Where Was I . . . The Code of the Universe 

By Janice Lane Palko 

If I get up at night to visit the bathroom, I pass three windows on my way. My house sits high on a hill, and when I glance out those windows, I can see across a small valley to the next street over where the light from a gas lamp pierces the darkness and sends out rays of light, shining like a star. For some reason, that small light always makes me feel better.   [Read more…]

Where Was I . . .

Janice Palko

  . . .Being Them – May 2018

By Janice Lane Palko

“What is that on your foot?” I was around seven years old when I asked my mother that question. “It’s a callus,” she said. “You’ll have them when you’re older.” No way, I thought. My feet are never going to look like that.

“What’s that thing?” I was around eight years old when I asked my grandmother that question. “It’s a needle threader,” she said. “I can’t see the eye of the needle anymore. You slip this little metal loop through the needle’s eye, and then put the thread though the loop. Then you pull the loop through the eye, and it threads the needle. When you get older and can’t see as well, you’ll need one.” No way, I thought to myself. My eyes are never going to get that bad.

“Oh, my leg,” moaned my great-grandmother as she came down the steps. “What’s wrong with your leg?” I was about 10 when I asked that. “Things wear out when you get older,” she said. “I hope you don’t get knees like mine.” No chance, of that I thought. I’m never getting old.

Never say never.

Flash forward to today where I regularly remove calluses from my heels, and I now use a needle threader. By the time, you read this, I will be home recovering from knee surgery. I tore a meniscus in my left knee seven years ago, and after babying it and enduring pain off and on, an MRI recently revealed that I now have an acute meniscus tear and insufficiency fractures, for which the surgeon plans to perform a subchondroplasty. The procedure entails drilling into my leg bones (yikes!) and injecting them with calcium phosphate, which will then harden and repair my bones.

As I was limping down the stairs the other day after receiving that diagnosis, I felt a stab of pain in my knee. “Oh, my leg,” I reflexively yelled, and then stopped in my tracks as I flashed backward four and half decades and realized that I have now become my great-grandmother. And not only her but my grandmother and my mother.

But then it occurred to me that maybe that is not so bad. My vows to never to turn into them was a revulsion to aging, which I don’t think anyone embraces, and not the people they are and were. My mom, grandmothers, and great-grandmother were all loving, kind and giving–women who would sacrifice anything for their loved ones.

So yeah, even though I don’t like getting older, I’m okay with turning into them because being them is a pretty admirable way to be. Happy Mother’s Day!


 . . . Ah, The Perfect Wedding! 

By Janice Lane Palko 

Television shows, magazines and the wedding industry all tout the dream of “The Perfect Wedding.” While there is nothing wrong with desiring to have a perfect wedding, the reality is that just like life, often weddings, no matter how we may try, often fall short of perfection. But that’s OK. Sometimes the things that go wrong become the things we remember most about a wedding. I’m not talking about those sensational wedding bloopers like finding the groom in the bathroom making out with a bridesmaid. I’m talking about the garden variety goof-ups that thrown a monkey wrench into the best laid plans for perfection.  

I remember attending one wedding where the bride mere days before her nuptials had her appendix removed. I’ll never forget how she hobbled down the aisle and endured the reception. Or how about the wedding party that got food poisoning from the meal served the night before at the rehearsal and were downing Pepto-Bismol in hopes of staving off the trips to the bathroom to get through the ceremony.  

Many years ago, I attended a wedding where the band failed to show, and the desperate bride and groom ended up going home and getting their record player and records to provide some music. I’ve seen a 6’4” usher pass out in church and go down like a might oak creating quite a stir. My sister-in-law had a friend who worked for a car dealership and offered Lincoln Continentals to take the bridal party to church. In the days before cell phones, half the bridal party got into one Lincoln and pulled away with the keys to the other one. My sister-in-law ended up coming to church in the photographer’s van.  

The wedding of my good friends Donna and Bill stands out in my mind for a mishap. During Catholic marriage ceremonies, it is often the custom for couples to represent the uniting of their lives by having the bride and groom each take a lighted taper and then jointly light a “unity candle.” When Donna and Bill lit theirs, a spark fell onto the altar cloth setting it afire. I can’t forget the image of Bill and Donna beating the flames out. 

My own wedding was not without a flaw. The ceremony and reception went off without a hitch. Near the end of the evening after taking a staged photo of my husband and me waving goodbye like we were leaving for our honeymoon, we actually said goodbye to our families and headed out the door. Outside the reception was a stairwell in which several of my little cousins and a few of the other kids in attendance were playing. As we told them we were leaving, the little girls, chanted, “Pick Jan up.” They wanted my husband to carry me out of the hall.  

“Want me to?” asked my husband. 

“Oh, all right,” I said.  

As they cheered, my husband moved toward me, bent and scooped me up at the same time that he stepped on the hem of dress. As he lifted me, he put his foot through the lace band on the bottom of my dress. He stumbled, and we fell up the stairs, landing in a pile of yards of taffeta.  

Horrified, the little girls cried, “Are you OK?” 

As I straightened my headpiece and my husband extracted his foot from my dress, we burst into laughter. We picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and headed out the door to our new life together. More than 35 years later, that mishap stands out because it was probably the best metaphor for married life. Just as the perfect wedding is an illusion so is the perfect life. Things go wrong, you stumble and fall. The key is to keep laughing, keep picking yourself up and always keep looking to your future together.  


March 2018 issue:Where Was I . . . Irish and More 

If you’ve been reading this column, you know that last August I visited Ireland. It was everything I had hoped it to be and more. Since we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this month, I thought I’d share some of the “more” that I discovered during my trip.  

In Ireland, they don’t speak Gaelic; they speak Irish. Gaelic is a language with branches, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx, which is spoken on the Isle of Man, the small island in the Irish sea between Ireland and Great Britain. 

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, spent his boyhood in Macroom, Ireland at Macroom Castle. It was also in Macroom where Penn converted to become a Quaker, which was against English law, and landed Penn a stint in jail. King Charles II was indebted to the Penns and to settle the debt, the king gave William Penn land in the new world where the Quaker would be free to practice his religion.  

The Irish have one of the highest incidences of Celiac disease, an intolerance for gluten, in the world. The Ireland Coeliac Society (they spell differently in the Emerald Isle) estimates 1 out of every 100 Irish citizens is gluten intolerant. They are not sure why the disease is so common among the Irish, but if you have Irish ancestry and have digestive disorders, you may want to check to see if you have Celiac disease.  

If you are Irish, you also may have Viking blood coursing through your veins. The first Viking raiders attacked the east coast of Ireland around 795 and created the settlements of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford The Vikings were defeated in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf, but when they weren’t pillaging, the Vikings did marry into Irish families. Today, in Dublin you can visit Dublinia, a museum devoted to the Viking history in Ireland. You can also take a Viking Splash tour, the city’s version of Just Ducky Tours, where passengers wear horned Viking helmets and roar at pedestrians. 

The west of Ireland is mostly unspoiled. The Viking penetration there was very limited, and the Romans never invaded. As such, there are archeological sites all over. It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 castles and castle ruins alone. There are prehistoric sites that are over 6,000 years old and predate the Pyramids in Egypt. On our way to Slea Head, the western most part of Ireland and Europe, our tour guide asked if we wanted to stop at the house of his friend, Gerry, to see a ring fort. Gerry met us on a sloped hill side near his farm house and lead us to a prehistoric site in his backyard. He told us that the stone fort had a souterrain, a passage into the hillside where these early inhabitants of the island would retreat when attacked. Gerry also told us humans were also sacrificed on the site. 

The Irish take leprechauns and fairies seriously. We may scoff at that, but Gerry said something that made me think. He told us to imagine it’s the year 300 A.D., and you’re living in Ireland. Your crops fail, the cattle are ailing and your baby dies. There is no medicine or science to explain it, so it doesn’t seem that far fetched to blame your misfortune on “little people.” Especially when you have a stone settlement in your back yard that no one knows how it got there and which has a small doorway leading into the earth.  

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 


Ah, Romance!

[Read more…]

Where Was I . . .

 . . .Worth the Ride 

By Janice Lane Palko 

Last month, I wrote about the little boy at Phipps mistaking me for a hero, but his month I’d like to tell you about some real heroes. Five years ago last August, my youngest son introduced us to a girl, who for the sake of privacy, I’ll call Chelsea. Over a period of about three weeks, he took her out a few times and brought her to our house. She was pretty, sweet, soft-spoken and funny, and my husband and I liked her immediately as did our dog, who climbed into her lapShe and I hit it off discussing Broadway musicals and Harry Potter books.  

Right before they were due to return to college, Chelsea had an examination and learned that the brain cancer that she had beaten seven years ago when she was twelve was back. I didn’t know her medical history, so we were all shocked and heartbroken for her and her family. Understandably, because of her precarious health, she eventually had to break off the relationship with my son to focus on getting well 

Selfishly, I wondered why Chelsea had been brought into our lives? Had my son never taken her out those few times before school commenced, we’d have been spared this pain. What was the purpose of her coming into our lives for such a short time only for us to face the prospect of heartache, suffering and loss? I spent a lot of time thinking about her and crying. I hadn’t signed on for this and didn’t know if I could handle it 

I was presented with a choiceI could back offno one would have known the difference. We’d only seen Chelsea a few timesor I could go along for the ride and offer whatever measly support I could. I realized that both she and her family didn’t want this either. Ultimately, I chose Chelsea over my fear of pain. I had to; I already cared about her. So, I befriended her mom on Facebook, who provided updates of her daughter’s (and her family’s) battle with brain cancer.  

My family prayed, sent cards, gifts and offered support on Facebook posts—but it never seemed quite adequate. The day my first granddaughter was born was doubly joyous as Chelsea’s mom also posted then that Chelsea had gone into remission. But that didn’t last, and the cancer came back. There were so many highs and lows in their fight, that I can’t remember them all, but last year, Chelsea’s options for treatment narrowed, and she and her mom moved to Memphis to seek treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They lived away from home for months trying anything to save her life.  

Sadly, in late spring, all treatment failed, and Chelsea came home to the North Hills. Updates from her mom became fewer. When her mother posted in late July that Chelsea would soon be leaving us requesting prayers that she pass quickly and peacefully, we knew what was dreaded was here. Chelsea passed away on July 20 at the age of 25 after a 13-year battle with cancer. 

My family and I waited for two hours in line at the funeral home to offer our support and express our sorrow to her parents. I had never met her mother in person before, but that didn’t matter. Our aching hearts bonded.  

I didn’t want to get on this ride; I didn’t want to see Chelsea suffer and die, but I’m so glad I hopped on boardThought we are heartbroken, I got to witness a beautiful young warrior fight, graduate from college, and live life like there was no tomorrow. I witnessed the terrible beauty of fierce, selfless, heroic parental love in action 

No, I didn’t want it to end this wayand I still don’t know the purpose of this, but I do know one thing—knowing you, Chelsea, and witnessing you and youparents’ grace and undying love for each other has made all the pain worth it. You enriched and blessed our lives. Rest in peace, dear girl. 

We Can Be Heroes
By Janice Lane Palko

I’ve been to Phipps Conservatory numerous times, but something that happened there this past Christmas has stuck in my mind. Visitors to the Holiday Magic winter flower show had the option of purchasing special hologram glasses to view snowflakes in their LED light displays. Always one to want to get the most from an experience, I bought a pair.  

As my husband and I stood in front of the Sunken Garden, I donned my glasses, which looked like the kind you get when you take in a 3-D movie. When I did, the little boy in his dad’s arms next to me, pointed at me and said with great awe, “Look, Daddy. She’s a superhero!” His dad and I both laughedbut his pure faith in me touched my heart and, of course, got me to thinking. 

Too often today, we look to unmask and tear down heroes.  It seems everyday we hear disturbing things about people who were once revered—from Martin Luther King to the Founding Fathersno one is safe from the iconoclasts of our day who delight in diminishing people.  While I am not naïve and condone bad behavior, I know that no one is all pure and holy. We are all a mixed bag to one degree or another of vice and virtue, but I think today too much emphasis is placed on bringing people down and not on building them up.   

For instance, I recently finished the amazing book Beneath a Scarlet Sky, which is the true story of Pino Lella, an Italian teen in World War II Italy, who aids in leading Jews to safety over the Alps and then goes on to become a spy for the Allies after being forced to serve as a driver for the Nazi General Hans Leyer. Why are we just learning his story now? 

I haven’t read it yet, but Dutch Girl is on my to-be-read list. Twenty-five years after her death, this book details how beautiful actress Audrey Hepburn, while also a teen, participated in the Dutch Resistance during World War II. The recent 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion also unearthed numerous untold stories of heroism during that battle.  

Why did it take so long to learn them? One reason is that true heroes don’t boast; they let their deeds speak for themselves. Another reason is that most heroes don’t think they did anything extraordinary. Yet, these gems of heroic deeds elevate all of us. 

Perhaps we may all be better for it if we, like that little boy at Phipps, concentrated on seeing in people their heroic qualities. After all, we usually rise to the expectations others have of us. I know after that little boy called me a superhero, I felt like I could leap a tall building in a single bound. 





My Commencement Address

By Janice Lane Palko 

We are in graduation season. And although no one has asked me to give a commencement address, that is not stopping me. Here are some things I learned after finishing school and beginning my career that might help all you recent graduates.  

Is That all There Is?  – Several weeks into working at my first job, I remember thinking: I worked hard all through school and landed a good job and this is all there is? Why was I in such a hurry to get here? I don’t care if you are pursuing your dream career and love your new position, entering the full-time workforce is a huge transition for a young person. You will have to deal with an alarm clock, traffic and minutiae that will test your patience. But take heart; you will adjust. I did, and eventually came to like and enjoy my job. Getting a paycheck helps with that (if you overlook the amount of taxes deducted from your pay). 

Talk About Diversity –  The buzzword at colleges these days is diversity, but when you enter the workforce, diversity slaps you upside the head. I’m not talking about adjusting to working with people who look different from you or come from different backgrounds, I’m talking about learning how to get along with the boss who removes his shoes and clips his toenails in the office (I witnessed this) , or the slacker who never puts paper in the printer when it runs out, or the petty thief who steals your lunch from the office refrigerator even though your lunch bag is clearly marked with your name. In truth, not one of us is the same, and you will have to learn to deal with some people who are annoying, inconsiderate, or downright nasty. But the flipside of diversity is tolerance. Working in the real world will help you to develop your tolerance muscles and make you grow. 

Just Because I’m an Adult Doesn’t Mean I Act Like One –  When I went to work, I assumed childishness was left at the schoolhouse door. Wrong. I’ve seen grown men throw tantrums because they didn’t get the office with the window. Or grown women shun other women “Mean Girls” style. You will encounter backstabbers, cheats, and liars, but you will also meet kind people, friends, and maybe even a spouse. I became friends with people who were older than my grandparents and found mentors who looked out for me and promoted me. Like you did in school, avoid the jerks and be the kind of person you’d like others to be.  

Finally, Nothing is Etched in Stone –  I began my adult life employed as a corporate secretary. I never dreamed that someday I’d be working as a writer. Most people’s lives, including their careers, are not linear. You will venture off your intended path, sometimes willingly and sometimes not. But whatever happens, there is one thing to keep in mind that will not fail: Always be the best you can be wherever you may find yourself. It will be rewarded in the long run, if not by others, but in the satisfaction that you will feel from representing yourself well.  

And You Are There

By Janice Lane Palko

When I was a kid back in the 1970s, there was a television show that aired on Saturdays called You Are There. Hosted by newsman Walter Cronkite, the educational show reenacted historical events with Hollywood starts cast as the major players. For instance, actor Paul Newman once portrayed Marcus Brutus in the episode “The Assassination of Julius Caesar.” Cronkite would report on the event as if it were happening live. [Read more…]