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Timeless gifts

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They laugh as I read to them from Malcolm Cowley's The View from 80.m "Yes, yes," they say nodding. "That's exactly how it is." One of them interrupts the reading to describe himself. I lower the book onto my lap. For I have learned to listen when they want to tell me something. This is the best gift I can offer to them.

We have been meeting together every Tuesday morning for half a year. And though the holidays put a month's hiatus in our classes, my old friends insist that we continue our gatherings indefinitely. I have no objections. I know them, and I want to be with them.

When the community college first asked me to conduct a "creative writing" class at the Senior Center, I had resisted. It would take time from my own writing, and probably the people attending would not be interested in anything literary. But, of course, my excuses were not valid, and, finally, by August, I was ready to begin.

On the first day of class, I almost canceled the rest. These people were strangers.One man and several women were sitting around the large table avoiding my eyes, looking at their folded hands. They were country folks. How could I possibly reach them?

Even though I had lived in this rural, flat, North Carolina county for 15 years, I still didn't speak their language. Oh, I understood it all right, but I didn't speak it. My vowels were still rounded, my consonants pronounced and clipped. My ear had yet to find pleasure in the elongated vowels of the region, where one short i becomes two sounds not easily identifiable, and where object becomes objek. Most of my octogenarian students were from Bear Grass. I ask you now, what sort of a name is that?

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