All posts by marjorie@lunchwithmarjorie.readmstradinger.com

Marjorie is a freelance writer who has been publishing her columns for more than 30 years. Lunch with Marjorie began in Rockford, and moved, with Marjorie to Connecticut. She now publishes her interviews on her website so they can be enjoyed round the globe.

Becoming an American

I learned how to spell and pronounce Sonephet Vongprasearth’s name while opening a bank account where she was helping me bridge the gap for my daughter’s banking while she was away at school. Sonephet is from Laos, but she grew up in the Midwest, and has lived here for almost 25 years.

My first question for her: Is there a Laotian restaurant in Rockford, Ill.? She affirmed. And, always important: “Do you eat there?”

“Yeah, uh-huh, they’re family owned,” she replied. But she chose Thai for our lunch, because it was close to the bank.

“Do you eat Asian cuisine at home?” I asked.

“Not every day, but whenever I can.”

She likes fried noodles, and let me know that Laotian food is mostly stir fry and soups.

“Are you into organic food?” I asked.

“I know what it is, but don’t know what is organic.”

I proceeded to educate this petite, young woman, who can probably eat fried foods with no repercussions. Life isn’t fair. She gets the beautiful skin, hair and propensity to thinness. But she ordered a roasted chicken sandwich with American cheese.

“Do you relate to women who are always thinking about weight?”

“I don’t really have that problem. In Laos, they’re really active. They have to be. They walk all the time, because they’re poor and don’t have cars. You’re lucky if you have a bicycle.”

“You’re naturally thin. How tall are you?” She giggles, “I’m five feet.”

She goes on to describe one of her favorite foods–Laotian barbecue, oyster sauce, fish, sauce, MSG, and Hoisin.”  Unknown-1

 

 

“Do you remember coming to America?”

“We started on a boat. Then flew here on an airplane.”

“Were you refugees?”

data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,tZ35EJgn1fV9P4axPdwg_hYHHdy0qSI2olKmOj36xS5hpkEW18Ny_EgOID70G8ZUBp6kV78hNWQUqBirg3l1kkyhGeL3Nsa4XLvM2f-6yO8F3T75zZQTnm3BF9Ta0VIpP4NbxOrZz7YmtT2p3g6AUiM3l43xN4E-7IKjm-TgvFcFvsO9jK0M0pTyzvHsi-ePm1vxFg

“The whole thing started because we had to escape from the Communists. My dad was a mayor in Laos. He didn’t like what they were telling him to do, so he left, and didn’t tell anybody.

My mom didn’t know. The Communists came to our house and asked, ‘Where is your husband?’ I was about five years old then. My father escaped and finally my mo got into contact with him. Somehow we met in Thailand, across the water. My father had a friend, maybe his best friend. We had to kind of escape too, so the Communists wouldn’t know where we were going. We crossed in the middle of the night, probably about an hour–it wasn’t too far. We got on a boat, and my mom’s friends made us kind of jump, almost half way, because they didn’t want to get caught also.  images-1

My mom begged them, ‘Please, I’ll swim and the two boys will swim, but the three girls, you have to get them to shore.  Others were there too. They had to jump.”

Her brown eyes widened as she continued: “My mom, this is a really good story, had to actually save a pregnant woman because she was jumping and drowning. My mom got her and brought her back.”

“Scary stuff,” I said.

“Oh yeah. You had no choice. Either you do it, or you die.”

We drew a map of Southeast Asia on our napkins. “My father was working with an American when he was a mayor. Your weren’t allowed to associate with any if you’re a Communist. I don’t know what happened, but he felt endangered.”

The family landed in California and then went to Brookfield, Wis.

“Our sponsors were a group of nuns who took us in. They had a huge mansion, a convent.” We paused when our food arrived. But, I wanted more about these sponsors, nuns.

“Were you Catholic?”

“I was going to be. I went to a private Catholic school until high school. But at baptizing time, I asked the nun and she said ‘No, you need to find your way, find what you are going to do in life.’’’

“And, now?” “I believe that there is one God, a universal God. The difference is the language barrier. It’s how everyone explains it.  Unknown-3

I go to a Buddhist temple, but only to special events. People have to follow those rules. I don’t think it’s necessary.” She paused. “Americans take a lot of things (for granted).

I went back to Laos in 1996. There’s so much going on. I’m very fortunate from my parents…for them bringing me here, letting me learn the American culture, and my own. I feel very lucky. We have both lives. We go back to Laos and see this whole different culture. Then coming back to America, it’s just like, Wow!”

(This story was first published in The Rock River Times, in April and May in 2005)

The Illinois Dalton Gang were mostly movers – Part 1

pic9   Il Divo blared at Silvia’s in Enfield, Conn., where John Dalton and I enjoyed a brunch as lavish as the sonorous music. Silvia is Romanian. To die for is her Transylvanian baked sausage, bacon, and egg casserole with onions, topped with adagio and feta.

John Dalton was our mover back in 2010 (this story was published in Rockford in Rock River Times back then), when I asked him, “Are you related to those criminals?”

He laughed and affirmed, as I watched his helper-mover guys’ faces register some alarm.

images-5   “Outlaws sound so much better, more romantic than criminals, don’t you think?” I asked at brunch.

He chuckled–a very good sense of humor.

“Tell me the Jesse James story,” I asked.

“My dad has a letter written to his great-grandfather…from Missouri…from my grandfather’s first cousin: ‘I’m babysitting our cousins again, and that little Jesse (that would be Jesse James) is the meanest dickens.’ I’ve read the letter. They were U.S. Marshalls at one time, but definitely outlaws and rogues and whatever else you want to call them.” John related.

“They killed peope in the Old West, right?” I asked.

“I don’t think they killed that many people,” he explained. “They got shot to pieces in Coffeeville, Kan., trying to rob two banks at once. That’s what the Dalton Gang is really famous for–getting their tails shot off in Coffeeville, trying to rob two banks on Saturday when everybody was in town shopping. As word of the bank robbers went off, the hardware store handed out rifles and bullets; everybody was shooting at them.”    images-4

“Wow.”

“It’s well known Jesse James pre-dated the Dalton about a generation, maybe a generation and a half,” John continued. “They were second cousins to the Jameses.”

“Cousins of your great grandfather.”

“Right. Our family was in Kentucky and split when they came from overseas, Ireland. Some went to Missouri and mirgrated to Kansas; others went into Illinois with the promise of cheap farmland.”

John’s family ended up in Salem, Ill. about 115 miles from Cairo (prnounced by the locals, according to John, Kay-Ro).

illinois_s “Southern Illinois has the worst English on the face of the Earth. That really nice English they talk in Chicago, it doesn’t go that far south.”

John is an authentic humorist, in the style of Mark Twain and other homespun storytellers. He is quite a treasure and wants to write–which I encourage him to do. But, in 2010, he was running his moving company, in the tradition of three generations of movers, not farmers.

“My grandfather was a mover, my dad was a mover, a couple of uncles, all in Salem, about 17 miles east of St. Louis. My family started a moving company back in 1928: Dalton Transfer Company. We changed to van lines, then moving and storage. We moved the Midwest to the East Coast. The commerce commission took over, and my grandfather could have gotten cross-country rides…really valuable. But he vowed never to leave the areas. ‘I just need these states here,’ he said. Nowadays they give it away,” John said, “At one time, it was a valuable commodity.”

“What do you think of Starving College Student movers–those kinds?”

“We live in the greatest country on the face of the earth; anybody can set out to do anything.” John said. “Becoming president is a little bit hard (he said this in 2010), but if your sights are on having a beauty shop, you can do it. If you want to start a moving and storage company…,” his voice gentle, sincere.   unknown

John started riding with his dad at 5; loves his memories.

“I’m attempting to write a book about that, “he said. “A littel slow. Hope (readers) come to love this (moving business) as much as I do.”

“What part is fun?”

“Meeting new people. learning what they do, learning about their lives.” “There’s a story in everybody–that you’d actually be interested in reading.”

“That’s my concept here,” I agreed.

“I can remember getting spanked when I was 5 for breaking a piece of furniture,” he said. “Dad was teaching us how to pad furniture. Yu know, those nesting tables where one table goes under the other.We snapped one leg of of each table by getting the rubber band too tight. We asked him about that when we were in our 30s. He laughed, said he’d never have spanked us, but he was loading another driver’s truck. that’s what upset him. I broke somebody else’s stuff.”  unknown-3

“That could have given you a bad feeling abut the business–but instead it made you respect what you were doing, and your dad,” I observed.

“Going out with Dad, I saw the United States three or four times before some kids had even made it to St. Louis,” he said.

John loves discovering new things. He considered architecture.

“I’m very mathematical, good at drawing,” he explained. “I found out architects don’t make anything, unless they’re a senior (status). You come out of school and get paid peanuts.”

In the 70s, he joined the military.     unknown-4

“I didn’t go to Vietnam. I went to Germany and drank beer. A tough job but I handled it.”

 

Burning bushes, burning faith – Part 2

Unknown-2In 1995, Jane Logsdon and her husband Bean felt called to become missionaries in Israel. Jane’s initial resistance, and statement that it would take a burning bush to get her there, evolved into quite an experience.   Jerusalem-old-streets-Desktop-Wallpaper

I asked her to recap.

“You didn’t hear God say anything, right?”

“It wasn’t that God spoke to both of us thing. I did, for two seconds, think of leaving him. I mean just two seconds. It started on one side of my brain, and that’s how long it took to go from one side to the other,” she laughed, blue eyes sparkling.

“Then I thought, I’m not raising three kids by myself.”

“That’s how much you didn’t want to go to Israel.”

home-featuredcontent
Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon, Ill.

“Marjorie, my mom and dad had just moved to Dixon. Grandma and Grandpa in the same town with us! Our friends were there. I had no inclination to go to a foreign mission field. People prepare for that for years.”

Friends suggested they go to Israel to seek answers.

“We bought airfare, told the kids we were going on a summer vacation. Prime Minister Levine was assassinated November of that year. There were bombings.”

The Logsdons arrived August 5.

“You were looking for your burning bush.”   0511-1010-0813-1341_Moses_in_the_Desert_with_the_Burning_Bush_clipart_image-1.jpg

“I was looking under every rock. The Lord wasn’t speaking. I was thinking, maybe it is an Abraham and Isaac thing. Once I give up my will Or maybe when the kids are grown up. Maybe this is a preview.

Unknown    Israel is the sixth most expensive country in the world. Milk is $6 a gallon. Gas is more than $5 a gallon.”

They toured for two weeks.

oldcity3

“We stayed inside the Old City walls. We hired, oh, rented a car. Day trips, mostly around the Dead Sea. Sunday, we went to Church of All Nations, outside of the Garden of Gethsemane, the rock where Jesus knelt and prayed. Where He said, ‘Take this cup from me, and not my will but yours, Lord.’ Finally I knelt at that rock, sobbing. I gave my will over to the Lord. It was so hard. I was 40 years old. I knew I was holding out from the Lord.   Unknown-1

That night, I remember this as if it were yesterday, we had a plan to get some falafels and bring them to the secret garden grassy area in the guesthouse. The church was on the compound. I said, ‘Why don’t we go to church?’

Bean said, ‘Okay.’.

“We looked at the bookstore, and Bean walked up to somebody–the principal of the school connected to the church. Bean had read about the Anglican school and had seen a picture of the principal. He had inquired about David Jeffrey when we had arrived on August 5. David was on vacation.

“He walks up to this guy, with throngs of people, and gives him the story of our calling. David must have thought we were two of thousands of Jerusalem-syndrome nuts. There are a lot of crazy people who go over and say they are John the Baptist, or whatever. It’s (actually got a name) called Jerusalem Syndrome.   jerusalem-syndrome-tours

”David listened to Bean politely, as the British do, and then asked Bean, ‘What do you teach?’

“Then David looked incredulous and walked over to me. After introductions, I said, ‘I am the director and head teacher of a pre-school. They’re waiting for me to get back home.”

David and the Logsdons headed for the church service.

‘Let’s talk after church,’ he said.

The pastor asked David to make an announcement. “David looked right at me and asked for prayer for a family on vacation in England. They had had a bad car accident on August 5.

David said, ‘You know these are two of our teachers. We’re kind of in a crisis. Nigel was our science teacher. Alison was our 3-year old pre-school teacher.’”   Unknown

Jane’s story was spellbinding.

“It’s like when you get a shock. Your insides do a melt,”she recalled.

“We had to go through the whole rest of the church service. That was my burning bush. Bean said I turned to him and had tears running down my cheeks. I don’t remember.”

Within ten minutes, they had housing, schooling for three kids, and jobs.

“The way the Lord prepared for us–it was amazing. We were going to a country we knew nothing about. It’s walking on faith. We were so much in the center of God’s will that we could have walked through fire.”   Unknown-2

Unknown-1They returned home and flew back to Israel eight days later. (I was talking to Jane on one of their furloughs back in Illinois.)

“We know the Lord told us we should come back (once in a while), but not to stay.

“Do you miss (Israel)?” I asked.

“I’m grieving it. Every year has a chapter.”

“Does it take the same call to come back?”

“Missionary work. Your whole mentality changes. It’s how you live your life–relationship building. I’d like to go back. Those are precious relationships.”

Burning bushes, burning faith – Part 1

thWriting about Jane Logsdon is emotional. It’s difficult to find focus because there is so much to tell.

We were dining at Roma’s Pizza in Roscoe, Ill., turning this take out place into a dine-in one. I ordered baked tortellini; Jane tried the stuffed shells with cheese and spinach.

Our friendship over five years had been mostly emailing, so I hadn’t really learned about her background.

th-3   “I’m from a southwest suburb of Chicago,” she began. Her family moved to Dixon, Ill. when Jane was an adult.

“Did you go to college to be a teacher?” I asked, knowing she is a pre-school teacher.

“No, no. Didn’t want anything to do with kids. Now I love it,” she smiles, her blue eyes intense, her smile captivating.

What she studied was French and art.    th-2

“I wanted to be a designer, but didn’t get a job doing that right out of college.” It is easy to imagine this vivacious, trim blonde being in the art world. But she went in another direction.tour-buses-parked-rustic-location-e1366139506980

“I became a tour escort for Senior Citizen Bus Tours, and traveled. You have your fall foliage up the East Coast, Florida in February, New Orleans in February and March,th-1 Door County fish boils in season. You narrate, take care of the seniors, make sure their needs are met, and tell jokes. You probably can’t picture yourself standing up for an hour and telling jokes,” she said.

“Actually I can,” I defended. “I’ve been to Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise.”

Roma’s owner served us our baked pastas.

“Parmesan? he asked, maitre’d style in this humble take-out place. He was creating ambiance for us. And the food was great, even using plastic utensils.

Jane continued, “You cover a lot of miles on a bus. Picture me, and the bus driver, the only ones under 30, uh, under 60. They were good people. They appreciated it. To sit and cover miles with them talking about their life stories…senior citizens have a lot of wisdom and experience. They’re just wonderful, they really are.”

“That’s great,” I said.

“I didn’t know when I should quit. What did it was a New Orleans trip. Feburary, coming up by Champaign, Ill. on Route 55, our bus hit three semis. I remember talking to the lady that did die, she lying in the aisle. The bus hit ice, swerved and swung.”

I listened, rapt

“The thing that saved me, the bars in the front seat.”

“Did you see it?” I asked.

“I don’t remember, the impact was so…I mean you slide then, bam, bam, bam, you’re just hanging on. It happened in a second.”

“I’m always surprised buses don’t have seat belts,” I mused. (They do now.)

th-2“The bus was totaled. What I remember is I always took my shoes off traveling on the bus. It was a long travel day.

“So…I said, I gotta get my shoes out. All of the sudden, these big arms just picked me up and carried me. It was a truck driver. I was in shock. I had walked through the bus, and talked to the lady who was in the aisle, dripping in blood…then I got off because I knew I couldn’t help anybody in the ice storm without my proper shoes. But, this guy just sat me in the cab of his own truck.”   th-3

Jane did one more trip, and then married Bean, in June, 1978.

“Bean (his nickname for Larry) and I went right into campus life, Youth for Christ.”

They did that for 18 years until 1995, when their lives dramatically changed.

“The underlying factor is that God is good,” she said, “under all of the journeys He takes us on, which can be a lot of stress and emotional trauma.I was comfortable doing professional ministry. I had my Bible studies, helped with fund-raisers. Bean had been restless for about two years. He knew God was leading him to something else, but God hadn’t made it clear yet.

“Then Bean heard God’s still small voice, booming: Take your family and move to Israel.”Jerusalem-old-streets-Desktop-Wallpaper

Bean waited two weeks to tell Jane, to see if this thought would re-occur in his mind.

“Marjorie, I directed my own pre-school. I had been a stay-at-home mom for eight years. The pre-school was my baby. I didn’t want to go to Israel, I thought. I didn’t think it would help me to see a rock that Jesus walked on. I even asked Bean, ‘Do they have highways and grocery stores?’ My image of Israel, I’m so non-political. I didn’t watch international news. It was Sunday school picture.”

After two weeks, Bean did tell Jane.

“I was looking up at the bottom of the barrel. My whole world was crashed. I told Bean it would take a burning bush to get me there. That’s where the real testimony comes into power,” she said.

Note: This story originally appeared in Lunch with Marjorie, in The Rock River Times, in the late 1990s.

Getting ready for Boomer theatre

Getting read for Boomer theatre I met Joan for lunch at Denali’s in Beloit because I knew she was directing a play at the local theatre.

I had many questions, among them why she spells her name with lower case letters. “Let me say, there’s no money in theatre,” she began.  th-1

“You cannot make a living at it. so one of the things that I had was my own consulting-training company. I found a font I absolutely loved. I did it as a marketing tool; it drew people’s attention.

“Now,” she says. to untrain them to do it the regular way would be far too challenging, and I like it.”

Her simpler explanation: “It’s little letters for a little lady.”

This petite lady has a passion for theatre that is not petite. Joan is completing her second doctorate. Her thesis: Creating a theory of directing for senior theatre production in a community theatre setting.   01f575f

“Because..?” I asked.

“Senior theatre is growing by leaps and bound,” she explained.

“In year 2000, there were 2000 community theatres. Now there are closer to three times that.

th-4     “Boomers,” she continued, “will be   different than today’s seniors. It’s not OK anymore to just do plays, charge people for it, and watch seniors make fools of themselves. Horrible,” she winced.

“A serious thing is very funny because it’s so bad, but don’t charge people to come to see that. My position is that when we increase the standards, the professionals will come.”

She believes Baby Boomers, as they age are different than seniors of past years.    th-6

“They are going to be actors, designers, or audience members. They have far more education than today’s (typical) seniors. They have far more experience in professional occupations, far greater exposure to the cultural arts. I”m talking about doctors, lawyers, accountants, plumbers, electricians. Those people will bring with them a certain set of expecations into a theatrical setting.”

th“How long before they’re here?” I asked.

“Not very long,” she smiles, almost rubbing her hands in glee.

“Here’s my goal: Not everyone wants to go play golf and make quilts, or go to Florida and play tennis. They’re not going to pay $25 to see someone sitting in a wingback chair and talk about what it was like the first time I got a computer. They want somethings intellectually stimulating, entertaining.”

Joan is from Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State. She spent summers apprenticing at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, the oldest company in Michigan. That gave her experience and a philosophy.

“All those equity actors who moaned and groaned about how little work there was. I mean, I loved it, I just loved it, but in the back of my mind was, I have to support myself, and I’m not going to be able to do it in theatre.”

Joan’s hummus and pita arrived.

“Oh that looks wonderful!” with charateristic enthusiasm.

th-1

“What do you look for in a good hummus?” I asked.

“Cumin, coriander, garlic. This is good,” she said. A circuitous route took Joan through California, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado, where she completed her first doctorate in interpersonal communication at the University of Denver. But she was dedicated to community theatre. She met husband Carl at a grocery store in Colorado, and soon after were transferred to San Francisco, and then to Illinois, not Chicago.

“I felt like someone had reached across Lake Michigan with a long hook and pulled me back, because I said I would never return to Michigan until it became a cosmopolitan as Chicago.”

After a period of adjustment, Joan’s love for community theatre led her to direct for several community theatres. She became President of Main Street Players in Boone County, Illinois.

“Oh look what the board has done in three years (there) she,” she said. “We have people who are repeaters, who have 40-hour jobs, kids, family.”

“What brings them back?” I asked.

“Every time we do a show, we up the ante. That was my goal. Every show we did quality directing, scenes, publicity, organizing the theatre, and keeping it going. It’s wonderful. It’s established our credibility. It’s inspiring to the board to look at where they were and where we are.

“Community theatre is the training ground for professional theatre. That’s where the opportunities are for actors and directors. It’s the place for people who’ve never been on stage.”

Watch out for joan e Kole, Baby Boomers! she has the experience, the standards, the passion to take our local community theatres to the stars.

NOTE: This story originally appeared in The Rock River Times in early 2000’s. Joan is currently the Artistic Director at St. Mary’s Care Center’s AgeQuake Theatres in Madison, Wisconsin.

Beanie Babies, Coins and Memories – Part 3

Don and I continued lunching on our take-out pasta from Anna Maria’s in Roscoe, as we sat in his Rockton coin and Beanie Babies shop.  Unknown

We continued talking about his love for collectibles, and why he opened his store after retiring from the Rockford Police Department in 1993, even though he continued working at the courthouse for the sheriff’s department.

Unknown-1      “You could have just retired, instead of this,” I pointed out.

“My wife died,” he said. “I didn’t want to just sit at home watching the stupid television all alone. I got tired of watching the…doggone stock market.”

“Speaking of markets, this doesn’t seem like a good time to be in retail,” I commented.  Unknown-2

“I couldn’t get into my third bedroom anymore,” Don said. “Boxes all over. Beanie Babies,” he chuckled.

I wanted to know about investing in gold and silver, and about Franklin Roosevelt making it illegal to own gold bullion–punishable by prison, even though only 22 percent turned in their gold back then.  Unknown-4

“Then he closed the banks, and things were bad,” I stated.

“They haven’t gotten better still,” Don said. “Then (we started) the Federal Reserve. It’s that guy Obama’s got for running the Federal Reserve. You’d think someone like Obama, who’s an attorney, would realize this.”

“Why don’t they?” I asked.

Unknown-5    “Politics.”

“Does it make you angry?”

“No. I just wish they’d do something else. What I’m afraid of is socialized medicine. I don’t like that. I’ve talked to people from Canada and different places that have (it). It’s not very popular because their taxes went through the roof. I’m not happy about it. I didn’t vote for it.”

“Will we ever go back to the gold standard?” I asked.

“Not as long as we have Obama. They’re talking about getting rid of the paper, and going to the European-type money system.”   Unknown-6

“Based on what?” I asked.

“Socialism,” he laughed.

“Everyone will have the same money. It will all be worthless. This guy came in (here) all upset, worried to death that our money isn’t going to be worth a nickel.”

“Well, it’s not worth much more than that now,” I laughed.

“My concern is for my children and grandchildren,” I added. “You watch CNBC and wonder if these Wall Street people are confused, or whether they know.”

Unknown-7   “They’re confused,” Don said.

“The Obama administration has told everybody not to say things bad…to get people all calm.”

“We’re not getting the real news?”

“No. You’re getting phony news–politics. He knew when he went into office…everybody knows he’s…lying.”

“Do you think we’ll ever go back to prosperity?” I asked.

“I do,” he said. “it’s not a fall-apart situation. If they keep lying long enough, people will start trusting…trusting…politicians…again.”

“It’s still precarious prosperity, I think. A bomb waiting to explode,” I mused.

Unknown-8   “The politicians will make it look prosperous,” Don said. “It will take three, four, five years. We’re going to do it, and then it will drop again. It’s alway done this since we’ve been in this country–(like) back in ’29.”

“History tells us that every nation that got greedy fell,” I said. “Americans think they’re invincible.”

“They’re finding they’re not invincible…especially people losing their jobs. As long as they don’t have socialized medicine,” he reiterated. “If we get (it), taxes will go up about 50 percent, I tell you.”

One of Don’s two daughters called. His loving tone told me lots about his parenting. He has two grandchildren.

He loves family and gardening.   Unknown-9

“I’d help my (mom) out cooking…raise stuff in my own garden,” he told me. “We used to doggone can stuff. Pint jars, quarts.

Unknown-10    We’d pick black raspberries and make jellies and jam and stewed tomatoes. Big deal down in the basement…a whole wall full.”

“You’re rather domesticated,” teased.

He smiled.

“Free tip on coin collecting?” I asked.   Unknown-11

“Get an education,” he said. “Read. Depends on what you want to collect. I pay 90 cents for Indian head pennies, and sell them for a buck.”

images   “They’re worth more than Mercury dimes?” I asked.

“People want ‘em,” he said.

“Pitfalls?”

Unknown-12
Authentic Morgan dollar

“Right now, China,” he said. “Major counterfeits–Morgan dollars, peace dollars, and other valuable coin from other countries.”

Unknown-13
counterfeit Morgan dollar from China

“We’re getting bad fish, bad pet food, bad toys from China,” I said. “Now you’re saying counterfeit coins and collector stuff too? Do they have an agenda?”

“They’re going to win without shooting a shot,” Don surmised. “They’re buying pieces of our country from businesses and from the government. Counterfeit (coins) from 1949 or earlier–it’s legal in China.”

Unknown-13
Coins for sale on eBay

One of these counterfeiters brags about selling them on eBay.

“Costs him 50 cents to make a counterfeit Morgan dollar,” Don said. “He makes a thousand a day selling them to the U.S. and all over the world.”

“Does this affect your quality of life?” I asked.

“It’s going to when we get socialized medicine and all this other…socialism that Obama’s pushing,” he said.

“Parting words?”

Unknown-14    “Watch the politicians,” Don said.

“Live life like you’d like people to treat you.”
Unknown-15

 

(Note: this story originally published by The Rock River Times in 2009)

Beanie Babies, Coins and Memories – Part 2

Young Don’s dreamed of building his father’s local grocery store into a business empire. But in his first semester of college, his father sold the store.  Unknown-5

 

Unknown    Don moved to his next best dream: “Every little boy wants to be a fire or policeman,” Don said, as we lunched on baked mostaccioli from Anna Maria’s.

“My dad spent three hours trying to talk me out of it, but i wasn’t finding a job, so he told me they were hiring down at the police department.

I was the only guy out of 800 to pass the test the first time, and the first to go into the Rockford Police Department at 21.”

Don was quickly promoted from patrol to traffic, then to detective in that division.  images

“Anybody died, suicide, medical, we handled that in the white car,” he said.

“High stress? Police have a high divorce rate,” I commented.

“There’s a problem with some officers. These gals wait on you in the store–flirt like crazy. No thanks!” he emphatically stated about his own response to these flirtations.  Unknown-1

“It’s about who you are,” I said.

“That’s right.”

“How tall are you?” I asked.

“I’m 5-foot-9,” he said.

“The minimum to be a policeman.”

“Are you telling your age?” I teased.

“No.”

Unknown-2   “You didn’t have your goatee in the force,” I said.

“They don’t allow that.” Don said.

“I couldn’t wait…it (the goatee) just had to be there. Couldn’t have it for 30 years…now…nobody can tell me I can’t have it.”

Before the police force, Don spent a short time in the Air Force, but couldn’t go back after a surgery. He didn’t want to.   Unknown-3

“They were sending me…to become a paymaster,” he said.

“I’d have gone into banking, paying other airmen.”

“You were meant for business,” I said.

“Since I was 11 years old,” He affirmed.

Even as a policeman, Don was moonlighting: head of security at a local grocery store, and also traffic instructor for three counties of police departments.

“I loved to get in there and get things done,” he told me.

“Was your family supportive?” I asked.

“All the way through,” he affirmed. “Married 33 years. Not a problem.”

“They say happily married men remarry quickly,” I said.   Unknown-5

“Well, Regina died, and one year later, I was dating the girl I’m going to be marrying now,” he said.

“What’s the worst thing you saw in your 30 years of police work?” He described a murder scene so gruesome, I can’t write the details.

“Down on Harlem Boulevard,” he said.

“My partner and I were the first there…found a window open and crawled inside. He said, ‘You do upstairs, and I’ll check down here.’ Went upstairs and…looked in the door…a little girl…if I close my eyes, I can still see it. And a little dog…a hunting knife…killed it.”

“How do you live with those images?” I asked.

“You put it off and try not to think about it,” he replied.

Unknown-4    “The most rewarding experience?” I asked, eager to move on.

“Something simple,” he said.

“A football player broke his neck playing practice football; I managed to doggone stabilize the neck and everything, and get him to the hospital, and he’s up and around, walking today.”

“You saved him from being a paraplegic,” I gasped.

“Yes. There were a number of those,” Don said.

“Or, a car caught on fire, and you had to get the dang door open.”

“Do we educate people to see police as friends?” I asked.

“If they’ve got their minds made up, I don’t think you can change their minds,” he answered.

“Some people just plain hate police officers.”

“Are you a religious man?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Not brought up with it?” I pressed.  Unknown-6

“That’s the reason…Sunday. Not positive. You were sick and still had to get up, get dressed and go to church.”

“Strict parents?”

Unknown-7   “Yes. Trouble is, it wasn’t my parents taking me (to church). It was the neighbor. I don’t think it has anything to do with how I feel about God. I just don’t like church, period. There’s a bunch of hypocrites in that doggone church. And, I don’t believe in volunteering. I am not a person who volunteers their time. When I had a day off, I wanted to be working in my garden–that’s where I can talk to Him.”

Don moved to 6 acres out of the city as soon as the department allowed it.

“I was running fast a I could to get out of Rockford,” he said. “I just don’t like the city of Rockford.”

A modern man in an ancient city – Part 2

As we talked more about modern and ancient Rome, the birds in the hotel courtyard were chirping so loudly that conversation was a bit difficult.

“I don’t sense a lot of crime in Rome,” I said, even though I had noticed that the hotel neighborhood had a lot of graffiti on the buildings.  th

“No, thank God,” Carlo said. “The crime we have is only the pickpockets, the Gypsies.”

“We had a man aggressively trying to put flowers in our hands at the Trevi Fountain,” I told him. “He wanted to sell you flowers.”

“Do you have some thoughts on Pope John Paul II,” I asked, switching to a more serious subject.    th-1

“This pope was very loved. He was very long in power, and also he was a pope that historically lived in a very important period of time.”

“What about the new pope?” I asked, referring to Pope Benedict, the one we had seen early in his papacy at the Vatican on this 2005 trip.

th-2

“It’s too early to tell. Really we had hoped that after a Polish pope, they were going to elect an Italian one.”

“I was surprised to see they elected a German pope,” I agreed.

“Being in Rome, living in Rome, we have a lot of advantage, because the church is bringing a lot of people to the city. But the Catholic Church is influencing the Italian politics. the previous pope was a person. adorable, but he wasn’t open to the changes in the life in the world. One of the reasons why they elected this German, is because he was a person who was (continuing) the policy of the previous pope. It’s a regressive situation in my opinion. We are going back to the medieval.”

“Is that oppressive?”

“Oppressive, correct. When the church is interfering with Italian politicians, it is…”

“Medieval,” I understand.  Pope Benedict XVI Names Six New Saints In Canonisation Ceremony At St. Peter's Square

“OK you understand,” he said. “The last thing I want to tell you: Do you know how powerful the Catholic Church is? Do you think they have a lot of money? Do you think they are rich? Do you know that money is power? It happens everywhere. Money can make a war to start or finish the same year. The Catholic Church is powerful because they have money, and so they guide the choice of the governor. I have opinions about politicians in Italy that I don’t like to repeat. I feel that we do not live in a democracy in this country. How can it be a democracy with 27 parties? It cannot be a democracy with 1200 delegates. It cannot be a democracy,” he said. “I want to say, our country could be more progressive. Because progress is life, is freedom.”    th-4

“What would that mean for you?” I asked.

“That I consider myself to be a free person. As i am now, I’m not, because there are a lot of rules and regulations that keep the Italian industry and people like me down.”

“So the decisions you have to make are controlled?”

“Yes, too much control, too much control. When they have 27 parties, each one has a little bit of power. Before you get the final decision, you’ve got to have him, him, and him and that. Before they give the permit, you can die.”

“That is frustrating,” I said.

“Oh, yes, I am sure that if I were in America, I could have done a lot more.” “Did you ever consider that?”

“I’m Italian, you see. My heart is here. When I was abroad, I was dying to come back to my city.”

“You have been to America?”   Unknown

“I’ve been to New York and to Orlando.”

“What were your impressions?”

“New York is like Rome 2000 years ago. Because of the technology and art that is there.”

“Ancient Rome was very sophisticated,” I affirmed.

“If you compare the time when old Rome was in power, you can see that the majority of the people lived in houses made with wood, but in Rome (itself) people lived in houses made of marble.”

“Is Rome still very cultural?”

“Not like it was before. It is a place where people should come, because everybody should see how clever and how important the Romans were. If you want to see tracks of history, you must come here. If you want to look at the inventive architecture, you should go see the Pantheon with the round ceiling built 2000 years ago, without technology that you have today. That is why it is important for everyone to come to see our country. We have a little bit remaining (but) not too much from the Roman Empire…the ruins…the Coliseum, the Forum and other things. To me now, America is like the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. All roads should lead you there.”  th-5

“Do you like Americans to come here?”

“Oh yes, I like American people.”

 

(Published first in The Rock River Times column, Lunch with Marjorie, in August, 2005). Since then, after Pope Benedict resigned in 2013, Pope Francis, an Argentinian, was elected to the Roman office.   th-3

“How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Freeport?”

“How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Freeport?” I could’t help but remember the lyrics from Judy Garland’s 1942 song from the film, For Me and My Gal. 

Unknown

“I grew up on a dairy farm on the northwest corner of Illinois between two small towns, Warren and Winslow. I have seven brothers and sisters, including an identical twin, all born in the 1950s. Every 10 years, we have a party. We had a 30-something party when we were 30. Then ten years later, we had a 40-something party. There are a few months when all the brothers and sisters are the same decade. That includes in-laws.”

They wait for the youngest to turn the next decade’s age and then have the party.

We were lunching at the organic foods cafe, Halsa, on Riverside Avenue in Rockford. It seemed right to talk to a farmer’s daughter in a natural foods place.  (Unfortunately that gem of a restaurant didn’t get enough support from the Rockford folks, and closed shortly after our luncheon.)

“Growing up on a farm, we didn’t see our classmates every day like kids nowadays do,”Janet continued. “We grew up with each other, so we were pretty close. We played softball in the backyard. You know, when there are eight of you, you’ve got almost enough for a softball team.”  Unknown-5

“And what about chores?” I chimed in.

“Well, just being on the farm, my dad always said, “I’m not a city slicker. We didn’t run to town just to see friends. We were three miles from a small town, six miles from school. Warren. In the summertime, we’d go to Monroe, 25 miles away. I remember trips to the dentist.”   Unknown-1

“This was a special occasion?”

“For us it was. Monroe’s such a neat town, built on The Square. If we were good, and didn’t have cavities, got a free ice cream cone around the corner. the dentist gave us a gift certificate for the ice cream at Ruf Confectionery. It’s still open. The dentist’s office was upstairs and had a nice view of the whole square.” (A Trip Advisor reviews states that if all towns were like Monroe, no one would live in the city.)

“Other excursions?”

“We made an annual trip to pick out materials for summer 4-H projects.

Janet’s 4-H projects were mostly cooking for the Jo Davies County Fair.

“I was baking bread and pies when I was 10. We did sewing and flower arranging. Muy sisters and I did mostly the food things. In addition to 4-H, we got into making money at an early age. We would bake cookies or rolls and would enter the fair.”  Unknown-3

“Did you win?”

“Yeah, till we were 14.” she smiles. “We made a haul. When we turned 14, we had to compete with the adults. There weren’t many 12-year-olds baking bread, making all the stuff we did.”

She left the farm to study foods and nutrition at the University of Illinois.

“My food interests never changed. I worked for a food manufacturer for more than 20 years–high end groceries, gourmet foods. Do you know Spike O’Dell from WGN (the Chicago news radio station, were he was a broadcaster until 2008)?

Spike had Barry Levenson from the Mustard Museum (Mt. Horeb, Wisc.) on his radio show. Spike said, ‘I ought to have my own mustard.’ He wanted it to first be sweet and then sneak up on you and bite you in the butt,” Jan said. “I was working to private label mustard, and suggested to Barry we could make the mustard in Freeport.”  RIGHT_museumexterior

Jan got a chemist to develop a formula, which she presented to Barry, and Barry presented it to Spike.

“It was called Bite Your Butt Mustard. It became very popular. We thought it would probably sell about 5,000 jars. The neat thing, for every jar sold, $1 went to the Neediest Kid’s Fund. We were raising a lot of money–more than $1 million. Stores started selling it in Rockford and Spike made appearances that drew crowds. He would autograph the jars of mustard and people would stand inline for the length of the (store) aisle.”

“Do you miss the farm?”

“I like living in the city, because I work a lot. It was great to grow up there, but I think I’d kind of get bored now.”

“You’re competitive.”

“Very competitive. I think my brothers and sisters were always betting on something. We ‘d bet bottles of pop on baseball games. I’m a Packers fan in Freeport. It’s probably 60:40 there, Bears to Packers.”

“You like winners.”

She laughs: “Well, I followed them through their bad years too. I like the Dodgers.”    Unknown-4

“You’re allowed to like a California team?” I needled.

“I wouldn’t wear a Dodgers T-Shirt to a Cubs game,” she smiled.

 

 

Beanie Babies, coins and memories

It’s Donald. He prefers Don. “I don’t like my middle name either,” Don informed me over our carryout baked mostaccioli from Roscoe, Ill.’s Anna Maria’s.   Unknown-1

He wouldn’t leave his shop, Don’s Coins and Collectibles, long enough to talk with me over lunch.

“What’s your middle name,” I goaded.

“Denton.” After his grandfather’s middle name.

Unknown     I had lots of questions about his trend-sensitive business, especially since I have quite a collection of Beanies myself.

Don reflected on how his late wife, Regina, had inspired his love for collectibles.

“She worked with the newborns at Rockford Hospital, and was known as the Beanie lady. She’d sit in a chair, rock the babies and the girls, the nurses, couldn’t get downstairs to the gift shop where the Beanies were. So she’d go get the Beanies for them.

“Pretty soon,” Don remembered, “we’d end up driving around, picking up Beanies from different Ty wholesalers.”

Unknown-2 “Did you anticipate their future value, or were you just helping your wife?” I asked.

“Just helping,” he said, matter-of-factly

“Then your entrepreneurial wheels started turning?”

“Yeah–there’s money to be made in this,” he recalled, punctuating the memory jog with his distinctive belly laugh.

“I would buy the meal to get the Teeny Beanie, then threw the food out,” I confessed.  Unknown-3

“Yep. I did that too,” he told me.

“Are Teenie’s still valuable?” I asked.

“No. You can’t get even 50 cents for them. They gave millions of them things out. I couldn’t drink that much coffee, so I’d go throw that in the dumpster.”

Don recalled seeing lines around the block to stores in Beanie’s heydays.

“The people running these stores were selling out in about two hours; they wouldn’t have to sell another Beanie for the rest of the month. They paid the rent, the lights, the gas bills.”

That was before he opened his own store. At first they sold the collectibles from their own home’s front yard.  images-1

“We’d put up a tent, Saturday and Sunday. We’d make anywhere from $2000 to maybe $4000 on a weekend, at about a 60 percent profit. Back then we were paying $5 and selling them for $15. A dealer pays $2.50. Some sold for $50, $60, $70. Now they’re selling for less than $5.

“But you were always into collectibles,” I said.

“I was working for my dad’s grocery store in Rockford. My dad told me I had goofed up enough at 11, so I became a butcher.”

“Aren’t there child labor laws?” I half-kidded.

“Not when you’re working for your dad,” he explained. But it was at the store that Don began to appreciate collectible coins. There was nothing better than exchanging coins out of the cash register, a penny for a penny, a nickel for a nickel, to fill all those books up,” he said, pointing to the coin books in his shop.   513HNN1AGIL._AA160_

“I had those too,” I told him.

“This bis good mostaccioli” I remarked.

“It sure is,” he agreed. “Lots of mozzarella on the top,” he added.

“When I was 16, I found out my brother was taking me.” he told me.

Unknown-4    “He collected Indian pennies that came through the store. Problem was, I would put a penny in the cash register, take it home to him, he’d give me a penny for it, and he’d run to the coin shop and get a quarter apiece for ‘em.”

“How much older was he than you?” “He was younger,” Don said.

“Let me get this straight, your younger brother was taking you for a ride?”

“Yep. Probably looked through one of my books that I never bothered to look at, the red book with the prices inside.”

“The price of ignorance,” I echoed.

“Yep, he didn’t get no more pennies.”

“Did you end up in the grocery business?”   Unknown-5

“I loved it. There was only one little problem. I went to college. I was going to be another (big name) grocer.”

“You wanted a chain?”

“Umm-hmm. I was going to move that store into a big store, then a bigger store, and then more stores.      Unknown-6

Then after one semester away, my father sold the damn store.

 

“Right under your feet! Did he tell you?”

“No. He also decided to clean out the basement while I was gone. He got rid of all the 5- and 10-cent comic books, which are expensive now. I had boxes of those.”   Unknown-7

“That would make you a little bitter,” I said.

“Yep.” Don’s stereotypic John Wayne style said much in a few words. …to be continued