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…)

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 …)

The Ancient Desert Curse

Marilyn Myerson

Part the First

All signs and portents spoke of disaster befalling the project. Rumors abounded, warning of the ancient curse.

Easily disregarded was the curse as fictitious superstition if you were on the dig for money or fame. Both were promised in abundance if the early research proved to be well-founded. Not as easily dismissed was the curse if you were a knowledgeable local worker, recruited to help dig through the age-old ruins for the usual paltry wages and miserable working conditions. But other jobs were scarce and there were mouths to feed. You swallowed your foreboding so the young might swallow their ration of bread.

Me, I observe the scene with detachment, as is my wont.  (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…)

How I Almost Worked for the President of the United States

Robert Strozier

In 1979 I was hired as a writer by a well-known and flamboyant marketing-and-sales-management consultant named Stanley Arnold, who over a long career had created many a successful promotional campaign for various blue-chip companies, such as:  “Win Your Height in Dollar Bills” for Lever Brothers, “Win a Bathtub Full of Cash” for Dove Soap, and “Win a Mattress Full of Money” for Simmons.

One of Arnold’s more memorable promotions helped introduce a new line of specialty foods from General Foods, and the unveiling of the “horse-of-a-different-color” theme to marketing executives featured just that—a white horse dyed a bright blue. Another client of his—a man seeking a high-paid position at an advertising agency—brought a belly dancer along to the job interview…his resume written on her undulating abdomen. The list goes on and on.  (More…)

A Post-Pandemic Quest

Vern Schmitz

Socrates is alleged to have said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Was he talking to the elite of ancient Greece? Or are his words still applicable to us, even though we are separated by thousands of years?

Bruce Feiler, in his most recent book, Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, would appear to agree wholeheartedly with Socrates’ idea that we benefit from examining our own lives. After interviewing 225 people who had experienced horrific and some more common life-altering events in their lives, Mr. Feiler states: “Life is the story you tell yourself.”

Feiler says that our life transitions, which he calls “life disrupters,” and for the very largest of these events, “lifequakes,” require us to rewrite our life story. I had one of these “lifequakes” myself; it was my heart attack on the eve of my 49th birthday. To compound the difficulty of this medical event, it also led to the subsequent loss of my first career.  (More…)

If You Could See Me Now

Peter Terzian

Ever since my wife died a couple years ago, my life has taken a turn in a completely new direction. My son moved away with his girlfriend, got married and had a couple of kids. The house full of stuff was no longer necessary, so I sold all of it. Any work I was doing was now done online, from anywhere in the world. So, I moved to the South of France and opened a small brew-pub. I call it Un Voyou.

Every morning I get up early. The first thing I brew is some coffee. Then I tend to my other brewing: beer. Every day there’s something to do:  brewing, fermenting, packaging, and ordering ingredients. Sometimes I imagine this is how the Belgian Monks lived. Not bad at all. Then, I walk to one of the cafes nearby to get lunch or just relax with some fresh fruit, a cheese sandwich, and some wine.  (More…)

What We’re Reading Now

Linda Feeney

Planning an OLLI social event in today’s world presents challenges. Robyn Cheung decided to try a form of book discussion and I offered to moderate. The result was an invitation to a virtual Book Lovers’ Happy Hour on September 4. Would anybody come? Should we prepare some back-up questions in case the discussion lags? Silly us.

The 15 participants signed in more than ready to talk about their books. There was very little moderating to do except to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak —  plenty of time to marvel at the variety and depth of both selections and accompanying commentary.  (More…)