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…)

Why I Bought Shampoo for My Shrink’s Wife

Robert Strozier

Intro: Pyschotherapy takes many odd twists and turns, but even by those standards the author’s relationship with his therapist in India was—well—a bit wacky.

By shamelessly pulling a lot of strings in 1966, at age 26, I landed a trainee management job with a large philanthropic organization in New Delhi, India, for which I was totally unqualified. To add to my guilt, the job came with a house and four servants: a cook-bearer, a gardener, a sweeper, and a night watchman, who’d sit outside the front door all night guarding my precious, fraudulent being.

I was in over my head big time, not only at work but home as well. My elderly cook-bearer, Chand, usually out-maneuvered me in battles for control, once pointing out—with a wide grin—that I looked like one of the Beach Boys on an album cover. The message was clear: I was a Boy, not a real Sahib.  (More…)

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…)