he was in his early 80s, he stubbed his toe which became infected and gangrenous. In those days (the late 1930s) antibiotics, as we knew them, had not been discovered.
The doctor insisted on amputating the infected leg at the knee.My grandfather refused, saying he had a long and fulfilling life. He remained adamant.
My mother wrote me that I should come home to see him before he died. I took the train from Washington to Arkansas, and when I arrived the doctor told me that my grandfather would probably die the next day, and that it was the first time in his professional career that a patient in such obvious pain had refused any relief.
I visited with my grandfather and was very concerned about the pain he was trying to hide as we talked.
During that night I woke up and was lying in bed thinking of his pain, and suddenly I felt a complete calm. I looked at the clock.
Next morning I found that my grandfather had died at the exact time I had felt that sudden complete calm.
I am certain it was a coincidence, but nevertheless, it strikes me as most remarkable. -- Scott Kirkpatrick, 69 A Day on Our Farm
One day in Ireland, when I was 7 years old, I came home from school and my mother called, "Who is it?" I answered, Ellen."
"Come here, love, I need help. I am having a baby. This is what I want you to do."
She told me what to do -- to pick up the scissors, cut the umbilical cord, tie it up and give her blankets. I did as she asked.
"Now love," she said, "run and get Mrs. Holland."
I ran to my neighbor's house, found Mrs. Holland and came home. I looked at the baby and fainted.
That baby is now a nun. -- Ellen Donlan, in her sixties