She never noticed the bitter cold that day, but he did


(Oh, that day. Gary is gone now, but I hope I will always remember how often he showed his love for me. I miss him so.)


I was wearing a white coat that frigid day. The wind whipped and snapped and the ground was covered feet deep in snow so hard that some of us could walk on top of it. Woe to any heavy enough to fall through, because it was almost impossible to pull yourself out without help. My coat was no match for the sub-zero temperature that day, but I was so in love I hardly noticed. Thankfully, he did.


It happens every time the first icy fingers of fall find a way to touch me. Seems like they most often find a vulnerable spot on the back of my neck, but that initial blast of frosty air always takes my breath away.

Fall is tricky that way. We have days that begin with a windshield that needs the scraper we can’t find, then the sun somehow manages to warm the air until we’re shedding our jackets and sweaters. At night, we snuggle under comforters and listen to the furnace tick and whistle as it gears up for another Illinois winter.

There is one memory for someone I know well. When the temperatures dip sharply that first time, she allows her mind to take her back a little over 30 years ago. Now she may not remember what she ate for lunch the day before, but this day is forever a part of her.

It was a frigid December day. The sky was gunmetal gray; the air snapped and wind whipped from the north. She noted all of this in the back of her mind as she made her way around the car, carefully picking her way through the ice-crusted snow.

Boots were a luxury she couldn’t afford, yet she barely felt the cold. That’s what she thought, anyway, as she rounded the car to walk with her fiancé to his house.

He took one look at how she tried in vain to hold her coat closed. The wind was pulling it apart, an easy enough task because there were no buttons. The coat was white, fake fur and looked deceptively warm but it was terribly thin instead.

Her long, dark hair was flying this way and that. She had no gloves, no boots, and a poor excuse for a coat but she barely noticed. All she knew for certain was that she was the luckiest young woman on the planet. And she was looking at the reason why.

He spoke, then, into the wind. “Don’t you have another coat?” he asked.

She smiled, teeth chattering. “No. This one’s fine, it’s the prettiest one I’ve ever had,” she said. She pulled it tighter and never mentioned that the coat had come from charity.

He eyed her carefully, then hurried to her side. He put his arm around her and pulled her close. “You’re freezing,” he said.

The wind tried to pull the coat open once more, but with the two of them holding each other, it didn’t happen. She shivered, and leaned toward the warmth.

“It’s a pretty coat, but I’m buying you a new one,” he said. And he did.

They were married later that month after knowing each other for only three months, and he’s been buying her coats and shoes and other wonderful things for over 30 years.

There’s something to be said for those angels all around us who see exactly what we need and they immediately do something about it. I hope you have run into a few of these folks, and I also hope you keep your eyes open for the opportunity to be an angel yourself. You have, haven’t you?

Over the years, say the last 30 or so, I’ve seen what it means to have compassion, to try and find the good in people – all from one guy. It occurred to me that he must have had good teachers. He did.

When the weather turned frosty this year, all I had to do was open a closet door and pick out a jacket. I have several to choose from, and that’s not counting the gorgeous blue winter coat for when it gets really cold. That one was a gift from a different angel.

This December will bring another wedding anniversary, 33 blessed years together. I think the future was sealed for these two when they realized that all they cared about was making the other one happy.

I’m one lucky girl.


This rock is a keeper


Yes, that’s a rock.

It’s from our backyard and was brought into the house by Blacki, our last dog.

Blacki had this thing – well, she had more than one thing – but this was worrisome: she liked to eat rocks. (That isn’t all she liked to eat, but I refuse to write about that. Ewww.)

Gary often told me that I worried too much. He was right. I was super-watchful over Blacki, a habit I picked up after we lost our Malamute-mix, Max, to diabetes, a condition we did not know she had. I spent an intense 10-plus years watching over our yellow Lab, Sarah Jane, and now we had Blacki.

Once I Googled why dogs eat rocks, I knew we had to stop her. The pain she could feel when something went wrong inside her made me want to cement the whole yard. Trouble was, there was an unending supply of rocks outside and she loved being outside, so naturally that’s where I spent a lot of time.

Once I told Gary about the possibility of Blacki’s possible pain and surgery to remove foreign matter from her tummy, he took over. I’ve no clue how many rocks he took from his buddy’s mouth but it seemed like a losing battle.

The rock in the picture is the one I found on Gary’s desk. I was cleaning up a few weeks after he passed away, and I realized he could’ve thrown that one away but he didn’t. He loved Blacki even though he wasn’t all that thrilled when I wanted to adopt her. I had named all of our other pets so I thought maybe if he named her, he would get close to her. This time, I was right.

Out of all of the things I’ve given away or tossed, this rock will not be among them. It doesn’t take up much physical space; instead, just looking at it and holding it fills my heart with gratitude at having my hubby and his buddy in my life. That’s worth holding onto.

She dressed me in a red coat and the rest is history

(I know Mom loved us, but this did happen and while it’s funny now, it was shudder-worthy at the time.)

Gosh, we do stupid things sometimes. Some of those include wrong-headed decisions when raising our kids. And some of us just don’t stop and think before dressing our little girls in red coats and sending them down a country road to school.

            As you read this little ditty today, I want you to know that the memories came to mind because this is my birthday week. My mom comes to mind during this time; after all, I am here because of her. And while she was an undoubtedly unique woman, mom gave sis and I some laugh-out-loud things to talk about for years to come.

I don’t remember where she got it, but one memorable Sheffield winter, mom found me a bright red coat to wear to school. It must have been warm and protective because our mother would not settle for less. There was, however, one humongous flaw she overlooked.

We lived on East Atkinson Street at the time and I walked to school. About half a block west, then south down a long country road and there it was. I loved school then; the memories are almost all golden.

If one spends any amount of time along country roads they may notice that a lot of the area contains farm animals. One unforgettable big, frightening animal that comes to mind is a bull. That’s right – mom dressed me up in a bright red coat and sent me walking to school right past a bull.

Winters could be brutal to little kids back then. You’ve seen the movie, “A Christmas Story”. We got our tongues stuck to frozen flag poles or outdoor water fountains. Kids pushed us into snowbanks. We would fall on the ice, get up, fall again and repeat. And who could forget those bright plastic boots? Those things could rub a ring around your leg that would give you something to think about all morning.

But I have to say that nothing beats the experience of being met by a gigantic bull every winter morning on the way to school  He’d see me coming from a long ways away – I must have really stood out with my bright red coat against the white snow. Do you have any idea how deathly quiet it is on an early morning in the country? You’re outside, alone, and you hear the crunch of the ice-glazed snow as your feet make their way down the unplowed road.

You hear an odd sound coming from the field on the left, and here is where you, as a little girl have to make a decision. Stand still and hope the big cow goes away, or run and pray he doesn’t chase you. Or, you could do like I did, and scream bloody murder in the middle of the road.

No one came to my aid, not that I can remember. Somehow mom found out what was going on, maybe someone did hear me and figured out what was happening. Gee, I wonder what they thought of a mother who would do such a thing.

When I asked sis if she remembered this whole episode, she laughed and laughed. Oh, yes, she said. But she added that she didn’t know why mom did it. Hubby put in his two cents and offered that my mom was trying to get rid of me. Yeah, that’s a hoot.

I loved my mom, and I miss her a lot, especially now. I’m a bit reluctant to admit that the name she gave me was an embarrassment when I was in the second grade so I changed it to Judy.  I walked up to the front of the room at the beginning of the school year and informed my teacher of my name change, but she refused to acknowledge my instructions. I stayed with “Judy” for almost the whole day.

Last winter a lovely person bought me a new winter coat – a deep royal blue and it’s a long one. It’s warm and flattering, and I have the perfect hat to go with it. Trouble is, last year I was hobbling around using a cane. With the long coat, cane, hat and my glasses, I apparently reminded a very special friend of someone.

First, there was the laughter. She threw back her head and giggled when she saw me. “I’m sorry,” she choked out, “but you look like Mrs. Peanut!” Well, okay, she was right. That got the rest of started and everybody concurred. It’s not the name I’d pick for myself today, but you have to admit that what I am about to tell you is incredibly ironic.

The woman who gave me the name of Mrs. Peanut is actually one of my best friends. Her name is Judy.

The barefoot boy with blue eyes, dimples and bib overalls

(This piece is one of my all-time favorites. I think about him every now and then. He made quite the impression.)


None of us will forget Leon, the bare-foot, blue-eyed boy who lived next door in our Tucson apartment complex. I still find it hard to believe that this little guy still has a piece of our hearts when we knew him for so short a time. I wonder where he is today. I hope, we hope, to see him again someday.


He must have been all of three feet tall. Blond, shoulder-length curly hair, chubby cheeks and wide blue eyes—a small boy with bare feet who was our neighbor in Tucson for too short a time.

Leon was his name and he was a corker. We met the little guy shortly after moving into our first apartment in Arizona. I always use the state motto about this far into the story: “It’s a dry heat” but this time around I’ll just say, “Ick.” I’m sorry, but if you think the desert, rock landscaping and cactus are cool then, well, ick.

Our first home away from Kewanee was an apartment complex with at least a hundred units that looked exactly the same. (We misplaced our black cat Spike there once and it was a hoot trying to find him). Trick-or-treating was fun, too; we couldn’t remember where we’d been so we tapped some nice people more than once.

Leon and his parents moved in across from us one day. It was impossible to miss their arrival because we all had sliding glass doors that faced each other. The odd thing about Leon and his family was that they had no furniture. In fact, he seemed quite impressed when he found there was something to sit on besides the floor.

He invited his little self inside our place one early afternoon. Not a bit shy, this boy of four, and he had the cutest dimples. “I live over there,” he said with a smile, and he pointed to his place. “What’s that?”

Hubby and I grinned at each other. “It’s a couch,” I said. He pointed at a chair and asked the same question. This was a bit of a puzzle, but we went along. Leon stood for a minute, his thumbs hooked into his bib overalls.

“Would you like to sit down?” I asked. That was all it took, and it sure made him happy. His little bare feet swung back and forth as he squirmed around, seemingly amazed that we had furniture.

It was hard to ignore the fact that the family across the way had an empty home. At night, when the lights were on it was easy to see that they had only blankets and pillows on their floors. We found Leon at our door, hands cupped around his eyes as he stared into our apartment several times a week.

There were days when he would pad barefoot over to our place, knock loudly and wait with his face pressed to the screen. He would ask for the boys first, and I would tell him they were in school. That’s when he’d ask for hubby to come out and play. Well, he was at work. The next request would be to come in and sit on the furniture. In he would come and as he sat and we talked, I could see the delight in his eyes at the most simple of things—Leon had a place to sit.

Then, an amazing thing happened. Leon and his family got furniture late one afternoon. They moved in beds, tables, chairs, a couch and more. If only we had some clue what would happen next.

Morning came and the apartment manager came riding up on her golf cart. She knocked on our door and pointed a thumb over her shoulder at Leon’s place. “Have you seen ‘em?” she asked.

Hubby and I looked over and were astounded to find the place completely empty. No furniture, no people, no blankets and pillows. No little barefoot boy.

Turned out that the family picked up and moved in the night, and they must have been quiet about it. We didn’t hear a thing.

A few weeks later, I was walking with one of the boys when we saw a familiar little figure coming toward us. Leon! He was alone, and walking along the sidewalk. The sun was starting to set and it would be dark soon. When we met, he smiled up at me.

“Leon, where have you been? Do you live in a different apartment now?”

I can’t forget how he looked down at his feet, hands in his pockets as he shook his head.   “We live in storage now,” he said.

Storage? I tried to find out more, but the little guy said he had to go. He walked away, and he never looked back.

Leon must be a tad over 30 years old now and one wonders how much he remembers of his younger years in the desert. If he ever stops by, we’ll look straight into those wondrous blue eyes and invite him in to sit down and catch up on old times.



Pull back, squint, release and let fly

Sis and I learned a lot from our mom, and there are a few things we’d like to un-learn. But I have to say there were times, like when mom gathered her slingshot and ball bearings and the three of us headed out to the back yard, where she proceeded to get into a wee bit of trouble.

            I don’t remember what brought mom and her slingshot to mind the other day, but there it was.

Maybe we were talking about the now old-fashioned TV antenna. Or maybe it was about neighbors; in either case, mom made an impact on both—literally.

Sis and I watched in wonder all those years ago as mom took out a box of ball bearings and a slingshot she’d made. It doesn’t surprise me now that mom made her own weapon. After all, she invented more than a few handy items to have around the house that may not have been entirely legal. Gosh, she would be so popular today.

Anyway, mom bided her time until she saw a bird perch on the north neighbor’s antenna. She put a finger up to her lips to shush the two of us, then with a stealth usually reserved for cats, she made her way around the corner of the house. Mom had a couple of the bearings inside her shirt pocket and the critical one in the rubber sling. Then, she squinted her eye and pulled back.

Twang! Well, sis and I stood with our mouths hanging open as we watched the one adult we looked up to more than any other do something that would’ve gotten our hides tanned. What were we to make of this?

Ever famous for her extensive vocabulary of inventive swear words, mom let some of those fly too. She’d missed the bird and now the neighbor’s antenna was more than a tad askew.  No matter; we were back inside the house waiting for heck to break loose next door. It didn’t, but that side of the house was off-limits to us all for a while.

That didn’t stop mom, though. She began to eye the neighbor to the south – more specifically, their new garage. I can’t possibly remember the “why” of all of this juvenile criminal activity, but mom had her reasons.

This time, silly as it sounds, our mother didn’t try to hide. She stood in full view in the back yard, squinted, pulled back and let fly. She never hit what she was aiming at but she did get our neighbor’s attention. I remember the conversation went something like this:

“Tony, I felt something whiz past my face this afternoon. Do you know anything about it?”


“I think you do. I think you have a slingshot and you sent a rock flying over here. You could’ve broken a window or put my eye out.”

No response.

“Don’t do it again.”

Mom never did do it again, not as far as sis and I can remember. It makes me wonder, though, if mom took up the slingshot because she missed having excitement in her life.

She loved telling us the story of when she was an insurance investigator. She’d take out her fingerprint kit and launch into the tale of the time she was chased in her car by someone she had caught doing something they shouldn’t. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with slingshots.) Mom threw in something about guns (hers and theirs), getting shot at, and we took it all in. It was better than watching television or even reading a book. This was Real Life. Our mom, in a car chase, with bullets flying!

Not many years later, mom was out of commission for a while in a Chicago hospital dealing with illness. A family member offered to clean our house for her and mom reluctantly said yes. Trouble was, the house was not only cleaned up, it was cleaned out of a few things. Sis and I never again found the slingshot or the fingerprint kit.

Too bad. Considering the “crime”, and with a teacher like our mom, we could have used both. We would have done her proud, too.



Sights, sounds, smells equals happy


Hubby having lunch with his best bud

I love this one from 2010:

Just before leaving for my courthouse reporting duties one morning I stopped to pick up a couple of dollar breakfast sandwiches at a local fast food joint. I’d never had these before, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find them hot, tasty and a bit too filling. No way could I finish two, and I can’t stand to waste anything so I put on my thinking cap.
It was a bit after 8, and it occurred to me that someone was probably walking the dog about now. No, I wasn’t going to give the sausage, egg and cheese delight to the pooch but I knew her walker would gladly accept it.
I headed up Main and as I crested the slight slope at Second I stared toward the next stoplight. Sure enough, there they were. I saw a white ball cap and just a bit below that was a curly tail bouncing toward the west. I moved to the turn lane so I could pull up on the proper side of Third Street.
I’ve caught up with the man and his best bud before, but never with food in tow. As I slowed and pulled up to the curb, Sarah Jane lifted her nose from the ground, focused on the white car and tilted her head in that quizzical way of hers. I love it.
When she was told, “Hey, there’s The Woman!”, Sarah bounded to the car and placed huge muddy paws on the passenger door–inside and out. She sniffed toward the food bag, and once she was safely away from it, I handed it over. Now I could leave for the rest of the work day with a smile on my face.
It seems like this happened just yesterday but it was over a week ago. I was reminded again of this pleasant memory because we can still see the muddy paw prints inside the passenger door. I’ve been a bit too busy to take care of the dried mess and today I’m thankful for that.
Do you have sights, sounds or smells that bring a smile to your face? I think we all have something; maybe it’s a song or the smell of bread baking or the taste of homemade chicken and noodles.
Some sights that give me a grin have to do with cruising over to Mom’s for coffee, goodies and conversation. The road going down to her house is a nightmare at the moment (well, it’s been a bad dream for a couple of years; now it’s a full-blown nightmare), but once inside the cozy kitchen we soon forget about the bumpy road and get right to the fun stuff. Over the years we’ve had so many memorable visits there I can pull one up and watch it like a movie in my head.
Another happy sight is seeing my sister walking toward me whenever we get a chance to visit in person. That happened last week in Geneseo and I’ve brought that sight to mind over and over again simply because I love her to pieces and miss her something fierce.
Sounds that soothe are usually connected to songs, and I have to admit that I now have a ringtone from Jaron and the Long Road to Love’s “Pray For You”. My sister warned me not to get it because her youngest daughter had it and when it went off, she got nothing but glares from those within earshot. I do love Sis, but I don’t always listen to her. That song may not soothe anyone; I like it because it makes me laugh.
I like the sound I make as I put supper together. I start off with telling Sarah, “Time to make supper”, and she’s in the kitchen in a flash. Her body makes a thunk! as it hits the floor; that’s the beginning, followed by the sounds of dishes placed on the table, the rattle of silverware and the sound of the five o’clock news starting.
The smell of fresh coffee brewing, cinnamon rolls baking or turkey roasting bring a smile to most people. There are far too many delectable aromas to mention, and they’re different for everyone anyway.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: We’re bombarded today with news that makes us nervous, angry and fearful. I don’t want to bring up specifics because we’re hearing and reading about them every day. And I’m not saying we should stick our collective heads in the sand and let the world sail by without us.
Bad things happen and they always will. Too often they overshadow the good and lovely and wonderful things going on in our daily lives. We can turn that around and make a real difference in our outlook on life.
Some day when you have a few minutes, why not grab a favorite drink, a piece of paper and a pen and find a quiet spot to think. Put a title like, “These things make me happy” and make three columns, one each for sights, sounds and smells. The physical act of reminding yourself of what makes you happy should bring a smile to your face. It worked for me.

Tiredly eyeballing those stairs


I can’t believe this column is almost nine years old. I feel thankful to still be walking – even if it is still with a cane.


I’ve lived with physical limitations for as long as I can remember.
First it was poor eyesight. The lazy left eye was obvious, and Mom was told back in 1957 that it could be surgically fixed by cutting a hole in the side of my head and tying up a loose optical something-or-other. She decided against that, thinking it was much less risky to fit me with glasses.
Throughout the years I’ve been told the left eye is legally blind, that I can see with only one eye at a time, eye exercises might improve my sight, or, and this is obvious: I’m nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other. This is something I’ve learned to live with. Thinking ahead is something I do often, so my thought was that if I begin to go blind I will learn Braille and I’ll stock up on audio books. Some folks have it a lot worse.
Another problem is stamina. It’s just not there like it used to be. I can stay up until around 10 or so, then it’s bedtime. The sole exception to this is if I’m writing, and then the hours fly and it’s often far later than 10 by the time I finish.
Heat is beginning to get to me, so it’s a good thing we moved from Arizona a couple of decades ago. Still, the heat and humidity of an Illinois summer is tough to take but I won’t complain too much. We have air conditioners in our home and our cars, at work and at stores and restaurants. There are those with breathing problems who simply cannot handle some of our weather; they have it a lot worse.
And the other day I came face-to-stairway with a big dilemma. I was to meet someone at their home for an interview, and upon arriving I was told to come around to the back of the house. The possibility of a big dog waiting there crossed my mind; instead, I found a tall, narrow stairway that sent me right around to the front again where I waited to be let inside. It was a bit embarrassing but it couldn’t be helped.
Seems like Mom always had problems with walking. Most of the time she did fine, and other times she was in so much pain she crawled on the floor. I couldn’t possibly wish more that I had asked her about those times because there is no one around today who can explain to me what her problem was.
Sis and I have had problems walking on and off for years. There was the time I was walking down the steps at a workplace in Tucson when I simply dropped and fell halfway down. The legs gave out and down I went. Everything checked out fine, and it didn’t happen again until over 20 years later when I stood to get out of bed and fell right down to the floor.
As I take stock of new (and some old) physical limitations, I don’t sit and cry about them. Nor do I dwell on what I can no longer do. My usual approach to a problem is to see how to get over, under, around or through it. There have been times when severe headaches seemed to come every day for a couple of weeks at a time. After the first few days, I would get determined to carry on with life and live with the pain. Eventually it went away, and I was thankful for each day my head didn’t feel ready to explode.
And when walking problems begin to interfere with normal living, I haul out my late father-in-law’s cane so I can keep going and get things done. When that no longer works, we’ll go from there.
Eyesight, stamina, mobility–three mighty important things we need to live a productive life. But when stuff happens, and it will eventually, try to find ways to outsmart the attacks and remember that there are others who have it a lot worse.