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Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

A book often finds its way into the hands and the heart of a reader at just the right moment. It can sit, unattended, for months, balancing chapters on a TBR pile, gathering IMG_9159dust or jockeying for a place higher up in the queue. It can rest inside a large, canvas tote filled with wrappers, receipts, and to-do lists,  intended reading over a latte, or a companion to pass the time in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. Books are always patient and kind awaiting their grand opening. So it was with Tyra Manning’s compelling memoir, “Where the Water Meets the Sand”.  I found myself opening its pages on a hot, humid summer afternoon and closed it a few days later with tears in my eyes and hope in my soul.

In the summer of 1970, a very young Tyra and her husband,  First Lieutenant Larry Hull. holding their baby daughter, bid farewell as he boarded a plane destined for Viet Nam. Before being deployed, Larry, a pilot, bought a trailer home for his young family and encouraged Tyra to continue her college education and become a teacher. They made plans for when he would have some R&R in Hawaii; they would meet where the water meets the sand. As he prepared to leave, Tyra promised Larry that he would be buried at Arlington National Cemetery if he was killed in the war.

On February 2, 1971, First Lieutenant Larry Hull’s plane, on a secret mission under heavy enemy fire, went down in a jungle in Laos. Tyra was notified that her husband had died instantly. His body was not found. Devastated, Tyra called her mother and made plans for Larry’s funeral.

At the time of Larry’s death, Tyra was being treated for clinical depression at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. Her doctor came to her room at the clinic to deliver her the horrible news.

As her father slowly faded from heart disease and her mother and father were often away for long periods of time,  seeking out doctors and treatments, Tyra and her brother were cared for by relatives and friends. Her father’s early death was overwhelming and vivid in Tyra’s memory. Tyra experienced even more heartache and loss early in her early years, leading to a rebellious teen and underperformed scholastically, acute depression, addictions, and an overwhelming fear of loss. Immobilized by fear and depression and fearing the safety and well-being of her young daughter, Tyra bravely sought help at the famed Menninger Clinic, her daughter being cared for by others, much as Tyra was as a child.

Tyra eventually earned her teaching certificate, became a principal, and then a well-regarded school superintendent. A champion for children, she raised her daughter, and conquered her illnesses with courage and determination.

Her personal journey is much more, however. “Where the Water Meets the Sea” is a beacon of hope for those who battle mental health issues, bulimia, binging, purging, cutting, alcoholism, drug addictions . . . Tyra Manning’s journey is one in which there IS a light at the end of the dark tunnels of life. It is also a touchstone to those adults, myself included, who have lost a parent early in their life and a recognition of how many carry that loss with them long into adulthood.

Dr. Manning’s story is also a testament to the burden of military families, as well as of veterans, who often bear their wounds and scars in ways we cannot see. SPOILER ALERT  Tyra Banks gives us a personal perspective of the uniquely heavy loss of a loved one whose body is never returned, as well as the “what if” should one’s remains be found.  Larry’s remains were located more than three decades after he was lost to war. It was not just a journey for Tyra, but, for the men in his unit as well, many of whom Tyra later meets and hears, first hand, of how Larry died, when he is finally laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Their own sadness at not being able to return his body is expressed and Dr. Manning seems sensitive to in her writing.

For every adult who still carries his or her inner child who lost a parent at an early age, this is a book to read.

For every family member of military whose loved one never come back from war, this is a book to read.

For everyone with immobilizing fears, anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, this is a book to read.

For you, dear reader, this is a book to read.

Thank you, Dr. Manning. Your courage to seek help and your courage to tell your story is inspiring and, in spite of the sadness and pain, your story is a gift, especially for the millions of people who seek that spot where the water meets the sand.

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IMG_8656I was sitting with my laptop, on my lap, my eyes on the computer screen. my ears on the strains of music.

I always look forward to PBS’s airing of A Capitol Fourth and enjoy the program; the music, the people, the tributes, and the memories.

I was relishing it all, from military bands to pop stars, my eyes wandering from computer screen to television screen, watching performers and attendees enjoy our national birthday party.

Kenny Loggins came on, first playing Convictions of the Heart, then rolling into Footloose. Not really a song one would expect on Independence Day, but, then, again, why not? We ARE free to dance where we want. Flash Mobs pop up and invade social media, those being “flashed” seem to enjoy them, but, I digress.

My feet always start to move when Loggins’ Footloose comes on, and I did right then;  I felt footloose and started dancing around, hoping I didn’t bump into the furniture, knock a lamp over, or bungle my back. Sometimes it is fun to just cut loose.

We saw Kenny Loggins in concert a few years ago. It was a wonderful outdoor concert at the Morton Arboretum. By the time the stars and fireflies came out, even  the trees were swaying to Danger Zone.

Kenny’s songs played often and loudly in our house. The House at Pooh Corner was a strong contenders for Katy’s father/daughter wedding dance. James (you know who) won out.

Kenny was singing, my toes were tapping, the Capitol rocked – and my memory wheel started turning back several decades to the year we spent the 4th of July, Independence Day, in Washington D.C. The girls were old enough to appreciate the trip, young enough to go along with all the historical venues (well, most of them).

We spent the entire day, July 4, touring D.C. sites, starting with the reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the National Archives, and ending with the fireworks display on the Mall. We rode the trolley to Arlington National Cemetery, quietly taking in the rows upon rows of burial markers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and also paid respects at the Kennedy graves, then onward to the Lincoln Memorial, which was full of people, the reflecting pond suddenly coming to life for me where it had been before only in historical photos, Forrest Gump, etc. We spent time at the Smithsonian’s museums and more changing of the guard at the National Archives. We spent time on the Mall, witnessed the Viet Nam Memorial, and listened to a bit of a character expound on why he was running for president . . . let’s just say there have always been characters running for president. This candidate wore a safari outfit, complete with a whip, like Indiana Jones, and he shared his arrest record.

Unplanned and unprepared, we found a spot on the lawn of Mall to wait for the fireworks – after we dined on the worst hot dogs imaginable and lived to tell about it! We sat on our sweatshirts, as we did not have blankets to place on the grass. Religious groups, aging hippies and folks from all walks of life and countries made what appeared like a human blanket on the nation’s lawn. It was really one big block party. I think the four of us will always remember it, though in different ways, with different but valid convictions in our hearts.

 

 

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IMG_8077As with many adventures, ours began in a train station; the Riverside train station, to be exact. A group of 23 garden club members met in this historic depot for a customized tour of six private gardens, led by several docents of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society.

The entire town of Riverside, formed in 1868, was designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The entire town of Riverside has a National Historic Landmark designation and is often referred to as the town in a forest. The quaint downtown with its unique tower is the centerpiece of Riverside; a town with gently winding streets, a variety of stately trees and boulevards that meander, much like the nearby Des Plaines River,  down charming lanes reminiscent of another era and past homes designed by noted architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frederick Law Olmsted is widely regarded as the founder of American landscape architecture.

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Our tour was arranged by the conservation and education committee as we wrapped up our garden club’s 90th anniversary year. We were hoping to see how a town can develop in harmony with nature. We decided to tour Riverside (the past) and visit a relatively new enterprise in nearby Brookfield, Root 66. The owner of Root 66 gave us a program on hydroponics and aquaponics (the future) at our June meeting.

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As we “motored in our machines” to the gardens, our cars in procession, hazard lights blinking, racing through town at about 20 mph, we must have looked like a funeral procession. Some of the gardens were more fitting to the architecture and era of the home with prairie type plantings and natives, while others were more precise and controlled. We viewed the grounds of the Avery Coonley Playhouse, designed by Wright, as well as five other gardens.

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I found it to be a delightful and inspiring adventure, tired but smiling as I got back into my car at the Riverside train station, where our adventure began.

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9780525953005_custom-1a7b1faa66fe002fff8a3604f6c0f3534d546b1c-s600-c85James and Sadie Goodenough are stuck; figuratively and literally stuck in the Black Water Swamp of Ohio. Settlers from Connecticut, they head west in the 1830s with their children in a wagon. The wagon gets stuck in the mud of the swamp, near Perrysburg, Ohio. There, James and Sadie remain, until the day they die.

At the start of the story, 1838, the Goodenoughs have already lost 5 children from swamp fever. All but their son, Robert,   have suffered from  the swamp fever.  It is a hard existence, made all the harder by the temperaments of Sadie and James. A dysfunctional family, James is quick to use the switch on his children, and the back of his hand on Sadie. Sadie provokes him, which does not make it right, but, she is downright mean and will sit and watch her children being beaten for something she herself has done, with a smirk on her face.

The Goodenoughs settle in the Black Water Swamp and set to raising apples. James adores the “eaters”, while Sadie craves the “spitters” – or, rather, she craves the apple jack made from the “spitters”.  The apples are at the core of their hatred for each other and are the seeds of their bitterness. Life at the Goodenoughs is hard and dark and often unbearable. For Sadie, the infrequent visits of a John Chapman are the only bright spots in her life.  Chapman stops by several times a year with apple saplings and seeds, and to take the “spitters” to be pressed for cider, which is used to make apple jack. Chapman is more commonly known as Johnny Appleseed.

So goes the first part of this book, told in the voices of Sadie and James. It is at times difficult to read and so full of darkness that one can almost feel the despair of the Black Water Swamp. One might say the Sadie drowns her difficult life in the apple jack, but, there are hints that she brings other issues to the Goodenoughs and I found myself wondering why they ever married each other in the first place. The first part ends in unbelievable violence, in the apple orchard. All of the living Goodenough children are in the orchard, and it is there that the author leaves them, taking us to the second part of the book, told in the voice of Robert, the favored son.

We follow Robert across the prairies, the mountains, the Gold Rush – and eventually to Northern California. Robert writes home to his siblings still living, he assumes,  in the Blackwater Swamp, near Perrysburg, Ohio, asking them how they are, have they survived episodes of swamp fever, and he asks for them to write back at various addresses he gives them. Robert eventually ends up in the Redwood forests, under the great sequoia, collecting seeds and saplings for a company in England.  Robert is back in an orchard, though a much different kind.

The third part of the book brings surprises in the form of two women and some gentler, kinder characters as Robert suddenly finds himself face-to-face with his Ohio past.

“The Edge of the Orchard” had me spellbound, even in the hard, dark times of the story. Sadie was as bitter as the “spitters” she craved and James was hard and selfish. Both were as stuck in their anger toward each other as they were in the Black Water Swamp. The historical aspects of the story fascinated me. While I knew a bit about John Chapman and how apples were planted in part of the eastern United States, I did not know much about the redwoods and the sequoia in the west, or of the plant trade between the States and England. I found this section fascinating.

It was also surprising for me to find such a large part of this novel written around Perrysburg, Ohio.  My mother-in-law grew up on a farm not far from Perrysburg, and would talk about her early life on the farm, which was closer to a much smaller town. I did not know about the Black Water Swamp. Chevalier’s book had me on an adventure reading up on the Black Water Swamp, and then reading more on the sequoia.

“The Edge of the Orchard” had me, at times, on the edge of my seat, or, more accurately, sitting in my car listening to the audio of this book. I think that reading this book via a recording made it a bit easier. At least it did in hearing the voices of the main characters. This book was spellbinding; another notable book from Tracy Chevalier, who wrote “The Girl With the Pearl Earring”.

Have you read anything by Ms. Chevalier?

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Oh, sweet goodness – the anticipation was worth the wait! IMG_7748 - Version 2

Months after the expertly seamed conclusion of one of my all-time favorite television series, I was finally able to feel the grandeur of Downton Abbey’s exquisite costuming at Chicago’s Dreihaus Museum’s exhibit, Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times. 

My dear friend, Bev, and I were fortunate to be able to enter the Dreihaus Museum and quickly purchase our entry. We leisurely wandered through the exhibit, with knowledgeable staff directing us so seamlessly through the rooms that I imagined Mrs. Hughs hidden behind the curtains orchestrating it all.

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These period costumes with their historical accuracy and styling, bejeweled and draped, were nothing short of magnificent. Whether intricately embroidered with flowers or capped with feathers and jewels, it was easy to slip into the London Season of the early 20th Century, or a nurse’s uniform with Lady Sybil.

I was as in awe of the craftsmanship of the costumes as I was of the sleek figures of the actors who wore these period clothes.

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Characters always look larger than life on a screen, even a television screen. Becoming so intimately aware of their actual physical size is amazing. I had a renewed appreciation for the seamstresses and costume designers, as I did for those who spend an inordinate amount of time researching period dress. While Downton Abbey is a fictional story, it depicts specific decades, with the mores, customs, historical background, and issues of the times. It was enlightening to see this exhibit and the clothes and adornments of the characters which so beautifully illustrate the time period.

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This was a breathtaking exhibit, in the company of a dear friend, inside a historic turn-of-the-century mansion on the world renowned Gold Coast of Chicago.

Crikey!

Oh! I almost forgot the Dowager  .  . .

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IMG_6517A sea of pink flowers,  artfully arranged by the ladies of the garden club. A simple set of instructions: clear vase, pink, white, green and black flowers and adornments.

A historical presentation of The Little Black Dress, modeled in vintage dresses covering the nine decades our garden club has been celebrating this year, in the grandeur of the magnificent Medinah Country Club.

More than 130 women, elegantly attired in black and pink, green and white, tailored and flowing, long and short, sipping drinks and chatting with friends as they perused more than twenty artistically adorned raffle baskets.

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A delectably plated luncheon of tomato bisque soup, salad topped with warm chicken, and this pièce de résistance.

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It was a remarkably memorable afternoon. Two wonderful women, my friends,  were honored as Women of the Year. Our garden club members and their guests forgot their worries and troubles for a few hours, or, at least felt those burdens lift.  They were, hopefully, feeling as special as they are in this all-too- brief  but very special moment in time

A few glimpses into the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon – A Little Black Dress.

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IMG_5832. . . on yet another bookish adventure in my inter-library loan system, this time at the Indian Prairie Library,  I noticed this poster as I started to walk out. I decided right then and there to sign up for the lecture, which was to begin in about thirty minutes. Sometimes spontaneity becomes an illustrative page in time.

The meeting room was close to being a full house as interested library patrons and others gathered for the lecture. I was actually surprised at the 1 pm turnout. It looked to be at least 60 people – a good number on snowy weekday afternoon.

Isn’t it amazing what public libraries provide?  From the Lannon stone structure in Western Springs that recently gave me solace, to the day I was “mullioned” –  and lived to tell the tale – libraries have also been havens for me. They not only house books; they instill knowledge and awareness through lectures and provide places to meet, to learn, to expand our knowledge. Public libraries are such treasures, but, you already know that.

The Chicago ‘L’ is an integral part of the City and suburban transport system. It grew out of the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire with its early transports taking patrons to the Columbian Exposition. The Windy City and the ‘L” grew in tandem, raising the City of Big Shoulders up from the ashes and expanding it outward to the north, the south, and the west, part and parcel to eventual urban and IMG_6010 suburban sprawl.

I found Greg Borzo to be an interesting, entertaining and engaging speaker.  A noteworthy historian with a passion for the City of Chicago, I know I would enjoy having him for a docent on a Chicago tour. He proceeded to bring the steel and beams of Chicago’s elevated trains to life as he mapped the history of early means of transportation in the late 1800’s with many vintage photos, some of which I am showing here and credit to Greg Borzo’s book, “The Chicago “L” ” .

I am most familiar with the Lake Street “L” and can vividly remember my first time on it, catching the “L” in Oak Park with my mother, heading downtown to the dentist, whose office was in the Field Annex  of Marshall Fields.  So clear is my memory of all the stops along the way and all the stations, up in the air, where people got off and people got on. I remember Ma saying,  “Penny, we are now in the Loop” as the train circled round, making a loop, squeaking as it turned, the upper floor windows of businesses so close I could see in them. I hoped it wouldn’t fall down while in awe, catching the sun as it would  play hide and seek sun, peaking around the skyscrapers.

Greg Borzo spoke of the many train lines that are all a part of the “L” system and how the subway eventually came into being, an underground system of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). He showed photos of workers digging out the mud, underground, to form the tunnels that would accommodate the underground trains.

I was particularly interested in the funeral train cars, recalling childhood stories of how my paternal grandfather’s coffin, family and mourners were taken from the City to Elmwood Cemetery in the suburbs. The train my Papou’s coffin was transported in would not have been on the “L”, but, the funeral car would have looked similar to the one I show here from the book.  I can only imagine the long ordeal of sadness and grief, riding the rail out of the city to suburban areas during the Great Depression.

On a lighter note, we were also reminded of the many movies with scenes filmed on the Chicago “L”.  Can you name any?

Do you have an elevated transport system where you live?  Have you ever ridden on an elevated train?

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I can’t wait to see what my next library visit brings.

Photos are from The Chicago “L”  by Greg Borzo

 

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