February 3, 2011
Margot Schneider is 89 years old. She and her husband Horst came out of Germany after WWII with three kids and 17 cents in his pocket. Margot is nearly deaf and Horst is nearly blind. “Well, between the two of us, we are a whole person.” she jokes. Margot says their philosophy of life is “Do no harm to yourself, to others, or to any living thing.” Margot has a special gift with animals and birds. They seem to recognize immediately she will never hurt them.
Horst, at 92, has magnifying glasses all over the house. He uses a computer program called Dragon made by Nuance. It recognizes his voice and types for him. Then it has a reader to read it back to him to make sure he didn’t get misunderstood and typed in loose for juice, or some such. Horst is currently writing a book, and has approximately 200 poems and small short stories on his web site. (He used to build websites for companies at one time.)
He got his start in America by working as a mail-sorter for an insurance company. Before a year had passed, he was working in their accounting department.
He is a self taught computer programmer and built a program for Margot’s knitting business. They had five knitting machines that he programmed for specific garments that she sold. Now, she knits beautiful sweaters, vests and scarves for her grand kids and great grand kids by hand. Horst has met and worked with some of the famous programmers from Apple and Microsoft. He has technical articles published that are now out of date because technology changes so quickly.
Last year, Margot fell and broke her neck. So, at 92, he learned to cook. Not hamburgers or hot dogs. He likes gourmet food and prepares boef bourgignon, French onion soup and chicken stroganoff plus German specialties they like. Now that her neck is healed, she says, “Let him cook. Its his turn.” Nothing daunts them.
When he was in his eighties, he and Margot volunteered at a State Park. Their finances took a hit and he was looking for work and had applied at Hotels and places where his ability to speak five languages would be of help. “But, they hired young blondes,” he jokes. He was about to take a job as a dishwasher at $5.15 per hour, when the Park Rangers came to him and said they wanted him to take on a ranger’s position.
“A Ranger,” he protested, “I’m too old for that.” But, it worked for everyone. He translated all of their literature and brochures into Russian and German versions. He taught rocketry to young kids and park biology to others.
Jim wanted to visit one more time with them before they move to Louisiana. (Their house in on the market.) They inspire everyone who meets them. They are the treasure, because they inspire and challenge us to live fully with verve and dignity.
August 7, 2010
From Mary’s desk:
There is nothing quite like the anticipation of going to a favorite book store, The Book Barn at Niantic, in this case, which took up most of our morning yesterday. We rarely buy hardcovers because the lack of room in the motor home makes it impractical.
I returned with 16 new-to-me books. Since I’ve just discovered Ann Patchett, what joy to find two I hadn’t read. At one time I followed every book written by Mary Higgins Clark, then quit for awhile. But, there they were, staring at me, so I thought I’d get reacquainted.
One of my favorite writers, Anita Shreve had several hardcovers I’ve yet to read, and it took great effort to pass them by.
Then I went through my recommended list, those I’ve read reviews about. I usually make a list of these and this time I remembered to bring it. Found one from my list, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran DeSal.
I picked up a couple other reliable good writers I’ve tried, Maeve Binchy, Sandra Brown, Stephen King, Dean Koontz. I like a sprinkling of different genres along with some “chick lit”. Then, after that, I look at serious books I’d like to own and keep, but, in the motor home, I know I have to pass them by, so I skipped the temptation. I always look forward to browsing for awhile, tasting, hoping to pick up a couple unknowns, unheard ofs, to try. Its an adventure, hoping to discover another great writer to fall in love with.
Anne Siddons, and Leif Enger were my choices. Enger, his first book and Siddons has a slew. I started with Enger, and found a new wonder. A heroic, rich adventure that kept me turning pages through three quarters of the book until Jaime enticed me into a bike ride.
The day before, I took the lead and we rode to town and back, barely able to pump the hills. This time she took the lead. I couldn’t wait to get back to Enger’s, Peace Like A River. You don’t have to eat the whole pie to know its great. It has great characters, joy, tragedy and magic. What more can you ask for?
March 19, 2010
He was working on this crawfish trap when we drove up to his house. Its made from plastic coated chicken wire. “Not good this year,” he said. He is working with the Atchafalaya BASINKEEPER, an organization dedicated to saving the River Of Trees, and saving a way of swamp life for man, fish and birds. They have a website: www.basinkeeper.org.
While building a new house out of reclaimed cypress wood, he remembered seeing some old discarded cypress full of holes from a fungus. Replaned, it made a beauiful cover for this wall. His cupboards, walls, ceilings and some furniture are made of cypress. Only the floors are oak.
Next to an art piece of cypress framing stained glass, stands a broom, unsupported by the wall. It stands by itself. Greg is hoping to reach a record time. This one has been maintaining its upright balance in the corner for five months now. (Its a natural phenomena in various places in nature.)
Cypress forests were completely logged off years ago. Luckily, cypress deteriorates slowly. During logging operations, some logs sunk into the muddy waters. When the water gets low, woodworkers remove the “sinkers”, replane them and find new uses for this beautiful wood. A form of recycling and preservation.
Greg not only preserves wood, he has preserved the stories of old time Cajun Fishermen and women in his books, Cajun Families of the Atchafalaya. Psycho Therapy For Cajuns , a humorous take on Cajun Culture surviving in a crazy world. He wrote the fiction story, taken from real life, much of it his own, The Land of Dead Giants. His newest book, in conjunction with C.Ray Brassieur is a broader look at the past and future of the Atchafalaya Basin, and the folklife of the people who lived there, entitled Inherit The Atchafalaya. It provides a unique view, of a way of living, fading into obscurity and which few could write about with the insight and clarity as the Cajun, Greg Guirard.
Meet Wilmer Blanchard who typifies Cajun fishermen: “I have eleven children, three boys. I would take my boys in the woods as soon as they could walk enough…”
Women fished to, and when Yolande Bonin had a stroke, her husband, Cezaire, carried her into the boat each day. Her contribution to fishing was limited to opening the right can as she saw a gar, a catfish, or whatever come out of the net. Cezaire says, “When I raise them nets, you ought to see her smile when they got fish in ‘em.”
Myrtle Bigler claimed, “All kind of work gets me tired. But I’m not sick…” This when she was in her eighties. She and her husband, Harold, lived off the swamp all their married lives. He died at age 90, and she died at 95. The lessons of simplicity are there for all of us to learn from, as are Greg’s books.
To contact Greg Guirard: Paroona9@yahoo.com or phone him at 337-394-4631. ATT is supposed to fix his website which is not currently working at http://www.gregguirard.com.
A sure sign of a real Cajun is this outboard motor hanging from an oak tree in Greg’s driveway. He gave a slide show for Elder Hostel and his photographs of the basin and people are superb and available on cards.
We spent the rest of the day with Michele, our erstwhile “guide.” She took us to see the legendary wedding bower of the pre-Civil War sugar plantation Durand. Durand imported spiders into a young planting of pine, magnolia and oak trees lining his quarter mile driveway. The day of his daughter’s wedding, the spider webs were sprinkled with the glitter of gold and silver dust. The bower is now know as Pine Alley and is all that remains of the once successful plantation.
Evening closed with friends and family “hanging out” around the bonfire and eating Michele’s great jambalaya washed down with good beer. Life is good.