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Sherwood senior center writers meet weekly to read autobiographical tales that include many adventures

SHERWOOD GAZETTE PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - On a summer Wednesday morning, a group of writers at the Sherwood senior center included (from left) Duane Owens, Peter Aloia, Jeanne Aloia, Anne Poe, Marilyn McDowell, Leonard Whitlaw, Jeff Andrew, Tommy Moore and Tony Nunez.A Sherwood writing group called "Share Your Life Story" only has a couple of rules: Don't tell the story, write about something that happened to you. And if the subject is political, only write about how it affects you and your feelings.

Following those guidelines, several seniors, several of whom have published books, meet weekly at the Marjorie Stewart Community/Senior Center to read an epistle they have written the previous week or even in the past as their manuscripts never expire.

On a Wednesday morning this summer, several writers gathered under the leadership of Jeanne Aloia, who said, "I sort of herd the cats... without a compass. And we're so supportive of each other, but we've lost several members of the group over the years."

Jeff Andrew joked, "We discourage people from publishing because then they stop coming to the group."

Anne Poe jumped off the literary diving board first, reading a piece called "Thirty-three jobs in 30 years."

Poe listed her various employers that included government agencies, a portrait studio, department stores, insurance, food services, medical services, outside sales, telemarketing, wife and mother, and currently helping out at her daughter and son-in-law's Sherwood alpaca farm.

"As a child, my twin sister Barbara and I worked at our dad's pharmacy selling cosmetics and candy," Poe said.

Aloia commented, "Anne is our walking, talking Google."

Duane Owens, who worked on the construction of the Cougar Dam, read a story about a baseball game between McKenzie River and Oakridge high schools. "Whoever won the game would probably win the championship," Owens read. "My brother Wes coached the Oakridge team so I was playing against my brother, and we won 2 to 1. We won the league championship and went on to win the state championship."

Aloia read a tragic story that occurred during Prohibition in 1932 involving her dad Ike and his first wife Lois. On the night of their wedding, he poured kerosene into the wood stove that had burning coals at the bottom. A Mason jar he was holding fused to his hand, and he suffered severe burns on the left side of his body.

Lois ran in to help, and her dress caught fire; she was badly burned and died nine days later. Ike married Jeanne's mom three years later.

Leonard Whitlaw commented, "There were lots of fires in those days," which led to a discussion about fires.

Andrew explained that "I used to sing songs I wrote on the road when I traveled" before continuing with his life story which the week before reached age 25.

"This week I'll cover the next 30 years," said Andrew, starting with a trip to South America and continuing with his adventures year by year. He worked in St. Louis, viewed a solar eclipse in Southeast Asia, taught English in Tokyo and married a Japanese woman before moving to Portland in 1987.

In Oregon Andrew hiked, including the Pacific Coast Trail, and joined the Mazamas and the Trails Club of Oregon.

"That makes me tired just hearing about it," Aloia said

Leonard Whitlaw read a story about a practical joke he played on his grandpa, who loved jokes and pranks, about a bleached bear skeleton found in the woods, a game warden and a pipe ring.

He also read about the history of purses, noting that "most of our ancestors ran around naked." Whitlaw added, "Women needed a receptacle to carry animal parts back to the cave, and the purse was born. When people started farming, purses were needed to hold tools and the baby.

"Men also carried knives and guns, but women still carry purses while men carry what they need in their wallets. Women need their war paint, sanitary and emergency items, folding scissors, pepper spray and laser back-up.

"Then there's sanitizer, money, cards documents, food items like protein bars and breath mints, tea and coffee, and condiments. You could drop off a woman in the Sahara, and she could live for weeks if she had her purse."

Marilyn McDowell read a travelogue about her trip to Southern California that included a visit to Ronald Reagan's Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley. "I enjoyed that the most," she said. "And we could go on Air Force One – it was smaller than I expected. We also went to the Shrine Auditorium where the Academy Awards were presented."

Baker City native Tommy Moore read a story about a trip he took when he was 18 years old to the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959.

"I was part of the Baker City Elks Explorer Scout drum and bugle corps, and we went to the opening," Moore read. "Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were there. She was 32, and I stood right next to her. I got to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

"Our drum and bugle corps traveled by bus all over the Northwest."

Tony Nunez read about how he started cooking in a restaurant in Mexico at age 9 before migrating with his family to the U.S. They followed the crops and ultimately traveled to 27 states, encountering deplorable conditions along the way. Nunez was unable to go to school as they traveled around making a living.

Andrew brought along his resonator guitar and sang a song, which was a nice way to conclude the session.

Everyone is welcome to join the group, which meets on Wednesday mornings at 9:30 a.m.; for more information, call 503-625-5644.

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