In the middle of summer on the beautiful campus of Dominican University in Oak Park, Ill., there was a lot of talk of icebergs. But it wasn’t because people wanted to cool off – it was because more than 300 people from 18 countries had gathered for the 17th Biennial International Hemingway Society Conference (co-hosted by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, an American Writers Museum affiliate) to celebrate the work of one of America’s greatest authors known for the hidden depth of his works.
My introduction to Laura Ingalls Wilder was a used copy of The Long Winter when I was seven or eight years old. I immediately fell in love with the Ingalls family story of pioneer life in the late 1800s. More than 20 years later, that book is a bit more worn, and I proudly consider LIW one of my favorite authors. Like millions of fans around the world, I’ve repeatedly read all of Wilder’s Little House books and seen the TV series. So why does a story about a family traveling west in a covered wagon resonate so much nearly 60 years after Wilder’s death?
Some of my earliest memories were formed at St. Michael the Archangel Church on the River Road on the east bank of the Mississippi River in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The Gothic red brick building seemed monstrous to me as a child—the inside dark, solemn, and intimidating. I recall lighting candles in the grotto for loved ones I’d lost, burying relatives in the centuries-old cemetery, and frequently dipping my fingers in the Holy Water.
So when I walked into the church this past December, this time for a story, all my memories came rushing back to me with the smell of candlewax and old carpet, and the spirits of my grandparents, who were members for decades. It’s the smell of my youth, and the smell of history.
My earliest memory of listening to Frank Sinatra was around age 11 or 12, when I came across my dad’s double disc album, A Man and His Music. Perhaps because I had grown up with the sounds of one of his devotees, Harry Connick, Jr., thanks to my mom, it didn’t take me long to fall under the spell of Sinatra. Just a short time later, in May of 1998, the world lost The Voice, but I had entered a whole new world.
Today, we celebrate what would have been Sinatra’s 100 birthday. Throughout the year, musical artists and museums have been paying tribute, including a major Grammy concert featuring a score of today’s top artists singing Frank’s hits. But in my world, every day is Sinatra’s birthday. I am not exaggerating when I say that I probably listen to at least one song by Ol’ Blue Eyes daily, whether on vinyl, Spotify, or from my digital collection, which at current count is at 133 songs. I’m a sucker for all things Sinatra – I’ve read more biographies than I count (see a list below for some of my favorites), I take Sinatra selfies when I come across pictures of him at restaurants or bars, request DJs to play him at weddings, and each home I’ve lived in since high school has featured multiple pieces of Sinatra art, from posters and prints to my own pieces.
In early October, I visited Boston for a few days to explore a city I have long admired but have only been to once before. This former Midwest and D.C. gal was all about diving headfirst into the history and arts and culture of one of our nation’s first cities, and I made the most of it.
Established in 1630, Boston is probably most well known for its role in the American Revolution, its 2.5-mile Freedom Trail hosting 16 historic sites such as the Old North Church, the Paul Revere House, and the site of the Boston Massacre. Also included on the Trail is the Old Corner Bookstore, once an apothecary and home to the Puritan dissident Anne Hutchinson, and also the oldest commercial building in Boston, according to theFreedom Trail Foundation.