Octogenarian Sage debuts with 14 wry and moving tales, all marked by their depth of perception into the workings of the human heart. This slim volume revels in the complexities of the simple life, parading forth an assortment of country rascals and city sophisticates encountering the challenges inherent in growing up and growing old. Two stories, equal in their eloquence and sassy spirit, fondly recall characters from the narrator's past: ``Sunday School on the Chicaqua'' remembers Bay, who moved from Mississippi to the Yankee North long ago, and is now impromptu chef of the Sunday Schoolthat is, the cottage where the local men gather to drink, tell tall tales, and play poker while their wives and children attend church. The story meanders effortlessly, winding in and out of wise old Bay's anecdotes on the river. ``Room 409'' portrays a couple of Depression-era college students living the high life in San Francisco off Hadley's family fortune. Hadley and Jackson meet on college steps where they form a fast and true friendship, which turns into romance once a week in room 409 of the swankiest hotel. Now in his 80s, Jackson recalls the bittersweet affair on notice of Hadley's death, realizing too late what he had thrown away. Meanwhile, ``Bib Overalls'' and ``Moe's 3 Birds'' tell sprightly tales of adolescent romanceMoe is ``ugly as mud and not too bright but she sure as hell knew what it was with boys and girls'' and was also the town's sharpshooter, producing inestimable pride in her 13-year-old beau. Other offerings present a darker panorama: a man tries to get through Czech customs with his wife's ashes; a mother who spies on her daughter's front-porch fumblings later confronts the boyfriend, offering her own brand of advice and comfort. Piercing observations paired with wonderfully comic phrasing: small gems from a master of the form.