Senior Power: Reminiscing

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday August 07, 2011 - 03:18:00 PM

Bouquets of daffodils and odoriferous sweet peas appeared on the white metal stand next to my hospital bed, delivered to the Stamford Hospital children’s ward by person or persons unknown. They were from the garden of the Paradise sisters. 

Agnes and Sue Paradise were perhaps seventy years old in 1933. Dare I say, proverbial little old ladies? They lived alone together in a charming old, brown-shingled house at 745 Summer Street. In memory, they remind me of Sadie and Bessie, the Delany sisters. Lovely old homes and all green things on their street have been demolished. I foolishly anticipated the Paradise sisters’ house being preserved by the community, state or federal government. 

Back then, carnations and hyacinth were also fragrant. But Lathyrus odoratus --sweet peas – outdid them all. Even the lily of the valley growing in the vacant lot across our street, and the lilacs on the bushes in front of houses.  

In 1981, when she was sixty-three years old, writer and amateur gardener Eleanor Spencer Stone Perenyi published her one-and-only gardening book. It is a classic, based on her experiences working on her husband’s castle garden and later, her own Connecticut garden. She intended it to be an ode to the pleasures of getting your hands dirty in your own yard. It is still known for plain but elegant prose, trenchant humor, and forthright opinions.  

Green Thoughts; A Writer in the Garden is a collection of seventy-two essays, alphabetically-arranged from Annuals to Woman’s Place. About sweet peas, she lamented that they had become “so far from smelling as one is positive they once did.” The only times she tried modern hybrid sweet peas, “they were miserable disasters. They have graduated from the backyard to the greenhouse in a couple of generations.”  

Perenyi liked compost (“no civilization has survived for long that hasn’t found a way to recycle its vegetable and animal wastes”), dahlias, and earthworms. She disliked rock gardens (“do not care for except in the Oriental context,”) chemical pesticides, and petunias (“hopelessly impractical”.)  

Her father was a military attaché to the American Embassy in Paris. At a diplomatic dinner in Budapest, she met Zsigmond Perenyi, a young, impecunious, socially progressive Hungarian baron. They were married and went to live in his family’s castle, where she helped work the land. 

As World War II loomed, he risked being named an enemy alien. With the war under way, pregnant with their son, she left Europe. Her husband was conscripted into the Hungarian Army, later joined a resistance unit and remained in Europe after the war. They divorced in 1945. She settled in New York, working as an editor at Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle, and in Connecticut, working her garden. She was ninety-one when she died. 

I learned of Eleanor Perenyi and her Green Thoughts while reading Noel Perrin (1927-2004)’s trilogy of essays on the practice and philosophy of country living in northern New England. He commenced with publication in 1978 of First Person Rural; Essays of a Sometime Farmer. He had purchased a farm in Thetford, Vermont, eleven miles along and across the Connecticut River to Hanover, New Hampshire and Dartmouth College, where he taught. His academic specialty was modern poetry, particularly that of Robert Frost. His Second Person Rural (1980), provided practical advice for the "sometime farmer.” Perrin was really “into” maple syrup, wood-as-heating fuel, and town meetings.  

Stella Johnson was a woman of honor who made it through the Depression and widowhood despite insolvency, perfunctory treatment by the power structure, and loss of friends. Stella and Judge Johnson resided in a large home on Ocean Avenue. She was well reputed as a good Christian lady who played the church organ for services and led the choir. He was a lush who left childless, naïve Stella penniless when he died in the midst of the Depression. Her bequest consisted of the mortgaged house and a piano. 

When I knew her, in 1935, she dressed in black and was transitioning into piano teacher slash rooming house manager. The local Home Owners Loan Corporation allowed her to live and give piano lessons in what had been the Johnsons’ front parlor. She was a modified Madame Sousatzka for Billie Dodd, the Freeport school system superintendent's only child.  

For eight years, I took fifty-cent piano lessons from Stella and more or less practiced on her piano while she was having lunch. I disliked Czerny and Heller. I liked Edward MacDowell’s To a Wild Rose. When an old man chased me through the snowy streets, I took refuge in Stella’s vestibule. In her bathroom, I wondered how she got onto the scale and into the bathtub. In her yard and with her blessing, I planted radish seeds. From her music stand, I snitched candies. 

As we sat at the piano, I had been aware that Stella used an ointment, probably for arthritis compounded by her weight and lack of exercise. Ever optimistic, she was certain knee surgery would make everything right, but it accomplished just the opposite. Destitute, immobile and with no family, unable to care for herself, she was incarcerated in Pilgrim State Hospital. A huge facility, it was generally regarded as an insane asylum and dumping ground for eccentric adults without families. Stella was about sixty-five years old when she was deemed able to return to the community if she could locate a sponsor. Many years later, I wrote the Hospital administration inquiring about Stella: she had never left Pilgrim State.  




AARP’s Public Policy Institute reports ten key facts about today’senior citizens:  

One in six lives in poverty.  

As of May 2011, jobseekers 65+ spent an average of a year looking for work. 

Two-thirds of families with a head of household age 65–74 had debt.  

Three out of five families headed by a person 65+had no retirement savings (2007).  

Typical private-pay assisted living costs (2011) are more than $39,000 a year. 

Nursing home costs are almost twice as much. 

Medicare pays for very limited nursing home care and does not pay for assisted living. 

Nearly seven out of ten Medicare beneficiaries spent at least 10 percent of their income 

on health care expenses (2006). 

On average, seniors paid $3,103 annually out of pocket for health care. 

Social Security is the principal source of family income for nearly half of older  



The July 19, 2011 Berkeley City Council’s Action Calendar included “Modification of Berkeley Municipal Code Chapter 9.52 Taxicabs and Automobiles for Hire; Adding Permit Transfer Fees; and Increasing the Flag Drop and other Rates… “ What happened, and so what?? Council allowed the fare increase but postponed the rules until September. Ultimately, senior citizens’ taxi scrip will be worth less than its current value. Contact your Councilmember and urge that taxi scrip value be increased accordingly. For her/his phone numbers (and, if necessary, to learn in which Council district you live), phone the City Clerk (510) 981-6900. (Council’s next meeting is September 20.) 


At its Spring 2011 General Assembly in Bellevue, Washington, the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its strongest statement yet in opposition to end-of-life choice for terminally ill patients. The bishops said they were reacting to recent advances in the movement for end-of-life autonomy, including new laws and rulings in Washington state and Montana. They characterized aid in dying as false compassion and false choice. Compassion & Choices ( held a news conference outside the bishops’ meeting site, where experiences of people with a personal stake in end-of-life liberty were presented. Too many doctors and hospitals equate ‘death’ with ‘failure.’ Dr. Richard Wesley, a retired Seattle pulmonologist and intensive care specialist, who is terminally ill with ALS, declared “As a physician, I have witnessed many slow painful deaths. I don’t know if I will take the life-ending medication, but I do know that it gives me peace of mind to have some choice and control at the end of my life…it is my death and it should be my choice.”  


Helpful Reader shares information regarding the July 27 Senior Power column “Question: I rent an apartment. The landlord doesn’t provide rent receipts, and my checking account doesn’t provide cancelled checks. How can I get receipts for my rent without incurring the owner’s wrath?” S/he writes “Years ago, I read that any time you pay in cash, you have the right to a receipt: Calif state law.” When I pointed out the need for a citation to the law, s/he sent: “CCP 2075 (Code of Civil Procedure) Right to Receipt Whoever pays money, or delivers an instrument or property, is entitled to a receipt therefor from the person to whom the payment or delivery is made, and may demand a proper signature to such receipt as a condition of the payment or delivery. Leg 1875.” 


The debt ceiling agreement signed into law by President Obama will impact federal spending decisions for the next decade and longer. Because the Elder Justice Act is a new authorization not yet funded, the advocacy focus must still be to get Congress to support the President’s budget request of $21.5 million for FY 2012, which includes $16.5 million for Adult Protective Services andan additional $5 million for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. There is nothing in the debt ceiling agreement that bars funding for new programs. The agreement says that funding for all programs must fit under the 10-year caps in spending (which are adjusted each year). During Congressional recess in August, reach out to your Senators and Representatives: “Fund the Elder Justice Act this year! Support the Administration’s request for $21.5 million, the first federal funding specifically for elder abuse victims.”If your Senator or Representative is a member of the House or Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee, your efforts are of particular importance. In California, they are: Barbara Lee, 2267 Rayburn House Office Building, D.C. 20515-0509. (202) 225-2661 Fax: (202) 225-9817; and Lucille Roybal-Allard, 2330 Rayburn House Office Building, D.C. 20515-0534. (202) 225-1766 Fax:(202) 226-0350. 




MARK YOUR CALENDAR : August and September 2011. Be sure to confirm. 

Readers are welcome to share by email news of events that may interest boomers and seniors. Daytime, free, and Bay Area preferred.  

Wednesday, August 10 - 10 A.M.-2 P.M. 10th Annual Healthy Aging Fair Festival. Chabot College, 255555 Hesperian Blvd., Hayward. Free lunch. Raffle prizes. Entertainment. Free shuttle from South Hayward BART. (510) 577-3532, 3540. Sign up at your senior center for free bus service. Questions?:Mary Norton/Doug Howerton, (510) 597-5085. 

Wednesday, August 10 - 10:30 A.M. – Noon Dr. Mary Anne Brady presents “California’s Economy: Great Depression 2011?” Free for Mastick Senior Center and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute members. 

Wednesdays, August 10, 17 and 24 6 P.M. Wednesday Evening Movies at Mastick Senior Center, 1155 Santa Clara Av., Alameda. (510) 747-7510. August 3: You Again. August 10:The Town. August 17: 127 Hours. August 24: Rabbit Hole.  

Wednesdays, August 10, 17 and 24 6 - 8 P.M. Summer Evening Computer Workshops at Mastick Senior Center. Patricia Meier, Instructor. August 3: E-books and E-readers. August 10: Internet Phone Services. August 17: Photo Sharing On-Line. August 24: Make a Movie. $10. per class. Register at Mastick Office.  

Thursday, August 11 - 6-7:45 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, South branch. 1901 Russell St. Lawyer in the Library. Free legal advice and help with questions.
In-person sign-ups only; sign-ups begin at 5pm. Names pulled by lottery at 6 P.M. 

Also Sept. 1.  

Thursday, August 11 - 10-11 A.M. Computers for Beginners at Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge Street. Free, Drop-In Classes. Self-Paced
Learn how to use the mouse, use the keyboard, set up e-mail and search the internet.
For more information call 510-981-6148. Also August 18 and September 1. 

Saturdays, August 13 & 14 - 1:30 P.M. music; 2 P.M. show. SF Mime Troupe's 2010: The Musical. Live Oak Park Live Oak Community Center, 1301 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA. ASL interpreter on site on August 14. Outdoors. Free. (510) 227-7110. AC bus #18 stops nearby. 

Sunday, August 14 - 12:45 P.M. – 4 P.M. Celebration of Resources for Aging in Community. Presented by The Elders’ Guild. $5.00 “donation.” North Berkeley Senior center, 1901 Hearst, corner MLK. For information, call (510) 842-6224 or  

Monday August 15 - 6-6:50 P.M. Evening Computer Class at Central Berkeley Public Library. 2090 Kittredge. Free drop-in computer class for beginners. For further information: 510-981-6148 

Tuesday, August 16 - 9 A.M.– 4 P.M. Senior Field Trip. Jewish Community Center of the East Bay trip to De Young Museum in San Francisco to see the Picasso exhibit. Price includes transportation, admission to the museum, and the exhibit. $25.00 for seniors. Sign up required in advance by August 8th. Payment due when signing up. Call Sam Young (510)848-0237 x148. 

Wednesday, August 17 - 1:30 P.M. BerkeleyCommission on Aging. South Berkeley Senior Center. Call to confirm (510) 981-5178.  

Saturday, August 20 - 11 A.M. Landlord /Tenant Counseling. Central Berkeley Public Library. Also Sept. 17.  

Tuesday, August 23 - 10 A.M. Mastick Senior Center. Overview on reverse mortgages. ECHO non-profit counseling organization presentation.  

Tuesday, August 23 - 3-4 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, Central. Tea and Cookies. A book club for people who want to share the books they have read. (510)981-6100. 

Tuesday, August 23 - 7 – 8 P.M. El Cerrito Library book discussion group meets the 4th Tuesday of each month: “The Glass Room.” Feel free to come to one or all discussions. (510) 526-7512. 

Wednesday, August 24 - 10 A.M. Dr. Alicia Perez discusses Balance & Dizziness.. Tips to Reduce Falls. Mastick Senior Center. 

Wednesday, August 24 - 1 P.M. Berkeley Gray Panthers meets at North Berkeley Senior Center. 

Wednesday, August 24 - 1:30-2:30 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. Great Books Discussion Group. Eliot's The Hollow Men and The Waste Land. Facilitated discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Parking! 526-3720 x 16. 

Thursday, August 25 – 1:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center Music Appreciation Class. 

Join William Sturm, Volunteer. Recital featuring “Norwegian Romantic: Agathe Backer-Grondahl”. The class discussion and recital will be of music by a Norwegian woman composer. 

Monday, August 29 - 10:30 A.M. San Francisco Gray Panthers. Book Club. (415) 552-8800. e-mail:, web:  

Monday, August 29 - 7 P.M. Book Club:Dubliners by James Joyce. Kensington Lirary, 61 Arlington Ave., Kensington, CA. Joyce declared Dubliners to be a chapter in the moral history of Ireland. This is a collection of 15 tales that offers vivid, tightly focused observations of the lives of Dublin's poorer classes. Free. (510) 524-3043.  

Tuesday, August 30 - 1 P.M. - Seminar on funerals and memorialization. Greer Family Mortuary’s Andrew Slakey. Mastick Senior Center. 

Wednesday, August 31 - 2-3:30 P.M. Find your ancestors. Become a genealogical super sleuth at the Central Berkeley Public Library 3rd floor Electronic Classroom for an introduction to, an online resource that offers searchable census tracts, immigration records, photos and more. 




Tuesdays, beginning Sept. 6 – 10 A.M.-12:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center Creative writing class. Fee class.  

Tuesday, Sept. 6 - 7 P.M. Kensington Library, 61 Arlington Av. “Castoffs” Knitting Group. Enjoy enjoy an evening of knitting, show and tell and yarn exchange. All levels are welcome and some help will be provided. Free. (510) 524-3043. 

Wednesdays, Sept. 7 and 14 – 9 A.M.-1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. AARP Driver Safety Program refresher course designed for motorists who are 50+. Preregistration required. $12 per person for AARP members, $14 per person for non-AARP members. Registration is payable by check ONLY made payable to AARP. 

Wednesday, Sept. 7 - 10 A.M.-Noon North Berkeley Senior Center Advisory Council meeting. Public invited. (510) 981-5190. (Note: City Council July 19, 2011 agenda item #10 on Consent Calendar re Berkeley senior centers’ advisory councils.)  

Wednesdays, Sept. 7, 14, 21, 28 & Oct. 5, 12 - 10:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center. Balance Your Walk with the Alexander Technique. Lenka Fejt, certified teacher, will begin a six-part workshop on the Alexander Technique. Prepaid registration fee of $60. required. 

Wednesday, Sept. 7 - Noon. UC,B Music Dept. Hertz Hall. Noon Concert Series 

will resume with Joe Neeman, violin and Miles Graber, piano, performing works by Bartok and Sarasate.  

Wednesday, Sept. 7 through Nov. 3 – 2 P.M.– 4 P.M. Alameda Adult School instructors provide computer instruction at Mastick Senior Center. Note: Tuesday morning class 9:00 A.M.-11:00 A.M. Register at the Adult School, 2250 Central Avenue, Rm 160 or on-line at  

Wednesday, Sept. 7 - 6-8 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. 1247 Marin Ave. Lawyer in the Library. Free 15 minute consultation with an attorney. Sign up in person at the Reference desk or call (510) 526-3720 ext. 5 during library hours. 

Thursday, Sept. 8 - 6-7:45 P.M. Berkeley Public Library, South branch. 1901 Russell St. Lawyer in the Library. Free legal advice and help with questions. In-person sign-ups only; sign-ups begin at 5pm. Names pulled by lottery at 6 P.M. 

Friday, Sept 9 - 1 P.M. – 3 P.M. Mid-Autumn Festival. At the North Berkeley Senior Center. 1901 Hearst, corner MLK. (510) 981-5190.  

Fridays, beginning Sept. 9 Impariamo L’Italiano at Mastick Senior Center. Donatella Zepplin, Instructor. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call (510) 747-7506. 

10 A.M. - 11 A.M. Beginning Italian. 11 A.M. – 12 Noon. Intermediate Italian.  

Tuesday, Sept. 13 - 9:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. Jewelry 

Making with Rose O’Neill. Beads and tools will be supplied. Class is limited to 10 

students. Cost is $15 per person. Sign up in the Mastick Office or call 747-7506. 

Saturday, Sept. 13 - 10 A.M. – 3 P.M. 34th Annual Health Fair. Allen Temple Baptist 

Church, 8501 International Blvd., Oakland. Free health screenings. (510)544-8910. 

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 14 - 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center Cultural Events class includes two Berkeley Repertory Theatre performances. $70 per person for the term does not include admission to cultural exhibits (discounted tickets are available). Minimum enrollment of 15 required. To reserve a seat, visit the Office or call (510) 747-7506. 

Thursdays, beginning Sept. 15 - 10 A.M. – 11:30 A.M. Mastick Senior Center Computer Basic Skills class. Nancy D’Amico, Volunteer Instructor. Sign up in advance in the Mastick Office. 

Friday, Sept. 16 - 10 A.M. – 1 P.M. 14th Annual Senior Resource Fair. Presented by San Leandro Senior Services. San Leandro Senior Community Center, 13909 East 14 St. (510) 577-3462. 

Saturday, Sept. 17 - 11 A.M. Landlord /Tenant Counseling. Central Berkeley Public Library. 

Saturdays, Sept. 17 & 18 - 1:30 P.M. music; 2 P.M. show. SF Mime Troupe's 2010: The Musical. Willard Park, Berkeley, CA. Outdoors. Free.  

Wednesday, Sept. 21 - 1:30 P.M. Berkeley Commission on Aging meets in a senior center, probably North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst, cor MLK. #25 AC bus stops at the NBSC. Phone to confirm location (510) 981-5190. 

Tuesday, Sept. 27 - 1 P.M. Mastick Senior Center. Informative presentation on “Getting the Most From Your Doctor’s Visit.” Lecture by Patient Advocate Linda Garvin, RN, MSN. Register in the Mastick Office or call (510) 747-7506. To learn more about Linda Garvin go to 

Tuesday, Sept 27 - 3 P.M. Tea & Cookies Book Club. Central Berkeley Public Library. 

Tuesday, Sept. 27 - 7 – 8 P.M. El Cerrito Library book discussion group. Feel free to come to one or all discussions. Let the Great World Spin. (510) 526-7512. 

Wednesday, Sept. 28 - 1:30-2:30 P.M. Alameda County Library, Albany branch. Great Books Discussion Group. Morrison's Song of Solomon. Facilitated discussion. Come to one meeting, or all meetings. Books are available at the Library. Parking! (510) 526-3720 x 16.