Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The earlier, evocative shots of the dining room at "The MIlk Pail" restaurant in East Dundee, IL, were the prelude to visiting this place as a kid with my brother(s):
Santa's Village 1
OK, so this guy looks like the zombie snowman ninja of your nightmares, but in a friendly way:
Santa's Village 2
Santa's Village 3
...and the gate into the true magic kingdom of my childhood:
Santa's Village 4
Milk Pail 10
I can't quite explain why this is important, but it is. Suffice it to say this restaurant, "The Milk Pail," was where the Gill kids' great-aunts, Chloa and Georgia, took us before we entered the wonderland that was "Santa's Village." Between the Walnut Room at Marshall Field's in downtown Chicago, and "The Milk Pail," my idea of what classy eating out was got shaped by the experience of those two restaurants and "the aunts," cloth napkins and paying at the table and everything else -- those two places still color my view of every non-fast-food dining experience i have.

Starting this year, "Santa's Village" in East Dundee is no more, but "The Milk Pail" goes on -- a bit remodeled and the grounds not so parklike (room for more parking, no doubt), but the green fake leather chairs and the milk pail light fixtures and the veranda room all ring up a huge batch o' memory-to-go:
Milk Pail 9

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 9-9-07
Jeff Gill

Autumn Skies and a Chill

There’s been talk around the cracker barrel at the general store about fall, and what we’re in for.

The dry stretches of the summer, and leaves curling early, with swaths of yellow already in the canopy, lead many everyday naturalists to expect a swift season.

Will the leaves turn bright colors, or just go to brown, tan, and saffron? Will they give us a few weeks of glowing arches overhead, or just a turn and drop in the same few days?

Along with such speculation comes the scrying of the wooly-bears. I continue in my own bafflement over whether the brown stripe wide means more snow, or narrow brown with more black calls for the harder winter.

But the first wooly worm I’ve seen was grey-black from end to end. Which must mean either no snow at all, or buy stock in towing companies now, since the skies will open.

The team from “up north” felt a chill early, and for those who want to know, the Appalachian State campus is in Boone, NC. Nice place. Good school. Who knew they had so many fans in central Ohio?

The family had the pleasure of hearing repeated cheers for the Mountaineers of Boone (not to be confused with the WV ‘Eers) while watching a remarkable football game in Piper Stadium on Deeds Field at Denison University.

Actually, the game was fairly unremarkable, other than one magnificent runback on a kickoff for the Big Red. They did lose, while playing hard right down to the final whistle.

What that team did accomplish was the 1,000th football game for Denison. This is their 118th season of college football. By my math, that means since 1888 they’ve been playing downs, even if T-formation and face masks are a fairly new development by that measure.

1,000 games. The upstart program west of us, in Columbus, only began in 1890, and is just up to . . . OK, 1141games, but that’s because Ohio State keeps playing after Thanksgiving every year, when all scholar-athletes know it’s time to start studying for finals.

I wish I had some pictures of my dad playing football in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, with a leather helmet and no face mask. Apparently they didn’t have many photographers roaming the sidelines in Anita, Iowa back then, so I just have his stories and a few clippings from the Atlantic, IA paper about his single-wing exploits and defensive derring-do (yep, played both ways).

He’s too polite to point out I’m a much better football player in the pictures my family has than I ever was on the field, with full mask and shoulder pads, forearm shiver at the ready. What I can do is sound as if I’m older than I am, because I played on Indiana’s last single-wing team. There was in my hometown a legendary coach who was still winning championships into the 70’s with the long snap and strongside sweeps by the tailback, led by a blocking back and fullback. When Coach Stokes retired, the entire county football establishment swung over to T-formations and Wishbones, and the era of the quarterback began belatedly for them.

Now the cost of equipment and liability insurance has pushed football, even with high tech helmets and orthopedic cleats, into a bit of a corner, and the Little Guy plays soccer with nary a look at football. Mom and Grandma are quite candidly relieved, and Great-grandma looks down from Heaven with a happy sign as well, I’m told. My dad’s blown-out knee and enough tales of two-a-days from me haven’t made the ladies of the family nostalgic for the grand old days of every lad trying out for the team, pushing the village fire truck up and down hills in August.

Many thanks to the players and families who keep alive fall football, the trainers and coaches who keep the players safer than they’ve ever been, and all the chain holders and concession stand workers and ticket takers who make sure that one autumn ritual is still available to us all, even if fewer of us are playing.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he was a tackle and guard on a number of valiantly losing teams through his football career. Tell him your sports story at
Faith Works 9-8-07
Jeff Gill

Children Lost, and Found

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” said historian L.P. Hartley.

A story came out of Chicago recently that got me thinking about that strange land where tourists can’t readily travel.

Some folks of Greek ancestry did a little research into an odd corner of their Orthodox cemetery, and found that there were 160 unmarked graves, dating back to before 1935, with 22 buried in 1918 from the global influenza pandemic of that year.
And they were all children.

In looking for the causes for so many unmarked graves, laid to rest mostly before the Depression, the record keepers confronted some forgotten realities of an era just before our own. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1926 the number of children who died within the first year of life was 73 out of 1,000. That same figure today is less than 7 of 1,000 born.

Economics and cultural differences among Greek immigrants play a role, no doubt, but can you imagine the difference it would make in a neighborhood, around a church, for parents in general, if ten times as many small children died?

Just after reading that story, I heard a sermon preached about Methodist heritage, where the congregation was reminded that John Wesley’s mother Susanna was the 24th of 25th children, and that John and Charles were among 19 born to Susanna and her husband Samuel. Only ten of those 19 survived to adulthood, and no one is quite sure how many in the generation before, but likely half or less of the 25 lived.

How must that atmosphere have affected parenting? What does a mortality rate of 50%, and in those quantities, do to your sense of childhood?

Morbid enough?

Ah, but it gets worse. The superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park, John Latschar, recently revisited a speech he gave in 1995, considering whether, in Lincoln’s words, “the world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

He observed that, nearing the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks (as we approach the sixth), comparing the impact of the Civil War and 9-11 was both sobering, and instructive.

If you look at the numbers as a percentage of the American population, the death toll on the Gettysburg battlefield was the same as twenty-one September 11’s. For the Civil War as a whole, to compare today using population percentages, you would see 37.3 million in military service, and 6 million deaths. As a comparative percentage of the American population, there were 42 Civil War battles that were equal to or greater than the impact of 9-11 in casualties.

Imagine a Sept. 11 every month, for four years. Latschar says “One cannot even begin to comprehend how the nation could cope with such a horrific and prolonged struggle today.”

With the toll in Iraq creeping steadily toward 4,000 deaths, and tens of thousands more wounded (and that simply the American toll of this combat), we count our soldiers dear and grieve even the losses of those who oppose us. We have recalibrated our sensibility and adjusted our willingness to express our feelings over death, whether among children or combat troops.

There is, I think, no disputing that we are better off as a society for losing the indifference that we either once had, or learned to put on. What we have trouble making sense of is both the stoicism of generations past -- and sometimes still with us -- and what to do with the strong emotion evoked by sorrow and tragedy and loss.

Turning our personal grief inward and just plugging along we now see as something less than healthy. Pouring emotions of the moment all over public view doesn’t seem to bring much healing or resolution, either. How do we remember, and honor, and grieve, and learn from senseless tragedy?

Public rituals that make memory tangible can help weave frayed strands of community back together. Shared acts of commitment give a place and location to general feelings of helplessness, and places expression in a setting of communication, not just tirade.

Today we have candlelight vigils and peace rallies on street corners, ribbons on trees and roadside crosses. Pickup truck window clings and yes, even tattoos exist to give voice to sorrow that otherwise might find a more destructive outlet.

Grief and sorrow may not look quite how they once did, but from Antigone to Rizpah (see 2 Samuel 21:10), our enduring human reaction to death is to cherish and honor the dead as a way of showing what we value in life.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him your memorial event remembrances at