Contemplating America’s Greatest Tragedy—The Civil War

I am one of OLLI’s many history buffs, and have sat spell-bound throughout Dave Milidonis’ Civil War Sesquicentennial Series of classes. He’s a retired military officer by trade, and a military historian by passion. He puts you into the heads and hearts of those who fought, especially the generals on both sides, most of whom graduated long ago from his alma mater, West Point. Like most of us who take his classes, I have long awaited the Civil War battlefields trip that he led for us on June 4—7. It exceeded my lofty expectations! Here are some of my reflections during and since the trip.

For me, a Southern girl born in the state where the war broke out, South Carolina, and living throughout my adulthood in North Carolina, my feelings about the Civil War are highly personal, and highly complicated. Three of my great-great-grandfathers fought in the Civil War—you can easily guess which side they were on! If you’re from the South, you probably know these facts about your ancestry; if you’re not a Southerner, you might not know and might not care whether an ancestor wore either gray or blue between 1861 and 1865. You see, it matters to me, and I think to most present-day Southerners, because we cannot fathom why they went along with the things they did, and we so wish we could understand. The vast majority (70 % or so) of the citizens in the Confederate states did not own slaves. Many who volunteered to go to war had wives and children back at home, and life on the Confederate home-front was one of extreme hardship, deprivation, and ultimately financial ruin and searing grief over lost loved-ones. So why?

We all know the many reasons historians give for the war and the rush to become a participant in it, and I’ll have to settle for those insights into why, though I’ll never really understand. Dave Milidonis does not do much speculating as to why the war was fought. He seeks to teach us what and how and where and when things happened. One day last week we were at Antietam, the bloodiest single day of the war during which 23,000 young Americans were lost. The next day we were at Gettysburg, a three-day battle during which 50,000 died in the bloodiest battle of the war. On our way home we explored Spotsylvania, where trench warfare and hand-to-hand combat made it another horror, another bloodbath. Dave took us across each battlefield, pointing out how they studied the lay of the land and engineered their battle plans accordingly, either to their advantage or to their ultimate peril. He pointed out ingenuity and ineptitude, courage and cowardice, hard work and sloth. He leaves it to each of us to contemplate what learning in such detail about the savagery of this war does to our hearts.

For this Southern girl who had ancestors die in this war, I didn’t return home with any more of a clue as to why they went off to it. What I gained was a much deeper understanding of the costs, and an even keener feeling of sadness over the suffering and the loss. But I also returned home with at least a hint of hopefulness. If this country could recover, come together, and even thrive, in the aftermath of all that carnage and all that hate, surely there is hope for a less divisive future than what we are experiencing now. Perhaps all of our political leaders, upon taking their oaths of office, should be required to go on a Civil War battlefields trip led by Dave Milidonis, and see and feel what the results of divisiveness, animosity, arrogance and stubbornness can be!


Carol Rahmani

June, 2014

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A Grand Affair by Amber Sawyers


On this December morning, I am sitting in my living room enjoying the sight and smell of the decorated Fraser Fir that stands in the bay window.  As beautiful as it is even in its transient nature, it is not the star attraction in the room.  The real treasure is the female presence in the corner.  I knew she was feminine from the moment I first saw her.  She is my piano.

She is an upright grand constructed of solid, quarter-sawn oak and cast iron.  She is barely moveable.  I can date the manufacture date of 1893 from the Steinway serial number inside.  Underneath the keyboard is a sign of something from her past.  I envision a “rebellious” teenager lying on the floor of the Sunday School room underneath the piano in 1973 penciling on the peace sign that remains there to this day.  I love it!  After a major investment in her repair and rebuild, she once again has the solid, sweet tone of the Steinway masterpiece for which she was crafted.

I have had a years-long love affair with her.  She comes alive under my fingers, challenges me and makes music sound better than perhaps I can play it.  I pour out my emotions through her and she always listens with clear empathy, no judgment involved, and allows me to express myself in a beautiful way.

This will be her 117th Christmas.  She has seen many piano players come and go through the years and will likely be played for many Christmases long after I am gone.  I secretly harbor a desire that she remembers my touch and likes me the best of all who have drawn music from her soul.

Without music, life would be a mistake.
Friedrich Nietzsche

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My Friend Doris


My close friend Doris Day, star of stage and screen. We haven’t talked in years, but…

Long ago, when I was a young lad, I was tight with Doris.

Perhaps tight’s a stretch, but we were… this close to each other. I’m holding both of my hands as far apart as possible. In movie star terms, that’s close.

The year is 1981. I and colleagues from around the country who do similar work are attending a professional conference in Los Angeles. A long day of sessions ends, and a dozen of us youngsters change into our Hollywood clothes and drive to a restaurant known to be a favorite of the stars. By Hollywood clothes, I mean un-pleated slacks and a snazzy yellow sweater vest over a brown shirt. Back then, these duds were the height of cool.

The hostess escorts the twelve of us to a large round table. The waiter comes. We place our orders and ask if there are any movie stars in the restaurant. He points toward a booth in the shadows near a passageway and mouths the words, “D o r i s  D a y.” One by one, members of the group begin to stroll by her booth, stare at her, and continue on to the bathroom. My turn comes. I walk slowly by her booth, trying not to be as obvious as the others. And run smack into the doorway. She laughs. I cause Doris to laugh! I made her day! I’m sure of it.

Thirty-two years later, I look back at that moment fondly. Doris, now 89, does too. I’m pretty sure.

Tim Hoyt


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Being A Maple

Being A Maple

I love watching leaves change colors. The trees perform a slow striptease of their bright summer garb into ever deepening colors as the layers peel away. First the range of greens, hints of pinks in the maples, the almost imperceptible melt into orange, then red, burgundy and finally a crisp brown in the final days of wintry weather. The changing colors are reflective of the inevitable changes I see in my own body.

I may be in the pink/orange stage of my life. Plenty of self esteem and power to feel comfortable shedding the green, mixed with courage to face an uncertain future. The result is an increased beauty and carefree spirit before the darker color and brittleness become a reality. Imagine the beautiful leaf spiraling to the ground, caught in the swirl of a fall breeze. Although I fear the old leaf stage, the sound of crunchy maple leaves underfoot is proof that my life is greatly enriched by shedding of old ways.

Most trees, the gingko being an exception, lose their leaves over weeks. That is how I prefer change, slowly so I can adjust to the newness of what is to come. The unusual gingko just drops its leaves all in one day. A grand sight to behold, but what a shock it must be to the tree.

I would like to be a huge, leafy maple, watching my colors change, enthralled with each shade of transformation, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. The maple has ample time to think about change. It wears beautiful colors and always has hope of the green leaves that will provide a shady spot underneath its branches in the spring. Yes, I would enjoy being a maple. Thankfully, I am not a ginkgo.

Amber Sawyers (October 2011)

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First Day of School



With Encore’s fall term starting I couldn’t help but return in my mind to my youthful days of school. As excited as I was for the last day of school with freedom that only summer could hold, I was equally excited for the first day of school.

My siblings and I spent the days before school lining up our new school implements– paper, pencils, crayons, erasers, rulers, and lunch boxes. The crayons were my favorite new school item. I have to admit that I felt the 16-count box of crayons was no match for my world of imagination. Oh how I longed for the king-of-all-kings crayon box—the 64-count deluxe box complete with a sharpener. The intense waxy aroma sent my mind whirling. I drooled for the chance to use the blizzard blue or inchworm green or cotton candy pink crayons, but it was never to be. Being a farm family of nine, the 64-count box was too expensive and certainly too showy for us. But the waxy smell of crayons always, always reminds me of a new school year, a new beginning.

The first day of school teamed with energy and excitement. I proudly wore one of my two new outfits complete with new underwear, socks and shoes—shoes that I loved so much that I slept with them under my pillow. I stepped onto the bus with all my siblings and grinned from ear to ear, eager to see my classmates, wondered how much they’d changed over the summer, anxious to claim my desk and finally meet my teacher. It was the most perfect day.

That first-day-of-school feeling morphed into other areas—the opening nights of school plays, unexpected snowfalls with super-big flakes, watching autumn leaves flitter down from the trees, the first day of vacation and more.  I hope I never lose that first-day-of-school feeling. Ever. If I find that feeling wavering, I’ll just grab a box of crayons—the 64-count box.

Nancy Huber

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I Wish I Could Just Do It!


We triangle residents are so fortunate to live in an area that offers such a rich variety of things to do. Yet how often have you looked at the publicity for an event and thought of all the reasons you can’t go, even though you would love to? Typical obstacles are you don’t have anyone to go with, you don’t want to drive to the location, getting tickets seems too much trouble. Many of us are better at thinking of reasons not to do something than following that well known marketing slogan “Just Do It!”
Joining an organization like Encore is one way of making sure that you do just that. The offering of classes, lectures and study trips is so diverse that you are sure to find many that interest you.
Recently some members took part in two study trips in downtown Raleigh. On Monday 9/16 we boarded the bus to go to the City of Raleigh (COR) Museum. Director, Ernest Dollar, opened the museum exclusively for our group and led us on a tour of the facilities including all the current exhibits and behind the scenes. It was wonderful to be in the company of someone who so obviously enjoys his job and is excited about the opportunity to educate visitors about the fascinating history of Raleigh.
We walked across the street for lunch and had fun getting to know each other better over good food and conversation. Ernest then led us on a walking tour of the historic Fayetteville Street. Each of us could have visited the museum in our own time but we got much more information from this exclusive tour.
On Thursday 9/19 we visited Burning Coal Theatre where we had a chance to talk with staff and cast members before the performance of The Heretic. We ate dinner at a local restaurant (common theme here!) before returning to the theatre for the performance. An after show talk back gave us another opportunity to discuss the play and talk to the actors, which rounded off the evening nicely.
Back on the bus to be delivered safely to our cars for the familiar drive home.
I wonder how many of us would have had those great experiences without Encore, but instead had another “I wish” moment?

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When did you get to be so wise?

This is one for the parents out there. Do you remember the first day one of your children gave you some advice, and it was good advice that you could take?!
My husband is a very practical guy who likes to do things his self rather than pay someone else to do a job (mixed blessing) We are having new carpets fitted so he is taking them up prior to installation.
We ordered the carpets and went home satisfied with a decision well made. Then the discussion turned to the prep work. “Let’s do it now,” my husband said,” it is a rainy weekend so we are stuck inside.” We were ready to get ripping when a young voice piped up (our 22 year old son). “You know you might want to check with the store to see when the new carpets can be fitted because it can take 3 weeks for them to arrive and in the meantime you will be camping out in the attic.”
That really stopped us in our tracks. We turned to look at him in amazement.
“Well – he’s got a point there” I said. “Yes – I suppose he has” said my husband.
So with that we put off the carpet-tearing fest and found something less destructive to do with our rainy Saturday afternoon. Pity though – we were getting excited at the prospect. What a sensible, kill-joy our offspring is!
Seriously though, these types of experience with one’s children bring up a whole host of feelings.
Honestly, the first reaction is one of indignation, however mild. Why are you telling me what I should do? I’m your parent, that’s my job! Then the realization that there might be something in it that is worthy of consideration. Then the full realization that, yes, you are actually right! Why didn’t I think of that?
Once I had got over that stage I felt proud that my son has grown into such a capable young man.
His latest piece of advice? Return that $450 faucet set you just ordered for the kitchen to replace the leaky one and buy the $30 spray attachment instead. That will do the job.
That’s my boy! Do you have any more advice for me son?

Joan Hardman-Cobb
Encore Special Programs Coordinator

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Fond Memories of Family Outings

After the big war, as lost young men faded from memory and those who had come home stopped wearing uniforms, things got better on the farm.  We got a new ’47 Chevy Fleetliner two door in my Dad’s favorite color – red.  That year Mom and Dad started what would become an annual custom – a day trip.  It had to be a day trip that would fit in between the morning milking and feeding and the evening milking and feeding.  This first trip was to Coney Island – not on the ocean but the one on the Ohio River east of Cincinnati.  Preparations were as exciting as the going.  Mom fried up lots of spring chicken, made a big pot of German potato salad, baked some bread. Dad checked out the Chevy and the night before the trip went to the Coldwater ice house for a block of ice.
I must have slept on the trip as all I remember of the traveling was stopping at a road side park for a sanitary break.  We ate at Coney Island and rode most of the rides.  Don’t remember the rides much, but do remember being introduced to pay toilets. How strange!

Dennis Keller


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Movie Memories

Encore member, Tim Hoyt, provided this sample from his daily blog. Tim is a regular at the Encore Writers Group meetings, one of our growing number of Special Interest Groups.

For the uninitiated, Pa was lazy as all git-out, Ma was a tough ol’ bird, their 15 kids were oddly well adjusted, and they were poor as church mice – until Pa won a tobacco-naming contest.

A Ma and Pa Kettle movie was a treat that far exceeded tearing into a giant bowl of ice cream, or roller skating klick-klack down the sidewalk, or finding a new brand new snow-white baseball in the bushes. Saturdays usually meant a cowboy movie and a superman serial, except when Ma an’ Pa came to town.

Pa was slow and deliberate. It took him a long time to speak his mind and defend his ways. I can hear him now. “Now, Ma,” he would say. Ma was loud and sharp tongued, always railing about Pa’s laziness. But she didn’t mean it. Even as a self-centered young squirt, I could sense their deep affection for each other and for their kids.

Summers temps in Oklahoma regularly topped 100 degrees. “Picture shows” were the only air-conditioned places in town. Popcorn was a nickel. So was a coke. But I seldom had more than 15 cents, and the picture show cost a dime, so I had to choose one or the other. I don’t remember it mattering, ‘cause I was cooled-down, sittin’ with my pals, and about to see a movie!

Every once in a while, I see a film from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s in grab bins at the big box stores. Next time, I’m buying one. If it’s still a dime.

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With Age Comes Wisdom – Hopefully!

The old adage is true: With age comes wisdom. Or perhaps the adage should be: Hopefully with age comes wisdom.
I am the first to admit that I am a perfectionist in what I do. It’s taken me a long time to learn that my mistakes are not life or death, I correct them and move on. It’s amazing how less stressful life is now that I’ve finally wised up.  I work hard to do my best and take pride in that. Life is full of speed bumps. I just handle the bump and move on.
I remember as a kid pedaling my bike as fast as I could, gaining speed so I could lift my legs up and out to the sides while I sped through a mud puddle. Usually I didn’t get going fast enough, stalled out in the deep puddle only to tip over into the murk cartoon style. But I got up and tried to go faster until I succeeded making my way through the puddle without falling into it. I look back and wonder when I lost that “fun-try-it-again” attitude even though I met with disaster. As a young kid I met with plenty of disasters as I was such a klutz, but I kept plugging away with a goofy smile on my face.
I’ve hit plenty of speed bumps in my lifetime and my road in life looks more like corrugated cardboard. But like that little kid from years ago, I re-learned as an adult to just pedal hard over the bumps and look at it as a theme-park ride rather than a disaster.

Thoughts provided by Nancy Huber – Encore Special Programs Coordinator. Nancy and the Program Committee are responsible for all the great classes and lectures that Encore offers to members. View our latest offerings on our website

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