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Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

. . .  at a prescribed distance.

Six feet, to be precise.

We are in a stay-in-place order here in Illinois. Self-isolation and self-quarantine divine our spaces in ways we never imagined. We are not alone. Many of you who are reading this are hunkered down as well in these days and months of this beastliest of invaders – COVID19.

I hope and pray that you are all safe and well and that you have enough provisions, comfort and faith.

We are doing well, here on the Cutoff. Oh, we have our anxious moments, worry about each other, our family and our friends. We fret and ponder and offer prayers of faith and gratitude while holding, tight-fisted onto hope.

Lest you think we are wallowing, please know we are not. Tom and I try to take a long walk each day together. Even while socially distanced, the fresh air in March is invigorating and the exercise good for our overall health. Our daughter, Jennifer, has joined us on a few walks during fast spreading menace. We meet at a forest preserve equidistant from our homes. While we share no hugs before walking the paths at Fullersburg Woods and maintain a 6 foot distance, I find it amazing that we three wanderers can have such chatty conversations while still keeping our mandated distance.

Social Distance

(Methinks the shortest one should not have been taking this selfie. Trust me, there is 6 feet between the Antler Man and me, and the same between him and Jennifer.)

The other day, I took advantage of the designated shopping hours offered to senior citizens. Both large chain stores and small independents have stepped up to give older shoppers designated, early hours to shop. I needed some, er, feminine products and my B12 vitamins and a few grocery items. I headed out early to my neighborhood Jewel/Osco. The store would be opened from 7- 8 am specifically for the elderly set.

Half way between 7 and 8 am, there was a gaggle of gals looking in the pharmacy section and a bunch of old men who didn’t seem to  know why they were there. Three women of a certain age, myself included, stood 6 feet apart, our shopping carts parked where we were sure to forget them. We stared at a wall of incontinence products. It was lined with sedate wrappers. None of us could find what we needed. It was hilarious. One woman would point and say, “is that the one you want? “No, but, is this the one for you?” We finally just stood there, stranger, laughing, made all the heartier when one said “we’ll probably all wet our pant”s.

We each went on our way, I picked up some canned fruit (so in case we need it) as well as one package of the coveted toilet paper, which I might need since I couldn’t find my feminine product.

It was at the check-out lane that silliness left me. While the lines moved well, the visual of the 6 foot rule was apparent. I was the last one in line. The checker scanned my items as the bagger put them in paper sacks. As I finished my transaction, I looked at the bagger, a woman about my age. She smiled and I said “Thank you for being here.”  That was all I said as she looked into my eyes and burst out crying. “No one ever thanks us”. 

It was a simple thing to do – a reminder that we all need to be kind and remember how precious those two words can be.

Thank you.

 

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There is a place for everything. Toothbrush in vanity cabinet, laundry down the chute, clothes in the closet, dishes in the cupboard – and books in piles everywhere!

“Esperanza Rising” sat patiently on a pile next to my side of the bed. “Christmas Jars” was in a basket of Christmas books, which I always intend to read during December but never get to until January. It is all for the better. I seem to enjoy them more in the quiet, post holiday calm. A few select books sit on a stool, waiting for future book discussions, while a staggering stack of histories precariously balance on a wobbly, wooden chair, estate and garage sale “finds” that  begged to be brought home on various excursions.

My reading habits tend to be a bit eclectic, wandering from poetry to cookbooks, short stories to expansive tomes, and there is always time for children and young adult books, which is where one of my most recent “reads” took me.

“Esperanza Rising” is a middle grade book by Pam Muñoz Ryan. The book was a gift my son-in-law thought I might enjoy. He knows me well. I did, even if  it took me a year to finally open it up and read it.

Esperanza in the daughter of a wealthy Mexican landowner in the 1930s. She lives being catered to by servants, adored by her father, coddled by her loving grandmother, and loved by her Mama. She is an only child whose privileged life quickly changes when her father is murdered. His stepbrothers, powerful men in the region, leverage their influence and power to take over the estate. When Esperanza’s mother refuses to marry one of the uncles, they awaken to find the house on fire in the middle of the night.

With the help of Esperanza’s grandmother’s sisters in a nearby convent, Esperanza and her mother, Ramona, flee the estate. They are hidden in a wagon by servants, whose lives are also threatened by the uncles. They embark upon the long, treacherous migration to California. Along the way, Esperanza learns to find the goodness in those less fortunate in life than she has been. She learns kindness and humility as well as acceptance of others.

When these migrants finally arrive, they are taken in by relatives of their previous servants – the very servants that save them on the journey to California. Life is hard for Esperanza, sleeping in crowded quarters, their shelter not much more than a horse stall. Her privileged life is replaced by hard work, taking care of the babies and younger children while the men and women work in the fields. Miguel, her friend from Mexico, is the son of the man who transports them to California. He teaches her how to do one of the jobs she is assigned to – sweeping with a broom! She learns how to change a diaper and how to clean it, how to cook beans and how to survive.

When a dust storm whips through the work camp, Esperanza’s mother takes ill with valley fever (dust fever) and is hospitalized for a very long time. Esperanza takes over work her mother did and works hard to earn money to bring her grandmother to California.

“Esperanza Rising” is a story, based on the author’s own grandmother’s migration in the ’30s, from Mexico to California. It is the story of the unrest in Mexico and the migrant experience during the Great Depression, as well as the story of crop production, following the seasons in southern California.

The back pages of my copy provided insight into the author’s own grandmother’s migration. It also gave some recipes of food mentioned in the book (don’t you love the inclusion of recipes in a novel?) Also provided were the steps in making a yarn doll. Yarn dolls and afghan making play an important role in this book. Esperanza’s grandmother, Abuelita, teaches her how to crochet, instructing her to go up and down valleys in her stitches, incorporating strands of her hair that have fallen into the blanket. When they leave under the cloak of darkness, Ambieta gives the unfinished blanket to Esperanza. Mama works on the blanket at times in the story, soothing Esperanza, teaching her, and then Esperanza picks up the blanket when Mama is in the hospital near death.

While on the train (part of the journey to California), Mama takes pieces of yarn and makes a yarn doll for an impoverished little girl they meet.

Here is one of my first attempts at making a yarn doll. Rather pitiful, I admit.  I’ll attempt a few more as I reflect on this exceptional children’s book and attack one of my biblio-piles.

(PS – I’ll do a  post soon on some of the other books I’ve been engaged in.)

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“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

 Abraham Lincoln. 1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861

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We waited, lined up on both sides of the track, wearing sun hats, setting up tripods, pushing babies in strollers. We were a mass of railroad buffs, history lovers, curiosity seekers, teens on bikes – and drones. The event was well promoted on local television, radio and social media. The Union Pacific Railroad’s No. 4014  Big Boy was coming our way and folks from all walks of life and all ages, could see the restored steam locomotive as it passed through the western suburbs of Chicago.

Those more technically savvy than I were tracking the Big Boy’s journey on their cell phones, announcing to all who could hear “it is in Des Plaines” or approaching the airport“. It was like awaiting the guest of honor at a surprise birthday party – only no one was hiding and the guest of honor couldn’t wait to blow us a steamy kiss.

I was a bit “incognito”, as I was not supposed to be out in the sun (but, you know me and I figured I could always blame it on my car that has been known to veer off course).

I digress.

My friend Louellen and I found each other amongst a growing crowd. Her lovely daughter proclaimed “it’s making the turn” then “it is in Berkeley” and then, there it was, chugging along into the downtown Elmhurst station. It felt like a grown-up version of Thomas the Train, and I found myself wishing our grandson Ezra could be with me as he would have enjoyed it.

We could hear it, at first, in the distance. We could hear the prolonged, mournful wail of the train, see the billowy puff of charcoal smoke, then feel the vibrations and see the steam pour forth as we all experienced the clickety-clack of a different era and long distance rail travel.

Oh, dear friends, we cheered, we waved, we oohed over the gracious club cars and we felt the train’s whistle deep in our chests as babies slept in their parents’ arms, with men and women in business attire who left their desks and computers to stand and stretch to see the Big Boy. Grandparents and teens, students from the nearby Elmhurst College and so many railroad buffs in a gleeful crowd on a warm summer’s day. In front of us, a friendly and knowledgable young man was recording the event for his club’s website as we realized a drone was silently soaring overhead, filming a new journey for the Big Boy No. 4014.

Then, it was gone, off to the next bend on the rail and eagerly awaiting crowd.

As I returned home, I found myself in a thoughtful mood. I wondered at this massive marvel of transportation, the 4014 Big Boy, built more than 75 years ago, to traverse the Transcontinental Railroad, which linked the east and west coasts of America by rail 150 years ago. The railroad was constructed largely by Chinese, Irish, and other immigrants, in harsh work conditions across an often untamed, rocky, treacherous route so that those who followed could travel faster and in a safer way and for goods to be transported more efficiently. I pondered it all, from the comfort of my air-conditioned car, with a cold soft drink I purchased at a drive-through window of a fast food restaurant while listening to an audio book. I found myself grateful, oh-so -grateful,  for the opportunity to see a wee bit of our larger history chug past me on a hot summer afternoon.

The 4014 Big Boy’s journey this summer is to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Raiload.  As I write this, the Big Boy has left West Chicago, Illinois and is heading toward Iowa. This is the link to the schedule of where it will be on the next leg of its Should it be near you on it’s journey, I encourage you to try to see it. .https://www.up.com/heritage/steam/schedule/index.htm

 

 

 

 

 

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We readied ourselves for the day, ate our breakfast in the hotel, gathered our stuffed backpacks, and walked the short distance to the National Mall, It was a brilliant day, perfect for celebrating America’s Independence. The girls were old enough to have an understanding of the why we celebrate the 4th of July, and young enough to maneuver around a city neither Tom nor I had been to.

Floats and citizens in costumes were finding their spots in the queue that would become a parade. We chatted a bit with a few participants, especially a woman with miniature horses. It was friendly and fun and not unlike the parade participants that would be gathering back home.

We the heard  “hear ye, hear ye, hear ye” summoning all, from the National Archives . There the Declaration of Independence was read by a scribe in period costume. I remember this moment clearly, standing in my 20th century clothes (it was still the 20th century) and imagining this treasonous document being read across the land more than 200 years past. I reflected on what this might have felt like, how anxious, determined, frightened citizens must have felt.

We hopped on a D. C trolly which took us hither and yon, the rest of the day.

We covered a lot of ground.

Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery. The rows upon rows of headstones was sobering, the history of Arlington insightful. I choked back sobs at the eternal flame, remembering it first being lit as young girl when President Kennedy was assassinated, amazed at the well of emotions the small flame evoked. We viewed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other points of interest amid a respectful grouping of people, from all walks of life, on these hallowed grounds.

Our day took us to the Lincoln Memorial, where we were free to view, to read the inscription, to share the history of this president and his presidency with our young daughters. We stood in amazement at the throng of people around the Reflecting Pond – all ages and all walks of life. We visited the Viet Nam Memorial, where I was helped in locating the name of a boy I went to school with, and we listened to a man, dressed in a safari outfit, looking for signatures to get his name on the ballot for United States President. I remember at first thinking he was a Park Ranger – how easily we can be fooled. There were, however, National Park Rangers all around us, for the National Mall is a National Park.

Tom and Jennifer and Katy and I went into the American History Museum and then the National Archives, where we witnessed another changing of the guard at the documents. (I think it was the Declaration of Independence. My memory is a bit foggy as one of our girls managed to walk in front of the armed guards in the ceremony. A moment we all remember.)

The Washington Memorial was closed for repairs that summer, but, we still stood in awe as we gazed upward. The Mall began to fill as dusk approached. We were ill-prepared, but, none-the-less decided to stay for the music and the fireworks on the Mall. This was long before the concerts that are now performed. There was a band and some vendors on the perimeter of the grand lawn. We purchased what were the absolutely WORST hot dogs I have ever had, but, they are a part of our 4th of July DC story, as is the portrait ingrained in my mind of the four of us, on the 4th, sitting on our jackets on the lawn as the grass filled with spectators. The music played on and the stars sparkled in the sky, even as helicopters scanned the area, protecting space above.

As night fell, the crowd grew, anticipation mounted – and finally fireworks filled the sky. I remain grateful that my family and I could observe this American holiday in our National Park – the National Mall.

Photos

Right –  Assembly Room, Independence Hall, Philadelphia. This is the room where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were debated and signed. My photo from a trip to Philadelphia.

Left – Ben Franklin

 

 

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They were the largest, fullest, juiciest of snowflakes. Big blobs of a mashed moisture seemed to drop from the leaden sky with dollops of determination on an unsuspecting Saturday afternoon in a month known for April showers, not snowstorms. In between the whirling wind and pellets of sleet, I wondered where spring had gone to as I stopped at the grocery, the ATM, the library . . .  normal Saturday errands on a not-so-normal day.

It was just a short distance from the library, stopped at a red light,  that I noticed an OPEN banner in front of a small, local historical museum that I have been wanting to visit for a rather long time.

My car turned into the small parking lot, I braced myself against the ice and wind, trudged gingerly passed a patch of bluebells dusted with snow, climbed up the stairs of the historic Vial House and Museum and stepped into the warm vestibule where I was greeted by a volunteer who welcomed me in and briefly explained the current exhibition, a “Military Salute to Local War Heroes of WWI and WWII” . 

What an amazing, extensive historical collection of uniforms, articles, photographs, posters, memorabilia, and more – all donations to the historical society  from local La Grange and La Grange Park residents and on display for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI.

The Vial House was built in 1874 by Samuel Vial and is now part of the LaGrange Area Historical Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A well catalogued guidebook in hand, with numbered items/explanations, I walked around the rooms of this small but significant exhibition, matched items with historical notes, and felt the awesome gratitude at the service and sacrifice of so many, and the appreciation, yet again, for the small but mighty historical societies that bind our histories together.

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I was first introduced to the writings of Doris Kearns Goodwin by the mother of a dear friend of mine. Aware of my interest in history, and a history lover herself, Mary shared a book with me that she thought I might enjoy. Then a mother of young children and working full-time, I stole moments here and there, during my lunch hour, in between chores, children’s activities, waiting for a freight train to pass and often late at night. Slowly, but surely, I consumed Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II “.

Mary was right. I did, indeed, enjoy the book. As time went by, I read other books by Doris Kearns Goodwin and I make a point to catch her on television and radio interviews and to read printed articles about her. She never disappoints me.

So it was, a month or so ago, one fine day, that several emails and texts appeared. “Penny, did you see this (know about this, hear about this)?”

My friends know me well.

 I clicked on the site for Elmhurst College, found the lecture series, secured a ticket, and eagerly anticipated the Rudolf G. Schade Lecture in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel at Elmhurst College.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals: The Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln.

 

Several friends and I arrived early, knowing that parking would fill quickly. We stood in line with other eager and cold ticket holders, waiting for the doors to the chapel to open. We quickly learned the lecture was sold out. Finally, the doors opened, we found good seats, chatted with others we knew, and then the lecture began to an enthusiastic audience of college students, faculty, officials  – and armchair historians.

From the moment Doris Kearns Goodwin walked onto the stage, she held her audience in rapt attention as she related stories and her experiences during her five decades of serving Untied States presidents and researching others beginning with Abraham Lincoln. Her warmth and wit were as real as her depth of  knowledge as she wove facts and insight into a blanket of leadership qualities.

I look forward to reading her latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times” in the days ahead.

Have you read any of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books?

“I shall always be grateful for this curious love of history, allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past, allowing me to learn from these large figures about the struggle for meaning for life.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin

 

 

 

 

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