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Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

THE O'NEILL BOYS :2O’Neill Oil Company, Williamsburg, Iowa

It wasn’t an oil company in the ways we have come to know them.

It was a gas station in all the ways you and I have recently discussed; a service station, a filling station, a place to have your oil checked, and it was a fuel resource for area farms near the small, midwestern town of Williamsburg, Iowa.

The O’Neill Oil Company was operated by the four surviving sons of Tom and Kate O’Neill.  Earl, known by everyone as Irish, was the oldest, followed by Chuck, Jim, and Joe.  Joe was Tom’s father.

Tom was the only son born to the O’Neill boys. Irish, Jim, and Chuck all remained in Williamsburg, working at the station, raising families in the small town. Joe moved away as a young man and eventually settled in Midlothian, Illinois with his wife, Carolyn, daughter, Maura, and Tom. Tom’s family would often travel to Iowa for holidays and visits. For Tom, the summers he spent in that little burg are fondly recalled. There, everyone knew him as Joe’s boy as he rode a bike from the gas station around the town, stopped at the soda fountain, and played with his cousins. They evoke a simpler era of being a young boy in summer.

The uncles all favored Tom, but, it was Irish who held a special bond with his only nephew. Irish married later in life and had no children of his own. When Tom was a youngster, before Irish married, he would stay with Irish and Grandma O’Neill; Kate. The Kate our own Katy is named after. I can’t imagine a more idyllic summer vacation for a young boy from the outskirts of Chicago.

When Tom grew old enough, he would help at the O’Neill Oil Station on his summer visita. More than a gas station, yet not a big oil company. Stations such as the O’Neill’s pumped gas, fixed tires, and wiped windshields like other stations of the 50’s and 60’s. They also provided heating fuel  and gasoline for running farm equipment.

As a “working” lad of 10 or so years of age, Tommy, as he was called by his uncles, aunts and cousins, would get up early and head to the station with  his Uncle Chuck. They would open up. Tom would pump gas, clean windshields, and patch tires. He would also ride along on deliveries to the surrounding farms with tanks of fuel and gasoline; a heady adventure for a young city boy and times he remembers with great fondness.

Tom would stay at the station with Irish to close up at day’s end, after having supper at Grandma’s or at Chuck and Betty’s house. After closing, Irish and Tommy would walk the short distance to the diner on the Square and have ice cream or milk shakes.

Irish would tell the waitress when he ordered a milkshake “and make it the drinkin’ kind!” .

Tom and I were sitting and chatting about his summers in Williamsburg as I was composing posts about Route 66 and filling stations; an easy conversation to slide into at any time, but, especially when talking about the ’50s and ’60s and the adventure one could still have on the road. One as likely to transition from patching tires and riding out to the farms to deliver fuel to summery Saturday nights on the Square, to one particular Saturday night in July when all the stores stayed open late and everyone came into town for a concert in the bandstand in the town square – but, first they stopped to “filler ‘er up” at the O’Neill Oil Company.

This photo sits in two places in our house; the library/den when I usually works and the office in the barn where Tom conducts business.

Do you have a memory of summer and music on the town square or park?

I wrote about Irish O’Neill and the time the Williamsburg home team played against the Harlem Globetrotters here.

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DSCN6621Jennifer and I were enjoying the opening festivities of Autumn Splendor at the Elmhurst Art Museum, sipping on wine, nibbling on finger food, chatting with old friends and acquainting new. We wandered into the galleries and the Richard Koppe Exhibit.  As we entered the gallery, a display case caught my eye.  Actually, something in the display case caught my eye. A book.  It’s always a book with me, it seems, even in a renowned art museum.  The book, to be precise, was a cookbook.  I looked down and squealed “I have this book” .

As others were observing the large surrealistic works of Koppe, I was chewing on a cookbook.

Several years ago, I came across the very same cookbook in a second-hand store. “The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places”.  A more charming than practical compilation of recipes from famous restaurants throughout the United States,  it is divided by regions, and illustrated with stylistic paintings of each restaurant, a recipe from the restaurant, and a short description.  The books were sold by the Ford Motor Company in the heyday of US road travel in big cars and fine dining along the way as many veterans returned home from war, bought houses that were springing up all across the country, bought their first car . . .

. . .  I snapped up the book faster than a filling station attendant once rushed out to fill up the tank, clean the windows, and check the oil!

In subsequent years, I came across several other printings of the book, with some new recipes and new restaurants as original ones closed. A small cookbook collection ensued. When in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pull one of the Ford Treasury books out, then all of them, and browse through the regions, admire the illustrations, and reminisce over featured restaurants I have actually eaten in.

As I looked into the display case at the EAM, I recognized one of the printings of “The Ford Treasury . . . ” .  The book was opened to page 159, with a painting depicting the interior of the once famous Well-of-the-Sea restaurant in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Neither the restaurant, nor the hotel, still exists,  but, the mural in the background of the illustration does. When I was though swooning over a cookbook, I looked up to see Koppe’s surrealistic mural generously covering a wall of the gallery.  While not my favorite artistic style, I could not help but be impressed at the “real deal” and the vibrancy of the colors and textures.

Back home, I pulled out my treasury of mid-century finds, and there it was, page 159, in the North Central region. The Well-of the-Sea. I wandered about the pages of several Treasuries, finding restaurants I recognized, even some I have eaten in, across the country,  getting hungry for food – and for hitting the road.

Here are a few I found that I have visited:  The Wayside Inn, MA;  Williamsburg Lodge, VA;  Antoine’s, LA;  New Salem Lodge, IL;  Plentywood Farm, IL;  Don the Beachcomber, HI.

Do you have a dining “treasure” you would like me to look up in these books?  Let me know.  I would love do a future post showing a page of your remembered restaurants.

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 This book jacket opens up to a map “. . . to decorate your kitchen or game room”. I think I’ll just keep this one on the book.

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Drones

We had been frolicking under the welcoming arms of Olga Larch, amazed at her beauty, and taking silly pictures of the Purple Peeper, Penelope.  Maybe it was my camera, an aging but dependable digital that the Antler Man gave me for Christmas a decade or so ago. It is held together with duct tape and construction grade rubber bands, but, golly by gee, it does the job and keeps me cataloguing walks and dinners, grandkids and life.

So, there we were, emerging from under Olga’s leafy protection, anticipating the walk back up Frost Hill to our car.  We heard “it” before seeing “it”. Tom thought it sounded like a chainsaw on wood, employed elsewhere on the grounds of the arboretum. I thought it to be a small plane sluicing the pristine sky. Then, astounded it, we saw it zooming in, dipping down, swooping low, meeting the curve of a path, and then, like a bee full of nectar, darting back to its illusive hive.

Two women of certain age were resting on a bench, oblivious to the unidentified flying object. A couple walked ’round the bend, he querying  with a nod and a wink,  “think it was government?“. We laughed, thought CIA – or Amazon practicing book deliveries.

Back in our mocha colored VW with its luscious latte interior, we motored on, up hill and dale in the autumnal glow.  I was behind the wheel when I spied a Kodak moment, my thoughts on shadows I was collecting.  Does anyone else collect shadows?  With no one behind us, I idled and asked Tom to try to get a picture. He humored me, as he always does, took a few shots, and on we went, leaf peepers at full throttle.

Home again, I downloaded (or is it uploaded?), the camera cache of the day, prepared dinner and so forth and so on, later posting about Olga and sharing a few sillies on Facebook.  It wasn’t until a few days later, fiddling around with the photos, that I saw “it”. There, on the ground, not far from the shadowing tree; could it be that illusive drone that buzzed by us as we bid farewell to Olga?

Alas, dear readers, I’ve droned on and on, so will end this missive of a fly-by-photo of a tree, a shadow and a trash bag – or is it . . .?

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DSCN6153Nature’s wheel just keeps spinning a colorful web this fall. The trees have been outstanding, with their leaves turning  in earnest this week.  I want to drink it all in while the show lasts.

DSCN6149Some of you asked to see “my” Copper Beech in her Autumn splendor.  Her leaves are exhibiting their coppery rust, which makes it  a striking companion to what I believe is an aspen. Copper and gold; such amazing tones in nature. Even in the rain – especially in the rain – the performance is spectacular this year. Yet again, I was exploring  the Morton Arboretum on Wednesday.  The path above was leading to the glass-blowing pumpkin extravaganza going on through the weekend.  If you are in the area, you really should drop in to see the Glass Pumpkin Patch at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, and then absorb all the fall colors.

Leaf Peepers! That’s what we become in the fall. Leaf Peepers!

The path below wanders amid an arbor rainbow.  I felt a bit like Dorothy on the Yellow Brick Road.

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It doesn’t matter where paths wander in our midwestern fall ; just that we take the time to walk them, as this pair did in the Autumn mist.

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Would you like to see some of the glass pumpkins? They are even better in person.  Click on photos for a better look-see.

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DSCN5973Shall I tell you a story of linen and ink, gardens and waterfalls, sunshine and splendor?

It occurs at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.

Our garden club’s adventure started with a private tour of the Lenhardt Library; a treasure trove of horticultural books, journals, periodicals, reproduction prints and more. There was an amazing display of noteworthy bookplates, including those of Charles Dickens and Eugene Field.  Several of us were particularly interested in Field’s bookplate as we first met long before joining the garden club, when our children attended Field School, named for the poet. (you know him – Wynken, Blynken and Nod).

After our introduction to the wonders Lenhardt has to offer, we were taken into the June Price Reeder Rare Book Room. It was as if a hush fell on my soul, so enthralled was I in the presence of four centuries of bound and conserved horticultural wisdom, some of which became the template of remedies for modern medicine.  To touch the linen pages that predate the anniversary of Columbus’s discoveries, the day before Columbus Day is commemorated here, is rather awesome, indeed. The library is in the painstaking process of digitizing  these books and journals, some truly tomes, for all to access. You can see some of them by clicking the link to the rare book room above.

No garden club event seems complete without food, so, we stopped for lunch at the Cafe. We commiserated over sandwiches, soups, salads and sunshine, then separated, some taking a tram tour of the grounds, others walking the paths.  I suspect most of us also ended up in the bountiful gift shop before heading home.

The groundskeepers were busy, hauling this and that, flowers and soil, pumpkins and gourds, readying the Botanic for this weekend’s fall festivities. It was a pristine day; the best kind for visiting such an expansive garden. The Chicago Botanic Gardens is a destination for grade school field trips as well as an international destination to world travelers.  It pleased me to no end to hear the many languages that were being uttered and the universal joy of horticulture.

Here are a few photos taken in the Rare Book Room.  Our guide was Leora Siegel, the library’s director. It is an understatement to say that she was exemplary as she guided us through the centuries of books. I felt a tinge of regret when the tour concluded as I longed to hear and see more.

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Finally, a few photos of the grounds, which include the Japanese garden, the vast vistas, waterfall, and stunning chrysanthemums dripping from the main arbor leading out to the Botanic’s grounds.

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DSCN5809I seem to be drifting under panels of panes lately; and so it was at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan last weekend.

As we toured this inspiring living gallery of plants and art, in and out of rooms of glass and paved paths of wonder whilst under a stormy sky, I could not help but wonder in awe at how art and horticulture articulate so well with each other.

The sculpture below changes as one walks around; first a man, then a woman, surrounded by shrubs and greenery.

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A queen bee rules from her throne, frogs guard benches, and conservatories house exotic plants that thrive in the upper midwest lakes region.

I’ll stop writing now, dear reader, and just show you a few photos of the delights of the Meijer gardens.

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Wednesday, there was a rare opportunity to tour the greenhouse in the Biological Sciences Learning Center at the University of Chicago . It was a brilliantly clear day in Chicago with calm waters along the many miles of lakefront and an azure sky tempting the skyscrapers and architecture.

Susan, our guide and sister-in-law of one of our Garden Club members, was extraordinary in her knowledge, commitment, and sense of humor as she took us through prep areas, down hallways, one glassed room after another, and atop the greenhouse roof hosting cold frames. It was an illuminating tour amid one of the most respected institutions of higher learning, research, and development in the world.

Can you find the greenhouse? It is mid-right, about 5 stories up, shot from a passageway leading to the facility. The greenhouse needed to be rehabbed because of the emerging structure behind it. This is Chicago, my friends; always changing, rearranging the sky along its magnificent lakefront.

After our tour of the greenhouse, we went for lunch in the Sky Lobby Food Court; a seventh floor cafeteria that is always open, 24/7. You can see it below, viewed from the rooftop area of the greenhouse, it is the glassed rim trimming the building across from where we were standing.

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