My Latest Memoir Writing Course & Sartoris Tribute

My Spring 2019 course: Every Picture Tells a Story: Writing Memoirs From Family Photographs is a renewing and enjoyable exercise.  Turns out you actually have to write the story that each photo holds and good writing is challenging.  Photos, smells and music have a magical way of re-flooding our minds and feelings with times gone by – nostalgia for sure, but real memoir food.  Best of all, our wonderful instructor (and class) were willing to tolerate my quirkiness.

My tribute to pal Nelson Sartoris is presented here.  (Bugle music…)

Nelson is Part of My Silhouette

by Bill LaRocque

As a portrait artist, I’ve learned that the outline of a subject has to be done right.  It’s a big part of how we recognize each other. We are shaped by our surroundings. Each outline or silhouette exists only within the defining negative shapes that surrounds it.

I cannot describe myself without understanding how I was and am shaped by others around me.  But this is not about me.

I have been supported, challenged, and inspired by some and gut punched by others.  It’s all there in my silhouette. By the time you get white hair, you’re all done growing and changing for good, bad or meh, that’s pretty much it?  Right? Nope.

I was formed by my good parents, partners, family and friends, teachers, sargeants, coaches and supervisors, artists and scientists and even politicians.  And I haven’t forgotten the bullies and bandits, tyrants and lackeys. Somewhere in that mix is me… I think.

Retirement provides time to pause and reflect.  As a consequence a lot of old men are grumpy. Our diminished physical abilities, hearing, and memory are not who we were.  Many don’t talk very much or easily share our feelings. That may be a mistake…

Retiring to Asheville and OLLI a dozen years ago I left a career where I was surrounded increasingly by millennials.  Now, I found a community of folks about my age, still smart, creative and engaged.

There was one grouchy old coot I took a liking to right away.  He spoke up in the classes, was well informed, cynical and funny.  When we were able share a few personal details, I was surprised. He was an academic, whom I would normally avoid, but in chemistry, my undergraduate major.  We both appreciated Darwin and had little patience for religion. We admired many of the same OLLI instructors and liked mexican food and a beverage or two.

Then, about five years ago he started to write poetry.  Ha ha. Seriously.

Many of his pals at our geezer school (all literate and creative) were encouraging him, but very little rhymes with N-phos-phon-omethyl-glycine, OK, “drag queen” or “string bean” do but that doesn’t make any sense.  So, he took on other topics: culture, laments, aging, god, reveries and mortality to name a few.  

His beloved mom was nearing her centennial milestone and he wanted to, at long last, impress her.  So he set about the major task of publishing a book of his verse. No, not a blog, not a long e-mail or Facebook post, something she could hold in her hand.

Three years ago, he did it.  He reinvented himself as a sensitive, articulate, witty, parnassian published scribe all without losing his grumpy side.  His mom glowed and his friends rejoiced. Nelson smiled, with eyes a little moist. (OMG, some of that rhymes…)

Here’s what he taught me.  There’s a fascinating artist within us all.  Often as a child, that creative being is caged and assaulted with cruel remarks.  But it’s still there, alive. As a flower can suddenly bloom when nurtured and inspired, the most wonderful stories, paintings, music, quilts, or coq au vin are created to admire,  (Yikes, not again?)

Nelson stays informed by reading hardcover books, the New York Times, and by sitting under a tree and watching as slowly birds reappear and start to sing and the fronds of friendly ferns unfurl.  He knows almost all the bird species names. I just know their given names: Pete and Marjorie, Karen and Scout. Acid or base, balding or gout, happily, there’s no topic we can’t banter about. (Last rhyme.  It’s Miller time.)

Short Attention Span Seniors  – I get it.  That was a little long to read.  Here are some nice pictures of Nelson as a lad and way past full grown.  Chairman of the Chemistry department is now a poet, for real.


ALSO! His second book is even verse than his first and available on Amazon.  I did the illustrations.

The hilarious story (above) that you just skipped reading is now posted on the Internet – your grandkids can help you find it. https://boomrbill.com/

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