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Memories of a kinder, gentler time
By Stephanie Penick | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 7/26/2010 12:00 AM

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Just about every turn I took recently directed me to a gentler, kinder, simpler time.

For one, Dawn Portner at NCO Youth and Family Services had mentioned she was putting together a "New York City" tour package for the group's annual dinner auction this month. She knew I had some New York City connections - I lived in Manhattan for 13 years right out of college, worked in advertising and then owned a specialty order "pop art" cake shop on E. 74th St. - and asked for help.

I called Bill Schutz who'd purchased Creative Cakes in 1986. Bill agreed to provide a tour of the "cupcake-sized" shop where he continues to design one-of-a-kind cakes. He'll even throw in a sample of chocolate cake.

What a rush of memories followed, reminding me of my good fortune to design cakes for folks in that attractive city. Actors, writers, publishers, singers and TV personalities were my customers and when they looked through my albums of cake photos, they were inspired to higher levels of creativity, always challenging my imagination and frosting skills.

Those days were before marriage and children. In 1979, when our first child was born 10-and-one-half weeks prematurely, I hired Schutz as an intern. Soon, he was managing the shop.

And the collection of cake photos in my wallet quickly was replaced with photos of our precious child.

Thinking about those cakes also reminded me of the time when my former employer, adman Jerry Della Femina, turned 40 on July 22 in one of those years during my cake days. The creative folks at his ad agency ordered a huge cake in the shape of a medicine cabinet, designed with shelves filled with aging remedies and prescriptions for a long life, fitting for the self-proclaimed hypochondriac. All these years later, he's still among the greatest American wits I know.

Then I met Bev Eigenberg at the Naperville Woman's Club Fine Art Fair at Naper Settlement. As we strolled the beautiful exhibits, I was impressed by all the work that had gone into planning the event by Roxanne Lang and her committee.

One of the paintings reminded me of the summer I painted my grandparents' farmhouse in Battleground, Ind., and how realistic the cypress tree had turned out-it still graces the wall in my parents' family room.

Now that I'm in the consumable stage of life more than the collecting stage, I left empty-handed, but with a load of art appreciation.

Bev, however, purchased a worldly globe ornament with a peace symbol trinket attached to the top.

She reminded me of the song, "Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me."

Then on a Sunday afternoon, I stopped by the annual meeting of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America-Great Lakes Region at the home of Roberta and Tom Priz. Twenty-eight vintage Chevys were on display and the shiny chrome was blinding!

I recognized a bunch of the cars featured in the Memorial Day Parade. Every May, several of the owners such as Priz, Bill Kohley and Don Feldott have the honor of driving World War II veterans in the parade.

But the El Caminos on display took me back to the Sunday afternoons when my father devoted most of his day off toward teaching me to drive a stick shift when I had my learner's permit. He had a 1960 metallic brown El Camino. If only he'd saved it!

At any rate, to get to the back roads, we had to stop on a hill that came to a T. I had no problem stopping. I just had the toughest time getting out of first gear while trying to turn right at the same time. We always bounced our way around the corner while I shifted into second gear. And I always sensed my dad was losing his patience.

After a couple of months, he turned my instruction over to my mother who taught me to drive on her 1964 Mercury with an automatic transmission.

Finally, on my early Monday morning walk, I exchanged "Good Morning!" with a cheerful neighbor on Ada Lane just as he picked up the newspaper.

I added, "And thanks for reading the Daily Herald!"

He simply said, "Sure!"