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PLACES

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I think I have serious latent Catholic guilt issues.”  –Grimes (Brainyquote)

A grey rainy late winter day in Chicago.  My dad and my sister are in the car (our ’37 Plymouth) waiting to pick me up from school.  I was in 2nd grade at St. Jarlath’s, near our apartment on Van Buren and Ashland (long gone now, concretized by the Congress Street-Eisenhower Expressway). My dad worked nights but came to get us home for lunch in bad weather.  What was the delay?  I’m inside the classroom, sitting under the teacher’s desk.  What was happening then in 1949?

Born in April 1941, I have few memories before 1944, though some child development specialists have told they could unlock the drawers holding those before-memories.  How many “major” memories do we get to keep?  Memories are the captured ones, say, the ones not ever forgotten, those “memorable” thoughts and stories that unfolded becoming our lives.  Choosing which ones to share, or to organize those recalled from time to time can be a daunting task, albeit a rewarding one (cathartic one?).  I am certain there were, in my first three or four years, those first baths, and birthdays–complete with cake and frosting in hair, or on the high chairs, and thrown about the room.  Perhaps early birthdays with games and balloons and smashed cake really do form the basis for celebrations of all kinds that come at later dates.

But the memories of our first three or four years?  I delight in all that is forgotten: the pain of early ear infections, of being one gigantic chicken pox when all the pox-dots are connected.  Scarlet fever, insect bites and stings, broken favorite toys, cough medicines, penicillin injections, Vicks-covered wrapped-chests, and more awful things that should remain in those memory drawers, not needing to be unhoused.  For what real purpose?

We hardly also remember all the good times, for they were not so traumatizing on the psyche.  Yet I would not mind the good memories that could be released: memories of first beach day (not a sun burn, of course, but the eternal sand castle building or perfect water temperature), train trips or miniature-train rides in parks or at carnivals, parties and Christmases and Easter egg hunts, and A&W root beer floats, and .  .  .  Release might involve the “good” with the “bad.”  (Personally, Dr. Jung Freud, I like it the way it is–as if I have slept through most of those first three or four years.)

Therefore, my life story begins in 1944: I was three.  That is a good start for my history.  My baby pictures tell enough of that, especially those with my favorite cousin Marilyn on one side and my sister, Janice, on the other side of me–all with our little knees showing.  Three joined at the hip, as it were, on Grandpa Schuma’s front porch.  THAT is the memory, the picture I want to keep alive forever as representative of my early-early life, the “good life.”

jimmy on GRANDMA'S PORCHTHE THREE OF US ON THE PORCH AT 5644 SOUTH SEELEY 1945

It is my school life, though, that has always been a nine-month chunk of my life cycle.  So much of my time, my daily life, was spent in school or around school or going to/coming from.  The summers, then, were sacrosanct with a life of their own.  That is why we probably use the expression so often “School Life,” from pre-K, or even nursery school, to whatever graduation point or final degree.

Overall, I grade my “school life” in the range of “good” to “above average”: C to B+, from first grade through my advanced degree programs.  In “My Life Story: Early Life in School: 1947-1949,” there exist a few milestones, like Baltimore Catechism (and hating–forever–memorization); First Holy Communion (and that dark blue wool suit seen in pictures);

jimmy's First Communion May 9, 1948

JIMMY’S O’NEIL’S FIRST COMMUNION MAY 9, 1948

a Confessional, for the first time.  The Milk Break: I loved milk breaks–any grade.  (And I wish I had gone to kindergarten to have had a blankie and a nap.  My vivid memories center upon “chocolate”: for morning milk [in glass bottles in metal cases, ordered a week ahead].)  Nuns-as-Teachers (I cannot remember their names or their faces, but I do have a picture of 1st and 2nd grade blackness.)  And, finally, the memory that I cannot ever eradicate: Being Late:  A rainy day when my dad was able to pick us up for lunch.  I was late.

Let me back up now.  Earlier that morning, I got myself into trouble.  I was talking to the kid across the aisle from me, no doubt my friend Peter Mendoza.  Now what do 2nd graders have to talk about in 2nd grade in mid-morning after Milk Break?  What is so important that is worth violating the Silence Rule?  (We had no Smart phones to keep us occupied.)

I cannot recall nor remember.  “I have no recollection of the event or the conversation,” politicians say.

Whatever it was certainly drew the attention of Sister Mary of the Rosary Beads, our nun-teacher.  My nun-teacher called a name-not-mine.  I thought I heard her call my name, “Jimmy O’Neil come to the front of the room.”  (Caught!  I was probably talking.)  Guiltily I stood up and accepted the punishment.  So I walked to the Time-Out spot near the blackboard.  A classmate was already there.  “Did she call your name?”  Soon I began talking to one rightfully punished standing by the blackboard.  “Jimmy O’Neil.”  This time I was called out for talking by the One-in-Black-Who-Saw-and-Heard-Everything, and told to go sit under her desk–a Final Punishing Place!  My memory of pulling away the teacher chair and crawling under the drawer and skootching next to the “modesty panel” still hurts.  And how was I going to explain my situation to my dad if I did not come out for lunch on time?  Fear of the Lord.  Guilt.  Crime and Punishment.

I was wearing a flannel plaid shirt.  Brown and white.  I happened to be wearing one of my collectibles: a metal pin-back pin found in cereal boxes, pins of railroads.

Vintage-1980s-Prr-Pennsylvania-Railroad-Train-Logo-Pinback

PENNSYLVANIA RR PIN-BACK PIN

I took off my Pennsylvania RR pin and played with it while listening to nun and students.  I began to formulate my excuse: The Lie.  I would lie and say I hurt myself and had to stay after for help.  I managed, at eight years old, in 1949, to plot a lie-story that would save me from home punishment for the double-punishment of the 2nd grade classroom.  I would show my injury on my hand.  I had to create an injury story.

I picked at the wrist of my left hand with the pinpoint of the Pennsy RR button.  I picked and picked until I began to bleed and open a wound.  I felt no pain.  No guilt either.  Time passed quickly.  The class continued its lessons without me as I picked and poked and bled.  Then the bell.  I heard all leave the room; the door shut.  All left except Jimmy O’Neil, forgotten under the desk.  Everyone forgot me.  I crawled out, with my bloody sore already scabbing over.  It was much smaller than a dime.  I went to the cloakroom for my coat.

Dad and my sister were waiting in the car, in the rain.  As I ran to the car, I let my courage come unstuck from somewhere.  “I’m sorry I’m late.  I was kept after for talking.”  (No mention of being forgotten by everyone, including my teacher.)  No more was said.  Moreover, no one asked about the sore on my hand; I didn’t tell any more than was required.

That’s it.  My brain, learning, and memory cells increased proportionately after 1949.  I know I learned the basics of how to count, to use the alphabet, and how to tie my shoes–even at school.  And, I’ve forgotten so much–trivia, irrelevancies, factoids.

Yet I cannot ever eradicate this one 2nd grade anecdote.  I want to keep it, not tug it around to depress me, but not throw it away either.  It’s a story by a little boy about a little boy.  Maybe it has some Catholic guilt within, maybe some fear of disappointing a dad (or worry about some punishment), or maybe it has a small step in my growing up.  For sure, though, I made certain I never ever had to sit under a teacher’s desk again!

. . .

“Every person’s autobiography is both unique and usual, the story of an individual life and of all mankind.  We are shaped by an inescapable human condition which dictates certain events and themes that will figure prominently in every life story.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1989)

©  James F. O’Neil  2018

 

 

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

 “. . . I’ve been to the mountaintop.”  “I saw beautiful spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!”

July is nearly over.  Some summer vacations have finished, some already begun; all the same, some are still being planned.  “Beginning in October 2018, there will be direct flights from TPA/TIA [Tampa] to Gatwick [London].”  “I cannot wait!  I’d go in a heartbeat.” “But there is so much to see and do yet in the United States, why travel overseas?”  “There is also direct flight service by Icelandic Air to Reykjavik.”  Someday, maybe.  “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” says Rick Blaine in Casablanca.  Something like that, I say, “of all the Oh!-The-Places-You’ll-Go places I have been, including Hurley, Wisconsin (pop.  1540); Fargo; Raymond, Mississippi (pop. 1933); Bethesda, Ohio (pop. 1256, more with fracking crews); Las Vegas; Yeehaw Junction, Florida (pop. 240), I’ve been to more than others have; others, for certain, out-place me.  However, I’m not in any way in contention for a carbon-platinum Frequent Flyer Rewards Card in my wallet.

Getting from one place to another, nevertheless, has always distressed me, sometimes when I was younger, to the point of actually fainting before a trip, in anticipation.  (I do recall a near-meltdown not too many years ago while frustrating with packing a very large suitcase that would not hold everything, including my large bicycle seat.)  I hate packing, hate to pack.  I’d like to go, to arrive with my toothbrush and shaving kit–and with my medications, of course.  No luggage.  No carry on.  Maybe a book (paperback Proust, probably–or congested Kindle).  Then check in, relax, afterwards to see whatever I came to see.

What have I seen, from the top (35,000 feet: clouds and oceans, lakes and mountains) to the under (Eurostar–London to Paris–under the English Channel; the Metro; the “L” under the Chicago River)?  I have fashioned a memory-filled checklist, culled from journals, from Day-Minders and ticket stubs, in no particular order, priority, or chronology.  I am sure that as I write this (and later edit and revise) I’ll remember something, like “I forgot Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, in West Virginia, the center of the Hare Krishna movement,” or “Remember that really great Cajun restaurant where we ate crayfish down by the bayou in Savannah?” “Yeah!  That’s when they were filming Forrest Gump outside our hotel.” 

“How old was I when . . . ?”  “Were the kids with us when we drove to . . . ?”  Our first trip (in 1977) to Florida, to Disney World, to Cape Kennedy, our first “grits.” “What are they?”  [NOT, “Girls Raised In The South.”]  “Oh, that’s Cream of Wheat.  Butter, please, and maple syrup, too.  Thanks.”  So, “Once upon a time,” [read aloud]: “I have, we did, we have . . . traveled to, stayed at, climbed, flown to, rode, ate at, moved to, drove, watched, swam in, driven along, peeked over, touched, walked the, accelerated in, viewed, sped upon, stopped, adored in, looked upon, rode in, stood beneath, rushed, stepped over, rested, visited, stood before, paused, leaned over, slept in, toured, crossed, ran alongside, wandered, cruised, stalled, transfixed . . . .  [Pick a verb.  Find a place, setting, activity (surely your mind’s eye already sees, the heart already races, the memory is activated).  Locate a picture or photo to accompany a special memoryofatime.  Open up a box of Nostalgias to munch on.  Have fond, sweet (though maybe icy, rainy, cold, slippery?) memories.]

For one, Stonehenge: BIG ROCKS, and Salisbury Plain, and the Romans in Bath.  On Chesil Beach (with Ian McEwan, no doubt, having walked upon the same stones), putting a few in my pocket for my travel collection.  And stony Hastings Shore, the English Channel lapping upon the feet of the bathers in the cold water, my thinking about Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle and World War II.  One warm July Sunday, while on a noontime walk, seeing Stephen Hawking on a Cambridge street.  Three summers in Cambridge: university library, along the Cam River, bicycle riding to Grantchester, studying and tutoring, Selwyn College, trains to London for excursions, Globe Theater, writing, awe-ing, and . . . . 

I have also looked out upon the Pisgah National Forest, from the parapets of one of America’s finest castles, the Biltmore House.  The view was holy, overwhelming, awe-some in the glory of the Creator. 

However, most breath taking for me in life was standing alone before my trek up the dunes in the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. 

SAND DUNES BY JEFF COTNERCOM

GREAT SAND DUNES PHOTO by JEFF COTNER

There I stood, amazed, a people-ant to those looking down upon me; yet from my perspective, those specs beyond, above, showed how insignificant I was, am, in relation to the forces and effects of time and Nature.  So I climbed and climbed.  No steps, like at Ephesus.  Steps.  To the Parthenon.  Huffing and puffing, like climbing those steps inside the Washington Monument many (younger) years before, or those leading to Monks Mound, “at one hundred feet, it is the largest prehistoric earthen mound in North America”: Cahokia, near St. Louis.

MONKS MOUND WIKIPEDIA

MONK’S MOUND from WIKIPEDIA

Reaching the “top” of the Dunes, I became engaged with a sense of cosmic realism.  I was a part of it all.  I looked out upon . . . the waters surrounding Mont Saint-Michel in France;   mont saint-michelor came upon the Pacific Ocean for my first glimpse at Seaside, Oregon, with its Lewis and Clark Expedition history.  On Goat Island, visiting a few times the crashing and splashing and misting and forcings of the Niagara River at Niagara Falls. 

Sue and Jim at Goat Island, Niagara Falls, NY

SUE AND JIM (YOUNGER THAN NOW)

Was I able to “slip the surly bonds of earth . . . And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod // The high untrespassed sanctity of space, / Put out my hand, and touch[ed] the face of God. . . ?”  

interior-hagia-sophia HAGIA SOPHIA

With God-places, I’ve stood within and beneath the great domed Hagia Sophia in Istanbul-Constantinople, have been shoeless in the Blue Mosque; prayed in Chartres Cathedral; knelt in Ely Cathedral, Westminster Abby, Notre Dame in Paris; walked the aisles of St Louis (Missouri) Cathedral and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. 

I have wandered in wonderment, showered so often with kaleidoscopic colors of light from the stained glass magnificently built by crafters in so many “houses” of worship, like Saint-Severin in Paris.  Glass in Saint- Severin by Jean René Bazaine 1970.JPG

Outside, I looked UP: “Up we go!” “Into the next car, please.”: The London Eye.  “Look up!”: The Eiffel Tower: “No, I cannot go.  You ride up if you want.  But I will walk with you on top of the Arc de triomphe.”  “Sorry.  The Arch is closed today.  High winds and a storm coming” the St. Louis trip frustrating, though we saw enough of the Ole Man [Mississippi] River.  In 1966, I looked up upon the Empire State Building.  That was An Affair to Remember, my first visit to New York City.  (I didn’t ride up.)  But I was never Sleepless in Seattle, looking up at Mount Rainier, a glacier, and viewing Mount St Helens (not a far trip away).

So I’ve come to the end of the “Rick Steves Road Trip for Jimmy O’Neil”: vacations, trips, travels, excursions, journeys, stays, visitations, visits, pilgrimages–all part of a lifetime of activity, though a small part.  But when I consider how much time is spent in planning and preparing, from initial thought or utterance–“Where should we go this winter?”  “Where do you want to go for our anniversary?”  “Should we go to . . . again?”  “How much time do we have to . . . ?”–to the final credit card payment for the last meal of the trip or something bought in the duty-free shop, a vacation takes a long time in a person’s life.  No wonder we are so worn out after we return home, to rest.

Sometimes, though, the vacation place is “restful” itself, the reason for the trip itself: no touring, no running around, no shopping, just being there.  A beach.  A mountain cabin.  A quiet Walden Pond.  A cave.  A cave?  A cave on Paros Island, in the Cyclades Islands.  In May 2005, five of us adults took a memorable trip to our Greek cave.

A non-stop overnight flight from New York to Athens.  (I hate packing.)  A long bus ride from the airport (schlepping luggage) to the Port of Piraeus in Athens.  Then a ferry boat ride–BIG ferry boat, with people, trucks, cars–in the late afternoon with a dark night arrival (nearly missing our stop), finding a rental car (four sardines, holding luggage, speeding along curves and hills on dark roads, black-black outside), arriving at a car park in an asleep town, almost midnight.  “We have to do what?  Carry our suitcases up and around the hill to get to our place?”  Cursing all the way, punctuated with laughter about how we found this place.  Dogs barking at us, disturbing them, cats hissing as we snaked around homes, through alleyways, on walkways, tripping occasionally on a front stoop in the dimly lit “neighborhood.”  Huffed and puffed (of course) to the top, at the end-stop of the street.

PAROS CAVE-HOME.JPG

VACATION CAVE-HOME, PAROS ISLAND, GREECE in the HEART of the AEGEAN SEA

“What is this, a real cave?” as we entered through the front doors.  A cave-home, a home carved out from the promontory overlooking the town (LEFKES/LEFKOS).  Modernized: plumbing, furniture, fireplaces, electronics, electricity, rooms.  “AWESOME!”  I said, as I put my suitcase . . . no closets.  Platform queen-sized bed with solar tube skylight through the mountain above us, allowing light in, allowing us to view stars all night.  Two baths and showers.  Lemon trees outside, with a spectacular view of the entire town, whitewashed-in-Greek.  A 20-minute walk up or down to the chemist or bakery with chocolate croissants daily, or fresh baguettes.  Or the market.  Or to the rental car.  (We did not remain cave dwellers for the week: we explored the island, did visit another island and old Portuguese fort, sat on a beach, ate in different restaurants, visited a famous Roman quarry, among other activities–and even made fresh lemonade daily.)

What a unique opportunity that I will never forget, what an experience like no other in my entire vacation-ing life.  “Where ya’ been?” “I have been to the mountain.”  I have.  At the very top, UP, far beyond our cave, topped with giant (dormant) wind turbines.  I have been to the top of the mountain.  And it was good.

LEFKES on PAROS 2005.JPG

LEFKES on PAROS ISLAND, GREECE, 2005

 …

ADDENDUM

The Summer of 2018 will be memorable for no vacation.  Foot surgery instead forced an in-bed holiday.  Four to six weeks of no weight bearing, occasional icing, and some few hydrocodone tablets kept down travel costs considerably.  However, the electric bill may have spiked due to an overuse of audio and video, like Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. 

© JAMES F. O’NEIL 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

PART III: AUTOMOBILES

“I’d ban all automobiles from the central part of the city.  You see, the automobile was just a passing fad.  It’s got to go.  It’s got to go a long way from here.”  –Lawrence Ferlinghetti

* * * *

A.  Driving My Mom: My mother worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Chicago. This was one of her jobs I can remember.  She worked from 11 pm–7 am.  She didn’t drive to work.  She didn’t drive–ever.  And no one ever let her take a bus or subway at night.  So, someone had to drive her to work each night, leaving at around 9:30 pm.  For years my dad did this while I was in high school.  When I earned my driver’s license, I became the chauffeur, even on some school nights, most of my duties coming in 1958-1960, with our 1956 Chevy.  What great driving experience, learning city streets, unencumbered by daytime traffic.  And, in the spring and summer, what beautiful rides home, windows down, radio-for-teen-driver blaring along the Outer Drive.  Home from college on vacation, I assumed my duties once again as she continued to work.  (She always took public transportation home in the mornings.)  [My fiancé and I did enjoy making some off-to-work trips for my mom.  On the return, we had a chance to stop at Oak Street Beach or some other beautiful place to spend some quiet time together.] 

* * * *

No doubt each of us has stories–memoriesofatime–we can relate about our automobiles or driving habits and incidents or how we first committed “vehicularism”: “steering any automotive vehicle in a proper and correct manner; learning to drive a vehicle appropriately.”  My enumeration of vehicles I’ve had and used, from my “First,” a 1950 Ford to my current 2016 KIA SOUL, may be longer than some, shorter than others.’  But with each car or auto, there goes at least one anecdote, or several stories, that could go on for pages of memories.  A few, however, I highlight as part of my trilogy “Are We There Yet?”

* * * *

When young, growing up, I never played cops-n-robbers.  I never played cowboys-n-Indians (though I did have a cap gun six-shooter).  I played Soldiers at War.  I crawled through bushes and along city sidewalks and through alleys, skinning my knees, carrying my Thompson “Tommy” gun–or I would set up the “50-cal” on its tripod in the front yard.  In the house, I played fighter pilot or bombardier.  Mostly Flip Corkin of Terry and the Pirates, or Steve Canyon–or John Wayne as a Flying Tiger.   

terry_pirates

The elevated, behind our apartment building in Chicago, ran parallel to Van Buren Street.  Under that dark brown rusting structure, my sister and I played.  When the family’s ’37 Plymouth was parked there, we drove for miles and miles in our imaginations, swinging around the steering wheel, working the pedals.  (Did we have anything to do with the clutch going out, and the purchase of that sleek black ’49 Ford?  Hmmm.)

els bad name alleyElevated Tracks and Alley

Our first “big people” car was the two-tone Our Family Chevy, 1952.  I thought I could drive that car, bold and brassy “big people” that I thought I was becoming!  However, of course, I had to wait awhile…for the Chevrolet 210, new, in 1956.  This was to be my real learning-taught-mobile.

 

1956-Chevy-210-ORIGINAL-SURVIVOR-TRUE-BARN-FIND

1956 Chevrolet 210

In this car, my dad taught me his Rules of the Road: charity (“Give ‘em a break and let ‘em in), and his sometimes “Two-Right-Turns-Are-Better-Than-A-Left” philosophy.  He taught me well, to stay in my lane (while he would have small heart attacks as I drove down the boulevard’s middle lane), and how to “play the lights” to make all the greens.  He helped me pass my license test on the first solo.  “Of course,” he said.  Then I began the drive to the Bank, taking my mom to work (not alone, bringing along my little brother sometimes). 

* * * *

B.  The Korean War. A long, long time ago.  Well, in my memory years, not too too many years, you could have found me on South Marshfield Street, on a warm Saturday morning.  In the alley, I’m there washing and polishing a beautiful 1950 Plymouth convertible.

1950-plymouth-special-deluxe-convertible-2

I had been taking good care of this car.  I was like the Neighborhood Helper: shopper, babysitter, sidewalk-snow-shoveler, car washer, paperboy.  I was eleven and twelve then.  Even a good, successful Boy Scout (Senior Patrol Leader, no less). 

The mother of a young man off to war in Korea had asked for some help with the car, and I had obliged.  Such a beautiful machine!  I worked to make him proud.  We prayed for his return, his mom and I, to be healthy.  And “If he doesn’t come back from Korea,” she said one day, in a moment of deep sorrow and emotion, “the car will be yours.”  Amen!  Oh, how I prayed.  And prayed.  “Please, God…” I tried to pray.  “Dear God . . .” God must have heard my prayers, for he returned–and often gave me long rides for my hard work.  “O God!”

* * * *

“Seventy-five dollars!”  All mine.  My First.  The 1950 Ford.  Fuzzy-brown upholstery (including the headliner), manual shift, in-line 6, 4-door Ugly. 

1950_Ford_Custom_Fordor-maroon-m.jpg

My friend, called “Betsy” (last time I ever named a car), was good transportation, better in the cold.  The engine just quit in the hot weather.  I was learning something about cars and engines when I threw a rod, and had a classmate rebuild the engine.  Then I grew into a ’54 Ford, my Mechanic-Me machine.  A V-8 that got my hands dirty: I did brakes, new spiffy grill, and installed a Holley 4-barrel carb.  Sweet!  I did all that while keeping all my fingers and thumbs intact.holley 4-barrel carburetor

“Will you marry me?”  I asked in my black 4-door hardtop ’57 Oldsmobile.  Oh, that was My Beauty, the Loveofmylife.  Like no other.  My “wooing” machine. 

57olds98.jpg

And after that “Yes,” My Automobile History becomes a catalog of special machines, with special stories: travel, vacation, auto accidents, blizzards, camping, broken bones, emergencies, and other illnesses.  The machines were athletic (Sportage); creepy-crawly (Beetle and “bug”); Arthurian (Avalon); class standing (Squire); and metaphysical-theological (SOUL).

Cars come and go.  Miles and miles.  Bought, sold, traded, leased.  Oil changes, maintenances, contracts, extended warranties, license renewals, sales taxes, repainted, detailed, egged, hailed upon, bird-shat upon, iced and salted.  And sales personnel.  Those sales personnel.  “What will it take to make the deal?  To make you walk out of here happy?”  Some buyers thrive on haggling.  Some would rather have a root canal without Novocain than buy a new car.

However, when all is said and done, the papers are signed twenty times or so, that new car smell: nothing else like it.  Some dream of their dream car for years; others, it’s merely a “thing” to worry about and get washed once in a while when it looks dirty.  I have had my favorites, have drooled on many a steering wheel at auto shows in my “salad days.” 

packard 1955 auto showSmall Demonstration at an Auto Show

It has been a fun run, and yet a stressful one, too, at times, without maps or directions (GPS and Garmin have helped).  I’ve enjoyed the rides, the miles; I have been avoiding trouble, while having fond memoriesofatime, though witnessing some horrible accidents.

Yes, I’ve run out of gas, have broken down, needed towing, gotten lost (but more often than not, asked for directions), had my own accidents–and, yes, had a few traffic tickets/citations of my own, don’tcha know?  My share.

I’m coming up for another license renewal in a couple of years.  I’m not worried: I’ve been at this for a while.  Yes, the bright night lights now do bother my surgeried-cataracts, so I won’t be on the road much after dark (when the monsters come out anyway).

So please watch out for me: I’ll have my blinkers on.  I’m slow (always following the speed limit) in the left fast lane.  I try not to hit squirrels and other rodents.  Oh, did I mention? My driver’s license is stamped SAFE DRIVER.  ORGAN DONOR.  O+

©  JAMES F O’NEIL  2018

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

PART I: TRAINS

“One of the things the government can’t do is run anything.  The only things our government runs are the post office and the railroads, and both of them are bankrupt.”  — Lee Iacocca

***

Once upon a time, a long time ago, after my Grandpa Cummings had retired from many years with the Pennsylvania Railroad, pennsylvania railroad symbolhe took me to visit a friend of his at a switching yard on the South Side of Chicago.  The three of us walked through the roundhouse, walked among the rails, and even watched to see the railroad turntable in operation.

In rail terminology, a railway turntable or wheelhouse is a device for turning railroad rolling stock, usually locomotives, so that they can be moved back in the direction from which they came.  Railroads needed a way to turn steam locomotives around for return trips as their controls were often not railway turntableconfigured for extended periods of running in reverse, and in many locomotives the top speed was lower in reverse motion.  In the case of diesel locomotives, though most can be operated in either direction, they are treated as having “front ends” and “rear ends” (often determined by reference to the location of the crew cab).  When operated as a single unit, the railway company often prefers, or requires, that a diesel locomotive be run “front end” first.  All this is visually and masterfully shown in the movie with Denzel Washington, Unstoppable.unstoppable train of denzel

So, the three of us, walking up to a diesel whose engine was running, climbed aboard.  I sat on my Grandpa’s lap for a bit, then stood at the controls.  And he moved the control my hand was on.  We moved.  Forward, ever so slowly, down a length of track.  Surely, I did not wet my pants, but surely, my rheumatic-fever heart was racing in excitement.  Yes, I sat at the engineer’s controls, with my grandfather standing next to me, and we powered the engine forward.  Slowly, I pushed the control lever forward (or sideways).  I was eleven or twelve, maybe 1951 or 1952.  Those ages and dates are not part of the details.  I was there.  The smell of fuel, the motors’ noises, the motion of the train engine I cannot forget.  How many young boys have had such an experience to talk about?  (Don’t tell Homeland Security that I actually “drove” a diesel engine in a switching yard on the South Side of Chicago.)

Pennsylvania RR diesel by RRPictureArchives Net Kim Piersol Pennsylvania RR diesel

I have had an on-again, off-again love affair for trains.  I did have a Christmas-present American Flyer electric train set that never seemed to work properly: maybe parts, maybe the rugs or the floor or the connections.  Lionel-boys always had more success with theirs; we Flyer-types were not as lucky with our two-track system american flyer track from ebay (though that was not always the problem).  Lionel had the heavier three-track, more expensive gauge sets, parts, transformers–all the right “stuff.” lionel on ebay.jpg So my frustration abounded, as trains were taken out and put away; I never had a basement with a large open space for a board for a train layout.  [An interesting bit of Wiki-history: During the 1950s, Lionel outsold its closest competitor, American Flyer, by nearly 2:1, peaking in 1953.  Some Lionel company histories say Lionel (more than just trains) was the largest toy company in the world by the early 1950s.  The 1946–1956 decade was Lionel’s Golden Age.  The Lionel 2333 Diesel locomotive, an EMD F3 in the colorful Santa Fe “Warbonnet” paint scheme that was introduced in 1948, atsf-347c-emd-f7a-santa-fe-diesel-electric-locomotive-wernher-krutein became the Lionel company icon and the icon of the era, yet Lionel declined rapidly after 1956.  Hobbyists preferred the smaller but more realistic HO scale trains, and children’s interest shifted from toy trains to toy cars.  Efforts to increase train set profitability and/or sales by cheaper manufacture (largely by replacing castings and folded sheet metal with unpainted injected-molded colored plastic) were largely unsuccessful; 1957 was Lionel’s last profitable post-war year.  In 1959, the business direction of the Lionel company changed: it added subsidiary companies unrelated to toy train sets.  The company lost more money. See more in Wikipedia.]

Trains have continued to be part of my transporting life.

Back in the ‘50s, our family vacationed for many years for a week or two at the Shubat’s Resort.  That was cabin livin’ summer cottage sisters lakes

though with indoor plumbing and beautiful water and great fishin’,

at Sisters Lakes, Michigan.  sisterlakesmichigan.jpgNot well known, but better recognized if I say “near Dowagiac,” or Benton Harbor.  Those were great growing-up summers with my cousins and siblings, and “friend-girls” from different neighborhoods in Chicago. 

One memorable summer of my hormonal youth, a sophomore in college, I was on a train, going to that Michigan Paradise with Laverne, meeting our families who were already there.  She and I had grown-up conversations; she was the grown up, the neighbor lady to my aunt, the Eloise to me-Abelard-sans letters, the Isolde to me-Tristan, my Guinevere, my courtly-loved.  She was married with kids.  I was young, naive, infatuated.  So much to think about on that train ride.  That so special train ride…from Chicago to Michigan.

During the summer of 1968, I spent time in Delta House!  On the campus of the University of Minnesota, taking a few post-grad grad courses.  Three courses, small room with bed and dresser, shared bath and shower and fridge and cereal cabinet.  Delicious library, smoking in the classrooms, considering how my light (time) was spent with John Milton and a totally delightful professor, but unfortunately also with a totally boring Shakespeare scholar.  The other peak experiences were the bus rides to the train station to board and train-ride south to Winona to visit wife and kids for a weekender, with them and no books.  And then back again on Sunday night or early Monday morning.  Those train rides that held the memories of the weekend activities, loving and familial.

Though my train-love has given way to airplanes, I still am fascinated by the sounds, and sights, and history, and large-sized picture books of trains.  And have still used the rails in my life of travel. 

I did have a horribly uncomfortable coach- ride to Richmond, Virginia, not many years past, S-L-O-W, CREAKY, AND UNSLEEPABLE.  “It will be some time before I board a train again!” you might have heard me say.  Those trains in Europe?  We’ve seen Jason Bourne speed across European countryside on the TGV.  TGV-Duplex-21.jpg Yes, I have done that too.  And the “Chunnel” Eurostar, London to Paris?  Yup, that too.  London to Carlisle, to Cambridge, to Oxford.  Never yet to Cornwall or Land’s End, or to see Doc Martin’s place.  Mostly–mostly–friendly, delightful, memorable. 

I’ve waited for a train on Platform 9 ¾ in London, at King’s Cross Station…and waitied…and waited…9 3-4 KINGS CROSS STATION

And in 2013, Paris to Chartres…  That’s  how I want to travel by train.  Maybe someday on the Orient Express?  Probably, not. 

However, I’ve heard the Canadian Pacific has a beautiful train route…  Canadian-Rockies.jpg

Perhaps…

©  JAMES F. O’NEIL  2017

 

 

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.”  –Henry David Thoreau

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”  Once more we have braved the 18-wheelers that ruthlessly plow through rain troughs, spraying everywhere.  Once more we pack and unpack: MOTEL; pack and unpack: MOTEL; pack and unpack: ARRIVAL.  “WE’RE BACK!”

Ohio Cottage #16

PIC OF COTTAGE 16

Yes, we have arrived.  It’s been two years.  A friend said the spiders probably have saddles; the webs are taut, but not too many.  Dust and some dirt.  But not too bad.

We’re back in town: Bethesda, Ohio: Same post office; pizza-parlor-restaurant remains.  However, some town expansion: new fuel pumps, re-conditioned gas station; new clock and clock tower, and newly established military memorial.  Some streets recently paved. 

More ducks and geese at the lake, noisily sounding out for food from cottage guests.  Some dead trees felled by recent storms lay scattered in the park area, awaiting disposal.

Inside, for me, after a week of sorting clothes, and catching up on minor repairs, I’m ready for…nothing.  TO VACATE.  IT’S VACATION!  Is it not?  I brought six magazines and three books.  Why?  And the books unread from previous years (including Doctor Zhivago and Madame Bovary)?  I’ve already made a trip to the library with book donations.  (I love that place. But with little self-control, I checked out four DVDs and picture-filled books: all about chocolate, and new watches of 2017.)

barnesville public library

Barnesville Public Library

So friends ask, “What do you do when you go to Ohio?  What do you do all day?  Do you ever get bored?”  Never bored.  And the days go so quickly…

Up: 8:00-9:00   Morning Reading and Meditation: 9:00-9:30

Breakfast: fruit, cereal, cappuccino, toast, oatmeal, vitamins, coffee, medications, etc.  9:30-10:30.

Contemplation of Day’s Activities while watching ducks, geese, humming birds: 10:30-11:45. 

Planning for Lunch: 11:45-noon (Get mail at post office in town.  Postal employees have lunch from twelve to one.  Mail goes out at 4-ish.)

Afternoon activities: Painting, dusting, cleaning, sitting watching lake and humming birds: noon-2:00 pm.

Lunch: 2:00 pm-3:00 pm: soup, sandwiches, salad, fruit, piece of Dove chocolate, etc.

Continuation of Activities: 3:00-5:00 pm (or laundry, litter box, play with cat, quiet reading, gardening–while in afternoon shade)

Nap Time: 5:00-6:00 pm. Quiet time.

Preparation for Dinner, and Dinner: 6:00-8:00 pm: Cooking, salads, varied recipes, or even an occasional pizza from the local pizza place.  Then cleanup.

Evening: 8:00-ish: Movie/DVD, reading, writing, catching up on “stuff” like mail and bills, quiet time, game time, perhaps time on the swing (depending on the mosquito population).

Ready for bed: 10:00-11:30 pm: Reading, showers, litter box, snack, continuation of DVD, night medications.  Check food and water for cat.

Good night.  “Always Kiss Me Goodnight” reads the sign in the bedroom.

OR

ALTERNATIVES: 11:00-6:00 pm: Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Kroger’s, Ollies, Jo-Ann Fabrics…  Dinner out.  Shopping, shopping, shopping.  From cottage to car to St. Clairsville (12.7 miles) to Ohio Valley Mall, et al., to cottage, to unloading groceries.  Or getting a haircut.  Or visiting Goodwill because the temperature dropped to 58 degrees and we were not prepared.  Or Steak ‘n Shake…

OR

Painting or gardening as major full-day summer projects…

OR

An evening with friends: “The most I can do for my friend is simply be his friend.” –Henry David Thoreau

* * *

“So, what do you do in Ohio?”  “Oh, we just relax.”

 

©  James F. O’Neil  2017 

 

 

 

 

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song.  Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmastime, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.  It has a beautiful message of being at home with family during the most wonderful time of the year.  The song has been recorded by Perry Como (1946), Frank Sinatra (1957), Josh Groban (2001), Kelly Clarkson (2011), Pentatonix (2016), and by many other artists.

* * *

“Home Is Where the Heart Is.”

“A House Is Not a Home.”

“Home, Home on the Range”

“A Man’s Home Is His Castle.”

“Home Is Where Your Story Begins.”

“There’s No Place Like Home.”

You Can’t Go Home Again

“Where is your home?”  More than once, I have had to list “former addresses.”  Most of the time for a job application: “for the past ten years.”  Or once when I applied to the Governor a few years ago for a position on a local board: “all previous addresses.”  “Where do you live?”  Most of us have had to do this applying for credit, for some license, or for a gun purchase.  Certainly, those of us who have gone past second grade are so familiar with “Name-Address-Phone Number.”  And we learn quickly, so we’re not lost, or for identification purposes: “Do you know your address?”  Sometimes a post office box–P.O. Box 357–or rural route, R.R. #6, is the only way correspondence can be addressed to a person.  Even some addresses are the name of the place where a person lives:

christmas-biltmore-candlelightBiltmore Mansion at Christmas  Asheville, North Carolina

Recently, my wife and I had an interesting breakfast conversation that began with our considering “downsizing” again, disposing of more of our “stuff.”  We laughed that our present home was 860 sq. ft. downsized from our 1800 sq. ft. home we left six years ago.  Our talking led to a short list of some homes we’ve had in our married life: size and characteristics.  For the next few days, we thought up some questions about our residences.  By later in the week, we had compiled a list of something about each.  We realized each possessed a unique quality.  A house has its physical dimensions, furniture, character and style, and “story” to be told, if but one.  We had more than enough for talking about.

So where to begin?  How to begin?  We found ourselves conversing about kids, and jobs and illnesses, and once or twice humming “Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard…”  (Even though we once had four cats that never went out.  So many memories of times.)  One question we settled on first, though, was “How did we get there?”  Nothing to do with a U-Haul or moving van.  Was it climate-related?  Job-related?  Did it have to do with our health? The size of the family?  (Our one-bedroom wedding apartment, then into a new apartment a year later, “with a room for the new baby” in our garden apartment in Palatine, Illinois.)

Or was it a move to some place just because we “liked” something bigger, better, newer?  (Our move from a 7th-floor condominium apartment, with its garbage chute and elevators and condo restrictions, but which overlooked the beautiful Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida, to a house with a yard and trees and lawn to cut.

moorings-point-fort-myers-1987

The Moorings Point  North Fort Myers, Florida

We tired of high-rise condo living after three years.)  We concluded our exercise with an “Oh,-the-places-you’ll-go” moment

oh-the-places-youll-go novelreaction.com

with an inventory of questions, including a “best overall,” a “worst,” a “best financial decision” to “lousy deal.”  We had answers, and a major event for each separate place, to include “Why did we leave?”  Then came more inquiring, for example, what changes made a place more comfortable or perfectly matched to our lifestyle (the one house we had built)?

mcmahon-construction-1981

     McMahon Avenue Home Construction  Port Charlotte, Florida

In our fifty-plus years together, we have undertaken two MAJOR migratory events, moving from Chicago to Minnesota (in 1966, for 14 years), and moving from The Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Sunshine State of Florida (in 1980).  In any event, all our house-home-stories begin with our apartment hunting in summer 1963, before our October wedding.  And so it goes from there.

A favorite and important story-within-a-story we relate often is about my driving with a teacher-colleague to his job interview in Minnesota.  He needed a reliable vehicle: our 1964 VW was chosen for the February weekend trip, the back of the car loaded with bags of sand and salt and shovels.  We were prepared for weather events or highway problems.  (There were neither.)

While Lennie was being interviewed on that cold Saturday morning, I was passing time in the Dean’s waiting room, paging through magazines.  A young man entered, then inquired what I was doing.  He heard, then told me to spend some time with him.  He was a departmental chairperson.  I ended up in conversation, just chatting; he presented a program description–and offered me a job.

My friend and I did pros-and-cons for the 300-mile trip home.  I took the job; we moved in July 1966.  He declined his offer; he could not afford the move with his family.  And that was the beginning of that story.

Some persons never move, never leave.  Ever.  (Some of my former students still live in their original bedrooms in their first and only house.)  Others have made annual moves, for whatever reasons.  (“Join the Navy.  See the world!” came out of World War II–and stayed as a popular slogan, and reality.)

join-the-navyHowever, Americans, says the Census Bureau, are staying in the same house longer between moves: from 5 years, on average, in the 1950s and 1960s, to about 8.6 years in 2013.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American moves 12 times during his or her lifetime.  Since our wedding-apartment in 1963, we have had eighteen (18) addresses and moves.  Surely, we deliberated many times over with questions like those asked during our recent activity.  For each dwelling, we know why we chose it instead of another. 

History of the home (structure moved into town from a farm, original Homestead building site).  How we lived in it. 

sanborn-farm-home-1976

SANBORN FARM HOME   SANBORN, MINNESOTA

How we loved it.  How we made a family.  How the family grew, then decreased (graduations and marriages).  How we responded to forces around the home (weather, landscape).  How the house-home became part of us. 

This analytical time for houses, homes, and addresses has been fulfilling–even despite some hurtful memoriesofatime past or pain that might have arisen.  Overall, though, looking back at our downsizing exercise, we find we are now in a good place and time to look back at ourselves and our lives together–and how “nomadic” we thought we were.  However, “if we had it to do all over again . . .”

* * *

“We can’t separate who we are from where we are.  People are rooted in time and place, so our psychic space is generously seasoned with memories of physical territories.  …  The geography of our past is part of memory.  …  Every human emotion is seeded in the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of specific environments.”  — Sam Keen, Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life through Writing and Storytelling (1973, 1989).

 * * *

“Country roads, take me home…” (John Denver); and then “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

melby-house-mabel-minn-1975

THE MELBY HOUSE OUR FAVORITE-IST OF THEM ALL  MABEL, MINNESOTA

 

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens:  “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”

“Why the emperor of ice cream?  It’s an odd combination: an absolute, imperial power and a benign, sweet treat.  Ice cream is a sensuous delight, eagerly anticipated and gleefully consumed.  If you wait too long to eat it, it’ll melt.  So much for the ice cream–now what about the emperor?

“Ice cream is like life: sweet, or at least hungrily indulged in, while it lasts.  It’s also like the dead: cold and destined to be consumed or to dissipate away.  Perhaps, then, the line that closes each stanza is a wake-up call to readers.  If the “only emperor” or dominant principle of the world is the one we’re reminded of when we see ice cream melting–(or, in a different way, when we attend a funeral  [shown in the poem])–we’d be well advised to heed it and make each moment count.”  –Austin Allen, Poetry [magazine] Foundation

Once upon a time: Rainbow cones on the South Side: 93rd and Western in Chicago.

RAINBOW CONE chicago

There see the giant cone, with five or six colors in slices–not scoops–of ice cream piled on top of one another. 

We screamed with excitement for ice cream as our family made its special way farther south of our Marshfield home.  It was a drive from Marquette Boulevard.  No quick 45-mph trip like today.  Probably in the green ’52 Chevy, 25-30 mph, with plenty of stoplights interrupting the special occasion.

Now when it comes to memories in time about flavors, I don’t recall any special Rainbow offerings, but the colors were vibrant.  This is embedded in me.  And in days before Rainbow–and after–ice cream has been a special weakness of mine.  Not as an addiction, like anything-chocolate, but as that special “Good Nutrition My Plate” (nestled within the perfect food container that not only holds but is eaten) with its various food groups which include NUTS (coco-nut and chocolate peanut butter, pistachio and black walnut); FRUITS (like White House Cherry and rum raisin); DAIRY (lemon gelato and butter pecan);  PROTEIN (egg nog and phish food, and chunky monkey and chocolate Moose-tracks); VEGETABLES (carrot-cake and chocolate malted and mint chocolate chip); GRAINS (chocolate cookie dough, and Grape-nuts).

my plate image

However, Rainbow was but one special source of providing me with melting gustatory delights.  No doubt about it, Good Humor was like no other.

good-humor

The bells of the truck signaled the Coming of the Man in White. He enticed us kids to come outside our homes or from our apartments, or made us stop dead in our playing-tracks.  If we had the twenty or twenty-five cents, our saved nickels and dimes, we made our purchases.

good-humor-man good humor dot comAnd?  “Coconut for me, please.”  The delicious-tasting ice cream bar on a stick, covered completely with a thin coat of white-something loaded with coconuts pieces.  Heaven as I ate it.  Heavenly.  If my favorite was not available, I had to settle for something like chocolate cake or perhaps succumb to savoring an orange creamsickle:

good humor orange creamsickle

Good Humor exists today, in supermarkets, in 7-11, in other places, and even with a few trucks in certain neighborhood locations.  “But it’s not the same.”  Yet I would never turn down a chocolate eclair, a toasted almond, or even a strawberry shortcake bar.

Howard Johnson’s at some time was a place I remember first seeing coconut milk on the menu.  I thought that it would provide me with a special ice cream treat: a coconut milk milkshake.  O YES!  YES!  YES!  And then, later, I asked, “A coconut malted milkshake, please.”  The nectar of the gods for sure!

Gus Pappas died in 1987.  He was 83–and that was a long-ago moment.  In 1953, “Mr. Pappas” (“Gus”) bought a corner confectionery in the Byrne Building, at Garfield (55th) and Halsted: Pappas Sweet Shop.  We just knew it as the ice cream shop.  It was a hangout for me and my friend Bill Manion, or with Joe Balint.  My sister and her friends found time to have their ice cream and their teen-age talk-sessions there.

BURNS BUILDING Pat Telios Reagan BYRNE BUILDING WITH PAPPAS CORNER

No matter how warm outside, I remember the store was always cool inside, with its white tile floors and marble counter-tops.  Cool was needed to keep the dipped, rolled, and wrapped delicacies fresh and tasty (Oh, those chocolate-covered cherries!): Who needed Fannie May candies when we had Pappas on the corner?

Gus had a son, James (“Jimmy” to us), who worked in the store.  In my time, Jimmy began singing with the Chicago Metropolitan Opera.  Though his first role was in the chorus (My mother and I saw him in La Boheme.), he was a star to me.  He brought music and fun-with-music into my life, and an appreciation of opera that I do cherish.  And there is nothing today that compares to my savoring a Green River Malted Milkshake, with homemade ice cream, that Jimmy Pappas made for me.  Yum!

green river malt

GREEN RIVER MALTED MILKSHAKE

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

 Vanilla-Coconut-Milkshake-Silk-PureCoconut COCONUT MILK

Major Ingredient of a Homemade Coconut Milkshake

 


 

 

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