The River – Book Review

Lucinda Knox

I am not an outdoorswoman, and my skills with an oar or a paddle are negligible. The last time I fished was with my dad when my family spent summer vacations in Wisconsin. I have never fired a gun, although I was good with a bow and arrow at one point. However, I loved this book. Peter Heller, who is an adventure writer, an outdoorsman, whitewater kayaker, fisherman, a recipient of an MFA in fiction and poetry, and much more, uses his background to good advantage. He has created a thrilling, poetic work with memorable main characters whose wilderness canoe trip is upended by a wildfire and men intent on killing them.

I was immediately hooked by the prologue:

“They had been smelling smoke for two days. At first they thought it was another campfire and that surprised them because  (More…)

The Meaning of Life

Don Menzel

What do you think is the meaning of life?

Wow! What a question. Where to start? Okay, let’s start easy—eat, drink, and be merry! I like the “be merry” part but can’t say much positive about the “eat, drink” choices. What a dumpster life, if you thought the meaning of life was total self-pleasure.

Okay, let’s try another easy one—enjoy yourself while you’re young, because there’s no going back. Maybe so but … the fountain of youth could turn up somewhere. Who knows?

Let’s assume for the moment that you can go back. What age would you want to be?  (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…)

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…)

Brenda Tipps – A Memory

Joyce Carpenter

A woman stands in an archway

It’s hard to imagine a finer human being than Brenda Tipps. I do not use that phrase lightly: Brenda was a person one so rarely meets in one’s lifetime. We met twenty-eight years ago, and for me, the friendship born of that meeting has been life-changing.

Brenda was extraordinary. She was beautiful and classy but always in an understated way. I am sure that she was completely unaware of how her physical presence affected and captivated her circle of friends. Neither vanity nor jealousy of others ever wormed their way into Brenda’s life.

Those of us who had the good fortune to enroll in an OLLI class with Brenda know that she possessed a trove of literary information.  She deeply loved and understood books and poetry and plays.  She spoke never to demonstrate her brilliance or knowledge but only to contribute to the topic under discussion. Her comments were wise, considered, and often slyly witty. In her classes she was supportive and respectful of participants and she had the ability to respond to all remarks with insight and charm. When Brenda spoke, the class paid attention.  (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…)

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…)

Table for One

Robert Strozier

Reflections of an 80-Year-Old Bachelor

Steve Martin Lonely Guy 01In one of my favorite scenes from the movie, The Lonely Guy, Steve Martin enters a fancy restaurant and requests a table for one. Spotlights from all angles zero in on the lowly intruder as the diners shrink back in shock and distaste.

A long-time bachelor, I know that rebuff well. Once, after I was seated in a restaurant, the waitress asked, “Will we be joined by the missus?” “Highly unlikely,” I said, “I’m single,” and over her face passed a fleeting shadow of pity and mistrust.

I was always eager to get married, I told myself, certain the world would eventually beat a path to my doorway… someone from Publishers Clearing House would ring and—surprise! —present me with the woman of my dreams. Then one day I checked my watch and noticed that five decades had gone by.  (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 …)