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…)

imagining the Future

Don Menzel

Yogi Berra, the greatest philosopher and sage of our time, put it this way: “The future ain’t what it used to be!” No, it’s not … it’s what we imagine it to be. How do I imagine the future? At almost age 80, I imagine a future that is not far off. Indeed, nearly five years ago I imagined a future that would put us in our forever house. Oh, how wrong I was. Why? Because I learned that it is near impossible to imagine a future that is different from the present. Let me clarify.  (More…)

Struggle for Freedom

Junia Ancaya

Chapter One: Lodz, 1942, Ghetto at Baluty

Like the shattering of my family and Poland due to Hitler’s and Stalin’s ruthless power ambitions, my first impressions of life in Lodz in the midst of WW II, my awakening, emerged not as a continuum but as fragmented images and episodes. . . .

I was six. I held her hand and through her fingers felt my mother tremble at the approach of an SS man, but he passed us by on the street. A menacing sky hung close above Lodz’s numerous factory chimneys. Bulky ashen clouds and snowflakes crowded the air as my mother, brother and I stood waiting at a street corner for the trolley. Around us more and more people were caught in the whistling wind. It blew one way and the other and swept in mad pirouettes.

The trolley barreled toward us growing to enormous proportions before it squealed to an abrupt stop. A door opened in front of me, so I freed myself from my mother’s hand and hopped onto the stairs. But the next second she yanked me backwards by my collar. I slid on the snow, and before I had time to think she picked me up and rushed to the last trolley car. My brother raced beside us. We boarded. Mother sat on the one available seat.   (More…)

Will the Turkey Catch on Fire?

Diane White

Will the turkey catch on fire? This was the “burning” question that fascinated us kids at Thanksgiving. I suspect the adults were secretly wondering the same thing. (*Spoiler alert – if you are a fan of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 – you can probably figure out the answer.)

You may remember my story about the search for my grandmother’s potato salad recipe at the start of the pandemic’s “safer at home” order. As I was excavating my recipes – bits of paper here and there, forgotten recipes stuffed in cookbooks – I found more of her recipes, including this hand-written one. It is just called “Roast chicken in bag,” and on the other side – “Turkey done same way….”  (More…)

You Can Go Home Again

Diane Russell

The day after my father died was a busy one. My sister Jan and I drove our sister and her fiancé to O’Hare International Airport to catch their flight to California to prepare for their destination wedding in three days. We then drove to our family home in Des Plaines, Illinois – the first time since our dad passed away – and took care of some urgent chores. We had not stayed at the house since it had been on the market a week earlier. The 57-year-old ranch-style home was well-maintained and convenient to commuter trains and O’Hare International Airport. We received several offers that were based on FHA financing, so an inspection would need to be done. We were concerned that many repairs would need to be made for any FHA loan to be approved.

How could I leave my childhood home for the last time? In 1955, my parents and I excitedly watched our new three-bedroom brick house being built in a brand new subdivision. Moving from Chicago to the suburbs with wide open spaces for kids to play was a dream come true for this energetic three-year-old girl.  (More…)

The Clock That Played Moulin Rouge

Ceci LaDuca

Man in uniformI’m working on my memoirs. It’s 1957 again, I’m ten years old and my handsome young Air Force daddy just returned to our home in south Florida from a tour of duty to Europe and North Africa. He always returned from these trips with gifts for my mother, my sister and me.

This time it was a beautiful set of porcelain dishes for my mom in wispy springtime colors, a round brass tray a full three feet across to be used as a coffee-table top, an exotic leather camel saddle from Morocco, fragile Hummel figurines from Germany.

For my little sister and me he had bought exquisite little musical clocks from France, about 6″ tall, painted in shiny enamel and overlaid with hand-painted pink rosebuds. I chose the black one  that played the theme from Moulin Rouge when you wound it up. My sister’s was identical, but white, and played Clair de Lune.    (More…)

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…)