When Bonnie Miller learned about the prose competition her retirement community was hosting, she went straight upstairs to her room and didn’t come out until she had her poem.
It only took 15 minutes, anyway.
The theme of this year’s competition is “Silver Linings” and what first came into Miller’s mind is her splendid life at the Brook Ridge Retirement Community in Pharr, as well as the overwhelming pride she has in being a Texan.
The national prose competition is offered by Sunshine Retirement Living, a senior housing company. Miller is one of three residents of the Pharr retirement community to submit poems to the competition.
Since the pandemic hit the area in March, the retirement community has been closed to outside visitors. For months, residents have not been able to see their family and friends.
Elsa Rios, the executive director of the Pharr retirement community, said the competition is a way for residents to channel their insights on the change that the pandemic has brought to their lives.
“This actually gives them a voice on what is happening, and how they can cope with it,” she said. “… I think that silver linings in this case was the perfect theme.”
Miller’s poem describes her simple life in the community. She wrote about group exercises, fun board games and joyful friendships. The best part though, she wrote, is being able to live in Texas.
“I am a Texan, through and through, and everybody knows that,” Miller said.
Miller grew up in Raymondville. She worked as a bookkeeper there, and can still remember her high school English teacher. That teacher had a lasting impact on her, and encouraged her to pour her thoughts and emotions into words.
Most of what Miller has written has been in the form of books she has given to her amily. She took the prose contest as an opportunity to give poetry a shot.
Part of Miller’s poem reads: “You’ll make new friends, but keep the old so make the move my friend!
You won’t regret the move I’ll bet— Just think—You’ll live in TEXAS!”
Ben Raiche also submitted a poem. He’s more familiar with the craft; he has written more than 800 poems, and published five books, a few of which are available at the retirement community’s library.
Raiche considers his poems ditties though, and even calls himself a “dittyographer.” One of his books is “The Birth of Dittyography,” which was published in 2014.
“Name your subject, and I’ve got a ditty,” he said.
Raiche’s said his secret to writing is finding joy in the art.
“When I get a subject in mind, I just write a story about it, and if the story rhymes then it becomes a ditty, if it doesn’t it becomes a story,” he said. “And I have been doing this all my life, it is kind of fun.”
Before retiring, Raiche was a scientist for the atomic energy commission, which took him all across the nation. So, he tries to keep his prose more lighthearted.
“I believe in what I write, and I try to make everything light and happy, I try not to write down,” he said.
Raiche took the opportunity of participating in this year’s prose contest to remind others to take the same approach with life.
Part of his poem reads: “I try to stay happy, no desire to be blue.
Life is too short. Believe me that’s true.
The day’s impositions. I’ve found the way.
Good bad or other I welcome each day.
Sunshine or cloudy no difference at all.”
“This little thing is to always look for the silver lining in the cloud because it’s there, but you’ve got to look for it,” Raiche said.
Wade Jackson took a more frank approach to his poem: “Got a silver lining: Then, quit yer whining…” It took him less time to compose the poem, than typing it out onto a computer.
“How simple could it get?” he said about the message of his poem. “… Poetry and art, and standard routine of it’s all in the eye of the beholder, you read it, it means to you whatever it means.”
Jackson said he has written just three poems in his life: one in high school, one for last year’s competition, and this one. Jackson was an industrial technology teacher in Missouri, and is one of the newer residents of the community.
“I love it here, and the reason is that each and everyone of them has a life story,” he said. “If you are interested in how the world developed in the way it did, you just need to talk to a bunch of old people, they have seen it all.”
Rios said hearing the stories that residents have is her favorite part of her job at the retirement community.
“Our residents are a book, because each one of them has their own story, has their own book,” she said. “We are very very blessed, many of our residents have so much knowledge. Each one of them has their own chapter of life, and how they went through hardship, so this year’s theme of silver linings was perfect.”