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BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

SURPRISE: An unexpected or astonishing event, fact, or thing; to occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness; to come upon or discover suddenly and unexpectedly; to cause someone to feel amazed at something unexpected; a feeling aroused by something unusual or unexpected; feeling unusually alarmed or delighted [from American Heritage College Dictionary].  “Unexpected” or “unusual” can be divided into SURPRISE: sudden wonder or disbelief, unanticipated; ASTONISH: overwhelming surprise; AMAZE: astonishment, often bewilderment; ASTOUND: shock, or unprecedented in one’s experience.  (Is it all clear now?  Were you surprised at your last surprise?  Is that sur-PRIZED, or sup-PRISED?  Hmm.]

FAVORITE BOOK

THESAURUS EXERCISE: Copy the following into your speckled notebook for next Friday’s spelling quiz.  SURPRISE!  (Just kidding.): astonishment awe wonder shock nonexpectation unforeseen  godsend  miscalculation  unexpectedness  abruptness jolt precipitance  marvel  amaze  astound  flabbergast  stun  startle  stand aghast  miraculous  catch unawares  taken aback  unbargained for confounded  wondrous  incredible  suddenly  magical  without notice  remarkable  breathless  mirabile visu (“wonderful to behold”).

* * *

“The only thing that should surprise us is that there are still some things that can surprise us.” –Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“And to my niece I leave . . .”

I heard those words at the reading of my Grandma Schuma’s will.  I was in 11th grade.  The niece was my mother.  The Grandmother was really my Grand Aunt.  My Uncle Joe was really my Grandfather.  My real Grandmother Anna had died long before.  Grandma and Grandpa raised my mother as their daughter.  I didn’t know this Family Secret  until I was a sophomore in high school.  SURPRISE!  The reading of the will and the word “niece” was a real “shocker.”  I never thought of my mother as a niece.  And my Uncle Joe?  He was never my Grandpa . . .  And as far as  I was concerned, my mom and Aunt Em were still “sisters”  and not cousins . . .  That’s another story.

“A Scout is never taken by surprise; he knows exactly what to do when anything unexpected happens.” –Robert Baden-Powell (founder of Boy Scouts)

“It’ll just take a moment.”

I always locked my bike when I went into the public library.  This time I was only returning books to the Ogden Park Public Library near our home on Chicago’s South Side.  I wheeled my bike into the bike rack–unlocked–and ran up the stairs.  In a flash I was inside, in a moment, putting my books through the Return slot, and was out the door.  SURPRISE!  No bike.  Gone, in a flash.  Wham!  In the chest!  Heart-stopping bam!  What to do? tears covering eyes of reason.  Went inside, blubbering.  Park policeman came.  I made some kind of report.  I walked home, seeing ever crack in every square of every sidewalk.

Over a year later, the bike was recovered.  I walked a long, slow walk to claim it at the park police station.  It had been stripped clean: I recognized the frame and the tires and seat.  I gave thanks, and rode home, teary-eyed, remembering too well, “It’ll take just a moment.”

“Do not always expect good to happen, but do not let evil take you by surprise.” –Czech Proverb

“In sickness and in health . . .”

“We want as many children as we good Catholics can have.”  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  “Don’t plan to have more than two children: you are Rh+ and your husband is Rh-.”  SURPRISE.  “We want to have as many children as we good Catholics practicing birth control can have.”  Two . . .  “SURPRISE!  It’s a healthy boy.”  The end.  The beginning . . .

“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.”  –Henry Ford

“SURPRISE, Loser!”

I have a notebook filled with Loser Letters, those “Sorry, Charlie” or “We regret to inform you” or “Another candidate has accepted the position.”  I’m not sure why I keep them, for it’s been a very long time for Loser Letters.  I applied for my share of grants and scholarships and degree programs as others have done.  And I have received the “And the envelope, please.”  “Nope.  Not this time,” in so many–sometimes many–words.  I kept trying, up to a point in my career of forty-nine years.  And that was that.  “Wait!  Princeton University is advertising for . . .”

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.  It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.”  –Ashley Montagu (1905-1999)

“Some good stuff . . .”

“SURPRISE!”  “It’s your 80th Birthday Party!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You got accepted!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They called and offered you the job!”

“SURPRISE!”  “It really was your appendix!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They approved your loan!”

“SURPRISE!”  “Oh my gosh!  That’s my new typewriter!”

“SURPRISE!”  “She said Yes!”

“SURPRISE!”  “The house is now yours!”

“SURPRISE!”  “You’re taking the Honor Students to Cambridge!”

“SURPRISE!”  “They want you to tell your story on WBEZ!”

* * *

© James F. O’Neil  2021

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“I want people to see a real person on the ice.  I want to seem tangible, hard-working, passionate about my skating, not just going out and doing something I’ve rehearsed a million times.” –Ashley Wagner, American figure skater.  [BrainyQuote]

* * *

Who takes ice skates on a honeymoon?  We did, in October 1963, to the Wagon Wheel Lodge, Rockton, Illinois.

Having packed our 1962 Corvair, my new bride-wife had tucked in her ice skates; for we chose our honeymoon getaway partially for its beautiful Olympic-sized skating facility available for us.

SKATING RINK AT WAGON WHEEL RESORT HONEYMOON

But I’m jumping a bit ahead of my story filled with memoriesofatime.

I never knew, all the while we were engaged, that my fiancée was a skater.  Not much mention, as I recall, was made of our hobbies, like stamp collecting, piano playing, ice skating, collecting Air Force shoulder sleeve insignia, and the like.  The two of us were so submerged in our work, and in our college courses, that there was little free time for hobbies.  An occasional lazy summer Sunday afternoon in Lincoln Park was a delicious treat.

So, when we were setting up our apartment before our wedding (we–gasp! –did not live together before our Catholic marriage!), I noticed a large square shoe box on her pile of stuff to be put away: Riedell.  White box, blue print, with an ice skate and silhouette of an ice skater on the top and sides.  “Do you skate?”  I asked on that warm Chicago October evening.  “You never told me anything about it.  I didn’t know,” I spoke. 

SKATE WITH PASSION!  SKATE RIEDELL!!

* * *

Sonja Henie (8 April 1912 – 12 October 1969) was a Norwegian figure skater and film star, a three-time Olympic Champion (1928, 1932, 1936) in Ladies’ Singles, a ten-time World Champion (1927–1936) and a six-time European Champion (1931–1936).  She won more Olympic and World titles than any other ladies’ figure skater.

At the height of her acting career, she was one of the highest-paid stars in Hollywood and starred in a series of box-office hits, including Thin Ice (1937), My Lucky Star (1938), Second Fiddle (1939) and Sun Valley Serenade (1941) [Wikipedia], and It’s a Pleasure (1945).

Henie retains the record of most consecutive titles, sharing it with skater Katarina Witt.  In addition to traveling to train and compete, she was much in demand as a performer at figure skating exhibitions in both Europe and North America, becoming so popular with the public that police had to be called out for crowd control on her appearances in various cities.

Henie is credited with being the first figure skater to adopt the short skirt costume in figure skating, wear white boots, and making use of dance choreography. Her innovative skating techniques and glamorous demeanor transformed the sport permanently and confirmed its acceptance as a legitimate sport in the Winter Olympics.

Probably most young girls wearing ice skates, learning figures and jumps, aspired to be the next Sonja Heinie.

* * *

Once upon a time, Susie Braschko (before she became Susan O’Neil on 10-12-63) grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois.  Near the farmhouse where she lived lay a marshy area and watery pond where in winter her dad would set up a skating area for her and her brother.  She was a skater here, long before thoughts of Sonja Henie or the Ice Capades, Ice Follies, or Olympic Gold.  Here on the pond she learned to fall, and get up again.  And tasted the desire to want lessons.

Thus, it all began, with her dad driving her to Park Ridge, Illinois, to an ice-skating school (in an old theater)

for classes and lessons–until she had her own car to make her own way to the ice rink…and to her idol and teacher: Michael Kirby who once had to carry her off the ice–!–how, like a perfect gentle knight, as her calf bled from a gash-clash with another skater’s blade.  (Hospital stitches were needed.)

* * *

Michael J.R. Kirby (February 20, 1925 – May 25, 2002) Canadian figure skater who competed in men’s singles, was also (for a short while) an actor, and a one-time ice rink owner and skating coach.  When he turned 16, he became a Canadian national champion, winning the silver medal at the 1941 North American Championships and the gold at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, 1942.  He turned professional, joining the Ice Follies in 1943. 

In the later 1940s, he moved to Hollywood, appearing in several movies.  In 1947, while he was skating in a West Los Angeles ice rink, the manager asked him to skate with Sonja Henie, the rink owner.  He joined with her, and later had a role in her film The Countess of Monte Crisco.  He also became part of Sonja’s Hollywood Ice Review, which went to Europe and England.

He relocated to Chicago, establishing a chain of instructional ice skating rinks beginning in 1948.  He received an offer from Ice Capades, a company that both produced ice-skating shows and developed ice-skating centers.  Leaders hired him to bring ice rinks like his Chicago-area studios to cities across the country–and around the world.  Nevertheless, success waned in the late 70s, due to the lack of interest and support for ice skating; most of Kirby’s ice studios closed.  Later in life he was an ice-skating consultant and then the author of a biography on Sonja Henie.  (Sonja retired in May 1956.)  He died in 2002 of renal failure, in his home at Orange County, California.  [Thanks to Vikki Ortiz, Chicago Tribune, January 15, 2010]

MICHAEL KIRBY

Many skaters who went on to compete nationally got their start at Kirby’s Chicago-area skating studios.

* * *

Sue tells, humbly and modestly, of her abilities and skills, of how much she learned and how much she so desired to go on in skating.  But, as fate would have it, two of her friends were chosen to audition for the Ice Capades, one successful: “Jennie.”  Sue, though, could never make the cut, for she was 5’0’; 5’7’ or there about, was the minimum height requirement (generic costume sizes).

THE SKATING TRIO

No doubt disappointment set in with the breakup of the friendship and “teammate-ship,” onset of high school and jobs, and family obligations.  (Her father died when she was a junior in high school.)  So, the skates were put aside, put away, for a short while, a few years.

* * *

I didn’t ice skate much, growing up in Chicago.  I was one of those who used hand-me-down skates and tried my best in a non-Michael Kirby city park rink.  Later, years later, I tried with a group of young adults in the bleak mid-winter, skating on frozen lakes near Mundelein, Illinois.  And that was it: end of skating, end of grouping.  Until the honeymoon, of course.   

It was then when I made a complete fool of myself, as I slipped and slid around on the ice, more comfortable sitting down as my new bride skated figure-eights around me, triple-jumped over me (I thought), and smiled as she posed as Ina Bauer, encircling my frozen limbs.

INA BAUER TECHNIQUE

But we had “the time of our lives!”  Babies later (two) found us living in Minnesota, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” all potential skating rinks in the winter.

One of the larger lakes near our home (in 1966) was Lake Winona.  The Park Rec provided skating opportunities, complete with crackling ice, motion, and bumps.  Yet for the most part, a good venue for kids and adults willing to brave the winds and chills.  Sue taught both our sons to skate (but not this big guy), and became a Park Rec Skating Instructor, complete with choreographing a winter skate program.  All good rosy-cheeked fun.

Leaving Winona, we had not many ice-time opportunities for a few years after.  A backyard rink I once made, for one.  But an ice rink in a new shopping mall in Florida, where we traveled for a visit, in 1977.  The ice was calling her name; I called her my “Sonja,” this wife-mother who awed us when she got on that small rink by Macy’s and wowed the shopper-onlookers, who clapped at her not-forgotten Michael Kirby “routines.”

We were so impressed.

Fast forward: Our move to Florida, 1980.  New skating life gradually came to Southwest Florida Gulf Coast: Two ice rinks, one a professional rink with a team.  Open skating, classes for beginners on up, ice shows, private lessons from Olympians practicing in the area and coming from the other coast.  Skating teams, competitive teams for all age groups, hockey teams.  The Ice Crystals were born (women’s adult skaters) –and medaled, and received trophies, traveled to Las Vegas and San Francisco and other national competitions.  And Susie–Run-Around-Sue–with her poodle skirt and all, high-scored for her age group.

POODLE SKIRTS TEAM

So, costumes changed, and blades needed sharpening, and airline travel had to be arranged, and then even new skates.  There was rink rental/ice time (that Zamboni!), coaching fees, gas mileage, and other miscellaneous expenses (way beyond a simple city park rink cost).  From time to time, Sonja Sue went to adult free skate; she also managed to take her skates on vacation, to her Ohio cottage, using the practice ice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania–or on ice near Youngstown, Ohio.

SUE, BIG ICE, AND CLEMSON CLEM

Skater Sue, of course, had her share of falls, sore knees, bruises, twists, aches, sore butt, and from time to time a sore wrist or arm from pinwheels–or from an incorrect pull by a teammate.  Harder falls, then The Broken Wrist.

Broken wrist casts come in a variety of colors; she chose black, to blend with her costumes for the up-coming Las Vegas competitions.  And all went well, her team buddies holding her, supporting her when needed.

Nevertheless, that fall, that incident, set her aback, and recuperating time took much out of her.  The team, at the same time, had lost two or three members to illness; the small group barely had enough bodies to make a line across the midline of the rink.  The coach had her time cut back; the end was near.  The team ceased to exist.  The trophy case would never be added to by the adult skate group; only individuals competed from the rink.

* * *

“I think you should consider hanging up your skates,” the doctor said.  Glum.  Gloom.  No tears, but sadness at the realization: a trip to the ER with back spasms, X-rays revealing a fracture at L-2, and degenerative spine disease.  A bad score on a DEXA scan was an earlier warning.  A dangerous combination should any kind of fall occur, especially one on a cold hard ice surface.  Osteoporosis.

And that’s the tale now.

She has her medals and her certificates, her videos, and her photographs; those can never be disputed.  These are her memoriesofatime.  For me?  By now, you might have wondered what role I played in all this narrative, other than as its author, with what are so many of my memoriesofatime.

Well, I was intimately involved with costume selection (“That’s nice.  I like the red one, too.”) or being chauffeur (“What time do I get you to the airport?”) or fixer (“I’ll get some thread and safety pins.”  “I have a bandage right here in my pocket.”  “Here’s my handkerchief for those tears.”); jeweler (“Are those really real diamonds she’s wearing for that number?”), and charmer (“You guys did so well!  You deserved 1st Place, not those young skaters.”), and even technical advisor (“Exactly thirty-three seconds.  Just right!”).

At times I was Team Husband, just being there for an evening or Saturday practice–drinking hot chocolate, reading a book, smiling often, eating a hot dog or piece of pizza, or simply watching, enthralled by a group of women doing skating routines that would be in competition.  Or single skaters practicing, doing jumps and figures and whatever else ice skaters do to make us smile, make us wonder how they can do that on two quarter-inches of razor-sharpened metal attached by screws to a white boot, shoe-laced tightly around foot and ankle.

“Anything I should know about foot-pounds of pressure?”  “And if you feel yourself falling, I want you to relax and . . .”  “And, yes, those blades are really sharp!”  

[See the movies Blades of Glory, 2007; The Cutting Edge, 1992.]

I seldom complained, about time and money, about illness and injury, cuts and bruises–and expenses for Biofreeze.  Our hobbies–well, her “hobby” was really a “passion,” as she called it.  My hobby was collecting zinc and lead diecast airplanes.  I never had the “passion” as she did.  Ever.

So, I would add, in closing, nothing.  That’s all what I want to relate about my own “Sonja Henie,” from our beginnings to now, a good skating time of some forty-five years or so.  I should mention that there was many a time that I could not believe how beautiful she was “out there, on ice” with her musical motifs and routines–and how often  I was choked up by a special performance (and am still moved watching her videos), and how you might even have seen me reach for my handkerchief to wipe my eyes . . .

© JAMES F O’NEIL 2020

SEND IN THE CLOWNS!

MEDAL WINNER

BY: JAMES F O’NEIL

“To Jim–Thanks for making me gramaticaly correct! Love, A– 8-18-98”

During my writing career, I have done some book reviewing for Choice magazine (a librarian’s magazine); I have also done some editing, for individuals, for friends. These books have become part of my memoriesofatime.

I’ve never had published a real book, one that I signed for followers while I was sitting at a table at Barnes & Noble, or in an easy chair at a small bookshop: “To Mary, Kindest regards”; “For Bernard, who will enjoy my stories as your mother did”; “Audrey, May you laugh and cry as you read.” These words I never inscribed in a novel or book of short stories I wrote.

However, two teaching colleagues and I did author A Bridge to Writing That Works [1995], for ENC 1101, a basic college writing course.

A BRIDGE TO WRITING

Not a best seller–but used as the required text for a few semesters with a captive audience.  (Is it ever ethical for a teacher to use his or her own textbook for a course? I thought about this often. We never received any kind of royalties for our work.)

Enviously I have attended book signings–or have had books signed after readings or presentations: at least one poet and short story author, Raymond Carver; Stephen E. Ambrose, American historian of World War II; Richard A. Clarke, (former) American government official. [I’m a real name dropper here…] James Dickey, American poet and United States Poet Laureate (author of Deliverance).

James_Dickey_(cropped)

James Dickey: Probably one of the most memorable occasions of signings I can relate. I had attended an annual association writing conference, in Pensacola, years back. He was the dinner guest: speaker and reader, in a nice hotel setting. Cocktails before and after dinner. And the readings, “Kudzu,” for one, and talk of his poetry, and the Why of Poetry.

Dickey was always one of my favorite poets, with “Falling” –“A 29-year-old stewardess fell … to her death tonight . . .” a poem of great impression upon me. So, I sat, mesmerized, listening to him, waiting for him to finish, waiting for him to sign his novel Alnilam [1987] which I clutched tightly under the dinner table.

Then I heard him slur a few lines of poetry, then stagger away a bit from the podium. Ooops! Was he drunk? He thanked us, stopping abruptly, and moved to one of the small hotel rooms for book signings. I waited my turn in line. There he kingly sat, writing messages in books, sipping whiskey, comfortable in a lounge chair. Certainly inebriated, over the legal limit, DUI. I did not care. “To Jim, . . .words, words, words . . .” It’s gone. One of the many hundreds I donated to the library when I retired . . .

The next morning I met him in the small Pensacola Airport. We sat and chatted, small talk about teaching, and the Blue Angels (pictures on the walls), and other non-poetry topics. I do remember clearly his asking me whether I wrestled in school; he said he thought so from my physique and stature. [I did wrestle in high school.] He was quite sober when he left for his plane.

[In 1942 he enrolled at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina and played on the football team as a tailback. After one semester, he left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps. Dickey served with the U.S. Army Air Forces as a radar operator in a night fighter squadron during the Second World War, and in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. Between the wars, he attended Vanderbilt University, graduating magna cum laude with a degree in English and philosophy (as well as minoring in astronomy) in 1949. He also received an M.A. in English from Vanderbilt in 1950. –Wikipedia]

Some of my friends have gone on to write, and my name might be mentioned in the acknowledgements. To me, it’s like a signing. I get a book with my name printed. Having helped these friends with their editing, I’ve even received an honorable mention (and pray there are no errors). I received a “Gentleman’s C” in Principles of Economics in college. Ironically, I edited an economics text; and edited a Western novel, and some first novels of action and adventure. That was then.

Now I have been working with an author “Margareth Stewart” [Monica Mastrantonio], publishing her eBook Open: Pierre’s Journey after War–a picaresque novel of one who looks for revenge upon those who killed his family in France during WWII. Her book has taken me on an emotional journey through her character’s eyes.

How much money have I made from my editorial adventures? $elf-Actualization, and a few dollars. And perhaps a copy of the edited book. Most likely that. Pro bono. I do understand the meaning of that phrase. A psychologist paid me a hundred dollars for my work on her book; I received $25 a month for editing a magazine article, for two years. Choice magazine sent a book to be reviewed, with directions, parameters–and deadlines.

Often, I had a deadline to meet a publishing date. Sometimes I was able to meet with an author, to make changes; most times I was on my own, receiving a manuscript text by mail or courier, to edit/revise then return by mail. This was detachment, impersonal.

One memorable time, however, April, a student of mine in a sophomore writing class, came to me after the course was completed, asking whether I would be interested in looking over a manuscript she had. “Of course.”

With all the writing/revisions and editing that I have done, AHOOTERS AND APRILpril Pederson’s Hooters story [1998] has been the most difficult yet most fun. The manuscript needed much editing, but the pictures of the girls needed no edition. April would take care of that. The format of the book was an ultra-unique project for me–cartoonish, manuscript fonts spread throughout, typed text, photographs, index, graphs, charts, menus. And all about Hooters girls and the working the girls do. Often, I found myself chuckling or laughing aloud. A notable task, a messy job, but somebody had to do it.

So, I made it GRAMATICALLY correct . . .

Once I read, “Self-deprecation is the sign of a massive ego structure.” Well, I’m no expert grammarian or copy editor. But I still do wince when I see errors–basic errors (principal/principle)–in a formally published text/book. I ask, “How did that get missed?” Then I continue to read on, mumbling something like “Well, you can’t catch them all.” That’s only human. But, some human got paid to catch that, after some machine proofed it. And so it goes. I have tried, with my favorite grammar books surrounding me–and with my Strunk & White handy–to be that good human who tries to catch them all, that Holden Caulfield Catcher in the Rye editor. I’ve been pretty successful, I must massively-ego say for myself.

catcher in the rye 2014

© JAMES F O’NEIL 2019

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The best leaders enjoy the trust of their subordinates, peers, and superiors.” –Lt. Col. Pete Kilner, USA (Ret.)

How did Capt. James Miller earn and maintain trust in Saving Private Ryan?

How did U.S. Army Lt. (later Maj.) Richard Winters [1918-2011] command (not demand) respect in Band of Brothers–and, in the actual “Easy Company of the 101st”?

In my many courses “back then,” studying leadership and especially educational leadership, I learned theories X, Y, and Z; and A, B, and C; Reddin, Blake & Mouton, and McGregor; and on and on and on. All good, valuable, one building upon the next, or discarding the weak points of another. Even the oldest “Peter Principle” (1969) served as a textbook in one of my graduate classes (along with Up the Down Staircase).

Many years retired now, I am still attracted to good articles commenting on what I learned and perhaps practiced in my educational career.

I found in Military Officer (July 2018) a simply put framework by Lt Col Pete Kilner explaining the behavior of Capt. Miller (I believe) and the rationale behind the promotions and the trust placed in Lt Winters.

Both films aptly portray what Lt Col Kilner found in his experience “thinking more intentionally about trust,” that a person’s “trust-worthy-ness” is a function of four factors: HONESTY, RELIABILITY, COMPETENCE, and COMPASSION.

We can view these two important films at this time in our history, the 75th Anniversary of D-Day Europe. We can also search for Miller’s and Winters’ truthfulness; “courageous faithfulness to commitments”; responsibilities and judgment; and, finally, their humanity.

Do not the actors fit/play the roles?

Watching the films is not necessarily an exercise, but seeing elements within a film can be a good exercise in what we “get” from a movie.

“It’s more than just a good war movie.”–Jim O’Neil [See, “THE ART OF WAR (LOVING)”: https://memoriesofatime.blog/2015/07/04/the-art-of-war-loving/ ]

© JAMES F. O’NEIL 6 June 1944/2019

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