Tuesday, November 07, 2017


WWW. WEDNESDAY asks three questions to prompt you to speak bookishly. To participate, and to see how other book lovers responded, click here

1. What are you currently reading? A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie. Everyone in the small English town of Chipping Cleghorn reads the ads in The Gazette. Amid "help wanted's" and "dachshunds for sale" notices is one that reads, "A murder is announcd and will take place on Friday, October 29, at Little Paddocks at 6:30 PM ..." The woman who lives at "Little Paddocks" didn't place the ad, and that's only the first mysterious thing to happen. What appears at first to be a prank and a game turns into a real murder. Thank goodness Miss Jane Marple just so happens to be there. 

In addition to the sleepy British charm is the mystery of this paperback. Published in 1991, it was on the shelf at the Charlestown Branch of the Boston Public Library until June 8, 1995, when it was "withdrawn for discard." How did it make its way to a library book sale in a suburb of Chicago? How many hands held it before me? I simply love the romance of used books.  

2. What did you recently finish reading?  Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Lawson.  There is so much pain on the pages of this book. Joe and Rose Kennedy's third child and first daughter was "different." In the first half of the 20th century, America wasn't kind, understanding or accepting of children with learning disabilities. There was no differentiation between mentally challenged and mentally ill. The stigma the families of these children faced was unfair and bruising.

Rosie faced special challenges. Her eight siblings were exceptional. Legendary. Among her brothers and sisters were a marchioness, an activist, an ambassador, a war hero, two Senators and a President. Yet Rosemary couldn't cut her own meat. While she was physically and mentally challenged, she was not unaware. She knew her siblings loved her and she loved them -- one at a time -- but her competitive and gifted family overwhelmed her. Her frustration at being outflanked by her siblings gave way to rage. These fits made it impossible to keep her at home, yet, despite all their money and power, the Kennedys couldn't find a school to educate and care for her. They refused to institutionalize her, because in those dark days, institutions weren't hospitals, they were warehouses that kept patients alive, but little more. This led her father to make a tragic, irreversible decision about his oldest, prettiest daughter.

I'm glad this book finally told her story. For Rosemary Kennedy inspired her brothers and those brothers championed the landmark legislation that made life better for other families with special children. When one of the country's most famous families admitted they had a mentally challenged sister, it helped remove much of the stigma that undeniably existed in America at that time. Without Rosemary, her sister Eunice would not have been as furiously dedicated to making The Special Olympics the internationally influential organization it is today. Rosemary is a historic figure not because of anything specific she accomplished, but because of how much she was loved. That was powerful and enormously moving. (With Emma Stone slated to play her in the upcoming movie, Rosemary's story will reach even more of us.)

This one will stay with me for a long time.

3.  What will you read next? Maybe another mystery? Or a biography

The Napoleon and Ollie Show

I saw Napoleon and his "mom" on their usual street corner. It was after dark and about 40ยบ. She was wearing a couple layers of t-shirts under her hoodie and they were both sitting on blankets to protect them from the cold cement. Napoleon, however, was styling. Decked out in a happening little rust colored vest with a fleece collar. From a distance, he looked like puppy.

I found out his vest was originally bought for a chihuahua, who promptly outgrew it and so the dog owner gave it to Napoleon, who loves it. Or at least didn't resist it and didn't let it restrict his motion. That's one of the best things about my involvement with Napoleon and his humans: seeing how generous my fellow Chicagoans can be. Mom was eating pizza from a Giordano's box -- clearly someone had shared their leftovers with her. And Napoleon's food, both canned and kibble, was plentiful.

While we were talking, a young woman came by with Ollie, a lively dog with a curly tail (a shiba inu?). He and Napoleon are good pals, and they were delightful together. Napoleon dropped to his back and wriggled on the sidewalk while Ollie nuzzled his tummy. Then he let Ollie sniff his butt -- but only for a Napoleon-prescribed period of time. Then he turned and gave his canine companion a swift slap on the nose. This commenced a brief interlude of rough house, interrupted when Ollie caught sight of Napoleon's food dish and decided cat food looked good to him. His owner intervened.

She also gave Napoleon a new shirt, a gift from Ollie. It's a tiny dog onesie that says, "I love my mom," and it's decorated with a pawprint. It delighted Napoleon's mom. "Get! Out!" she laughed in delight. I have learned that this is a happy part of her day: chatting with other women, purely as a pet mom. Not as a homeless woman.

Even though Napoleon virtually ignored me, I'm glad I got to see this performance of the Napoleon and Ollie Show. For it does look like the curtain will be coming down soon. Caleb, his wife and Napoleon expect to be on a bus to Cleveland tomorrow or Thursday. They are waiting for a form, duly signed by a judge, to come back to the Chicago Legal Clinic.

Getting Caleb's long-ago, teenage shoplifting conviction expunged from his record has turned out to be free and surprisingly easy -- once he learned how to do it. I'm proud that I was able to put him in touch with a lawyer who was able to handle to paperwork so now he can go on and get a job.

This job as a window washer means everything to Caleb and his little family. Those paychecks will make it possible for them to give up their tent and sleep indoors, where it's dry and warm. It will give them access to running water, so his wife can groom regularly. Then she can apply to pass the boards in Ohio and resume her career as a licensed hairstylist. Their goal is to begin 2018 in a furnished apartment.

"I have been talking to other people in our situation," she told me last night. "There are so many obstacles to a fresh start!" She was referring to how Caleb had gotten the window washing job, completed his internship, arranged for his union dues, and then at the last moment, during the routine background check, his minor conviction came back to haunt him. His prospective boss, who really believes in this young man, will still give Caleb the job ... as long as the conviction is expunged from his record.

"If it wasn't for your help, we might have given up."

Hearing that meant the world to me.