It’s been nine months, but I am constantly reminded of the interesting conversation that I had with Julie Messina at her Common Grounds BookCafe (the words are run together on the sign) in Utica, Illinois.
You remember Utica.
The town the big tornado hit four years ago on April 20th.
We were driving to Lake Shelby for the wedding of Cat Morrison to Jeff Black and decided on some side trips on a very indirect route that had us staying over in Springfield and doing Lincoln’s Home for the first time and the Presidential Museum again.
We wanted to see the Farnsworth House on the Illinois River, but discovered our ten year old was considered too young and, anyway, one had to have reservations.
This is a kid that never broke any of our Robert Stewart crystal boxesand Kurt Strobach crystal bowls when he was a toddler and never ripped down the long lace curtains in front of our balcony window.
We saw it anyway from across the river at Silver Springs State Park. Plus the biggest yellow and black spider I have ever seen. (You can click to enlarge any of these photos and the spider really deserves to be seen bigger.)
Anyway, we finally found our way to Utica on Route 178 south of I-80.
And, if you know my wife, you’ll know it had a winery. That was our second one of the day.
While she was down the mall at the corner Illinois River Winery, my son and I were in the combination book store and political cafe.
Messina, who turned out to be the sister of my 1990’s colleague Frank Mautino and the daughter of my 1970’s colleague Dick Mautino, owned the place.
What a small world.
Anyway, I was hungry and she suggested a panini.
I never heard of that, even though I married into an Italian family.
She described it. It sounded good. My son didn’t want one until he grabbed half of mine.
We ordered another and it is now a regular meal made in Crystal Lake.
But that’s not all we took away from Utica.
Messina has designed a tee shirt my son just wore two days in a row. You can see the front in her hands below. It features the “Human Element.” On the back is the periodic table with “Hu.”
Mom wasn’t home, you see. She was at a Women’s Walk to Emmaus and, well, as long as it didn’t stink, which it didn’t, why not wear it two days?
What a clever idea Messina had!
And, she sold some Gran Caffe’ Italia to my wife for her father.
After we ate and the visitor to the winery came back with her purchases, mother and son decided to go visit the Mix Trading Post up the road.
The son decided there would probably be more interesting stuff there than at a book store, even it did get him a neat tee shirt.
Although I was the only one in the BookCafe while we were there, Messina assured me that vibrant political debate occurred among patrons. I asked if the Libertarian dentist who came all the way to Crystal Lake’s 1776 for my $100 a plate fund raiser in 2002 was among the participants. She told me Dan O’Connell was a regular.
Her emporium, of course, had a liberal bent.
Just the opposite philosophy was projected at the Mix’s Trading Post.
Take a look at what is on the wall right behind the cash register.
(I shouldn’t have used the flash. The painting of Jesus almost disappears because of the flash.)
I asked whether his display of conservative ideology hurt business.
He told me all that affected business was weather.
Actually, it’s the weather prediction, not the actual weather.
If good weather is predicted, business is good.
If rain is predicted, it’s bad.
This trading post has more nooks and crannies that you can imagine.
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I’ve looked all over the BookCafe web site and I can’t find the tee shirt for sale, but if you email Messina, I am sure she has them for sale.