On a blustery day

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.


The saddest noise, the sweetest noise,

The maddest noise that grows, –

The birds, they make it in the spring,

At night’s delicious close.

– Emily Dickinson



I was summoned home.

The telephone call came on a sun-filled April afternoon, just as I was leaving my dorm room to take a test. An uncle would be coming downstate to pick me up and bring me home. It was time.

I took the test. It was what my father would expect me to do. I took the test then returned to my dorm room to pack, not really knowing what to bring. I’d never been to a funeral before. A long-haired coed of 1969, I wore bright colors and short (very short) dresses with granny shoes. We were all so young and inexperienced, especially me, but I somehow got through the packing and waiting for my uncle to arrive.

I loved, love still, my friends, who gave me strength and allowed me to be me through that spring. They gave me a few items of clothing, a cross on a necklace, hugs – and off I went, home, my life to change in ways I never anticipated nor knew how to navigate.

I made it in time to say goodbye, but, Daddy was already in the final throes of death, his vacant eyes looking at me, knowing yet not knowing, the room filled with family.

Dottie and I were brought home, which for me was an apartment I had never lived in before. My mom, dad and sister had moved in a month or so before and I first saw it just a week before when I was home on spring break.

The next phone call came, in the middle of the night. He was gone. I remember it all, so clearly, and I felt Daddy’s presence today, 50 years after he took his last earthly breath.

I’ve never stopped missing my father; his wit, his smile, his integrity, his love. I keep this photo out. One of his friends, Romeo, made copies for my sister and I, not long after Daddy’s death. My father loved fishing and would head up north every spring, around Memorial Day, with a few friends and cousins. He fished for walleye and for the sport of it all. He never learned to swim, though he served in the Navy, and needed a life vest – and always a cigarette in his mouth, which was, in the end, what killed him.

I’ll have a few good cries, visit the cemetery, mark the day – for such things should be marked and loved ones should be honored. So off I go, the only thing calling me today is to make the most of what is before me.





A Curious Love

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





It Started with Polk . . .

. . .  in the 1844 presidential campaign with the lithographic printing process.

Sign of the Times: The Great American Political Poster 1844-2012*

On a cloudy, cold Saturday at the end of March, snow flurries and gray skies dampening one’s spirit, I opted to head over to a small but significant history museum hidden in plain sight. I checked with the Antler Man to see if he wanted to meet me there. He did.

The Elmhurst History Museum sits in the historic Glos Mansion, just steps from the train station and the downtown business district of Elmhurst.


We parked and walked through the portico, climbed the steep steps to heavy, wooden doors and were greeted by a museum volunteer who welcomed us, handed us a brochure, and told us to enjoy the exhibit and museum, which we promptly and enthusiastically did.

This is an extraordinary exhibit with 50 outstanding reproductions of presidential campaign posters spanning two centuries, and reflecting the politics, printing and artistic techniques of their times. There is also a large collection of campaign buttons on display – and a voting booth in which to vote for certain posters with plastic chips.

I was especially excited as I finally got into the Oval Office.

These campaign posters reflected the decades they represented, as well as the candidates and campaigns, from all political parties, as well as artists and techniques of their eras. Jamie Wyeth to Alexander Calder and Ron English are among famous artists represented, but, there are “insiders and outsiders” represented as well.













If you live in the Chicago area, or are visiting, I highly recommend this exhibit. If not, this is a traveling exhibit which might be coming to a museum near you, which brings me to your own hometown or area. There are so many small museums, often in historical homes or buildings, established by local citizens and societies who have endeavored to save their town’s history, stopped bulldozers, steadfastly raised funds and lobbied locally elected officials. Whether a one room schoolhouse, a gristmill, a windmill, a factory or a farmhouse, these museums are treasure troves of local history and reflections of who we were and are.

Do you have a small but significant exhibit near you?


* title of exhibit at the Elmhurst History Museum, March 29 to April 28, 2019



Judge Not

It was early afternoon, a few weeks ago. The lioness, March, was tossing the clouds about in the sky and the carts in the parking lot as well. I hurried my steps, pushing into the wind. My destination was the pharmacy inside the grocers where a prescription awaited me.

Ah yes, dear friends, the grocery store where many of my meaningful conversations happen.

I grabbed a cart and walked down the seasonal aisle; green shamrock napkins blending with jellybean eggs and enough bunnies for a year’s worth of Rabbit Rabbit days. As a voice behind me said  “Do NOT look to the right. I’m not buying any of this.“a multi-colored, twinkling ball bounced past me. “Good luck with that” I said as we both headed to pharmacy.

The mother and I chatted as we waited our turn in line. The daughter, who looked about 10, held her doll close as she built her case for “needing” the magic, glowing ball. Children are good at this; tenacious in their determination to get what they want. In my grandmotherly attempt to turn the girl’s attention to something else, I told her that her doll must be special to her and I mentioned that it was a big doll. The child stood the doll on the ground and said “She’s not big. Look how small she is“.  From this young girl’s perspective, the doll wasn’t all the big, and I concurred.

The mother, whose hands now were filled with a box of bandages and ibuprofen, asked her daughter if she would please go back to get a shopping cart. As the girl turned to go back down the aisle of all things seasonal and needed, she handed her doll to her mom.

The mother looked at me, holding the doll, and said, quietly “Thank you for being so kind to her. She loves this doll and takes it everywhere. Not everyone understands.”  She talked about her daughter’s challenges, showed me all the bandages on the doll’s face and explained that her daughter changed the bandages almost every day,  slept with the doll, the doll came with on errands and went to church with her.

Soon enough, I heard a cart bump into a shelf. A few extra “needed” things thrown in. “Wow. You found a few toys!” I said as the mom took the cart and handed the doll back to her daughter, mouthing “thank you” as the moved ahead in the line. I winked and said “ thank YOU” back.

We learn much from children, if we take the time. Tenacity and patience, love and acceptance. Caring and serving others. This young girl had some developmental challenges, and a heart as big as Mr. Rodgers. She reminded me that we all must love each other – just as we are.

Her doll’s name was Chucky.


Image of Chucky from walmart. com


“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour. “
–  John Boswell

(Just a brief post to let you know I am still here, idling in this lingering season. I’ll post a proper post soon. Hope all of you are well.)

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