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Friday, February 23, 2024

February Editor’s Notes


Above / The antique plow atop the Farmers Monument at the entrance to the Riverwalk just west of Eagle Street always has provided a deep sense of connection to rural heritage here and there. 

It’s February already! And again we’re reminded that the shortest month of the year seems packed with the most things to remember.

For starters, Valentine’s Day always was a big deal at my home growing up in Muncie, Ind.—my folks were married on Feb. 14, 1947, while my dad was still at Purdue.

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One Valentine’s Day after it had snowed during the night, my dad went outside early in the morning to pick up the newspaper and stomped a huge heart shape in the front yard. Already dressed for school, I had parked myself in a living room chair eager to see my mother’s reaction. I could hardly wait for her to awaken, walk down the long hallway toward the living room and begin her daily routine of opening the drapes. I’ll always remember my mother’s joy when she looked out their picture window that sunny morning. It’s the simple things that count.

Heartfelt memories

During Black History Month as well as every day, I’m remembering one of my dad’s best friends, Harvey Thomas, DDS. Dr. Thomas was my dentist until I was 33. No matter where I had lived as a young adult, at least twice a year, visits to see my parents included a dental check-up. For more than 25 years, Doc Thomas kept me captive in his dental chair with my eyes wide open as he always enlightened me with his passion to help local youth initiatives as I observed his dedicated work ethic. Doc’s the one who told me that dental work is less painful when you keep your eyes open. Years later he explained that keeping my eyes open was a way for him to monitor any pain I might be feeling if I flinched. He strived to be painless. Doc’s wife, Pennie, stole the show when she sang at our wedding reception in 1978. Oh! The memories!

Gratitude goes both ways

When January was slow and many planned community events were canceled, I parked our shredder next to my desk, and one by one, I used free time to fill plastic bags with heartfelt memories that were taking up space in piles and files. Among my stash of saved mail, I found a hand-written note from former columnist Jack Morrissey that I couldn’t bear to shred. Jack had written “Kid’s Korner with a “Teen’s Taste” about his “foodie” experiences beginning in 8th grade after he’d served as a judge at Ribfest 2012.

Quite by happenstance, I ran into Jack’s mother, Mary, on Jan. 27. I mentioned finding Jack’s note and that readers sometimes wonder whatever happened to that “kid who wrote about food?” Mary said Jack’s now a senior at Western Michigan University with a major is business and a minor in marketing.

I asked what she thought of our including Jack’s note in this month’s commentary. With Mary’s enthusiastic encouragement, here goes:

“I am very grateful for the past five years I was able to write for Positively Naperville. It truly helped me develop into the young man I am today. What started out as what would look good on my resume turned quickly into being something I looked forward to do and have people read and experience through my columns. I cannot thank you enough.—From, Jack.”

‘With Love, Gertrude’

The Gertrude and Paul Mitchell clan is pictured in the living room of their farmhouse before their eldest child, Aunt Marjorie, (back row center) was married in 1944. My mother is sitting in the center next to Grandpa Mitchell.

More memories were awakened when I opened a 385-page book on the shelf titled, “With Love, Gertrude,” a collection of hand-written letters my grandmother had sent to her parents in Union, Illinois, from 1931 to 1940 during the Depression.

In 2002, my Aunt Ruthie (the youngest girl in the photo) lovingly bound the letters together with dozens of family photos taken on the farm.

My grandmother’s letters describe a time when their farmhouse in Battle Ground, Ind., had no electricity, plumbing or central heat. My grandmother had managed the farm while my grandfather traveled as an agricultural economist for Purdue.

Nearly every letter begins “Dear Folks” and wraps up with a preoccupation to get it to the mailbox in time for that day’s pick up. She talks about the joys and challenges of motherhood, including the hardships when ailments were passed from one child to the next—measles, whooping cough and stomach viruses. She describes the tragic day when her 3-year-old daughter, Jesse, died of whooping cough, six weeks after her youngest of nine children, my Uncle Phil (front row, enter, in the photo), was born.

In this day and age when our children and friends send us instant messages and emails that we often delete, when we scroll files of digital photos rather than page through albums of printed ones, reopening “With Love, Gertrude” was a much-needed pleasure. And rediscovering my grandmother’s stories that illuminate mundane activities with universal appeal and humor, truly warmed my heart on a cold winter’s day.

Thanks for reading!

Stephanie Penick, PN Publisher

One more thing…

Back before my grandparents’ farmhouse had indoor plumbing in the mid-1950s, my grandmother boiled big kettles of water in order to do dishes. My treasured visits included helping Grandma Mitchell with her many other chores, too.


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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.


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