Lynn Hansen chose science over needlepoint and a career over housewifery. Now she chooses travel over a sedate retirement and poetry over prose to tell her story.
To celebrate her 70th birthday, the longtime Modesto Junior College instructor wrote a collection of poems, publishing them in April under the title "Flicker."
"I used to think people in their 70s were really old," Hansen says with a chuckle. Then she adds, her smile turning pensive, "It's the fall of my life, and winter is coming."
She said she chose the name as a metaphor for moments, or flickers, in time and also for her favorite bird, which arrives every fall. In the poem of the same name, she writes of the autumn days shrinking, "his plaintive call summoning thoughts of winter. I shiver."
Writing poetry appealed because "it makes you work," she said. She particularly likes the demands of poetic forms. "It's like doing a puzzle. It's a challenge."
Sitting in her home, surrounded by rich woods, Oriental rugs and an exotic collection of sea shells, Hansen tells of reliving her decades as a child, teacher, mother and more to pour into the book. Her poems span a range of emotions, never shrinking from death, sorrow or guilt.
One speaks of her miscarriages, pain still flowing fresh from the pen. Others share the good times of raising her son.
Another poem recalls being a 9-year-old bully, tearing up flowers a girl had picked along the road for her teacher, driving the crying girl off the bus. "When I read that poem, I hear people gasp. But to me, it was a very powerful lesson," Hansen said.
She writes lovingly of her grandmother, Hansen's caretaker while her single mother worked. "It was the only time in childhood I got to be a kid," she said.
The hard times in those formative years spur her now to volunteer teaching science at Salida Elementary, developing river- focused curriculum used throughout the region, and donating to school field trips to the ocean.
"I don't have any grandchildren, but I have a whole school of them," she said with a laugh. "It's so fun to teach children. They're at that age where everything is, 'Oh, wow!' "
Hansen said she enjoys teaching children after 33 years training MJC students. She started at the college in 1968, the first female instructor in the science department.
She was 24, surrounded by men in their 40s or far older, she said. "One said to me, 'I just wanted you to know I didn't vote for you,' " she said, adding, "They got over it."
Today, there are more women than men listed in the MJC biology department. "But those were the days when women really were not encouraged to go into the sciences," Hansen said. A counselor advised her against pursuing such a career. "The thinking was, 'Women just aren't logical.' Well, that fired me up to be even more dogged about it," she said.
She left MJC at 57, fighting arthritis pain and de- teriorating joints. "I didn't want to be one of those professors who hangs on and can't deliver," Hansen said. But after replacing bum hips and a knee, she has a new lease on life and travel.
She and husband Richard Anderson take nature-themed trips around the globe. Bhutan is next. Han- sen said they want to trek as far and wide as they can while health and her replaced joints hold out.
Since retiring, Hansen said, "I've reinvented myself in a lot of ways, but science is my foundation.
"True, I didn't get a Nobel Prize or become the head of a major research institution, but I did what I wanted to do."
"Flicker" is available at local bookstores, published by Quercus Review Press.