‘You can’t help yourself,’ that’s how these women feel when it comes to their passion for writing. Neither can imagine their lives without the power of words and the pure pleasure of putting it on paper. Betty Hahn, now at Morning Pointe in Brentwood, Tennessee is a published poet. While Deryl Barnhill is an accomplished short story writer at The Lantern at Morning Pointe of Tuscaloosa in Alabama. Both are 87 and still active in writing and sharing their works.
Betty remembers writing poetry as a kid. Every Christmas she and her siblings made a book for their mother. “This was serious business,” she explains. “These books were 8 ½ x 11 and my mother loved them.” She grew up with the works of Louisa May Alcott, books such as Rose in Bloom, Little Women and Little Men. She identified with these characters and they became her and her sister’s alter-egos. “We took turns being the characters every day,” smiles Betty. She says she was also brought up on a whole series of books called The Book House. If you were a middle class parent in the 1930s through the 1950s, this was the set of books you wanted for your kids. Millions grew up reading these tales of virtue and morality.
As a 20 year old student at Connecticut College, a new mother and wife, Betty worked on her degree. Four years later as she began her Master’s at Southern Connecticut State University, her second son, Curt was born. While working as a full-time teacher in Milford Public Schools teaching first grade, she eventually received her PhD in English from the University of Connecticut. Betty then went on to be a college professor at Southern Connecticut State University for many years teaching in the world of English, drama and poetry.
She has been published in dozens of poetry journals and anthologies. Betty has also published 5 poetry collections of her own including Out of Plumb and Kindred. Many of the poems have appeared in other publications with several winning multiple awards. Her work has been published in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.
“A big day for Betty was when she walked into Davis Kidd Booksellers and saw her books on the shelf,” shares Curt Hahn, Betty’s son. “With her writing she provides unique insights into all manner of situations, some of them important subjects, some of them mundane like the one about Aunt Bess brushing her hair. Even the everyday, or the kinds of things that most of us don’t notice or appreciate she’ll see something in that, something really meaningful.”
The same is true of Deryl Barnhill, a natural storyteller and writer. “In a way it is therapy,” describes Deryl. “It’s important to me to write down what I am thinking, have experienced and haven’t told yet. It’s just important to get that on paper.”
Deryl’s love for writing took off as a young wife traveling the world. Her husband was in the U.S. Air Force. She would write detailed letters back to her family. Today, she still has that collection of Christmas letters. “I just love it,” shares Deryl. “I enjoy writing and I go back to the stories I have written and I read them again and I like them.”
There are many stories, upwards of 50. A lot of the themes bring in a piece of truth that happened to Deryl or someone she knew or heard about. She would start with those facts and add details to them, pulling from her imagination. Some of the short stories are as many as 30 pages long, double-spaced, while others are only 10 pages long. A few are real page-turners, leaving you on the edge of your seat to the very end.
One of Daryl’s favorites is Chinaberry Tree, a story about a real-life tragedy that happened to a family in Gordo, Alabama decades ago. The tree became the focal point of the neighborhood as everyone gathered to find out the latest on a tragic incident that shook the small southern town. Two of her short stories were published in 1999 in a collection called Ordinary and Sacred as Blood: Alabama Women Speak.
Publishing has never been her focus, Deryl simply loves it as a hobby and still writes today. In fact, over the last few years, she has been working with a volunteer at Morning Pointe. With her failing eyesight and challenges with her hands and fingers, Deryl continues to get her short stories on paper thanks to Morgan Eichorst.
She visits Deryl weekly and types up her short stories. “It was amazing, normally she didn’t write them down,” explains Morgan. “It would just be in her head. I would say go ahead and she would dictate to me as if she was reading it.” She even had the dialogue all figured out. Morgan says by the time she was done typing what Deryl was sharing, she had a complete short story from beginning to end. “I think it really speaks to her talent,” explains Morgan. “I know how hard it is to put together a story and the fact they come to her and speak to her so vividly, speaks to how much natural talent she has.”
Morgan and Deryl have now put together a collection of some of Deryl’s favorite short stories dating back to the 1980s. It’s called, 24 Stories. Her daughter is working with a printing company to get them published for her family.
Meanwhile, Deryl continues to write. In fact, a recent musical performance at Morning Pointe and a chance meeting with a long-time friend of her deceased husband inspired yet another short story, The Band is Coming. Morgan helped her get it on paper to share with her fellow residents at Morning Pointe. The same goes at Morning Pointe of Brentwood, Betty is now part of a new poetry night at the community as both of these accomplished writers continue to do what they love and inspire others at Morning Pointe.