Category Archives: Biography

A heart for Community and Starlight Theatre

Mike Webb was one of only four graduate students to earn an M.F.A. in directing from Michigan State–too tough for most. They had recruited him at Milwaukee Repertory and wanted a stage manager with experience. Mike wanted a graduate degree in directing.

So Frank Rutledge, Chairman of the program at Michigan State, said, “Nobody’s completed it in 14 years, but you’re welcome to try.”

Mike has never avoided a challenge, evident since 1085 when he became head of theatre at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill.

Mike and I lunched at Mary’s Market Bistro on Perryville in Rockford. I was late, so Mike had eaten. Too bad. I love Mary’s. But I grabbed a juice and got right to our chat.  Starlight_1

“There’s been a lot of press about Starlight Theatre,” I began, knowing that back then this landmark in architecture and Rockford theatre was making news in the post-September 11 depression, felt heavily in Rockford.

“There’s always a little jealousy,” he said. “Starlight couldn’t have been done anywhere else int he world, because of the people who came into the project, when they came into it, and how it was going to be done. The community needed a shot in the arm, something to believe in. Basically, what happened, the building was named for Bengt Sjostrom. He had passed away back in 1983. they went to the brothers and said, “we don’t want your money; we just want your expertise. They built the original seating bowl for nothing.”

“It’s about community.” I echoed.”

“It’s a 100 percent about community. The reason everybody got involved. We were ahead of the curve on technology. I called Jeanne Gang, such a cool architect (and) said it would be really nice if we could open the roof. She had friends. She was in New York and went to Tim Macfarlane, the famous London architect.,” he explained.

Starlight_3

“I just wanted a roof over the audience. I didn’t want to have to stress over rain anymore. Time did a pencil sketch, showing how it could work, but told her, ‘You won’t be able to afford me.’ He didn’t take a fee.”

“You evoke heart from people,” I said.

“I gave up so much for this: time, energy. I didn’t get extra money for this. You think $12 million is a lot of money. It’s not a lot of money when you look what we got out of it.”

Mike searched for the right words. When they were shoring up the roof, there was a problem. They sent it to Tim.

“He said, ‘I made a mistake. Don’t worry about it. I’ll make this right. I’ll take care of the whole thing.’”

Sjostrom shored up the roof; Macfarlane paid the bill.

“It was a huge bill, out of his own pocket, and he didn’t take a fee in the first place. That’s the story! That should be celebrated, triumphed!”

One school day, there were people in the building.

“I walk out and it’s Tim, in from London. He said, ‘Are you happy?’ I said, I’m thrilled. He said, ‘It’s beautiful.’”

Tears welled up in Mike’s eyes because of this man who had given so much and on top of it gave even more.

“Is your life about Starlight?”

“Yes, and family. I’ll give casting priority to somebody whose parent wants to be in a show with a child who has a dream of performing. Putting family into a positive thing that’s not watching television. Creating something to give back to the community is really important.

“I bought a rock. It’s right as you walk in the main door. In each tier are the names of the people who poured their heart and soul into Starlight. As people came into the project, key people, their names went in. In the bottom bracket are the workers who gave so much of themselves. For example, Joe Maring (Schoenings), had been working hard on painting, getting the colors right. The weather wasn’t cooperating. I was walking with him and he said, ‘I’m going to be able to tell my grandchildren that I helped with this building.’ I said, Joe, I can do you one better. Come here.

I pointed to the rock, and all the sudden he sees his name, and tears were coming down his face. It was real important to thank these people.”

Mike continued, “In the middle of construction, Sjostrom wanted rocks from the original buildings. Now, ever single one of those guys who never went to live theatre at all are buying season tickets. Not only that, they’ve become donors. These are the coolest people on the entire planet, giving money to a theatre they believe in.

I can die a happy person, because that is exactly what I’m all about–giving people’s lives meaning.”

P.S. Mike Webb has since retired from his career, and has left a wonderful legacy, not only for Rockford, but for all who will ever visit this amazing outdoor theatre.

Perfect Pitch – A blessing and a curse – Part 2

Carl’s hopes for a music career and playing his violin were altered June 23, 1998, when his Camry was struck by a delivery truck early one morning as he delivered newspapers–his summer job between semesters at Hillsdale College.  cbk

He describes his recovery.

“Broken bones?” I asked.

Unknown-1   “Many, many, many. If you want me to go from top to bottom,” he pointed to his head: “Traumatic brain injury. My skull was never fractured, so that was a mercy of God right there. What they said, the right side of my brain twisted on the stem and rubbed up against the right side of my skull. That is what put me in a coma. Major gash on the left side of my skull. The scalp was open, so I had stitches there. Going down, my left collar bone was broken.”

I couldn’t resist, “You had your seat belt on, right?” Hey, I’m a mom.  Unknown-2

“That’s what saved my life. I wore my seat belt and the air bag deployed. Both my arms and both my legs were fine, but everything else in my torso was messed up, except for my back. All my ribs were broken, resulting in both lungs being punctured. My pelvis, that’s the big bone, got broken in five places. While I was in a coma, they weren’t able to move my legs until my pelvis healed. Calcium deposits started forming under my kneecaps, completely shifting my kneecaps out of their normal spot. When I emerged from the coma, I didn’t have knees. I had lumps and wasn’t able to walk.”

After more than five months of rehab, Carl was able to go home.

“I came home the day before Thanksgiving. I was so thankful to God that I was alive, so thankful to be coming home, though my emotions were a little dampened. I just didn’t seem…my emotions were pretty numbed.  Unknown-3

“I did start trying to play the violin. I wanted to play for carol sing, like I had done in the past. I tried. I really did. It was frustrating. My left hand doesn’t work. I did play, but I wasn’t at the level I wanted.”

Carl put his violin down after that.

Unknown-5 “It’s neurological damage. Something is messed up between my brain and my hand.”

“What do you think about that,” I asked.

“All right, God. What do you want me to do now?”

He had wanted to be a music teacher.

“And, now I can’t do anything musical, really. I think God was saying, ‘Trust Me, I will lead you.’ It ended up being an experience, gradually learning to trust God. There is still hope that I could play the violin, That has never left.”

Carl took community college classes that fall, then returned to Hillsdale. “I was thrilled to be back, but things weren’t as I remembered.

I wasn’t quite so…I’m a lot sadder, more sedate than I was used to being.”  Unknown-4

He struggled to explain the (neurological) loss of emotion. He did graduate from Hillsdale, a degree in music pedagogy.”

“Music pedagogy was kind of a major they made for me. I have head knowledge, but I can’t do the physical expression.”

Our lunch at Appleby’s had had several distractions. Just then Carl saw a young woman he knew. They bantered about winter break and school being superior to employment.

“Reality,” I said.

“Reality sucks,” he responded.

“Stay in school as long as you can.”

He was sheepish, realizing this was a more candid, present, than the narrative we had been focusing on.

By 2004 Carl was weighing his options.

“Is music still a hope?” I asked.   Unknown

“A very distant hope,” he said. “If I were able to play again, I think I would get back the emotion.”

“The music itself could bring it back?”  Unknown-7

“I think so.”

He’s currently (2005) studying counseling at a seminary in St. Louis.

“What’s happening inside Carl,” I asked.

“I’m really not sure. To a certain extent, I feel a little loss of direction.”

“Do you see purpose in all of this?”

“I know there is. I don’t know. I know there is one. I’ve never had a normal life, even pre-DAO (Divinely Appointed Occurrence). That’s what I call my wreck. God does not cause sin, but he has a purpose through it, and that is a mystery which, this side of heaven, we will never be able to fathom.”

“Are you OK with that?”

“I am more than OK with that.” He paused.

Unknown-8    “I should be honest. There are other things that come into play.” He described social struggles.

He’s 25. It’s a difficult young adulthood.

“What you want back is your passion for life?”

“Yes.” “I think we’re still talking about perfect pitch,” I said.

“Emotional perfect pitch., knowing what you’re missing. It hurts.”

He reflected. I had hit a chord. His friends were IM-ing him again.  images

“Do you mind if I check my phone?” he asked.

Perfect pitch–A blessing and a curse

Carl started playing violin when he was five.

“Isn’t that unusual?” I asked.

Unknown   “Not if you’re a Suzuki student,” Carl explained. “My best friend Michael was playing the violin at 3.”

His teacher Mike Beert was a cellist for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.

“When did your playing evolve into a career ambition?” I continued.

“I almost gave it up, by the time I was in the seventh grade. I thought nothing was happening. All I could do was play with my mom.”

“But you knew you were musical.”

“I inherited my dad’s ear for music. I have pretty good pitch. I don’t have perfect pitch, thankfully.”   absolute_pitch_image001

“Thankfully?”

He explained, “Perfet pitch is both a blessing and a curse. You hear when someone is out of tune, or whatever. I have  relative pitch. And, I’ve been musical since I was born. My parents pushed me to keep going. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to enjoy playing the violin. I was part of the orchestra at my high school. I was able to audition for District Orchestra, was able to play in those for my sophomore, junior and senior years.”

“How did knowing that you were good affect your ambitions?”

“That kind of solidified my desire to continue music. I was planning on going to college, planning on becoming a high school music teacher.”

Our Applebee’s server arrived. Carl wanted crispy orange chicken. Very good. I ordered the spinach and artichoke appetizer.

He continued. “I was branching out in my musical interests. Exploring Celtic music. I love the style. It’s very emotive. I’m an emotive person. I show my emotions quite readily–wear my heart on my sleeve.”

“Music is a way to express yourself.”

“Mostly as an extension of my feelings. I decided on Hillsdale College in Michigan. I went into it wholeheartedly.”   Unknown

“What sold you on Hillsdale?”

“Mostly the community of students and the professor. That really was what it was all about. Closely knit, wonderful people. I didn’t want to be a number. I wanted to be a person. I guess I’ve always beeen a big fish in a small pond–although my high school was huge. I just had a great time being myself in both high school and college.”

Carl finished his freshman year in the spring of ’98. Everything was perfect. Then the summer of 1998.

“That fateful summer. I was picking up odd jobs doing whatever kind of work I could to earn a little extra money.”

Carl had barely touched his orange chicken. Our server asked if he wanted a box. Carl was focused on telling me his story.

“On a June morning at 5:30 a.m., I was in my car.”

“At that time of the morning, there aren’t many cars on the road, are there?”    images

“But, there are delivery trucks,” he said. “And that is what hit my car.”

His 1995 Camry was southbound.

“All I remember is I was at a stoplight. The truck was heading west to Cub Foods. A refrigerated meat truck. I don’t remember this. I am going by what I’ve been told. According to my grandfather, who saw what was left of my car in the junkyard, it’s a miracle I’m alive. The driver T-boned the Camry. It was totaled. The coroner was called to the scene of the wreck. They didn’t think I was alive, and if I were alive, I would probably die en route to the hospital. And, if I were able to make it, I would die on the emergency room table.”

I had to take a breath. I think I wasn’t breathing as I listened.

“When they finally did get me out of what was left of my car, they did get some faint vital signs.”

“You weren’t having ‘white light’ experiences?”

“I have no idea; I have no recollection whatsoever. The next thing I remember was somewhere two months after that, groggily coming to, as it were, in the nursing home.”

“That first two months, you were in a coma?”

“Correct. All I know is, the Lord preserved me. I have snippets in my mind.”

“Snippets.”

Unknown-1    “Looking out the nursing home window. I remember physical therapy. occupational therapy, speech therapy. Thank God insurance paid for the lion’s share. The lady, the caseworker for the insurance claims said, whatever he needs, he’ll get. That was just a miracle. I am so grateful to God for giving me that.”   Unknown

He recalls his mother’s presence.

“My mother told me, ‘You were in a car accident, Carl. The Lord spared your life.”

PART 2 continues next month.

 

 

This miss won’t miss life

I met Tabitha because she was a fellow thespian with my daughter at their high school. They became fast friends and soon Tab was spending a lot of time at our house.

So I know things about her: she loves steak but not vegetables. She is quiet, responsible, respectful and determined for her life to make a difference. We were in Loves Park, IL.

We wanted a sandwich place, but the one we chose was closed, so we went across the street to the Basil Cafe, a favorite of mine for Mediterranean food. I wasn’t sure how Tab would like it.

Soft jazz greeted us with white tablecloths even for lunch, and a friendly greeting by our hostess. Perfect, I thought. I ordered spanakopita, goat cheese and spinach stuffed filo pastry.

“You’re not a goat cheese person, Tab, huh!”

“Nooooo,” she giggled.

I sighed, knowing this meat and potatoes girl would always be the slender beauty she is now.

“You’re studying to be a social worker?” I asked, launching our chat as we waited for our food.

“I decided on community college for two years. It would save a lot of money, and I don’t have a lot saved up. I knew Tab works many hours at a local restaurant as a server, just to afford the community college tuition.

“Are people good tippers?”

“No, not really. Some are. As a server you expect 20 percent if you give good service and you refill drinks, and the food comes out with nothing wrong in the order. If you give them everything they need. I don’t think people should tip less than 15 percent. ‘Cause if someone gives me less than 10 percent, it’s like an insult, like I did something to offend them, or didn’t give them good service.”

“Do you like the school?”

“They have really, really good teachers, and good programs, and get you ready for a four-year, so, yes, I like it.”

“Sounds like this is a lot about finances.”

“Yes.”

“Does social work pay well?”

“Not so good. But I wouldn’t give up this career for anything.”

Challenges are nothing new for Tab. Besides working full time while going to school, she had to take a year off for medical reasons.

“I had really bad headaches. There was a whole time when we were trying to figure out what it was. They misdiagnosed me a couple of times…then found I had torn something in my spinal column–a tiny, tiny tear that caused me to have headaches. They stopped the leaking. Spinal headaches are just horrible.”

“Hopefully that is behind you,” I said admiring her courage.

“I’m probably always going to have migraines.”

“Are you feeling like you are behind?”

“So many people are switching majors, still in their sophomore year at my age. More people just aren’t sure what they want to do.”

Tab is not ambivalent.

“I really want to work with kids up to the time they are teenagers. Kids that have dealt with domestic violence, and also with battered women. I want to support and understand them, not judging. I want to teach them how to be strong, how to make it, that’s it’s okay, and that what happened to them it doesn’t make them less of a person.”

“Is your pizza good?” I interrupted.

“The crust is a little tough,” she said. “But it’s homemade sauce–very, very good.”

“Has studying for social work made you see things you didn’t see before? At your restaurant? Abusers?” I was curious.

“When you see a guy and girl sit down at the table, you’re like, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and she just looks down at her plate. I’ll say, ‘Can I bring you something to drink?’ and try to make eye contact. She won’t look at me, and he’ll order everything for her. You can tell she’s hesitant to say anything, scared. I just want to pull her aside. You can’t do that, because if you say anything, he’s going to get irate and she’s the one who’s going to have to deal with it when she gets home, and not you.”

“What motivates you to help?”

“‘Cause I’ve been through bad situations, and I’ve come out and survived them. And, it made me a better, stronger person. You just have to get through it day by day. Forget regret, your life is yours to miss.”

“That’s from the musical Rent?”

She nods and smiles that I knew her favorite show.

“If I think I’m going to regret something, I’m going to do something about it. I don’t like to live in regrets, because then you dwell on them so long that you’re missing out on a lot of things.”

“Are you thinking dessert?” I knew she was.

Turtle cheesecake won. Tab had a big slice. I tasted a corner of hers. “Yum, lots of caramel,” she enjoyed.

Revisiting the Golden Island

Tony Ernandez’s award-winning pizza at Lisa’s Pizza in Janesville, Wis., has spanned three decades, but Tony is about more than pizza.

“At 16, were you thinking about owning a restaurant?” I asked.

“It was the easy thing to make it a going concern. It’s a dream,” he said. “It’s like, watta gotta lose? Am I right?” he added with his stereotypical Italian hand gestures.

“I found something that really got me moving, and the more I do it, the more I wish I would be younger, because you get more experienced. I wouldn’t do anything that much different, but I would do more things, because I would be more energetic.”

We were lunching at South Beloit’s Ramada Cattails Restaurant.

“I’m gonna have the salad,” he said. “Something simple.” He ordered their seafood Louie with creamy dill dressing. I decided on bronzed salmon served on a bed of spinach.

Tony’s mother was born in Beloit, Wis., moving to Sicily when she was about ten.   Unknown

“Grandpa decided to go back because of his health. He worked for Fairbanks. He had a problem with his lungs. The doctor said the only way to get out of it was to go where there’s a lot of fresh air.”

So Tony was born in Petrosino, Trapani, a Sicilian province. His after-school days in the Mediterranean were spent helping his father in the vineyards and orchards.

“When you hit twelve, you have a job,” he explained. I got my own motorcycle by twelve, MV, 50 cc’s. It’s a beautiful vehicle for everybody,” he smiled. “That’s the way they can go real cheap, city to city, if they have a job, because they don’t make an arm and a leg as money.”

Recollecting Sicily brought light to Tony’s dark eyes.

Unknown
an annual event in Sicily

“Your family made tomato sauce?” I prodded.

“Yes, we did that.Every year. One does one thing, the other one helps Mom. That’s the way it’s done. The mother organizes. Usually we are all together. Father, he is the one who provided the whole thing. We helped him pick the tomatoes and bring them home. Then you boil it, and then you have the machine by hand, and then you make the sauce, olive oil, and salt. You cook them, then;put it in 2-liter jars, and then you seal them. you make enough to last you all winter–60, 80, a 100, depending on how many you want. In the summer, you live by salad, almost every day. What we are missing here is a lot of fresh produce. It’s not the old days. Now we eat with chemical fertilizers,” he sighed.

“Sicily’s produce is very popular, known as the best around–oranges, lemons, because there is so much sun. Every day you have fresh vegetables, fresh fruit. The clime is fantastic; it’s not real big, but it’s so loaded with sun. It’s called the Gold Island.”    Unknown-1

It’s unfair, but my greens at the Ramada paled as I imagined sun-drenched Sicily’s deep greens, compared to his iceberg lettuce and limp field greens.

Tony struggled too with the comparison. “This shrimp, this is in a can, and it tastes funny,” he said. He’s a restauranteur.

Tony’s mother moved her family back to Beloit, a few years after his father died. Tony was 21.

“It seems you’d want to stay there with the beautiful climate, fresh air, the fresh produce. Why here?” I asked.

“It’s everybody’s dream to work if I could make more money. That’s the key. It’s like any other country. There’s better opportunity in America than there is over there.”

“You could go in the winter,” I suggested.

“Even if I could, I wouldn’t,” he explained. “Restaurants are like babies.”

“That’s why you don’t leave?”

“You’re right, a 100 percent right,” he said. “Most of the failures, the restaurants are not taken care of right.”

Tony loves America and his work. This isn’t his second choice.

“That’s my priority. It’s the food. That’s life,” he said.

Our server brought over a dessert tray.

“Do  you want dessert, “ I asked, looking at the cake on the tray.

“No,” he said. “You know why? I had a piece of zucchini bread we made three days ago. It’s fantastic–got nuts in it. So I’m thinkin’ when I go home, I’m gonna have a piece with an espress coffee,” his musical accent emerging again.

“Oh that sounds good,” our server said, unmistakably thinking more zucchini bread than cake.

Tony reached for the check.

“No,” I said.

“You sure they’re buying,” he said, referring to my newspaper (where this story appeared originally). “You don’t lie to me?”

I laughed. This beefy body builder was ready to fight for the check.

“This is Lunch with Marjorie,” I affirmed. “Tony, it’s my job.”

He acquiesced, reluctantly. It was hard for him to let a woman pay for lunch.

 

Kids and Music: It all started with Hail to the Chief

Nola teaches middle school music. She’s come full circle. She teaches where she went to middle school.

“I’m about fourth generation Roscoe person,” she told me. The cappuccino machine at Meg’s Daily Grind was loud this Saturday, but the aroma was heavenly.  Unknown-5

I’ve known Nola for more than a decade. She was our church organist. And even though we had become fast friends, I had never really quizzed her about her love for music.

Unknown-4“When I was a preschooler, there was a piano in my folks’ garage–an old upright.  I would go out there and make up songs. There was a funeral for…JFK…then the inauguration for Johnson. They were playing Hail to the Chief over and over.“   Unknown-6

So I went out and played Hail to the Chief. That was my first tune. I was playing by ear.”

Her parents listened to the church organist, Florence Sugars, who told them, “‘Get the kid piano lessons, and get the piano tune so you don’t ruin her ear. You want her listening to things that are in tune.’”

Unknown-7“Thank you Mom,” Nola smiled. “I don’t think I would have gone as far as I did without the encouragement of my mom, and without the encouragement of our church.”

“Did they upgrade your piano as you progressed?” I asked.

“I had my first lesson during the week. We went out on the weekend and bought a piano.

“Of course I could only play my two greatest hits: Hail to the Chief and Blowin’ in the Wind, my special with two hands. I had made up accompaniment with a harmony part with my left hand for Blowin’ in the Wind because that was on the radio all the time (then).”

“Sounds like you were a close family.”

“They were very supportive…always interested in finding music for me. By the same token, I kind of monopolized the piano away from my sisters. If they had any ability, I was too selfish. I wasn’t able to share.”

“You were the oldest?”  Unknown-8

“And I was very bossy to them in high school.”

Meg’s cappuccino started roaring again. I wanted a refill.

Nola decided to become a high school band director.

“Teaching kids is a big responsibility,” I commented.

“And, I think it was really big. I’ve had adults come back to tell me, when they’re at conferences about their kids–they have all this baggage about some teacher who told them they couldn’t sing when they were little. I don’t think some teachers realize that if you’re so picky, like I was to my sisters, you can hurt people more than you know.I couldn’t think of anything else I was interested enough in pursuing.  I’ve had many, many adults, especially men, say, ‘My teacher said I couldn’t sing, and I never sang again.’”  music-match-play_ball-baseball-baseball_matches-the_star_spangled_banner-dre0035l.jpg

“But you encourage your students.”

“That’s what I hope.”

“How did you start playing the organ?”

“We had an organ at church…I really didn’t like the sound of…didn’t even have it played at my wedding. I went to Arizona…visited Organ Stop Pizza. They had a Wurlitzer organ connected to a grand piano…a train, car horns, and cymbals…everything you could think of. You could sit and eat pizza, and this person would play the organ. We were just thrilled. We bought all of their records. It was hilarious. After the Arizona trip…I found out I liked the sound of the instrument itself because it was a pipe organ. “All I had ever heard was electronic organs. Hearing a pipe organ doing the Bach Minor Toccata, da-na-na,” she mimicked the scary movie sound, “it’s not going inspire you unless you want to be creepy on Halloween.”  51avUayhsnL._SY300_

We talked about budget cuts that cut music from the curriculum.

“It’s like cutting out a part of my heart. I don’t know enough about politics to be able to fix it, so it just aches. There are so many studies…about the brain. It is just not an option. Listening to music, playing…performing music…helps your brain. Doing music, you’re actually increasing neuron-pathways.”

“Some people say music doesn’t do much for them,” I prodded. Unknown-9

“If you turned all the music off their TVs…just had words, and if you turned off their movies and just had action, and had only news on the radio and didn’t have the music, didn’t have music when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re cleaning the garage, when you want to exercise, I think then you would realize that something is missing.”

A modern man in an ancient city

Breakfast on the patio of Hotel Donatello was fairly ordinary for Rome: lattes, croissants, brioche, served with peach or strawberry preserves or honey. But, Carlo Prete, our hotel owner, adjusts to please palates not used to the strong, thick espresso of Europe.

th-2

“I think everybody, if they go to another country, likes to see how they live and eat,” Carlo told me. “We are trying to fix an average, with the quality of the Italian way, This coffee is an Italian coffee, but made for…we drink a small cup, very concentrated. If you drink this little cup, you are not satisfied (he referred to us Americans). In the morning, we only have coffee and a croissant, and we go. The maximum is a cappuccino, not a big meal.”

“I love to cook Italian food,” I beamed.

2631759-Donatello-Hotel-Rome-Hotel-Exterior-2-DEF

2631759-Donatello-Hotel-Rome-Guest-Room-3-DEF

“Ooh, very good. I should come and cook the spaghetti for you, and you will see the difference. Ha, ha, ha.”

“I would love that,” I said, sensing his doubting my skills with pasta.

“Most depends on how you cook the spaghetti. Normally you (again he means you Americans) tend to overcook the spaghetti.”

“Mine is al dente,” I defended.

“Oh, no, not the way…I don’t know. We don’t add salt to sauce. We put salt in the water and then boil the spaghetti. We don’t overcook the spaghetti,” he emphasized again.

“
Fresh tomato is good, and fresh mozzarella.”Carlo advised.

“I do that,” I said.

“Oh, molto buono!” Carlo has been in the hotel business for almost 30 years.

“My father sent me abroad to England, and to Holland, France, Germany to learn the (hotel) skills. I worked at big, multi-national hotels. Then I came back to Rome and started this little place. My wife and I started buying a little flat on the ground, then another one, and another one, and now we have the entire building.”

The courtyard’s green shutters made the red geraniums vibrant. A fountain arcing its water was refreshing background against the sun-drenched peach plaster walls. The four-story hotel feels like a home. It is a home. Carlo is remodeling, adding 18 rooms to the existing 22.  2631759-Donatello-Hotel-Rome-Hotel-Exterior-3-DEF

“This is an old building–more than 100 years old. When they built it, lifts were not a priority.” he explained. “Rooms with facilities were not a priority. We had to transform it. So we are doing a lift on the other side. New rooms with all the modern accessories, like smoke detectors, televisions, and mini-bars, all controlled by computers. When you work in buildings like this, it is always very, very difficult, because you see, the ceilings are not flat. They used bricks one against another to keep the ceiling standing. If you take one brick away, because you have to make a hole for the elevator, or to change a section…”

“It all collapses?” I gasped.

“Yes, you’ve got to be very careful. That is why we are working very closely with engineering teams. But it is coming out very well.”

Carlo’s wife Patrizia, and his sons, Mauro and Paolo, also work in the hotel.

“Will they do the business some day?”

“Hopefully. I tried toteach them that in order to become free, they should see what is happening…out of Italy. So Paolo went to England. Mauro went to France, and spent a couple of years there. Mauro is leaving now for England and is going to be there for some time. So they will learn a different style of living, and of course, the language, which is very important. They will be more skilled in the job they want to do.

“They are very cosmopolitan,” I said.

“Yes, they should be like that. If they like to continue this job, I will be very pleased. Otherwise, they will have the strength to do whatever they like.”

“You’re open to them doing something different?”

“Oh yes.”

“You won’t be sad if they don’t do this?” I probed.

“Oh, no, no, no.”

“You seem like a strong man, but you allow for strength in your wife and sons.”

“Well, the children had time to become strong. We had to do a lot of battles before they became confident of themselves.”

“But you let them do that.”

“Yes, I do. Sometimes I am suffering because I see that they have been injured.”

“The parent thing.”

“Yes. Sometimes we have…fights with them, and they accuse me of not letting them be free. I will do the father job, and they will do the job of the children.”

“We imagine that in the Italian family, the father rules.” I said.  th-1

“No, no, since the Roman Empire, the women have the power. Always,” he said. “Behind the man, there was always a strong woman.”

“You don’t hear about that.” “It is true, oh, si.”

…to be continued

 

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.