This spring, CityLit Seniors completed its pilot workshop at the Bykota Senior Center
in Towson. The course on memoir, taught by novelist and CCBC writing professor Lauren Small, guided a group of eight older writers during six sessions designed to capture life experiences through creative writing. Bykota Senior Center in Towson, one of several centersmanaged by Baltimore County's Department of Aging.
Participants in CityLit Seniors said that through the program they learned more about what is important in writing, and expressed an interest in exploring short stories, poetry, and how to get their writing published.
Participants also expressed a desire for the program to last longer than six weeks, and CityLit is currently reviewing ways to extend the program, cover more genres, and offer CityLit Seniors at multiple locations. The organization also wants to explore recent reports linking flash fiction and storytelling to therapeutic outcomes in people with dementia
, and how such activities might serve this population in the Baltimore region.
Thanks to Ms. Small, the writers, and the staff at Bykota for making our first CityLit Seniors program a terrific experience. Information about future workshops, topics, and locations is forthcoming. Meanwhile, CityLit Project is honored to share the following essay written by a CityLit Seniors participant about a moment of war-time safety turned tragic:"Wartime Summer" Bernard M. McGibbon, M.D. Bernard McGibbon Self-Portrait
It was the summer of 1943 and the war still raged in Europe. Hitler had introduced his “piece de résistance” against England, the V1s and later the V2 Rockets. They were intended to produce panic and fear in the Londoners.
The V1s or “buzz-bombs” were pilotless planes with a jet engine attached. They were aimed from special launching pads on the French Coast. They had enough fuel to reach London, then the jet would give out, and buzz-bomb would either plummet to earth or glide around and eventually hit the ground and explode. Londoners were horrified at this new, evil weapon. The flying bomb could be seen and heard: phut, phut, phut. When the engine gave out – silence! You had to dive for cover.
The V2 rockets were in some ways more unnerving. You didn’t see or hear them until they crashed down and exploded. If you heard them, you were probably safe.
Summer vacation was upon us. The Boarding School I attended was about 80 miles from London, near Oxford. We got word that the students would not be allowed to return home to London for summer vacation for fear of the V1s and V2s. The Headmaster had arranged for all of us travel up North to Shrigley College in Yorkshire, where we had a sister college. It was actually a seminary for training priests. The college was empty for the summer.
We packed into trains and after a two hour journey we arrived In Yorkshire. A bus took us to the college. We heard there was a very nice lake on the grounds. We didn’t even wait to unpack, but rushed down excitedly to the lake with our swim trunks.
I swam to a raft about 100 feet from the bank. Three of the senior boys were clambering into an old dingy. There was a lot of laughter from the rest of the boys watching their antics from the bank. Suddenly, the laughter changed to gasps of horror as the boat began to sink and the three senior boys started to scream for help. They couldn’t swim. The turn of events was dramatic, from hilarity to horror in seconds. I was 13 at the time and I realized I would be no match for the frantic struggles of the drowning seniors. I knew I would be unable to help. One of the Brothers took off his cassock, dove into the water and grabbed one of the boys. A struggle started with the panic-stricken boy dragging the Brother under with him. The Brother broke free and got back to the bank. The three boys were no longer visible. A silence fell on the group. I was frozen in my position on the raft, not believing what was happening. Suddenly about 20 feet from me a foot and ankle thrust out of the water, a few seconds later it disappeared…..silence. I managed to swim to the bank. As I got close to the bank some of the long weeds wrapped around my ankles. I was terrified, thinking I was being pulled under. I got to the bank. My young brother was standing there next to the brother of one of the drowned boys. A very somber group returned to the dormitory. It was very different from the group that had rushed down 45 minutes earlier. The three victims were bought to the surface some hours later.
In retrospect, to avoid danger, we did not go to London, instead we met death that afternoon at the lake.