Favorite Memory of Mom

Ray Ann Favata

My favorite memory of Mom was her ability to produce beautiful wearable items sewn by her hands and heart. She was a good seamstress. Not great, because she could not design and cut out a garment without a pattern like the contestants on Project Runway. She was good because she could purchase a Simplicity (her favorite) pattern, select the fabric and create an outfit anyone would be proud to wear.

She mastered the pinch-pleated skirt. It was always made from a colorful printed fabric rescued from the bargain basement at the local Woolworth 5 and 10¢ Store. Imagine, with just two yards at 25 cents a yard, I had a skirt for a few dollars.

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Cousin Vince and the Kindness of Friends

Diane Henrikson Russell

Author’s Note: I was inspired to write this memoir after taking John Grant’s OLLI class titled, “Life and Death Documents Everyone Should Have.”

I had insomnia on Memorial Day weekend of 2016 and disregarded the advice not to check my phone.

I instantly regretted it when I saw a text message from my second cousin, “Joe.” Our dads were first cousins who were as close as brothers. We both grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois and went to the same church. We had bonded lately over fond memories of our dads.

He reported that Vince, his uncle and my first cousin once removed, had had a stroke and lung cancer. Since he was losing his vision rapidly, he hired a neighborhood woman to be his assistant to communicate with his friends.      Read more

The Soviet Invasion of Zbaraz

In 1939, after denying any hostile intentions, Soviet Russia invaded Poland from the east as Nazi Germany was invading it from the west.  A few days ago, after denying any hostile intentions, Russia invaded Ukraine. Both invasions affected the town of Zbaraz, now Zbarazh, on the border between Poland and Ukraine.

Junia Ancaya’s father, Stefan, a Lieutenant in the Polish army, was captured by the Russians at Zbaraz as they swept through. Junia has told his story in one of her books, and we are publishing the portion here that tells the story of 1939.  The story of 2022 is yet to be written.  –Editor

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Silver Wedding Anniversary

Junia Ancaya

Beginning in 1949, after narrowly surviving WW II in Europe, my parents Marta and Stefan Orzechowski and I spent fifteen arduous years in exile in Argentina—starting from zero. Meanwhile, Poland, our country, was under the vicious heel of Soviet-imposed Communism.

In spite of our limited resources under the tyranny and chaos of Juan D. Peron’s presidency, after several years, we proudly built a one-bedroom concrete-block house, a ”box”. My parents and I built it with our very own hands (with the help of an amateur roofer) in Barrio Roca—on a scarcely populated, low-priced grassy field northeast of greater Buenos Aires.  (More…)

The Flying Aunts Carry Out Dad’s Wishes

Diane Russell

Before his November 2012 death, Dad expressed the desire that some of his ashes be scattered in the Fox River which bordered our family’s 100-year-old cottage.

This treasured property in Johnsburg, a northeastern Illinois village along the Fox River near the Wisconsin border, was a gift to five generations from my great-grandparents, affectionately known as Little Grandpa and Little Grandma Henrikson. In 1919, Little Grandpa and four co-workers from the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad bought five adjoining riverfront lots with identical small square wooden cottages. The cottage served as a much-loved place for both boisterous family gatherings and solitary meditational times. On his final trip to the cottage in October 2012, Dad was still in awe: “It is so peaceful here. I love it.”

We could not afford to keep the cottage in the family. I felt a multitude of feelings when (more…)

The Greatest Generation and a Misspelled Name

My husband and I have always taken pride in our fathers’ World War II military service. Both served in the US Army Air Corp (now the Air Force). Bill, my father-in-law, was a gunner flying B-24s over Germany (in the “waist” of the plane, the middle side behind the wings); my father, Murray Zimney, was a ground crew engineer performing maintenance on the same planes before and after their bombing runs.

Bill’s last name was Beasom. My husband Buck Beasom (he says he kept his own name when we got married) is actually Bill Jr., but has been Buck since his Vietnam-era Navy days. Buck grew up hearing tales of Bill’s flying adventures, mostly (but not always) sanitized for the ears of the four children. My father Murray was far more reserved in sharing information about his days in the military. Perhaps, according to the norms of the 1950’s, his two little girls needed to be sheltered from all disturbing things.  (More…)

Family Found

Diane Henrikson Russell

1880 portrait of Carolina in Swedish family photo album

The Ancestry.com hint appeared as a leaf linked to Carolina Eugenia Oscaria Tillberg.

Before I reveal the hint, here is some background. Carolina was my great-grandmother. The story goes that Carolina was born in Stockholm, and at age 11, she traveled with neighbors to Chicago and settled in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  She was supposed to return to her family in Stockholm, but she never went home.

Instead, Carolina at age 20 married a Norwegian man, Bernhardt Henrikson, who immigrated to Sheboygan as a two-year-old boy with his parents and siblings. They raised three children, including my grandfather, and moved to Chicago in 1894 for a job with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.  (More…)

My Young Life

Anne Strozier

When my mother became a widow, I was 12 years old, living in Tallahassee, Florida.  The morning of April 20, 1960, I walked into the kitchen just as my mother was hanging up the phone. “Daddy’s had a heart attack,” she said.  I assumed she meant her father, Clough.  No, it was my father who’d had the heart attack.

The day before, my father had gone to a conference in Chicago.  Mother told me she’d be flying to Chicago to be with Dad while our elderly and rather taciturn neighbor, Mr. Yant, would take me and my 16-year-old brother Chuck to school.

Mid-morning, Mr. Yant appeared at the door of my classroom.  We drove home in silence, and I arrived home to be greeted by three anxious neighbor ladies, one of whom still had on pin curls.  I said hi to them and walked into the living room to sit by myself.  (More…)

America the Beautiful: My Personal Story

Teri Dreyfuss-Gray

What does it mean to be an American?  To me it means everything.  What it means goes beyond my place of birth.  For me it goes back to when millions of Irish people, Italians, and Eastern Europeans crossed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a better life.

My mother’s parents were refugees who came to this country from Russia.  They fled religious persecution as the pogroms claimed the lives of their families.  They made a good life for themselves in the safety of Coney Island, owning a dry goods store.  They never talked about the old country:  only about how lucky they were in America,  the land of freedom.

My father’s father left his family in Romania as a young adult, because they were poor.  Once in America, he pursued his dream, became a chef and made a future for himself.  My father’s mom was born in Palestine.  She was the oldest of ten children and was sent to America to find opportunity and a better life.  She often talked of her pride in living in America and loved to sing the song, “America the Beautiful.”  My grandparents felt lucky, blessed, and safe to raise their children in the freedom of this beautiful country.  (More…)

Dad’s Dog Tags

Diane Henrikson Russell

A week into 2021, I received a short message from Alan Carlson, the OLLI Connects Editor. Somebody had written a comment on my 2018 OLLI Connects story about Santa Claus. Who would comment on it two years later? Alan sent the comment for me to read before posting it.

The comment read: “Dear Diane, I try to contact you on your Facebook message about your dad. Hope you can see and read it! Kind regards, Sam.”

I checked Messenger and, sure enough, there was a message from Sam with two blurred images. In this age of mistrust and online scamming, I did not open the images and chose not to reply through Messenger.

Instead, I emailed Sam with the following message:  (More…)