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Wednesday, 04 November 2009


By Lyn Burnstine of The Lynamber Times

My life has been filled with incredible, memorable moments and events. All the usual family highlights were there – marriages, births, grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s arrivals, a 70th birthday party reunion that was at least as satisfying as it would be to attend my own memorial service.

Additionally, my career has brought stellar experiences, many involving celebrities and who can be casual about that? So forgive the name-dropping, but for a little farm girl from rural Illinois to end up opening a concert for the iconic Pete Seeger, years later having him stand and listen to me sing a long set of songs and, many years later, spontaneously kiss me on the cheek, is heady stuff.

To have Theodore Bikel hug and kiss me, pat my behind, then meet me for a day of hanging out at a folk festival where he introduced me to Fred Hellerman of the Weavers, is equally so.

Accompanying Frances Sternhagen (Cliffie’s mom on Cheers) on the autoharp as she sang Cockles and Mussels was fun. Having Julius LaRosa stand mesmerized by my psaltery through at least six songs was exciting.

May Sarton’s invitation to visit her at her Maine home, and subsequently sending me a personally-inscribed copy of her latest book, calling me her role model, was a thrill. An ongoing friendship with my writing teacher and mentor, William Least Heat-Moon, that prompted wonderful spoken and written compliments on my music and writing, was heart-warming. (His proclamation that my quilt program was “wonderfully tribal” was high praise from a person of Native American heritage.)

The hundreds of settings in which I performed created lasting memories: the acoustics inside the bell-shaped old historic Huguenot church in New Paltz were breathtaking – it was truly like singing inside a bell. I sang on the inside steps of FDR’s home when a sudden downpour ended our outdoor concert; for weddings on the back porch of Mills Mansion and at Opus 40; at FDR’s gravesite; on the Clermont Lawn at sunset; inside Olana, at Washington’s Headquarters, Senate House and Locust Grove and almost every other Mid-Hudson Valley historic restoration.

In the parlor at Mohonk Mountain House; onboard cruise ships; in Sack’s Lodge with Ann Jackson singing along robustly (while Eli Wallach played cards in the next room); in front of an original Eric Sloane painting in his museum; and, best of all – led Amazing Grace with a hundred people packed into the tiny, old stone chapel at Star Island in the Isles of Shoals – an unparalleled moment.

All of these riches, and many more, are treasured memories. Yet, when I think of what day of my life I’d give almost anything to relive (I don’t think I need an entire day – an hour or two would do), it would be a day to fly like the wind on my old Schwinn bike with the hot prairie breezes blowing; to smell the steamy tar of the straight, flat roadway; to hear the rustle of the tall cornstalks lining both sides of the roads, with no traffic but me.

In dreams I fly – up to the ceiling, down long flights of stairs – or soar high in an electric blue sky over an ocean below. I never dream of riding my bike. Only in my body’s memory is the feeling so vivid.

Like most teens, I was often appropriately miserable. Although my parents were kind and loving, they did tightly control my social life. My typical teen-age angst, blended with a little loneliness and isolation, kept me from seeing how blessed and privileged I really was. So the bike riding was an antidote to feeling restricted and confined – a metaphor for the wings I hoped would carry me out into the wide and promising world of independence and freedom.

I got the wings. I got the freedom. I got to fly, in so many ways. I’d still like the bike ride – one more time.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


What a rich life--and so appropos of the TGB column today!

Lyn - Wow! I am so envious. During my youth, I idolized the Weavers and Pete Seeger!

I never knew anyone famous, but I can relate to your bike memories. Especially as a preteen riding my Schwinn on a crisp New England fall day, with oak and maple leaves blowing all around me. - Sandy

My Schwinn was blue and, of course, a girl's bike--what color was yours?

My Schwinn was a black, too tall, man's, 'hand-me-down' from my dad.

But it was a marked improvement over my starter bike - a small, rusty, girl's, blue, no-name brand, 'hand-me-down' from an older sister. - Sandy

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