During Deep Freeze 2019, I took inventory of my columns from the past calendar year — for submission to the Illinois Press Association’s Best of the Press Contest. I pulled all 53 (some years there’s an extra Wednesday) then arranged them in categories to check the distribution:
1 – Catholic Church (the scope of the sex abuse scandal widened, a rough year to be Catholic)
3 – Personal tributes (friends who got married, one in memoriam, and one who I hope will live forever)
3 – The documentary series, “America to Me” (I’m surprised it was only three)
4 – Gun violence/regulation (a recurring theme for years and always timely, such as the upcoming one-year anniversary of Parkland, Florida, the new Valentine’s Day massacre)
5 – Twins (I get more comments about my grandson columns than any other, including from my grandsons, now that they know I’m writing about them)
5 – Reprints of past columns (which generated more comments than I expected)
5 – Poetic/philosophical/personal reflections (soul stuff)
8 – National politics (leading up to the mid-term election of all mid-term elections)
29 – Strictly local
If you’re doing the math, that adds up to more than 53, but some fall into more than one category. Overall, the distribution seemed about right. My goal is to be “mostly” local, but I like having the freedom to range a bit.
Looking through the local columns, I wondered what people in the future, who stumble across them in the smoking rubble of the former United States of America, might think about the village they depict.
The second column of 2018, for instance, “Surviving the deep freeze,” was written after 12 straight days in late December/early January when “temperatures never got within shouting distance of 20 degrees, and most of the time were mired in single digits, one side or the other of dreaded zero.” That pales in comparison to -20 over three days the week before last, but 12 consecutive days set a record.
I wrote about Oak Park’s Fair Housing history, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1968 ordinance (“Why I’m proud to be from Oak Park,” May 16); Harriette and Mac Robinet’s experience as Fair Housing-era pioneers and their memories of the day King was killed (“From many flags, one people,” April 4); Village Manager Association history as the VMA officially dissolved after 66 years (“The VMA legacy we can’t afford to lose,” June 20), and a reminiscence of Halloween in Oak Park in the year 2000 (“Trick-or-treating when you’re older,” Oct. 31).
I covered Sergio Quiano’s funeral (“Upholding the covenant of community,” March 7), attended by a diverse array of local residents who gathered at St. Edmund Church to celebrate the life of a modest, gentle man who was murdered in his apartment. The crime may never be solved, but there is no mystery about whether his life had meaning because so many testified to his impact on their lives.
Parishioners and non-parishioners alike drew close Saturday morning to reenact an ancient ritual, one that defies death, defies even murder — that says violence may steal a life, but it cannot steal a life’s meaning. It is the covenant of community: We promise to be a witness to each other because everyone’s life has value. … Because, at our best, we hold one another in our hearts.
In the future, people can read about middle-school students (“Helping us believe again,” April 25) who organized a march and led a rally in Scoville Park against mass killings caused by too-easy access to firearms, which often target schoolkids, such as the 13 (plus four staff) killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida two months earlier.
They have changed the conversation. Focused it. Liberated it. They’re saying things adults stopped saying because we stopped believing change was possible. These kids stepped up and helped us believe again. They’re not going away and neither are we.
I also wrote a column urging all of youth to “Never stop calling B.S.” on our “pathetically weak” elected officials who block gun regulation (Feb. 28).
Or they can read about Shawn “Mr. Weekend” Weakliss’ surprise party at Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor (“A community birthday bash for Shawn,” May 30):
This is a story about a community where a local movie-house ticket-taker can turn into a celebrity. … It’s about a movie-house [Lake Theatre] that patrons from three communities bond with, inspiring enough good memories to bring them out on a rainy Monday night to honor someone they only interact with for a few seconds — but over and over again, spanning an entire childhood. And it’s about living in a digital era when a do-gooder’s impulse is magnified and summons over 100 people to give one good guy a birthday he’ll never forget. Ultimately, it’s about being, and staying, connected. … One boundary-less, big-hearted community.
Future inhabitants might read about high school students turning the sidewalk outside the main entrance into a canvas (“Chalk up another graduating class at OPRF,” June 6) as a special sendoff for graduating seniors on the last day of classes, wishing them well on their journeys into adulthood and reminding them their time here was worthwhile.
I listed them in my own order, ending with my favorite: “Growing up is a beautiful experience.” It is, don’t you agree? And if departing grads feel that way, we’ve done our job.
Or a column about graduates from the OPRF class of 1968, who came back to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the journey that began here (“Remembering, reconnecting and saying thanks,” Oct. 17). And they can read about what a good place Oak Park was to wander and wax poetic (“Jogging on Pleasant Street,” Aug. 15).
A year’s worth of columns forms a virtual time capsule of what life was like in our tri-village community — as in the song by Michael Smith, where “the morning is heavy with one more beginning … when all of our lives were entwined to begin with, here in Spoon River.” And most of these columns are entwined as well. They chronicle and celebrate community, finding it at times in the most unusual places, here in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.
Is it the whole picture? Not by a longshot. Just a snapshot.
Not the whole thing but enough, I hope, to do us justice.