Life Is What Happens . . .

Dogwood Blossoms
the artist’s way
Stacks of books
Photo by Ajda ATZ

A certain romantic mythology often draws young people to the artist’s life.  Estelle Ford- Williamson was no exception. As a teen, growing up in Chattanooga, TN, she dreamed of being a writer so that she could live her life as Hemingway had. Like him, she would be a journalist who traveled the world reporting on major crises, all the while writing terse, fascinating novels and stories (although her Catholic school girl self wasn’t sure about having multiple love affairs as he did). Her dream focused on the excitement and the adventure of his life.

The Right to Know the Truth
Typewritten Truth
Photo by Marcus Winkler

Her perspective changed when she had the opportunity to meet The Chattanooga Times managing editor, John Popham, who as a journalist in the 50s covered the Southern United States for The New York Times. His impassioned words extolling the obligation of the reporter to bring the truth to the people no matter what the difficulties nor who opposed them moved her to tears.  She had a whole new vision of what her life could mean. This compelling notion of a responsibility to the truth took full steam as she attended college during the turbulent 1960s.

life in the “real world”
Chicago blizzard
Photo by Max Bender

It was so powerful, in fact, that she left Saint Mary’s, the women-only college she attended, before she graduated. She had a plan to take her elective courses in Chicago so that she could live in the “real world.”  Working during the day and taking night classes at Northwestern University, a school renowned for its journalism program, she completed her degree requirements and graduated from Saint Mary’s College the next year. During the Chicago blizzard of 1967, two events undermined her determination to live and work in the north.  A friend’s car, which had been buried by the historic two-foot snow, was plowed away.  And a letter arrived from her mother with a dogwood blossom folded in the pages.  She headed back to her beloved South.

a tricky work/life balance
Newspaper collage from 1968
Photo by Arno Senoner

Almost by a fluke she landed a job with the global news agency, United Press International, in Atlanta. Her boss mistakenly interpreted the credits she had earned at Northwestern to mean she had graduated from that prestigious journalism school. Over a beer, the man learned he’d read the application wrong, but as she had been reporting for a while, she kept the job. Two years with the agency taught her to synthesize information quickly and to view events from a broad perspective.

Wanting to start a family, she left the agency.  While her daughter grew, she worked for several government agencies and non-profit groups, writing newsletters and research papers. Working for the city of Atlanta brought her in contact with several leaders in the Civil Rights movement and led Estelle into an active role in equal rights advocacy.

past & present coalesce

Estelle returned to school and earned a master’s degree in Psychology. Her coursework served not only to deepen her writer’s perspective, but also led to new work experiences as a management trainer and career development specialist. She performed workshops, helping people learn to communicate with one another within corporations and assisting people transitioning from one job to another. On the side, she kept up her interest in writing by editing and publishing three of her aunts’ memoirs about their lives in North Georgia.

what she least expected
Photo by Ireland Rose

Then a cloud with a silver lining blew over her horizon. Felled by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, she lacked the energy to work full time. But because it wasn’t her nature to simply sit around, she began reading from her grandmother’s trunk, which contained memorabilia and family writings from that woman’s family. She also came across a detailed genealogy constructed by a great aunt that covered multiple generations of family. She began writing a story of fictitious characters who lived in the same period. Sometimes she wrote with her eyes closed due to the persistent fatigue.

always questing
Man making rifles
Photo by Carter Yocha

Writing was a quest for Estelle. There were years of research. She hunted in schools, libraries, archives, and museums around the South. She collected not only data but information on valuable material culture—house furnishings, clothing, blacksmithing, rifle making.

Abbeville FarewellResearch was interwoven with writing. Several short courses in creative writing and many years of writing in groups helped her develop chapters of a historical novel. An excerpt won a top novel award at Sand Hills Writers Conference. Published as Abbeville Farewell, the story is a saga about family and moral conflicts in pre-Civil War Atlanta and North Georgia, but it also examines the state of the nation’s conscience in the mid-nineteenth century. It was nominated for the 2002 Townsend Fiction Prize.

an unusual collaboration
Boys in a refugee camp
Photo by

Time to begin working on a second novel. But no.  A friend insisted that she meet a young man who was struggling to write his memoir and could use her help. His name was Majok Maier. As a child, he had escaped from Sudan during its bloody civil war. Of course, Estelle was intrigued. Four years later, MacFarland and Company published the book, Seed of Sudan: Memoir of a ‘Lost Boy’ Refugee co-authored by Ford-Williamson and Maier.

Its gripping narrative reveals how tens of thousands of boys like Majok fled from the Sudanese Army. They survived on grasses, grains, and help from villagers along the way. They had to  walk nearly a thousand miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before immigrating to the United States.

a mission as much as a book

The research for the book took Estelle all over the US to interview the young men. Research also took her to multiple libraries to gather and verify the book’s necessary background information. After publication, they held book readings in New York, Ohio, and D.C.  In all those place they met with other Lost Boys who’d settled across the US.

Water well in South Sudan
Photo by Mohamed Tohami

Majok and the other boys’ stories are very poignant and disturbing. These young men felt the need to help change conditions in their new home country, South Sudan.  So, Majok, Estelle, and valuable supporters formed a non-profit organization. It raised funds to build clean water wells in rural villages in South Sudan. (

a quiet place

After the intensity of getting these under way, Estelle Lockwood Folly Wetlandneeded a place to quiet herself. She found it in the wetlands along the South Carolina coast. At a home she and her husband purchased, they retreated far from crowds of people, perched on a coastal river.  Her fellow citizens are many species of wildlife that inhabit the area.  Now, at last, she has written the novel she dreamed of, a contemporary narrative.  Rising Fawn not only gives us a twenty-first century protagonist, we also find in its pages a confluence of the many streams of Estelle’s life–faith, natural wonder, and a family’s past–merging together to form a powerful narrative for our ever-changing future.

 good dreaming

Rising FawnEstelle’s girlhood dreams of becoming a second Hemingway didn’t pan out. Her multidimensional achievements are, however, a unique outstanding contribution to the literary world. She’s been awarded fellowships to arts residency programs.  Her teaching accomplishments include readings and workshops for Poets and Writers, Inc. and the Pat Conroy Literary Center. In addition, Estelle enjoys teaching writing to at-risk youth as well as retired adults. A special delight for her is that as her books received critical acclaim, they continued to find new readers.  Those readers have proved to be a faithful and engaged group with whom she communicates regularly.

Among them may very well be a young girl, who dreams of growing up to be a writer like Estelle Ford-Williams.

“Is there a place you can go to break away for a little while? If you haven’t yet built your tree house, it’s never too late to start.”
Gina Greenlee, Postcards and Pearls: Life Lessons from Solo Moments on the Road

A Special Place in My Heart

Young couple kissing
first love

Do you remember the first person you fell in love with? I bet you do.  And maybe, like me, the place in your heart that person occupied has remained theirs for years after. It will most likely never be given to anyone even though you will have greater loves, more endearing loves, maybe even permanent loves.

Even to this day, I can never scramble eggs without feeling my first love, hovering behind me. It was he who taught me how to make them “just right.” The sight of the yellow whirls in the frying pan evokes his presence like incense burning in a lamp.

high school sweethearts
Vintage classroom scene
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton

Mike and I were sweethearts in high school. We never actually met one another. Rather we slowly came into one another’s radar. I cannot pinpoint the moment when we realized that we were “together.”

I felt like I knew Mike long before I actually came face to face with him. By the time I was in junior high, I had determined that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew. When a ninth-grade English teacher required our class to interview an adult working in our hoped-for future career, I called Dorothea Bump, who wrote a weekly column for our local newspaper. Ms. Bump and I had a delightful conversation. She didn’t pull any punches about how challenging it was for a woman to succeed in the world of journalism, but she encouraged me to pursue my dream.  While we talked, I learned that she had a son my age.

different spheres
Basketball game
Photo by Klara Kulikova

My curiosity piqued, when I started high school the next year, I paid attention in classes and at school events to see if his name showed up.  And it did. Although it was a huge school and we didn’t have many classes in common, he was on the football team.  At a high school in central Indiana, this was not the big deal it is in many other places in the United States.  At our school, basketball was king.  Football games were not well attended.  In fact, girls, who wished to be cheerleaders for the basketball games, tried out at the football games.

More notably, Mike was very involved in student government and in speech and debate clubs. That meant he appeared on stage at student assemblies. A charming and persuasive speaker, he was a popular choice for campaign manager for kids who ran for office. At that time, however, I had an enormous crush on a guy from my junior high and Mike didn’t cause my heart to turn over.

enter drama
Actors on Stage
Photo by Kyle Head

Junior year brought us into the same circle. My best friend, Nancy, dreamed of a career in theater. She was involved at some level in every production our school put on.  Usually, she played a lead role as she was (and is to this day) a fine actor.  I had no theater ambitions, but I liked being where Nancy was. So, I signed on to build sets, procure props, and help actors learn their lines.

Mike’s closest friend Kelley was another young actor.  Kelley’s involvement with the school theater drew Mike in.  Mike had no desire to act, but he had a fine voice and got “volunteered” for the chorus for musicals – not just to sing, but to lend his strong back to scene construction.

backstage romance
Backstage of a theater
Photo by Jonny Rothwell

This convergence of interests put Mike and me backstage on the sidelines with the rest of the support crew for long periods of time. Most of us tried to get some homework done as we curled in whatever comfortable corner we could find, but with all the comings and goings of the rehearsals, concentration was pretty hard.  We couldn’t distract the actors, so we would converse in notes. Finally, Mike got frustrated enough by this abbreviated way of communicating that he asked me to go for a coke one evening.

meant to be

The rapport that began backstage blossomed at the diner. I don’t remember that Mike actually asked me for a date after that. We simply started being together.  Anything he was involved in, I engaged in as well. He did the same for me.  We attended all the school dances as a couple for the next two years.

New York City neon
Photo by Florian Wehde

In senior year, he, for some reason, decided not to take the class trip to Washington D.C and New York City. But as soon as our bus pulled out of the station, he realized he had to share it with me.  He hitchhiked to New York. Washington had been fascinating, but lonely. What a wonderful surprise to find Mike sitting in my hotel lobby when my classmates and I arrived in New York.  I fell in love with New York with Mike.  It’s still my favorite American city.

Our romance unraveled when we graduated high school and attended different colleges. It wasn’t easy. We both ended up with broken hearts. Few people marry their high school sweethearts.  Those who do often don’t stay married to them.  It’s way too early for most young people to make a life-long decision. That doesn’t make the end of the relationship any less harsh or the memories any less poignant.

The love lesson of our romance, however, never faded.  Mike taught me that I could be loved wholeheartedly for exactly who I was.  Because he believed that, I could believe it.  The knowledge that I am worthy of unconditional love was his gift to me long after our young romance slipped away.

The Sky Is The Limit!


Over the last two blog posts, I’ve shared two events in my own “coming-of-age” experiences when my world suddenly became much wider.

This week a guest blogger, Nancy Louise, weaves a tale similar and yet very different than those stories of a time in her childhood when the door to a possible new life opened up for her.

Hitting Rock Bottom

Huge family of young childrenRight before my ninth birthday my Daddy was killed in a car accident in Shreveport, Louisiana, one of the many towns I’d lived in over the course of my short life. His death left my Mama with six young’uns, under the age of ten to raise on her own. I was the second oldest. Unable to consider employment and with no means of support, Mama moved us into ‘The Projects,” free housing for indigent families. We froze in the winter and sweltered in the summer, but we stayed together with a roof over our head.

Housing project
Photo by Joel Muriz

The Federal Housing Projects of the 1950’s was very basic. Everything was concrete and hard metal. And HOT! Hard Edged. Teaming with kids. And noisy. Always very, very noisy. I loved to escape—if only for a little while, if only in my imagination.

a trick of the imagination

Girl in African dress
Photo by Magdalena Manchee

Of course, we had no car. We lugged our groceries home on foot. As the oldest girl —that task frequently fell to me. From our apartment house, in one direction on Southern Avenue stood the A&P, the source of most of our groceries. But in my fantasy world, I trekked not to a supermarket, but to deepest Africa. On my way home, I strode down Southern Avenue precariously balancing dry goods, such as a 25-pound sack of flour on my head. As I bounced along, I swayed my hips and sang nonsense words what I told myself was “jungle language.” I was no longer a Southern school girl; I had morphed into a bearer on Safari! The blessing of a great imagination lit up my dull, everyday life!

In the other direction on Southern was “The Cotton Boll”—an early convenience store with higher prices and, therefore, only used for “emergencies” —like when we ran out the baby’s milk a.k.a. a can of Pet.

secret garden

Deserted lot by railroad tracks
Photo by Wil Steward

One fine spring day Mama sent me up to the Cotton Boll to fetch something-or-other—she probably hoped quickly! On the four-block walk, I passed by a huge empty lot that backed up to a ridge with the railroad tracks on top. The lot looked nasty, filled with high weeds, scrubby bushes, rusted out car parts and trash.

Girl picking blackberriesAlways a curious child, I forgot my mother’s urgency, and I decided to “explore” the lot, just as any self-respecting adventurer would do.  Also, I was in search of blackberry bushes, which I knew grew plentifully along the top of that ridge on the rail road tracks. Blackberries were the only fresh fruit we could afford growing up because they were free for the picking. But I didn’t find any blackberries.

Instead, there in the back corner of the lot I found something I never expected to see. An enormous patch of purple irises in full bloom! I have no idea how they got there. Perhaps in the far distant past there had been a house on the lot and had irises graced the back yard. Or perhaps one bulb floated in on a strong wind one day, took root and multiplied as irises are wont to do.

a place for dreaming

Irises under blue sky
Photo by Roberta Guillen

But for whatever reason…there they were. Totally unknown to the world. . .except me! I got down on all fours, crawled past the brambles and weeds into the patch, I carefully turned over on my back in such a way that all I could see was a wide, open sky framed by the purple blooms. As I lay in total quiet of my hidden garden, my heart swelled and out of nowhere, as though spoken by the wind, words swept into my head, “THE SKY’S THE LIMIT”.

I never shared the secret of the irises with anyone. But each spring for years after, I would make a pilgrimage to “my garden,” lie in the blooms, and dream – very big dreams of a life that would take me far beyond “the projects.”

the journey begins

Painting of nuns singing

As a first step toward the dream, at sixteen I entered the convent. While I prepared for a life of dedicated sisterhood, “progress” came to my old neighborhood. Southern Avenue was ripped up.  The A&P and the Cotton Boll were torn down to make room for the Interstate. My irises disappeared forever.

After four years, I left the convent, a good, but heartbreaking decision. The move thrust me unawares into the American 60s.  New things were “Blowing’ in the Wind”. I couldn’t go back home. My dreams still tugged at me. I went into training to become an airline stewardess. (Never a “flight attendant” mind you. But that’s another story!) My “stew” job launched me into a career in travel.

Airplane wing w sunset
Photo by Nick Pryde

Just as I dreamed in my garden, I left the projects far behind. I spent my life leading tour groups to every corners of the world. With each and every trip, I grew more and more aware of that God always walked with me, showing me those Limitless Skies.

Fate Plays Cupid

Cupid and Psyche
Abstract, couple with childwinning the lottery

In the summer of 2018, I wrote a blog post which I titled, “You Won the Lottery, but You Didn’t Know It.” “The chance,” I wrote, “that you would not be is so far greater than the chance that you would have come into being as the unique person you are is almost incalculable. Literally millions of events in human history needed to occur just the way they did for the moment to arise when your father’s sperm successfully penetrated your mother’s egg. Once this miracle happened, the layers of environments surrounding the tiny zygote from the womb to the universe formed a coherent protective whole that assured you would be born.”

To dwell on this reality can be mind boggling. Just ask yourself, “What if my mom never met my dad?” or “What if my parents met, but never loved?”

That very thing almost happened to me.

dreams can be complicated

In 1935 twenty-year old Peggy Luger, the girl who would be my mother,

Workers during Great Depression
Photo by Sonder Quest

achieved her life-long dream. She graduated from nursing school. Unfortunately, she emerged from the cocoon of nursing school into a chaotic economic crisis. The Great Depression, the severe economic downturn that lasted from 1929 to 1939, affected the whole world.  In the United States, industrial production declined by 47 percent. Mass unemployment increased the rates of poverty and homelessness.

Pittsburg, PA
Photo by Jonathan Rivera

Yet, for Peggy, the immediate future glimmered with hope. Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she had trained, could offer her a position as a ward nurse. Another bright light in Peggy’s life, Frank O’Donnell, had proposed to her the evening of her graduation. She had worked over the past year with Frank, an intern at the hospital. A stocky, personable Irishman with a thick head of black hair and merry grey eyes, Frank had captured a lot of nurses’ hearts. Peggy liked him and she was flattered. She did not, however, feel she knew him well enough to accept his proposal.  Nursing students were not allowed to date. Now that she had graduated, she wanted to get to know him better outside the hospital setting. With supreme confidence that he knew the way to a girl’s heart, Frank agreed to wait for an answer.

first comes family – maybe

Downtown Detroit, MI
Photo by Alex Brisbey

Peggy struggled with another concern. She was considering leaving Pittsburgh because her parents had moved to Detroit, Michigan. Her father had been out of work for three long years, most of the time she had studied nursing. Her mom had kept food on the table by selling cleaning products door-to-door.  Neither of them would listen to Peggy’s pleas that she leave nursing school and help out.  She could help best, they insisted, by becoming a nurse. Last year her father finally found employment. But his new job as a draftsman for a construction company meant he had to move. Peggy’s young brother John had gone with them. Although she had aunts, uncles and cousins in Pittsburgh, her parent’s absence left a huge hole in her heart. She didn’t want to live so far away from them.

Romance must wait

Vintage photo -nurse treating boyShe decided to apply for a position at Providence Hospital in Detroit just to see what happened. Because her grades had been stellar and her recommendations were glowing, the Detroit hospital hired her immediately. A young woman of deep faith, she took this a sign from heaven and moved into her parents’ home on Cherrylawn Avenue on the city’s westside. She promised Frank that it wasn’t the end of their relationship. They could write, she said, and visit each other.  If by the time he graduated, if their love for one another remained steadfast, they could marry and she would move to Pittsburgh.

a father’s friendship

John Luger, Peggy’s dad, enjoyed his new position. He especially found the

Drafting tools
Photo by Lucas Kepner

men he worked with easy-going and cooperative. One of the younger men, who was also named John, he took a particular shine to because that co-worker produced such meticulous work and offered to help others with snags.  Yet, he never pushed himself forward. “Luger,” as the guys at work called him like this tall, well-built, blonde kid’s humble attitude.  He decided to invite him home to meet his family.

“D.J.” as the other John was known, readily accepted.  Because Mrs. Luger (another Peggy) like to impress visitors, she set the table with fine linens and her best china. D.J., used to eating in his family’s farm kitchen, worried he’d use the wrong utensil for something, but more than the setting made him nervous. Luger’s daughter sat across the table from him. Her animated conversation about her patients at the hospital mesmerized him as did her soft, curly light brown hair and huge deep-blue eyes.

enter the rival

1930s soda fountain

At work the next day, he asked Luger would it be all right if he asked Peggy to go out for some ice-cream the following Sunday.  The older man thought about the doctor back in Pittsburgh, but didn’t mention him. Instead, he gave D. J. their phone number. When she got the call, Peggy thought about Frank.  He wouldn’t be able to come to Detroit for three more weeks and lately his letters contained fewer and fewer expressions of affection.  It couldn’t hurt to just have ice-cream with another guy.

For the next six months, Peggy held her conscience at bay as she enjoyed the company and the attention of both young men.  D. J. had learned about Frank from her dad, but since she wore no engagement ring, he put faith in being “the bird in the hand.”  But, whenever Frank did come, he stayed in the family home and his dynamism and his plans for his future made it clear that he was the suitor that could offer Peggy the more secure and comfortable life.

love creates a quandary

Leaves, floating in water, form heart
Photo by Roman Kraft

With no real end to the Depression in sight, making a good financial choice couldn’t be just shoved aside.  Besides Peggy really liked Frank.  Mrs. Luger also like Frank and wanted her daughter to marry him, not just because he would be a doctor but because he was Catholic. D.J. had been brought up Presbyterian. Mrs. Luger didn’t hold by “mixed-marriages.”  They always caused trouble she said.  Love wasn’t enough to see a couple through deep religious differences.

Couple walking hand in hand
Photo by Eugenivy

Her mother’s words penetrated her soul, but weren’t proof against the growing chemistry she felt whenever she spent time with D.J. When he laced his strong fingers through hers as the walked in the park, as he traced a finger down her cheek, and when she couldn’t help lay her head on his shoulders at the movies, she felt an electric fissure of pleasure.  When Frank kissed her good-bye before leaving for Pittsburgh every other week, she sensed a solid warmth and security, but there was no zing to it.

She could imagine life without Frank. She tried to picture what it would be like if D.J. dropped out of her life.  No, that wasn’t a possibility she could entertain.

Thus, began the chain of events that led to my conception and that of my siblings – and consequently, any potential children of Peggy Luger and Frank O’Connell were relegated to oblivion.

“if you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.”

Johnny Depp

Did you ever have to choose between two loves?  How did you make it work?

Home Alone

Couple alone in a dark room
a tree for two

Couple building snowman
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Home Alone is the theme of Christmas, 2020. Most of us face this wise choice face with deep sadness. We’re also pretty angry although we may not know where to direct our anger. For some, like my husband Jay and I, being “alone” for Christmas means not absolute solitude, but attempting to celebrate the holiday as a couple without any gathering of family. We haven’t had to do this since our honeymoon. At that time, being alone was delicious, a retreat from world of family and friends, from school and work, a quiet time to just let it sink in that we were married.

yearning for much more

Couple and their tree
Photo by S&B Vonlan

Trying to recapture that same sense of delightful togetherness is much harder this year because after that first Christmas, we always celebrated with large groups of extended family members. Once we became parents, our children were the focus of every year’s celebration. This tradition continued even after they grew up. All four children came home for Christmas every year until our grandchildren were born. After that we took turns gathering at our children’s homes for Christmas. All of us even traveled to Argentina in 2006 when our third daughter and her family lived in South America for the year.

seeking solace and wisdom

Couple holding hands
Photo by Nani Chavez

We have been fortunate. We know that. Still, we are filled with angst and pain as we confront the Christmas without the family. We try to cheer each other up, but haven’t been having a lot of success. So, when the Gottman Institute Blog’s post, “How to Support Your Partner When You’re Hurting Too,” by Donald Cole, landed in my email box it felt like a godsend.

As I read Dr. Cole’s advice, I could see ways Jay and I could avail ourselves of his wisdom to get through this hard time. I could see there parallels to my own themes of intentional marriage.

intentional listening magic

He begins with “Set aside time to listen to each other.” Jay and I are pretty religious about this already.  As busy as we might get with separate projects during the day, we put them aside at six o’clock to sit and have a drink together. During the challenge of this season, this may be a time to use that quiet hour to remember past holidays and bring up happy memories, or even just share how hard it’s going to be this year.

no one is a mind reader

Couple in deep conversation
Photo by Joanna Nix

Ask for what you need,” Dr. Cole cautions. I feel he’s looking right at me. Jay has always depended on me to be the “gift-giver” of the family, and often depends on our adult children to purchase the gifts for Christmas for me. If we’re going to be alone this year, clearly it’s up to me to specify what gift I’d like and help him know where to purchase it – the hard part will be to do this graciously.

Being just the two of us for several different celebrations is bound to up the stress level on both of us. So, I can see that it will be important for us to set aside a regular time for tough conversations – something we both might be more inclined to avoid because “after all it’s the holidays.”

acknowledge stress and tension

Practice stress reducing conversation,” he continues. This is listening and sharing, not about relationship difficulties, but about those things outside the partnership that are causing stress. The difference struck me as very important. The response, Dr. Cole suggests, “What’s the worst part of this for you?” really resonated for me.

But at times when you are both hurting, it’s also important, he insists to “repair the damage” inflicted on the relationship. All couples hurt each other. If we realize that, we can be courageous enough to tell our partner when they hurt us and big enough to hear this and try to change.

most of the time – make merry

Blazing fire in fireplace
Photo by Hayden Scott

Two of Dr. Cole’s maxims go together for me, “Engage in non-demand affection,” and “Make time for good things between you.” Jay and I are ordinarily a pretty affectionate couple.  Yet, without the hugs and kisses of the children and grandchildren and the warmth that just radiates through the room when the whole family gathers in one place, we need to ramp up on the hugs, kisses and cuddles at home – and maybe roll back the rug, turn on some music and slow dance.

Just before Christmas our wedding anniversary pops up. On the occasion of our first anniversary, we were both still in school and had minimum wage jobs. Our financial obligations far outweighed our income, but we went ahead and splurged anyway. We went out to dinner at Fanny’s, an Italian restaurant.

Italian restaurant
Photo by Svend Nielsen

The check was $10 for two, which was as much as we usually spent on groceries in a week.  That anniversary set a precedent. Every anniversary since then we have gone out to fancier and fancier restaurants. For most of those years we coupled the dinner with tickets to the theater.

Faced with the quandary of how to make our anniversary a “good time” this year, we know we cannot go out to dinner.  But I feel the “good times” are greatly diminished if I have to cook. We will have to be very intentional about choosing a take-out or delivery that feels celebratory enough. We’re pondering as well what might be a great movie to watch? The best music to listen to? Of course, we’ll have a fire in the fireplace.

If you, kind readers, have any suggestions I am open to all ideas.


Keep Passion Ignited

Golden Dome of Notre Dame
winging it on oxytocin

Couples are often determined to keep the passion ignited in their committed relationship, but find it a principle more easily stated than lived by.

Lighting your fire
Photo by Wesley Balter

For one thing, our neurobiological system is a delicately-structured instrument that needs regular fine tuning to play its best music. At the beginning of a romantic relationship, oxytocin levels peak in our blood streams. This happens because couples falling in love open the dam so to speak on the flow of this hormone.  When they hold hands, touch the other gently, kiss, hug, and stroke, the floodgates lift. Oxytocin floods every each of their body and brain. Nothing feels as good as being with this other person.

Other responsibilities, other tasks, even other pleasures often get shoved to the back burners of daily life to make room for being together and being physically close. We know this is true from everyday experience whether we are in love ourselves or not.    But the phenomenon is also backed by careful scientific research.

coming in for a landing

Cooking together
Photo by Sorous Karim

This high state of romance cannot last forever. Once couples set up a household together, whether they marry or not, the multitude of daily tasks confronts them willy-nilly. We get busy with work, school, household chores, childcare, and social engagement. A day can fly by in what seems a minute and the most “romantic” thing we did was kiss our partner briefly on the way out the door.

That’s what can happen. Luckily, it’s not what always happens. Scientific research has also discovered that couple who test for high levels of oxytocin in the early stages of the relationship frequently test high later in their partnership as well. Behav Sci (Basel). 2020 Feb; 10(2): 48. Published online 2020 Feb 2. doi: 10.3390/bs10020048   Interview with these couples revealed high engagement in affective behavior that had continued past the initial stages of their romance.

lots of ways to light a fire

Football players at edge of field
Photo by Mike Benson

In our relationship, Jay and I found many ways to re-ignite the passion that first drew us together.  One of the best ways is also a lot of fun as well.  We go back to school together.  Well, not actually back to the classroom although some couples we know have done that very thing with great success. Jay and I join the myriads of alumni returning each fall to campuses all over the United States for football games.

In general folks may be divided on whether sporting events constitute a romantic venture.  I sit on the fence on this one because although I can thoroughly enjoy a local baseball game and can get really excited at the chance of seeing the Trail Blazers play, only a trip back to South Bend, Indiana, to see Notre Dame engage a foe counts as a truly romantic journey.  For Jay and me, it serves as an almost, literal re-enactment of the days when we first fell in love.

in the beginning

To enhance that feeling, we begin the day by parking on the St. Mary’s College

Tree-lined avenue
Photo by James Beeser

campus. When Jay and I were in college, Notre Dame students were all men and St. Mary’s was a college only for women. It still is although Notre Dame is now coed. By stationing our car at my old alma mater, we can walk down the broad avenue, lined with giant elm trees, which leads from the highway into the heart of the St. Mary’s campus, put our lives at risk by dashing between cars across Highway 190, and proceed down the leafy dirt road that winds past the priest’s cemetery, between

St. Mary's Lake at ND
Photo by Annie Maher

St. Mary and St. Joseph Lakes, and around the Lourdes Grotto and onto the campus itself. This path retraces the one we took whenever Jay came to pick me up at St. Mary’s for a game or another Notre Dame event.  Every step of the way holds memories for us.  We, of course, hold hands the whole way and cannot stop by kiss several times before we actually walk up the stone steps past the Grotto and into the mayhem that is the campus on a game day.

one day’s journey

We wind through the white-stone dormitories and classroom buildings and across the broad green lawns. Even the newest buildings on campus, ones we’ve never seem before imitate the style of the ones we know from our sojourn as students. Outside every dorm, a grill is going and the students, usually still guys, are selling hamburgers and sausages.  They taste even better than they did decades before because they drip with nostalgia. Slowly we make our way east toward the stadium, the same one in the same location.

Along with a knowing segment of the crowd, we veer off toward the library

Notre Dame library
Photo by Cong Wang

rather than continue on to the playing field. We mill around with a restless assortment of folks sporting the green and gold until we hear, “Here they come.” It’s the Notre Dame marching band.  The crowd splits apart, the band passes through. We reform behind them. They play. We sing. “Cheer, cheer, for Old Notre Dame. Ring out the echoes calling her name. Jay and I wrapped our arms around each other waist and let ourselves be swept along in the surge. At the stadium, the band marched down into a tunnel that led to the field and we turned toward the gate to our seats.

different, perhaps better

Notre Dame Stadium
Photo by Alex Mertz

The fact that we were going to sit together diverged from our school days when Jay would have headed off the Notre Dame student section and I would find my seat in the part of the visitor’s section reserved for “St. Mary’s Belles.”  In those days, following the game, finding each other again in the crowd took strategic planning, but now we held tightly together as we pushed through the gates and up the steps to our bleachers. As soon as the game began, it demanded our full attention, but we celebrated every good move of the team with a hug, happy that, though our seats weren’t as good as they’d been in our students, they were together.

We wanted the team to win, of course, we did.  And, unlike in our student days, which had been marred by five losing seasons in a row, Notre Dame usually came out the victor.  But win or lose, we were high on the excitement of reliving a time when life was just opening up for us, when we had found the special someone with whom we wanted to spend whole our life. On the walk

Country road
Photo by Alex Jones

back to St. Mary’s, on the ride back home and many days following our trek to South Bend, we once again ran on high octane (so to speak). The “real” us was still young and in love even if to the world we just looked like a couple of doting grandparents.

while in quarantine

Most of the time, we don’t have a whole weekend to devote to rekindling romance.  For those times, we try fun at home exercises like the ones on “For Better, Not For Worse” page of this website.  You might like them to.

Also, I’d love to hear your special ideas for rekindling romance.

“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
Maya Angelou


Can Marriages Really Last a Lifetime?

Wedding rings
My Parents’ Marriage

For the first half century of my life, the end of summer meant one last celebration before summer was officially over –  My parents’ lifetime promise to one another, their wedding anniversary, August 31. They never commemorated it by going out just the two of them, but always at home with their children. As we grew older, my siblings and I would take the planning for the evening into our own hands. My brother John, born twenty months after me, and I took the lead. Our dad was a great cook and John followed in his footsteps. My main task, with the help of over willing younger sibs, was baking and decorating the cake. Because this occasion had always been a family feast, I was a teenager before I wondered why Mom and Dad didn’t chose to celebrate their anniversary in some more romantic manner.

Just you and me

Jule kisses Jay on NYE With few exceptions, from our first anniversary to our fiftieth, my husband Jay and I marked the day of our lifetime promise, December 19, with “just-the-two-of-us” dates.  The first exception was our sixth, the day we brought our second child, our daughter Carrie, home four days following her birth.  That lovely evening was still a quiet, intimate affair, shared only with the baby and her eighteen-month old sister. I sat in a comfy old high-backed upholstered chair, nursing the baby. Jay light the fire in our tiny fireplace and popped the cork on a bottle of champagne. He gathered Kristy in is arms. We sipped our wine and gazed at the fire, content with our laid-back salute to our love, which at that moment seemed best embodied in the reality of the two little girls on our laps.

romantic getaways

Yet, the date continued to be one that over the decades we chose to “get Jule and Jay on cruiseaway” to celebrate.  Sometimes, while the children were very young, the get away was simply dinner at a restaurant with food and ambiance the children couldn’t appreciate. Many years, we extended that into staying overnight in one of Chicago’s better hotels and spending the whole shopping on our beloved Michigan Avenue before dinner and a show.

Jule and Jay in ParisAs the kids and our marriage matured, to celebrate our promises to each other we fled our hometown. We took a train to New Orleans for our tenth anniversary and flew to Paris for our twentieth. Then, we were tragically grounded on our thirtieth by the accidental death of two of our closest friends. A funeral is a sobering way to commemorate an anniversary, but it most definitely strengthened our gratitude that we still had each other and could hope for many more years together.

holding it all together

Jay and I had not consciously decided to observe our anniversaries differently Jule and Jay at breakfastthan my parents had celebrated theirs. We just did. Now, as another summer ends, I remember as I do every late August my parents’ marriage. I suspect that many newlyweds felt as we did when they make that initial lifetime promise.  We see our parents’ marriage as somehow staid and boring. Or maybe, as lifeless and hostile. As kids, maybe we witnessed arguments and saw tears. Young and idealistic, we vow that the romance will never die in their relationship. We will always love one another as completely as we do today and with the same amount of passion.

what exactly is marriage?

Easier said than done, right? Was my marriage really that different than that of my parents? Or do all marriages simply follow a similar pattern of beginning on high hopes that fade as the years go by and we could no more escape that fate than escape the wrinkles and grey hair than came with the ensuing years? Can any promise really last a lifetime?  I don’t have a universal answer to the second question, but I have pondered the first and my honest response is that our marriage has been a very different he experience than the one my parents lived.  At the same time, many aspects of it are not just similar but almost identical.

Marriage is a complex social contract. If we look at the history of marriage, we see that before the modern era, it was an agreement between families rather than between individuals. One of its central purposes was to bring stability to society at large, not to provide happiness or fulfillment of any kind to the couple. I want to avoid swirling down into a sociological/historical treatise here (something I’m easily drawn to). So, I’ll just say, that the marital contract of our time has evolved into two-person covenant, a promise of fidelity and love “until death do us part.”

a social contract

As we go about choosing a mate and promise ourselves to them for a lifetime, that’s the pledge that fills our consciousness. But, just outside our peripheral vision, the ancient social contract remains intact. When we say, “I do,” we are still vowing to contribute to the joining of two families in a manner that will contribute to the stability of society. That is a big task, made even larger because most young couples don’t realize just what they have promised until they are smack in the middle of it. Creating a stable base unit within the social order requires complex time management and careful financial management.

“Adulting,” as it is now popularly called is tough work for any individual human being. It becomes much more complex when two people must manage the multitude of grown-up responsibilities at the same time in the same place.  If this doesn’t sound romantic, it’s because it isn’t.  The couple, who has promised to “love and cherish,” wasn’t thinking of doing dishes and balancing check books. But nonetheless they’ll spend more time on those two activities than they ever will having sex.

My parents could not avoid the move from couple in love, swept along by the At Clinton Inaugurationforce of passion and romance, to married pair, properly feathering a nest – nor could Jay and I. In that way our marriage were similar. Like my parents and like Jay’s, we worked and budgeted our income, we bought and furnished houses, we beget and cared for children. We belonged to communities and made friends. Those everyday activities of the stable base unit of society repeated themselves from one marriage to the next in our families.

mission: intentional commitment

DePaul CentennialIn one important way, our marriage differed from theirs. From the beginning, we strove to keep our relationship intentional. Deep, abiding love for one other person above all others is not easy to maintain for a lifetime. You have to fight for it.  There are far too many reasons promises can slip away or even be snatched from you. Most of us develop other passions over the course of our life.  We love our children to the moon and back. A hobby like gardening or painting absorbs our souls and frees us from stress. Our profession prospers and demands almost constant attention. A volunteer activity desperately needs our help. Some one new and exciting becomes attracted to us.

Marriages, like that of my parents, lasted through the force of society’s will and expectation.  That is no longer true.  Divorce in no longer frowned upon, but considered the reasonable decision in many situations.  If a couple wants to stay in love, they have to choose it against all odds.  They can’t just assume that if it’s good, it will last on its own.  At lease, that’s what we have found. Like any living thing, love thrives on nurture and nurture takes time.

For us, that has meant both a commitment to spend time alone together and to spend time with other couples who value their lifetime promise as much as we value ours. Being alone together out of the house lifts our spirits. It’s fun to put space between ourselves and our responsibilities.  And when someone is your regular companion for having a good time, it’s easy to feel caring toward that person.  Add to that the intention of love – and voila! Romance – even at the garden store. The exercises on “For Better or Worse,” a page on this website address the subject of intentional relationships.

We enjoy a diverse group of friends, married and single, young and older, but CFM meetingthrough the years regularly gathering within our faith community with other couples committed to intentional marriage gives us a chance to talk about love and committed relationships, the ups and the downs in an honest way not available in casual conversations. These deeper dialogues help us work through some of the thorny issues of our own relationship and have served as an anchor for us over the years, especially when we were working our way through some tough times.

To those friends, if any of you are reading this, I say “Thank you so much.”

What do you think? Can the promises made on your wedding day last a lifetime? Why or why not? Let me know. 

  “Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
Henny Youngman

Addicted to Reading

Summers are for reading

Beach and books
Photo by Link Hoany

Over the past weeks, I’ve been waxing nostalgic about “what not to do during a pandemic.” I’ve compared the present confining situation to past summers of relative freedom. You have joined me in journeys as far away as the Ukraine.  Or simply sat beside me at a Chicago baseball game. There is, however, another time-honored summer tradition – the art of doing something that comes as close as possible to doing nothing at all.

Such pastimes remain happily intact. For the rest of the summer, I’ll share my thoughts about summer delights that the quarantine doesn’t limit. Some, in fact, are made easier by staying home.   Reading novels tops the list of my “do-almost-nothing” category of summer pleasures.

guilty indulgences

While for some folks reading falls in the “should” classification of activities, for me it is essentially a guilty indulgence. And

Child on bed with books
Photo by Annie Spratt

guilty pleasures are by far the best ones. I can thank my mother for turning reading into the apple in the Garden of Eden. Like many in her generation, my mother firmly believed that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Her busy life attested to this conviction. Spare time did not exist for my mother, the overwhelmed mother of five young children and a homemaker with very high standards as in “cleanliness is next to Godliness.

As the eldest child in that family and a girl to boot, my designated role in life, from before I learned to read, was “mother’s helper.” Mom shifted whatever chores she could to my shoulders and still remained as busy as a bee. Consequently, by the time I discovered the joy of reading, time to indulge that source of pleasure was decisively limited.

coveted hideaway

Summer reading took on an additional layer of guilt. When I was growing up, adults believed children  belonged outside whenever possible whatever the weather.  This principle held firmest over the summer no matter how high the temperature soared.  Then, as now, I hated heat. In those days before air-conditioning, the coolest place in our house in summer was the basement. Behind the big iron coal-burning furnace was stored  a decrepit chaise.

Our kitchen’s backstairs led both to door

Basement stairs
Photo by Charles Deluvio

to the yard and to the basement. This arrangement made it possible for me to appear to head outside when I was in reality creeping down the basement steps, book in hand, to curl up on the old chaise and read. For one whole summer, I didn’t need to take my own books to the basement because I found an old set of Zane Grey novels in the fruit cellar.  The highlight of that summer was the discovery that the phrase, “meanwhile back at the ranch,” seemed to have originated in those exciting narratives.

please don’t tell

I carried the sense that taking the time to curl up with a good novel was a frivolous waste of time into my own stint as a

Pride and Prejudice
Photo by Rawkkim

young mother and homemaker. In fact, I allowed myself to become addicted to the what many in the literary world might deem the worst possible genre of all – Historical Romance. http://Romances.

Not without reason, I shared with very few people my love of these drawing-room comedies with their fairy tale endings. I feared I would be scoffed at. After all, I was an educated woman with a degree in English. The same mother’s voice deep inside that told me I needed to restrict how much time I spent reading would also nag me to read “better” books. It suggested biography, history, or the classics.

As I had no free time until evening, I read, as many do, just before falling asleep at night.  By that time, I had prepared and cleaned up after a meal for six.  I had also bathed, read to, and tucked four children of various ages into bed. There was probably laundry to fold that I was ignoring. My energy level simply wasn’t up to “good literature.” So, I sought escape into this lesser genre.

What is a “good” book?

But was it somehow unworthy of my time and attention? Novels were not then, and are not now, the only thing I read. I also read to become informed. When I read non-fiction, I prefer short-form articles in magazines and journals. I know that many people become completely engrossed by topics like religion, travel, politics, business, and science and are more than happy to delve into book-length discussions of their favorite subjects.  That’s not me.

Book and cup of tea
Photo by Negin Mrd

Narrative literature, whether non-fiction or fiction, informs a different dimension of my self. Reading to gain information primarily involves my intellect. But when I delve into a memoir or a novel, they engross my psyche and my emotions.

Their stories reveal truths about the human condition that help me make sense of my own life. I follow the characters as they learn life lessons and apply them to my own experience. When good things happen for a character to whom I am drawn, I feel encouraged because I identify with them. None of this happens at an analytical level. I could, I suppose, if I were to write an essay about the experience analyze what it is I learned in reading a particular book or how it changed my perspective. As I read, however, it simply happens.  I don’t think about it while reading.

back to the present

It’s fair to ask if a Historical Romance novel could possibly be vivid and evocative enough to provide the enlightenment, I

Flowers and book
Photo by Brigitte Tohm

claim for them. Can these stories, which inevitably end “happily-ever-after,” deliver a moral or a message? More to the point, since romances captivated me in my twenties but have lost their luster for me in my elder years, what were the life lessons, the love lessons they offered me then?

Observing relationships within families and between men and women in an era and in a place vastly different than my own offered me a distance, an objectivity by which I could discern what worked and what didn’t in intimate relationships of any period, including my own. Not every novel laying claim to the genre, “Historical Romance,” offered me a vivid enough identification with its characters and their challenges and triumphs to pull off such discernment. On many occasions I bought or borrowed a book, began to read it, and quickly laid it aside.

For a narrative to hold my interest, the world the author built had to be completely valid. The details of description needed to portray a picture as authentic as a painting executed in the early 19th century. That included how articles of clothing were depicted. The characters’ speech, its rhythm and vocabulary, had to conform to ways people spoke at that time. This was especially true in what they thought and how much of what they thought they felt comfortable expressing and to whom.  If these, and any number of other details, reflected a late 20th century mindset, I immediately lost interest in the narrative. It had nothing to teach me.

through an alternative lens

Pulling me totally into their world and out of my own was the

Woman on bed w books
Photo by Lacie Slezak

only way the author could evoke deep sentiments. At that level of complexity the tale roused in me a profund emotional response. This response to altered my perceptions. My own relationships were easier to examine through the lens of an alternative cosmos. The characters modeled ways of accepting unexpected change and dealing with loss. They showed determination in the pursuit of goals and discrimination in the maintenance if friendship. Wealth and the temptation of greed confronted them.  Poverty and war were survived. Characters made tough choices and overcame adversity.  In other words, their experiences mirrored many of my own, but at a distance that made absorbing the lessons somewhat easier.  Yet, through those, I moved more solidly into adulthood.

Not all the lessons were personal. When a particular society is under the microscope of a compelling narrative that examines the familial and intimate relationships within that society, broader issues about the culture and its social mores become apparent.  I could see and yearn for some of the benefits of living in what might have been described as a “more civilized” time, but I could also see the ugliness beneath the surface. It made me both appreciate the improvements of living in the 20th century but also ask what troubled depths lay hidden in my culture. And they were myriad.

hindsight – more powerful than foresight

How do I know this?  Through hindsight. Awareness of the process was unconscious at the time.  While reading, I simply escaped – away from doing dishes, changing diapers, and folding laundry into luxurious salons and ballrooms. But, without fully realizing it, I returned knowing more about myself.

Moscow Mule and books
Photo by Shangyou Shi

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx

What is your favorite kind of book? Or do you have another guilty summer pleasure?

Journey to Another Time

Mackinac Bridge
Any time but this one

Life can be a grind. That has always been the case, but it’s even more true as the entire world lives through a pandemic. At a time like this, simply fleeing the boundaries of our own place may not feel like enough of a respite. Why not, we might ask ourselves, abscond to another time?

Somewhere in Time PosterThe protagonists of such books as Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson( ),which may ring more bells for you as the film, Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, and The Lake House by David Auburn ( Remember Keanna Reeves and Sandra Bullock?) actually break the time barrier.

the real brigadoon

This is what my family and I did for fifteen summers. Well, we didn’t leave the twentieth century.  We vacationed on Mackinac Island. At the point where the two peninsula that make up the state of Michigan meet, sits a 4.5-acre island, which rises steeply on all sides to a 900-foot

Mackinac Island
Photo by Aaron Burden

pinnacle. It is also entirely car-free, and has been since 1898 — only horses and bicycles are allowed, giving the place a laid-back vibe. And for me, living without gas-engine traffic of any kind, turned my stay on Mackinac into a trip to another time. It slowed everything down.

The island can only be reached by boat. For my family that meant taking the ferry that ran almost continuously during the days and evenings. A valet drove our minivan to storage while we wheeled our bikes and dragged our suitcases aboard. Also, loaded for us were the boxes of groceries we had purchased in Mackinac City. Island groceries were expensive and sparse. Settled aboard, I climbed to the third deck and stood at the bow. As the boat sped across the strait the cool north winds played havoc with my hair and my spirits lifted. I squinted my eyes to catch a minuscule glimpse of Gallery House, the cottage that would be our home for the next three weeks. And then the ferry rounded the island and the harbor jam-packed with sailboats appeared. Behind them white-frame buildings, set in higher and higher rows, formed a gleaming welcome on three sides.Harbor with sailboats

brave old world

From the moment I wheeled my bike down the ramp, I was forced to accept that the blueprint for how I usually planned my days could not structure my next three weeks.  Rather, I literally lived the pace of another time, a time before my grandmothers had been born.

Just to start, the ‘cottage’ (on Mackinac Island even very grand mansions are referred to as “cottages.”) where we would be living was near the top of the island and a couple miles beyond the harbor town. Getting our suitcases and groceries to the house meant hiring a horse drawn wagon. I stood guard over our belongings and our kids while Jay headed to the street to hail a wagon driver.  If we were lucky, it didn’t take too long.  But it always seemed to take long enough for the children to spot the ice-cream vendor. Mackinac like many other American tourist destination is “famous” for its fudge, but it’s extremely creamy ice-cream is every bit as delicious.

a friend of a friend is a friend indeed

The first year we arrived we had had no idea what to expect in terms of our accommodations.  One of Jay’s business associates, Len’s wife worked with a woman who had recently inherited her uncle’s place on the island. She rented it out for most of the summer. Len and his wife Sue couldn’t afford the rent on their own and asked if we’d consider sharing. We decided to give it a chance.

From the directions, I originally thought we’d be staying close to the town. Sue said to let the lorry driver know we were staying at the Gallery House in the Annex.  He would know where that was. I pictured a house somehow attached to one of the many art galleries in town.  But once we were all seated on the benches at the front of the wagon, our horses clip-clopped right past all the Front Street buildings and turned to go up the hill.  They trotted past a beautiful golf course. As we arrived at the entrance to the Grand Hotel with its 660-foot porch, a guard stopped us.  The driver explained we were on our way to the Gallery House and the guard waved us through.  Jay and I looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders.  This was interesting.Grand Hotel Mackinac Island

beyond grandeur

The kids loved the hotel and spotted its swimming pool.  I disappointed them. “No, we’re not staying here.” I didn’t know at that point that passes to the hotel pool came with our cottage. Just past the porch of the hotel, the road rose steeply. To the left a sheer drop to Lake Huron far below and on the left stately gleaming white Victorian mansions with wide-sweeping verandas sat on spacious lawns – the cottages of the West Bluff, summer homes of wealthy Detroit and Chicago families. When we turned away from the bluff, we could see that each cottage had not a garage, but a stable and the horsey smell that had assaulted our nostrils the minute we stepped off the ferry became stronger yet. Another left turn took us down a gravel road between more lovely homes, though not as grand as those on the West Bluff. Many of these were half-hidden by tall oaks. Then the driver swung the wagon to the right once more and stopped.

In the middle of an enormous expanse of deep green grass stood a yellow clapboard house. Its proportions were more modest than those of most of the abodes we had gone by, but its lines were charming. A screened-in porch, scattered with wicker furniture, ran around three sides of the house. Rising narrowly from the porch roof, four deep eaves defined the second story. “Here you are,” the driver said. “The Gallery House on MackinacHouse.”

The children scrambled down from the wagon and ran across the lawn. As Jay, the driver and I unloaded box after suitcase after bag onto the ground, I could hear the sound of the children’s footsteps pounding on wooden floor boards. Shouts of, “This one’s mine,” alert me to bedroom claims. I felt like my whole body was smiling. I stopped unloading and gave Jay a hug. “Looks like we’re home,” I said.

time for everything

Our days fell into a restorative rhythm. Family members rose anytime they wished in the mornings and fetched their own breakfast from the large pantry just off the kitchen. Always a lark, I was the first one out of bed, settled happily on the front porch with a book and a cup of coffee at least an hour before the stairs creaked with the sounds of anyone else’s footsteps. Jay alternated between sleeping through breakfast and rising quite early to meet friends at the Grand Hotel golf course for an early game. Having discovered the passes to the swimming pool, the kids most often biked down to the hotel in the morning. Sometimes, however, they biked into town to the stables to rent horses to ride the back roads of the island. I spread my time out over biking, shopping and exploring the museums.

By ordinance, no Mackinac restaurants or shops could be franchises of chains, so eating out was a pleasurable adventure.  Whether we ate lunch or dinner at the cottage or at one of the dozens of “eating places,” as Kristy had called restaurants since toddler days, depended on whether the fleet was in or not.

yo ho ho

The three weeks, which we spent on Mackinac each summer, coincided

Spinnackers flying
Photo by

with the “Mac”. “The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac … is one of the world’s largest annual offshore races, drawing top-notch sailing talent from around America and the world. Known as ‘The Mac’ to everyone in the region, the 333-statute mile (289 nautical mile) the race typically starts each July just off Chicago’s Navy Pier and finishes at Mackinac Island, Michigan.” ( {The race was called off this year for the first time in one hundred years.  The last time it was called off was 1920 due to pressures of World War I.)

It was a glorious time to be on the island. The last of the race, we gathered in town in front of the yacht club tent, where the race was

being monitored. Watching the boats come flying in for the final stretch of the race was heart-thumping. Almost always, the yachts unfurled

their spinnakers, the large three-cornered sail, set forward of the mainsail, bulging and full, running before the wind as they passed under the Mackinac Bridge. The harbor filled with boat after boat. Hundreds of weary, but elated, sailors filled the streets and taverns of the town. Walking down Front Street was a stroll through the dioramas of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

Guys in a bar
Photo by Emery Meyer

Most decisively it was a time to eat “at home.” We saved our dinners out for the quieter days when the sailors took their boats to other harbors.

nothing lasts forever

When our three weeks on the island came to an end, we packed reluctantly. Thoroughly accustomed to “island time,” we envied the wealthy families for whom this was a summer-long experience. We never adjusted easily to being home again.  The sounds and pace of the twentieth century are jarring when encountered overnight. We did, of course, acclimate to automobile traffic, alarm clocks, and work timetables. We could fine-tune our sensibilities by comforting ourselves with the promise that next summer would come.  And next summer would bring a return to another time.

If you could travel to any time you chose, when would it be?

Time travel
Photo by Andy Beales

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
Steven Moffat

Essential Escapes

Photo by Falco Negenman
no way out

“I’m out of here,” resounds through our brain and often slips off our tongue when life appears to present us with nothing but disappointment, boredom, fatigue, malfunction, inconvenience, frustration, disenchantment, letdowns, and defeat.

The global pandemic, however, gives no “out of here” to go to. The only possible escape the common wisdom offers is “Stay Home.” Not easy advice to follow when it was cold, rainy and gloomy out, this phrase has reached anathema status with the advent of summer. Citizens have grouped themselves into two camps.  The ones who thumb their noses at the restriction and dive right into the nearest pool. The rest who sit at home watching the frolicking on TV  crying, “How dare they?”

An unfounded yearning for “better days” sweeps me into a chimera of nostalgia. Historic events of the 1960s spun society off its axis. Assassinations, protests, and riots left personal trauma and political disruption in their wake. And yet, for me, memories of that decade most often conjure visions of beaches.

sky, water, sand, wind

Wherever I lived, Lake Michigan’s vast sand beaches and rolling surf were never far away. I grew up, went to college, and raised my own family within easy reach of her shores. From May through September, that confluence of sand and surf called me like a siren’s song whenever I yearned  to “get away from it all.”

Lightening at sea
Photo by Jeremy Bishop

Before the modern era, beaches embodied not respite but menace. From antiquity until the middle of the 18th century, the oceans and great lakes were a source of food. From their shores journeys began and ended. Not every voyager returned. Classic and medieval narratives abound with tales of the sea as a mysterious and dangerous realm.  The beach epitomized the edge of the unknown. Far from being places of retreat and recreation beaches roused dread and apprehension in human imagination. http://,

inventing the beach

The Industrial Revolution, the period from 1740 to 1860 transformed largely rural, agrarian societies in Europe and America into industrialized, urban ones. It transformed the seashore as well. As factories multiplied, cities and towns became increasingly louder, dirtier, and a clear threat to health. Some health professionals believed that fresh air, exercise and sea bathing worked as a curative counterpoint to the ravages of the urban environment. The wealthy began to flock to the beaches. Seaside resorts sprung up one after another.

The Romantic writers and artists at the turn of the 19th century added to the allure of the beach. They proclaimed that the seashore was “site of transformative experience.” The beach’s pristine emptiness and its lack of history made it the perfect escape from the drudgery of modern life. It existedVictorians at seaside at the “’pleasure periphery,’ a place beyond the boundaries of quotidian life.”( John Gillis, The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History

the beach party movie

In the United States in the 1960s a unique twist on the beach escape splashed upon our shores. Adolescents and young adults claimed the beach in increasing numbers. At the beach, kids escaped much more than the drudgery of everyday life. They also took flight from  a culture in turmoil and left behind an older generation that couldn’t be trusted. The Romantic poets had sung the wonders of seaside enlightenment in the 19th century. The 20th century beach revolution found expression in quite a different form. The “Beach Party Movie” was born and remains with us today as witness to escapism at its best.

The stories depicted in those films were set far from Lake Michigan, but the experiences of the characters mirrored to some extent the gatherings along the dune beaches in Indiana and Michigan so dear to my nostalgic heart.

Ocean surfers
Photo by Mauro Paillex

Unlike Romantic poets and painters, Beach Party movie producers had no ambition to create great art. The movies’ characters were undeveloped. Their plots were wafer thin, almost cartoonish. In the early 21st century, they were often recalled as tokens of a more innocent past.  That past wasn’t innocent at all.  It is, however, the movie’s blatant indifference to the real issues of the 1960s that contributed most powerfully to their success. These movies chronicle a particularly vibrant moment in American popular culture, the explosion of rock ‘n roll and the rise of adolescence. They ignore everything else — true narratives of the “pleasure periphery.”

never grow old

Plots revolve around dancing, music, surfing, drag racing, custom cars, and alcohol with no hint of social consciousness. Music dominates dialogue. The movies are filled both with plot-connected songs and unrelated performances by artists of the time. Teens and college kids move in a world in which they are the prime movers. Parents and other authority figures are “off stage” if mentioned at all.

With all their focus on frolic and fun, they necessarily leave out any reference to the problems plaguing the world outside the beach. Civil rights riots, political assassinations and the Vietnam War are disregarded. The big problem of every movie is a boy-meets-girl drama. The ending is always happy.

While I was in college, my escapes to the beach had a beach-party movie flavor to them.  St. Mary’s College students had strict curfews.  You could never just take off for the whole day. If you had left after lunch, you had to sign back in by five o’clock.  You could then sign out again for an evening. This policy, the nuns in the administration believed, would keep us from straying too far away.  It did not keep us from the beaches.  Fellows from Notre Dame regularly took turns doing the “beach run.” That meant around four in the afternoon, one or two of the guys would pack his car with as many girls as it could hold. The dangerously crowded vehicle then raced at breakneck speed from the Michigan dunes back to St. Mary’s College. The girls piled out, rushed into the dorm reception room, signed in and signed out again.  We then piled back in the car for another harrowing ride back to the beach.

Fire at beach
Photo by Marcus Woodbridge

In retrospect, it sounds crazy, but it was worth it. Those days truly reinvigorated me. For one day I could live on the edge, away from my grinding work in the dorm dining room and the draining demands of my studies. I soaked up the sun, emerged myself in the cool lake waters, and built childish sandcastles.  The guys provided the food and drink and the transistor radios for playing our favorite music. I had no reason to envy Annette Funicello. I learned an important Love Lesson – even the romance that lasts only one summer leaves you richer for the experience.

surviving the vagaries of time
Riot and fire
Photo by Florian Olivo

The beach calls to me again as Covid-19 continues to claim more and more lives, disrupting more and more families and as American cities burn to protest police violence.  A day at the “pleasure periphery” might very well have some of its storied curative power.

But, for now, the beaches are closed. I’ll have to content myself with reading the book my sister Cheryl lent me, Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton.

Are you yearning to get away right now? If you could do so, where would it be? I’d love to hear your stories of past escapes and present dreams.

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Photo by Joel DeMott

At the beach, life is different. Time doesn’t move hour to hour but mood to moment. We live by the currents, plan by the tides and follow the sun. Sandy Gingras