My Mother: Ugly Duckling

Mother with two childrenMy Mother, Margaret Lucile Burnett, was the first-born child to a wealthy couple in Denver, Colorado, in 1911.  She was her father’s dream come true, but not so much so to her mother, Lucile, since Margaret was an unattractive child.  Lucile much preferred her next child, Chuck, a handsome boy, and her beautiful baby, Jean.

Mother grew up feeling ugly, especially as she moved into her teens.  When she was 13, she sprang into her full 5’8” height, with much extra weight to boot. She often told us of the time that her parents invited a German couple to visit.  As Mother descended the stairs to greet them, Mrs. Higgenbottom exclaimed, “Oh what a backfisch!” which Mother interpreted as a devastating put-down.  (More…)

Life and Death in Peru

Junia Acaya

Map of PeruToday is the big day at Emilio’s and Lucrecia’s hacienda, a cotton farm in the coastal desert strip of Peru, five hours by car south of Lima. Soon, my Peruvian in-laws will get ready to butcher a goat and a lamb to honor our annual arrival from the U.S. We’ll have a feast.

It is Christmas 1976, and the summer heat in the sun is extreme. The white concrete dwelling, at the heart of the estate, is open and welcoming in the shade of a royal poinciana tree—the blazing splendor of its blossoms showers the ground like a crimson carpet. Cumbias, waltzes, huaynos, and boleros blast from a radio wrapped in plastic to protect it from the mortifying sandy breezes.

Lush masses of purple bougainvilleas drape the adjacent patio where my husband, children, and I are cooling off after the morning Cessna flight over the nearby Nazca Lines—the mysterious desert geoglyphs, two thousand years old, seen only from the air. Surrounded by our solicitous native relatives, among them my quiet mother-in-law, Señora Baldomera, we sip maracuyá juice, passion fruit nectar, chatting in the oasis of a peach orchard.  (More…)

Pandemic Potato Salad

Diane White

The Saga of the Pandemic Potato Salad – Comfort Food Through the Generations

Potato saladWhat does potato salad remind you of? To me potato salad is summer days, picnics, family, tailgating at the beach. Happiness.

I am calling this story the pandemic potato salad saga which reached out and brought comfort from the past.

At the beginning of the Covid-19 stay-at-home order, the call went out across the family network. S.O.S! My middle sister wanted to make potato salad. Not just any potato salad – the potato salad from our childhood. The way our Polish immigrant grandmother made it. So, I looked through my recipe files – something else I’ve been meaning to organize. And yes, I found it! Not only do I have it, it is handwritten, in my grandmother’s hand with notes lovingly explaining how to make it, addressed to her daughter-in-law, my mother.

Who was she, my grandmother, to remind us of comfort at this time? Katarzyna (Catherine) Walczak White was born in 1909. She emigrated from Andrychow, a small town in southern Poland, in 1913. She was four years old.  (More…)

I Like Ike! And Mamie!

Diane Henrikson Russell

I Like Ike button 01Back in 1956, my parents watched politics on television often. Even though there were only three commercial stations and a public television station (WTTW – Window to the World) in Chicagoland, they managed to cover President Eisenhower (nicknamed Ike) well.  He not only was our current President, but he also was running for reelection that fall.

It was perfectly normal to see my father drawing caricatures of him and other politicians while watching television. After all, he made a living drawing gag and editorial cartoons for local newspapers.

In early 1956, my dad even created an animated character for WNBQ-TV to introduce color television to Chicagoland. Red-haired Tommy Tint was dressed in a green shirt and blue overalls. Tommy painted the town and blew it up with a dynamite plunger to show off the vivid primary colors and entice the audience to tune in. Unfortunately, our family did not own a color television set, so we missed  (More…)

Becoming Americans

Lydia Gallucci Lombardo

Photo of Pietro GallucciHow Pietro Gallucci crossed the ocean and we became Americans

PART ONE: COMING TO WEST VIRGINIA

My Dad, Peter Palmer Gallucci, was one of the smartest people I ever knew…and he only completed fourth grade.  The best thing he did, in my eyes, was to immigrate to this country so we could become Americans! He took, as you will see, quite a circuitous route.

Things were tough in the Meggogiorno, the southern part of Italy where my father grew up. There were few jobs and no prospect of any in the future, even for a distinguished veteran of WWI. Farming, the only industry in Aprigliano Grupa, Calabria, my dad’s hometown, offered few work opportunities. The family farm already employed my dad’s older brothers, so he worked from age 10 on local farms needing seasonal help. He learned how to prepare the land for seeding, when and how to plant and then to weed, and the best way to harvest.  He loved working the land all his life. Later, growing produce, fruit and flowers became his hobbies instead of his occupation. (More…)

The Opera Lesson

Lydia Lombardo

Pigeon 01“Remember Colombino,” said my dad, “no matter what you do in life, always do your very best.” Now Colombino was not my given name; it was my Dad’s way of telling me he loved me by calling me “little pigeon” in Italian. He was never demonstrative in his affection – I seldom saw my mother and him embrace, but I knew he loved me, and he showed me in so many ways.

One way was his daily invitation, when I was old enough to leave my mother and the back of the store where we lived, to come “help” him in his shop. A cobbler who learned his trade when he emigrated from Sicily at the age of 16, he considered repairing shoes and leather garments an art. He never used anything but the finest materials and was so meticulous in his stitching and dyeing that customers seldom could find where the tear had been.

Because his little shop was located in what is now known as Wrigleyville, he became the repair expert for the Chicago Cubs, and I remember players  (More…)

Zooming With My Family

Diane Russell

zoom-appNo doubt you now have heard of Zoom, which is used extensively to conduct virtual meetings since the spread of COVID-19.  OLLI also is considering its use for group communications.

Have you considered using Zoom to keep in touch with your family?

One of my sisters and her family live in Chicagoland, while my other sister lives in Tucson. We were together as a group most recently on Christmas Day in 2018. When my 30-year-old niece, Amy, suggested that we gather virtually using Zoom, I literally jumped at the chance.  Instead of gathering as Brady Bunch heads to share our recent safer-at-home stories, we danced!   (More …)

The “Art” of Riding Roller Coasters with Tom

Diane Russell

It was love at first sight. They met eating dinner outside at A1A Café in downtown Brandon, Florida, in October 1994. They clicked because of an unusual talent that they shared: the love of drawing cartoons!

They compared notes about drawing styles as well as unusual body and facial shapes throughout the meal and laughed often. They lingered over evening goodbyes. While one of them lived in Brandon, the other one lived in Des Plaines, Illinois. Would they ever see each other again?

I am describing the first time that my father Art, a professional cartoonist, met my future husband Tom, a high school art teacher who had drawn Popeye flip cartoons as a kid.  My dad was sold on Tom as a possible boyfriend for me after that first meeting and was determined to help out our interactions in any way that he could.  (More…)

Luck, Skill, Fate and Attitude

We’ve recently received two posts that explored the question : “Which is more important?  The way you deal with Life or the way Life deals with you?”  Neither writer was aware of the other’s work.  Rather than publish them in separate issues of OLLI Connects, we decided to run both of them at once.  Enjoy!

Do you consider yourself an (un)lucky person? Are you a poker player? I used to be but decided that with my luck I may as well stay home. Oh, how about skill? Doesn’t poker require some skill like being able to count and remember the cards that have been played.  Sure it does!  But it didn’t matter in my case; I always lost—was unlucky, you might say. I suppose another way of putting this is to say that my “fate” was always—to lose (at poker).  Neither luck nor skill mattered.

So how do you think about luck, skill, and fate in life? Are you a “what will be will be” person? Or do you believe that through skill and some luck, the future is yours to determine? I hope your answer is  (More…)

New Car, New Husband

Diane Russell

In the summer of 1992, my red 1988 Toyota Tercel started costing hundreds of dollars a month to maintain. Fortunately, I could walk or ride my bike 1.5 miles each way from Oak Ramble Village, my apartment complex, to my job as a Human Resources Coordinator at the University of South Florida (USF). I also was a new part-time graduate student in Counselor Education at USF and could walk to those evening classes.

However, my continued membership and choir participation at St. Mark United Church UCC in Valrico was in question. St. Mark was over 20 miles away from Oak Ramble Village, so it was a 40-mile roundtrip drive. I had two options:  1) leave St. Mark and attend another church or 2) buy a new car and continue worshipping at St. Mark.

I had been a member of St. Mark for five years and was good friends with Rev. Garry and Carolyn Scheuer, the minister and his wife, who also served my hometown church, the First Congregational Church of Des Plaines, Illinois. I had made some friends in the choir and felt comfortable. It would be a tough decision to make.  (More…)