Auld Lang Syne by
(323 Stories)

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Dinner with the Zussmans, 1981

Where to begin? has been a huge part of my life since the autumn of 2015. Patti and John Zussman, dear friends since high school, began discussing their idea with me for a baby-boomer community of writers who would share their memories and thoughts  by writing stories to prompts provided by the Zussmans. They hoped to grow it into a huge network of authors. They had big dreams and a good contact list. They are excellent writers themselves, but wanted amateurs like me, who just like to share life stories, to also write. They knew I had taken the Chilmark Writer’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard several times and they listened closely as I talked about how that group was run. Years later, I discovered they took cues from our discussions. They recruited me early in their process to be a beta tester to write to their first prompt: “What We Ate” (inspired by the inevitable first writing assignment on the Vineyard: “Dinner at our house was…”). Here is my first story for the site, which was published on December 14, 2015.


I never stopped writing. I wrote every week a prompt went up, sometimes even when a prompt was repeated I found something new to say (though not always, as was the case with that first story; you can tell by the dates of the comments). I’ve written 323 stories, and since early in the site’s existence, I’ve read and commented on most of the other stories as well. I write weeks ahead (prompts are provided four weeks in advance) so that I can go back and edit, edit, edit. I would like to believe that I’ve become a better writer over the years, though I tend to write in a conversational, personal style.

Having just returned from visiting London for my granddaughter’s first birthday, I was told there would also be a 70th birthday present waiting for me upon my arrival. One day, David brought our granddaughter Rosa to our hotel and presented with this: a printed copy of my first two years’ worth of stories, bound up for my viewing pleasure – a thoughtful and impressive gift. It showed just how much MyRetrospect has impacted my life and everyone in my orbit knows it.

Bound copy of two-years worth of stories; a 70th birthday gift from my London children.

I’ve enjoyed writing my personal memoirs, but also to reflect on current moments in time.

This current prompt asks that we reflect about our experience with the site and share some of our favorite stories. With so many published stories, it was difficult for me tease out just a few favorites, so indulge me this trip down memory lane. For those of you who have read along through the years, thank you for your loyal following. I hope you approve of my choices.

The stories will not be in chronological order of writing, but rather, how they tell my story, beginning with my immigrant grandparents and in some cases, how meaningful they are to me, personally.

My Grandparents’ Story

Perhaps my favorite story was to the prompt “Family Myth”, about my young mother’s love of ballet and her encounter with the greatest ballerina of her era. While I believe this story is true, it has the aura of mythology.

Anna Pavlova

Telling the story of our younger child’s struggles and how my husband and I prepared him (now her; she transitioned, but that is a different story) to go to college, and the weekend we dropped Vicki off at Brown was a heartfelt tale.

A Long, Hot Goodbye

A more reflective prompt asked us to talk about faith, what it means to us personally. I pondered about this prompt for a long time; it became intertwined with my intense love of singing.

What is Faith?

A prompt several years ago asked us to write about art and art museums. Are you kidding me? Art is central to my existence. I wrote three stories for that prompt, since I’ve gone to art museums my entire life, have been involved with the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis for 33 years and we have collected art in some form for 46 years. I had a lot to say, but the following story was about a favorite undergraduate experience during my senior year at Brandeis.

An Afternoon With Mrs. Jack

We discussed politics on the site as well. I wrote this story years ago, but it infuriates me to read it now, in the wake of the Dobbs decision. It was difficult enough to live through it in 1971.

Planned Parenthood Before Roe v. Wade

The National Music Camp (now, Interlochen Arts Camp) in Interlochen, Michigan was a formative part of my life. I made life-long friends there, loved my classes and teachers, particularly Dude Stephenson, who directed us in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta every summer to our great pleasure. We were bereft when he died and I wrote a story about him to the prompt “Gifts” at the end of 2018. We lost Dude five years ago this week.

Simple Gifts

Patti and John decided to shut down Retrospect (I think they discovered that “Retrospect” was already taken, so they used “MyRetrospect” instead, but I frequently refer to it as Retrospect, since that’s what they called it when they first spoke to me about it) at the end of 2018.

I wrote a final story that went live at the end of December, 2018, a tribute to my friends, their ambition and hard work. It covers much of the same ground as the beginning of this story. After that, I printed out all the stories and took a break.

John and Patti, 1971, backstage after my Brandeis production of Ruddigore.

The site lay fallow for several months, but one of our fellow writers, also a beta tester who had written from the beginning and loved writing every week, took over the challenge of running the site, along with three others. She bought the rights from Patti and John and the four new administrators have run it for almost four years, coming up with new prompts every week. The site came back to life at the beginning of March, 2019. What a wild ride these intervening years have been!

We owe a debt of gratitude to Suzy, first and foremost, and also to Marian, Laurie and Barbara, whose creativity and persistence have kept us going. Now bugs have crept into the software that even the technical people on whose platform we run can’t seem to figure out. So this may be our last story. We’ve had a great run and I’ve expressed a lot throughout the years.

The story that continues to move me came out of the protests from the summer of 2020; indeed the prompt was “Protest”. Let us move forward and carry on.

Listen, Learn, Change

I wish you all a good year ahead, whether writing, reading, thinking, or changing the world. Be kind and attentive. Adieu.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a wonderful retrospective (of course) of Retro, Betsy. I’ve not yet read — or, more likely, re-read — all of your linked stories yet, but I will and the fact that I immediately recalled so many of the ones I read from when they were first published is testament to how evocative and well written they were. There was always an underlying message there and one that came clearly and strongly through the entire story. And 323 stories? Wow; just wow.

    I also love the picture of you, Dan and the Zussmans Back in the Day. And the gift from your children is just awesome, including the beautiful picture of you on the cover. You might suggest that they have a cottage industry in their future if they want to offer to bind the stories of other of us Restro-istas so handsomely.

    Thank you for all your stories. And your wise and warm final paragraph.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, John. I know I linked to a LOT of stories, but couldn’t narrow them down (I did edit out one late in my process). David spent a great deal of time, just compiling what he did (turning it into .pdf format), then took it to a printer. I think it cost him a pretty penny to get that book printed. That was not self-published. He picked it up on the afternoon of 12/23, we arrived in London on 12/21, but it wasn’t ready yet. It is clear, he put a lot of thought into it, which I really appreciate. I read every story that night back in the hotel-hadn’t looked at most of them in years-and found a factual error in one (that I will correct later today, of course).

      • John Shutkin says:

        What an incredible labor of love by David — to say nothing of all you did for Retro that he had to work through. And, knowing how amazingly precise and careful you are in all things, of course you’ll correct the one factual error. Save the “fake news” for Trump and Fox News.

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          It truly was a labor of love, and much appreciated by this 70 year old mother! I’ve already gone back to that story where I thought I read the error while in London. There wasn’t an error, so perhaps I was just tired when I read the story.

          • John Shutkin says:

            Phew, Betsy, I was afraid that you had actually made an error. I think I speak for all your fans when I say how relieved I am to know that you had not. And feel free to blame the misreading on jet lag.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    This was a lovely review of the MyRetrospect story, and gave me more insight into how and why it developed. Thanks for that, for your steadfast support, and always for the pictures that illustrate so well.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It has been a pleasure to get to know you, at least virtually, Khati. I am sorry I didn’t make it to the dinner in Cambridge last June, but coming off the Vineyard, once there, isn’t so easy. I do love my photos (my dad loved his too, going through his albums was the hardest thing to do after his death). I’m so happy they are appreciated here!

  3. Suzy says:

    Betsy, you were in on it from the beginning – indeed, before the beginning – and I remember reading your early stories before I worked up the nerve to write. (My first story, on the What We Watched prompt, did not happen until February 22, 2016.) I have enjoyed your stories every week all these years, and was interested to see which ones you picked as your favorites. You and I have so much in common, as we discovered time and again in our similar responses to various prompts!

    Btw, I also wrote a story called Auld Lang Syne, which I originally published December 29, 2016, and then moved to December 28, 2019. It’s obviously a great title for this time of year. (To be used once every 3 years?)

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you, Suzy. I knew you started early, but couldn’t remember exactly when. It has been fun to find out just how much we have in common, and like you, I was curious to see what stories you’d pick (I love that you picked the story about your teacher and FOUND HER; what a coup)!

      While editing late last night, I saw that the name of my story had a “2” appended to it, so assumed you’d used the name, but couldn’t remember when (I changed the name a few weeks ago from “Beta tester no longer”; I think the new name is better, don’t you)? And yes, it is the perfect tune for this date.

  4. Thanx Betsy for your Retro journey – you were indeed on it from it’s inception!
    And thanx for the chance to reread some of your stories and read those that were new to me.

    I’m ever grateful to you for introducing me to this wonderful website its fabulous admins – Suzy, Barbara, Laurie and Marian, and to my other fellow Retro writers, it’s been a marvelous experience!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    What an amazing gift from your children in London! It’s a brilliant idea and, having made my kids a book of stories about my early life, I know what a labor of love it was.

    As Simon and Garfunkel wrote in Old Friends, it’s “terribly strange to be 70.” I enjoyed reading your stories from before I joined Retrospect. Our older daughter also went to Brown, and (as you know) I understand what it is like to have a child (in my case grandchild) with special needs. Thanks for sharing your stories. I could definitely relate to them.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, Laurie, a labor of love in London!

      Thanks for the Simon and Garfunkel quote. I had all but forgotten it (though I listened to “Bookends” nonstop as a teen, shut up in my room – 70 did indeed seem far away then), and it so apropos! I know you can relate to much of what I write. Thanks for reading along.

  6. John Zussman says:

    Oh, Betsy. 323 stories?! All I can say is that Retrospect would not have been nearly as good without you. I remember weeks when a prompt would go up and only your story and mine would be live. When our endurance flagged, yours burned bright. You were our mainstay, our confidante, and our lifeline, and we are forever grateful.

    And what a beautiful gift from your London family. But it’s your stories that fill it. You are the gift. Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for being the inspiration for all of us, John. You gently taught me how to load photos, and do other “tech” stuff, figuring if I could do it, then anyone could! I had to laugh when you said that to me. When I was stumped for something to say, I’d call Patti and we’d talk a prompt through. I’d have a story at the end of our discussion. Your comments are masterful. We are all in your debt. Thank you so much.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    It was interesting to learn some of the personal relationships behind this community. Nice that it had its roots in actual friendship; things that are conceived on the ‘net often seem, to me, to lack some certain spark.

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