... a charter member reflects on ten years as a SilverStringer.
EB: I started our conversation by telling Jim that I wanted to make an audio tape of our talk. I told him I could no longer rely on handwritten notes as they have become illegible. I said, too, I wanted to use the articles in the Melrose Mirror that have been written about him. Jim was instrumental in getting Melrose Mirror started about ten years ago. My job is to find out what the SilverStringers has meant to him.
At 82 years Jim said, “Sounds good to me!”
EB: How did you get to the Melrose Mirror?
JD: It all started about ten years ago. I had been very involved in fund raising, I really don’t know why. I had done fund raising for the YMCA and later for the Milano Senior Center. I invited my brother, Jack, to come and look at the new Center. He was retired as the Managing Editor of the Boston Globe and had recently joined the MIT Media Lab as Editor-in-Residence. Jack Driscoll almost immediately thought that the center could be an ideal place to serve as a pilot to test software designed at the Media Lab to produce an online newspaper/magazine. Jim and Jack went to visit Jack Beckley, the Executive Director of the Council on Aging and got enthusiastic support to move forward. Jack Driscoll became the liaison between the Media Lab at MIT and the first group of interested seniors. This was the beginning of the “SilverStringers”, of the Melrose Mirror. In those early days only a few of us had computers -- but it was a start and the team from the Media Lab was very supportive and energizing.
EB: I think, out of modesty, you are understating your accomplishments. I notice in the Melrose Mirror an article by Christine MacKinnon, “Hometown Hero”. You helped the Melrose YMCA raise $4.7 million for a new gymnasium, office space and new classes. Later, when the Milano Senior Center project was proposed, you were key to raising the $350,000. Frances Bertulli, the Senior Center’s former coordinator said, “I don’t know where we‘d be without him.” These are two accomplishments that cannot go unsung!
EB: How did the SilverStringers get its name?
JD: The name has a double meaning: “silvers” refers to aging citizens; if you don’t lose your hair, it turns grey or even silver. In the old days the “string” was the means of determining payment in the newspaper business. Part time writers were paid by the number of print lines that they produced. The editors measured the amount of lines with a piece of string that showed the number of inches that were written. The name “Stringer” was used to identify these part time writers. So that was how the stringers came to be. Jack Driscoll was the one who came up with the name, “SilverStringers.”
At the outset, we would publish the paper to get practice using the new software. Jack, my brother, would come often to give us more insight on how to write for an on-line publication and how to display the newly entitled Melrose Mirror.
EB: What was the most memorable moment that comes to mind?
JD: Two things come to mind. One was 9-11. There was a lot written about this as it touched everybody.
EB: There is a whole section in the Melrose Mirror given about 9-11. These are pieces by SilverStringers themselves and by people living in Melrose. There must be twelve pieces by Melrose citizens: “The rules of war have changed forever as they apply to civilian populations and individual countries.” “This is as bad as WWII.” “This fight is not for the faint of heart.” “… fear that it was only the first wave,” another Melrosian said. “… frightened at what the future holds,” a lady wrote. These are just a few thoughts expressed by people back in 2001 that there is no reason why in 2006 we should feel they have gone away.
JD: The other was the remarkable saga of Bill Jodrey. When he was 82 years of age, Bill was persuaded by SilverStringer Natalie Thomson to join the SilverStringers. At nineteen, during the Depression in the 1930’s, Bill had gone on the road as a hobo. Bill began writing the stories that he kept in a journal all these years. These were stories that captivated everybody who read the Melrose Mirror.
A few years ago he got together with Jack Driscoll and put together a book, “Diary of a Hobo.” These were the stories that he had put on the Melrose Mirror that became a book. It is interesting, too, to note Don Norris, a charter member SilverStringer, contributed much of the artwork appearing in the book.
EB: I made it my business to have Catherine get me “Diary of a Hobo” from the Melrose Library. Just inside the cover, scratched in his aged hand (now 90) “I hope that you will [get] as much pleasure reading this story as I had lived it.” (signed),” Bill Jodrey”. Here is a little sample of Bill’s writing:
“I remember one cold winter day when I needed clean long-legged underwear, and my mother handed me a pair of my sister’s longies. After putting them on, I asked, “How can I go to the toilet? There is no hole!” Mother quickly reached for the sewing machine drawer, picked out the shears and operated on the underwear so that all the fixtures were available.”
And, on page 25, “The next point of interest was the White House.” “As I stood looking at Mr. Hoover’s home, I thought he perhaps was standing at a window, seeing me and wondering who this pilgrim is, all by himself, and where did he hail from?”
Then there is a story about mowing grass for a lady and got a sandwich and a piece of cake in a bag. She also gave him a quarter.
“The freight was nearly ready to go when I arrived.” He tells of meeting Sue, a nurse in her early 20’s. As they ride along to the clackety clack of the freight, he says, “We knew we would never meet again, so it was easy to speak of people and events we had long kept locked up.” When it's time for her to go, “As we shook hands, I slipped my quarter into her palm. She gave me a quizzical glance, nodded and took off.”
EB: Can you think of something, an event, a happening that you feel to be the most satisfying?
JD: Well, just speaking for myself it has to do with people and finding ways to stay active, especially after they retire. A lot of men and women really have no plans after they retire and this can be a daunting experience. The writing, editing, picture-taking and publishing of the Melrose Mirror has provided a wonderful outlet for so many seniors to develop a latent talent. This gives great satisfaction to elders in seeing the fruits of their labor available to an audience, truly throughout the world, on the internet.
EB: It has been an honor for me to interview Jim Driscoll and to learn first-hand the meaning of the SilverStringers to him. December 01, 2006, the day of posting the Melrose Mirror, the Statcounter shows 161 pay loads, the number of times this page was visited. There is no question of the popularity of the Melrose Mirror.
There is no doubt, too, that Jim Driscoll played a large part in creating the SilverStringers and the Melrose Mirror, for which all of Melrose must loudly applaud.
This article was originally published January 5, 2007
July 3, 2015