Tag Archives: David Stockwell

Senior Citizens And Staples Teens Share Stories. And Lunch.

Besides their grandparents, most Staples High School students have little contact with older Westporters.

Some grandparents live far away. And others are no longer living.

But senior citizens and Staples seniors (and  juniors) share more than this town. They all eat.

So food in its many forms — cooking, meals, restaurants — was on the menu last week. The Senior Center hosted its 2nd annual Intergenerational Writing Workshop.

Teenagers and men and women 4 and 5 times their age sat down together. They read what they’d written. They commented on each other’s memoirs and fiction. Then they dug into lunch — and kept talking.

One view of collaboration during the “Shared Voices” event …

The project is a collaboration between the Senior Center’s Writing Workshop and Staples’ English elective, “Reading and Writing Fiction.” Both are immensely popular — and both are well known for turning people who think they can’t write into agile, insightful writers.

David Stockwell teaches 2 sections of the class. To prepare for the day at the Senior Center, the high schoolers wrote about food. Writing Workshop instructor Jan Bassin’s students did the same.

“It’s universal,” Stockwell explains. “There are so many topics: food at the holidays. Families and food. Cooking. Restaurants.”

Whatever trepidation the teenagers and senior citizens may have had melted away as soon as they sat together, at small tables. They read, commented, laughed, told stories, then rotated to another group.

For more than 2 hours — without a cellphone in sight — the writers read.

One man wrote about tinned pineapple rations during the Korean War. They did not look appetizing. But an Army buddy told him to eat; pineapple is good for you. He did — and remembers that day more than half a century later.

Another Senior Center writer described a traditional English breakfast: pudding, bangers, ham, and 2 cups of tea. “Even the terminology made it come alive,” Stockwell says.

… and another. (Photos/David Stockwell)

An English breakfast was the same topic chosen by a Staples senior. His perspective was different — but equally intriguing.

And so it went: stories about eating watermelon. Descriptions of chocolate. Thanksgiving dinner. Anyone can write about food — and everyone did.

But food was just a starting point. As they chatted, a student asked an older woman if she had known what she wanted to do with her life when she was in high school.

No, the woman said. But she described how her life unfolded, and advised the teenager to pay attention to what she loved most from an early age on.

Another Workshop participant realized that she had worked for the father of one of the students for nearly 10 years.

All that reading and talking made them hungry, of course. Lunch — pizza, veggies, hummus, chips and dips — was welcome. It was also a chance to get to know each other even better.

Pizza also helps bring the generations together. (Photo/Alison Wachstein)

“In today’s world, there is little opportunity for seniors to share fascinating and valuable life experiences with these emerging adults, or for the younger generation to ask questions and seek perspective and guidance from those who have lived long and varied lives,” Bassin explains.

At the same time, she says, the topic she and Stockwell picked “de-emphasizes the age gap. We can all relate to food.”

The Senior Center Workshop writers were impressed with the Staples students’ writing and demeanor. The teens were awed by the seniors’ sometimes humorous, sometimes tearful stories of war, loss, hardships and lessons learned.

And the pizza was just topping for the day.

Seniors And Teens Share Stories — And Lunch

One of the Senior Center’s most popular activities is a Writing Workshop. Jan Bassin guides men and women — many of whom have never written for pleasure — through the transformative process of turning their long lives and powerful insights into words that will live forever.

One of Staples High School’s most popular electives is Reading and Writing Fiction. Kim Herzog and David Stockwell help teenagers — many of whom don’t think of themselves as writers — turn their creative ideas into words they can be proud of.

Last spring, Bassin invited Julie Heller — the Westport school district’s grade 6-12 English coordinator — to her group’s final workshop. Heller was awed by the senior citizens’ eloquence and honesty. When Bassin asked if the Center could collaborate with Staples on a writing project, Heller immediately thought of Herzog and Stockwell.

Joining forces was easy. Figuring out what to write about together was not.

Eventually, the instructors settled on food. Senior citizens and high school seniors have something in common: “We all eat, smell and experience food,” Herzog says.

Earlier this month, both groups gathered at the Senior Center. They divided up, a few per table. They introduced themselves, then read their works.

Talking together …

Many older writers told personal stories. Many teenagers chose fiction. But all wrote powerfully, and well.

One woman described growing up in Europe, during World War II. An American soldier gave her a wonderful drink. Years later — now in the U.S. — she tasted it again.

Amazed, she asked its name.

“Coca-Cola,” she was told.

… reading …

Another woman related her first experience with oysters. They were not, she said, as fantastic as she’d heard.

The Staples students “couldn’t believe how honest” the Senior Center writers were, Herzog syas.

As for the younger writers: Their creativity and emotion stunned the older men and women.

It was the first time some of the Stapleites had sat down with senior citizens who were not their grandparents.

“It was great to watch,” Stockwell says. “The kids couldn’t stop talking about their experiences. And the seniors raved about the students.”

“Their collective writing skills were surpassed only by their good manners, self-confidence and the ease with which they made conversation,” one Senior Center member wrote afterward.

… and listening. (Photos courtesy of wanderinginwestport Instagram)

“The shortest distance between two people is a story,” Herzog notes.

And the quickest way to share experiences is through food.

So — naturally — both groups ate together too.

Westport Pizzeria, Trader Joe’s and Stew Leonard’s all donated lunch.

That’s something else to write home about.