Category Archives: Food, people

Stories with lunch about ordinary people who have inspiring stories. Everybody has a story…everyone can inspire.

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.

 

Protecting people, remembering why

Trooper Mark Nytco was standing in line at a coffee shop when I realized I had not interviewed a policeman and needed to do so. After obtaining permission from his captain, we agreed to meet at a favorite Mexican restaurant, Alvarez.  1375642_529961663748425_107114062_n

I ordered pork tacos, Mark was decisive: chicken fajitas.

He is just as confident about performing his duties as an Illinois State policeman. This tall, fair, handsome man has serious eyes with a steadying effect.  images

“When you stop people, are they respectful?” I began.

“Yes, very seldom do I have any problems with people.”

“Are you aggressive?”

“When I have to0 be. You have to know what you are dealing with. I do not take any disrespect from people. I am respectful to them. If they cross the line, then all bets are off.”

“What’s the most fulfilling crime-stopping you do?”

“It’s hard to tell, because it’s pretty much every day. Whether you stop a person with a gun in their car or whether you stop a drug dealer with a large amount of narcotics. Who knows? You think, well, maybe you saved something today from using the stuff.”

“Do you get involved with their families?”  Unknown

“Sometimes I probe, try to find out their background, what kind of person they are, what kind of home they come from. Sometimes it is shocking when you call a parent:

‘Can I call your mom to pick you up?’ They say, ‘OK, go ahead, she won’t care.’ The parent often says, ‘Can’t you charge him with something so you can keep him overnight in jail?’ I look at this kid and think, no wonder this kid is here on the street.”

“What’s the solution?” I ask.

“It all boils down to family life.”

Mark knows about family. He was 16 when he arrived in Chicago on a September Thursday in 1974.

“I was born in Poland about 80 kilometers east of Krakow. I was brought up under communism, but at home, I knew better than what the officials at school said. Parents and grandparents told me different.  data=VLHX1wd2Cgu8wR6jwyh-km8JBWAkEzU4,VG857Eg-k9KYTzCWUSnCnFuZmK1ZNhnDmeGeom7DBrFxYDE69zf6ZIS-Ob7IwPV5X7s4abxfuwoYgrPOUKusdI-OADc_kAcpnLC3MN0K3_w9fPpu_qjR7gibCGoKAM73Rlx_u5rRMDgjzBD9iilSYbqZIWG5T05jfJe_wxxe2nJBvFJ6WG6s8BwK-7GXsiAFZaHdp3U

Mexican guitar music filled Alvarez’s small dining area, but I was captivated by the Polish accent, the surprising story unfolding. He paused briefly for a bite of sizzling chicken or bell pepper, but he was intent on continuing. He had important things to say.

“When I was in school, I listened to the version of history that this teacher had, totally opposite with what my parents and grandparents taught me, or what they went through. For instance, my grandfather was part of the underground. Fought the Nazis,” he explained.

“After the Polish army fell in World War II, when the Nazis invaded Poland, a lot of officers got captured by communist Russians. About 10,000 were executed by Stalin. My grandfather was able to escape, but somehow the Gestapo found out about their organization. Under some kind of torture, they were able to get all the n ames of all the conspirators from this one person, and overnight they rounded up 236 of them, including my grandfather. They arrested him and eventually transported them to Auschwitz. A few months later, my grandfather was executed there, in Cell Block 13.”

He broke through to say, “I don’t know if you have ever visited Auschwitz, but you should. I think everybody should.”

“How did that change you? I asked.

“When you’re  kid, you think everything is beautiful. Then you listen to adults–not reading a  book or watching a movie. I had an eyewitness.”

His aunt survived three concentration camps.

“What they did to them every day, how they made them stand out in 10 below zero, in an outfit like P.J.’s and wooden shoes. Made them stand there for 10 hours at a time. And they didn’t care if they dropped dead. You were basically to die. They didn’t care. I realized how evil people can be to one another.

“This has affected how you do your job?”

“I understand when I come across a lot of people, and there are more and more people who are from former communist countries. I can understand why they’re so distrusting of police, because I can still remember what the police over there were like.”

“You can be more forgiving?”

“Yes. I can relate to them. I know why they are like that, because their life over there was hell. The policing there wasn’t to protect them, but to keep them in line.”

“Here you’re the good guy,” I said.

He smiled. “Yeah, I like to think so. And, this job doesn’t pay much. You have to love this  job; you have to sacrifice; but that’s where dedication comes in. You have to remember why you took this job.”

 

Career change, gumbo and Cordon Bleu

Choices. Choosing Tim Scholten for my first Lunch with Marjorie (first published in 2002) was simple. He is the most naturally funny guy I know. My husband agreed. He’s funny.

But when talking with Tim about his decision to switch from a dream career in broadcasting to selling radio advertising, Tim turned serious.

We paused to tackle the Rockton Inn lunch menu, a clear dilemma for Tim.   Unknown

“It’s a dead heat between navy bean and seafood gumbo in my world today,” Tim’s blue eyes sough help from me.

“Gumbo? Good? Bad?”

“The gumbo’s great, very New Orleans,” I assured.

“I’m on it. Sold!” he proclaimed.

“Sandwich?” I asked.

“Man oh man, a lot of good things to eat. The chicken Cordon bleu special, and yet the barbecue sandwich is also tempting.”

He opted for the Cordon Bleu; I had the Oriental chicken salad.

Growing up in Beloit, Wis,, Tim’s teens were filled with sports, cello and plays. He loved performing. “Unknown-1

I was at Startlight (Theatre) in the mid-‘7os. I did Music Man with Jodi Benson, who went on to be The Little Mermaid.

Unknown-2   Jodi Benson! I was impressed.

Tim wasn’t.

“She was in the chorus. She was nothing, and I was nothing. We were nothing together, and it was fun.”

The year Elvis died, 1977, Tim went off to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, to major in radio and television.

“I had a fantastic advisor there,” he remembered.

“A guy named Jim Duncan, and he sold it for me. All those years, he was the voice of the Drake Relays, America’s athletic classic.” Unknown-3

Des Moines broadcasting began for Tim with weekly co-hosting stints at KRNT, reporting campus news. Then he became head statistician for The Drake Sports Network.

“That was wonderful, he said. “I would copy down all the statistics during all home Drake men’s basketball and football games. And both sports were Division 1. And he would look at my stats, and he would check with me, and I wouldn’t really say anything at all, but we became a linked unit, and a guy named Larry Morgan, who is now the voice of the Iowa Hawkeyes on television.”

Tim had the sports bug, the news bug.

Post college, his career began at Beloit’s radio station, 1380 WBEL, on air as The Jock. He left to co-anchor the now defunct Beloit Cable News.

“Then my friend, Jerry Huffman, made it possible for me to work for WREX-TV,” Tim explained. Tim became the first Rock County reporter in 1983.

“I was kind of an experimental guinea pig there,” he said.

“They sent me out with my inferior equipment, but I did have my own station vehicle. And, I would take it back to my apartment every night, wake up early in the morning and they’d say: ‘OK, you need to go out, cover it, take pictures.’

images    We worked till 6:30pm most nights, editing what I had shot, writing what I had shot, and producing the stories. That’s the hardest I’ve ever worked in the media.”

A few bumps and station changes moved Tim to news reporter for WIFR-TV.

Spring 1987, Tim married Lisa Johnson, and made a dramatic career change. I realized his gumbo-navy bean struggle was somewhat thornier than the decision to leave broadcasting.

“Was it an emotional decision?” I asked.

“Yes, but Marjorie, I can tell you that reason in five words: Fourteen thousand dollars a year.”

He couldn’t support his family on that salary. Lisa was a dental assistant. She was the breadwinner in the soon-to-be-family.

“She was out-earning me,” he said.

“A little bruising to the ego? Hard to give up celebrity status?”

“A little bit. But that doesn’t put food on the table. I doubled my income with the stroke of a pen.”

“Regrets?”

Cordon Bleu. He liked it.   Unknown-5

“Gumbo?” “It’s a spicy, hard-hitting gumbo. I’ll make it through,” he said.

“It’s all part of the culinary experience.”

“Career choice? Are you satisfied with your accomplishments?”

“So many people answer that question the wrong way: It’s my Beamer, my Lexus, my yacht, my getaway place,” Tim explained.

“Wro-o-ng! It’s your kids!” He added, “I’ve seen it backfiring for others. The guys on the second, third, fourth marriages, scrambling to find out what it is when all the while, it’s right in front of them.”

Tim’s choices clearly had brought him joy. He gets animated talking about coaching youth baseball in his hometown, and spending time with his sons, who both also have the sports bug.  Unknown-4

Tim still does some creative commercials, voice-overs. But he is primarily a father, a people-person.

“I don’t live to work,” he shared. “I work to live. You reap what you sow. That’s the total philosophy. Life’s a trade-out.”

No rock will out-praise this miracle child – Part 1

Lennox has the buttery voice for which Jamaicans are known. His singing voice is even smoother. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he arrived in Rockford, Ill. at the age of 16. But that is his story:

“Was food an adjustment?” I asked. We were at Garrett’s in Rockford, where my amazing puff pastry of apricots and brie   4cb55219-3805-46b2-bc0c-c3325de15c89was served with diced tomatoes and watercress. Lennox enjoyed his small chicken Caesar salad.

“I remember my first weeks here,” he said. “I was not able to eat. I just never had an appetite. I was afraid I was not going to keep it down. It was so bad the doctors put me on Ensure.”

Unknown-2    His diet in Jamaica was mostly rice and flour dumplings.

“Lots of fruits and vegetables?” I asked, imagining Caribbean bounty.

Unknown-3   “You just pick it off the tree–mangoes, plantains, whatever you want, pick it fresh.” he said.

Lennox and his family also ate fried plantains and dumplings for breakfast and salted codfish with ackee.

“They take dried, salted codfish,” explained, “and boil out as much salt as they can, then cut it and fry it with ackee. It looks like scrambled eggs. There is nothing like that here. It is Jamaica’s national fruit.”  images-1

Lennox grew up with his mother, two siblings and a stepfather. They lived in a one-room house of boards, with an outhouse bathroom and a shack at the back for a kitchen.

“What is your earliest memory of music?” I asked, know music is his passion.

“My grandma always sang.” His house was next to hers. “If I lay on my grandma’s roof, I could stretch across to my mom’s roof,” he pictured.

“I’m five feet, five inches tall. I remember my grandma, a dynamic woman of God, would get up on Sunday mornings and warm her voice to lead the singing for church.”

Unknown-5   Jamaican Christians believe God’s gift of music is for praise, and they don’t sing secular songs.

“My mom sang a little bit; so did my aunt,” he said.   Unknown-6

“They would get together and sing beautiful three-part harmonies. I was blind, so I would listen. Listening was my way of seeing the world. I always wanted to copy what I heard. There is no hymn in the book that I don’t know.”

Unknown-7   Lennox’s mother contracted measles during a hospital stay when she was seven months pregnant with him. In 1978, Jamaican law required abortion if the pregnancy was endangered in a manner where the baby could be deformed or brain-damaged. But, the doctors didn’t find out about her case. His grandmother instructed her daughter not to tell or complain. “‘I’ll go home and talk to God,’” he related what his grandmother said.

“My grandma prayed…with the neighbors.”

Born December 24, 1978, it was soon clear that Lennox was blind and had glaucoma. When he was six, the doctors at Kingston’s university hospital wanted to explore to see if there was anything they could learn. His mother was apprehensive.

“My grandma said, ‘What worse could they do? He’s already blind. You let them go. We’ll talk to God about it. God’s not through with him yet.’ A few months later, I started to see. To this day, with all the modern technology and medicine, there is no cure for glaucoma. I know it was the prayers.”

His sight returned gradually.

“It was interesting. I was behind with my eyes connecting images to my brain. I had to re-learn to look at something instead of feeling for it…going to a door, knowing I should turn the handle, I would still feel for the handle…trying to teach my mind how to see, recognize and respond.”

Doctors recommended enrollment at the Salvation Army School for the Blind. They expected his blindness to return in a few years. At the boarding school, he was away from family and friends. But during chapel, he heard the piano each day.  Unknown-8

“The auditorium for chapel is very sacred,” Lennox said.

“Ladies don’t go in there without their heads covered. When there was no chapel, it was off limits for children. But, in the evening, I would go to the chapel, break in, find my way to the stage and punch out notes that I had heard. The piano was covered by a big tarp. I had really bad asthma, but I would go under the tarp, play a few notes, come out and breathe, get under, play a few notes, come out, until I started to put a song together, playing what I had heard.”

The principal heard him, pulled him out, gave him a spanking, but told Lennox he was to play in the Sunday service the next week. Lennox was 13.

“He sort of encouraged you,” I laughed.

“Reprimanded, then encouraged,” he corrected.

“I learned Braille, how to use a cane, to be an independent blind individual. My mom and I were best friends. She felt bad that I was blind, so she overprotected me. Being at the school was difficult for her and for me. But she knew it was best. If I was blind at 12, there would be no future if I wasn’t learning the skills I needed.”

But at 12, 13, 14, 15, Lennox was seeing better than before, beating the odds.

“My grandmother would say I was a miracle and that to whom much is given, much is expected.

“There was a church in my yard. They were always inviting me to do this and that. I wanted to do my own thing.”

images-2   One summer, his mother insisted he go to Bible camp. Lennox refused. He explained, “I had a hard time…I loved Jamaican reggae music, forbidden music.”

His mother washed and ironed, and packed his things the night before camp. She said, “I know God is in control. You’re going to go,” he recalled.

“It was probably 400 Jamaican dollars for the week. She only had 200.” That morning a knock on the door brought her answer.

“A lady with an envelope said, ‘Please give this to your mother.’” Sister Brown felt God leading her to give them $500.

“I was kicking and screaming, and got on the bus,” he said.

“It was horrible. But when I got there, I realized for the first time in my life that to whom much given, much is expected. god has given me a lot. I heard about the greatness and goodness of God, how He is intimately acquainted with our ways, and has a plan for us…that we go through circumstances to experience the best life possible. We have to yield…follow whatever it costs us.”

01b094854f8342f362b22012dda26c90   Music spoke to Lennox, one lyric in particular: I’m born again to win, the work has been completed, the Devil is defeated, no more will I be cheated, ‘cause I’m born again to win.

“Because I am a miracle child,” he said.

“You felt victory in that song,” I echoed.

“Oh, yes!”

(This story originally appeared in my May, 2007, in my Lunch with Marjorie column in The Rock River Times.)

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?”

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“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.”

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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.”

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)