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

National Poetry Month – Part 2

OLLI Connects continues its annual celebration of National Poetry Month with a selection of poems by four different writers. Thematically linked through images of flight and trees, this edition is entitled “The Aviator, The Fledgling and The Crow.” Please click on the button below to enjoy the poems of Pindie Stephen, Linda Dunk, Morrey Grymes and M.A. Sinnhuber. 
               
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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…)

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…)

On the Trolley

Junia Ancaya

The 2007 crisp autumn air of Portland, Oregon, invited Rosa and me to stroll down the tree-shaded central streets of an immaculate city.

Later, we wandered through Chinatown and laughed while we cracked and read fortune cookies, carefree like the youngsters we were when we became college friends fifty-two years ago in Buenos Aires. Since then, our lives had taken us on our separate ways, but we had continued to nurture our friendship. Now we were alone, as it sometimes happens in time . . . .

Far away from our Florida homes, during our flight to Portland, we had released arrays of troubling thoughts and unresolved problems. We longed to absorb new discoveries during our short vacation that would include a visit to the iconic Mount St. Helens Volcanic Monument.  (More…)

National Poetry Month 2021 – Part Three

What makes a good poem? Melissa Donovan tried to answer that question, and you can read her thoughts here. But before you dash off to get someone else’s opinion, pause for a moment and think about what aspects of a poem make you say, “Now, this is a good poem!” 

Is it economy of language?  Not a single word in it that isn’t critical to its wholeness?  Imagery?  Words that paint vivid pictures?  Powerful language that moves you?  A sense of sound  and rhythm that makes reading the poem aloud an experience far beyond just seeing the words on paper?  Authenticity?  The sense that this poet is sharing a powerful and private truth with you?

Got some thoughts?  Good!  Take them with you as you enjoy this week’s issue.  (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…)

An Unforgivable Mistake

Junia Ancaya

A knock on the door and a voice wakes me up, “Por favor, Doctora, come to the men’s ward. A patient is in pain.”

It’s 1961. I’m a last year medical student and my position in the hospital “on-call-hierarchy-ladder” stands firm at the bottom. I’m “el ultimo perro,” the last dog, the one who gets called all night long at Hospital San Miguel, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I’m also a young Polish immigrant in Argentina, not familiar with many of the local expressions.

I rush downstairs and ask a nurse what is going on. “It’s that old Sicilian patient, Señor Giuseppe Coconato, the one who throws kisses to every nurse. He seems to have abdominal pain,” she says.

I find the patient’s bed among rows of thirty snoring men. He lies still, holding his distended stomach. Bushy pure-white hair, eyebrows, and whiskers dominate the dark Mediterranean features of this miniature old man. He thanks me for coming. I examine him, evaluate his history, signs and symptoms, and promise him he’ll soon get medication for gas pains and indigestion.

As I walk away, while scribbling orders on his chart, the patient asks in Spanish, speaking in his near-unintelligible Sicilian accent, “Me van a poner la chata esta noche?”   (More…)