Once muted, artful pursuits find a voiceBy NIELA M. ELIASON
© St. Petersburg Times,
Toes tapped in the audience as the St. Petersburg Masonic Band moved through marches, show tunes and a Glenn Miller medley. Five trombones provided a golden undercurrent of rhythm and style. Four of the trombonists were men, and one was an elegant, white-haired woman.
Helen Cargo, 84, an adopted child at age 3, started piano lessons at 8. In high school, she played trombone in the band. As an adult, Cargo was a musician in Pittsburgh, working during the day at a bank and trust company. She also plays organ and accordion.
"Music was my hobby," she says, "mostly classical piano."
She married in her 30s, and with family responsibilities she and her husband agreed that she would stop working and drop her music activities, except at home.
After her husband retired and later died, she decided, "Whatever was presented to me, I would try."
She joined a church bell choir. After she mentioned that she played the trombone, she was invited to play in the church orchestra. Today, she plays in two bands and one orchestra as well other concerts from time to time.
"It's been a blessing," she says. "I do what I enjoy doing."
Many older people revert to earlier interests after they retire and have time to pursue them.
Chris Pomerantz, a retired British anesthesiologist, has had an interest in theater and acting since she was 6, when she acted in a school play. As a teenager, she took acting classes. She performed once in the Theater Royal in Bristol, the oldest theater in England. In later years, she was able to return to England and see her son perform in the same theater.
She moved to the United States after marriage. With work and children, she had little time for theater. When she could, she worked with various theatrical groups, and finally joined the Carrollwood Players in Tampa, taking appropriate roles. She is grateful to her medical colleagues who took calls for her during performances.
"It was wonderful fun. Now that I'm free, I can do anything that's required," she said, including building sets, painting and organizing storage. She's also on the committee for choosing plays.
"As I got older," she said, "there were fewer parts. I took smaller parts because I wasn't good at remembering my lines." She laughed. When she needed cataract surgery, she decided she could not work that season.
"If I can't drive," she thought, "I can't get there."
Plays she has acted in include Mouse Trap, Ten Little Indians and You Can't Take It With You. Her time was limited, but she has acted in about 15 plays over the years. Now, as a retiree, she continues to relish her theater connections and also is active in Learning in Retirement at USF in a class on Writing Your Life Story. She has plenty to write about.
The Rev. Peter Fleming, 71, was rector of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg for 19 years. In retirement, he thinks of himself as an artist. He, too, started young, at 4 or 5, and won a prize for his artwork in second grade.
He also played the piano and thought of majoring in music for a time but eventually was ordained as a minister. After retiring, he renewed his artistic talent by taking continuing education.
"One of the things that came out of that," he says, "was that I would study art as a spiritual discipline. Most of my painting style at that time was abstract expressionism."
Later, he studied with Marge Andruk. He told her that he had always been interested in painting faces, and she encouraged him. His first was a painting of a 15th century Florentine Medici princess, which has been displayed at the Arts Center on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.
Fleming recently completed 12 weeks of instruction with Carol Dameron, a portrait artist. He works with acrylics and oils. He did a self-portrait of himself at 17, just after his confirmation in the Episcopal Church. Now, he is working on a portrait of his granddaughter, Sarah.
"To top it all off," he says, "my son, Lucas, who is an attorney, had an extra room at his office and has given that to me as a studio. I have my favorite sofa down there, where I can take a nap, stereo for my favorite music, my favorite chair to sit in and read the paper, and the easel when I want to paint. I think art is a window to the soul, a spiritual experience into the inner life."
- Niela M. Eliason is author of Kitchen Tables and Other Midlife Musings. Write to her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; or send e-mail to Niela@prodigy.net
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times