By Mary Hursh
Amy S. Peele, author of “Cut” and “Aunt Mary’s Guide to Raising Children the Old-Fashioned Way” will speak about her books as well as her passion as a transplant nurse at the University of Chicago during an afternoon session at the Syracuse Public Library at 2 p.m. July 26.
Peele is a graduate of the South Chicago School of Nursing, and attended Barat College and DePaul University. As a registered nurse, she worked as the transplant coordinator at the University of Chicago and recently retired from the University of California San Francisco as the director of clinical operations for all solid organ transplants. Her 2017 book “Cut” is a mystery with an authentic look into the world of transplantation and organ donation. It is the first book in a trilogy
Those area residents who still remember the Beacon, a restaurant on Kale Island, may be interested in her book “Aunt Mary’s Guide to Raising Children the Old-Fashioned Way” because part of the memories included in the book come from the author’s many summer days spent with her aunt, Mary Duerk Evans, the early 1950s owner of the Beacon. “The restaurant was casual and the environment relaxing. The specialties included fried chicken, hamburgers, fries, lake fish, salads and desserts.” At the time, patrons could boat to her pier and walk over.
“My life was laced with love, happiness, struggle, violence, Irish humor and the promise of relief from the cool summer waters of Lake Wawasee,” said Peele. Her grandmother, Lillian Duerk Kurtzfield (Mogi),lived behind the Beacon and next door to her sister Mary.
“We could walk across the street to the Beacon and eat as much as we wanted, compared to home where food was almost rationed,” says Peele. Peele and her five siblings (Bob, Charlene, Kerry, John, Helen), were raised primarily by her mother, Helen, a nurse, because her father left the family when Peele was eight years old.
Meals at the lake were prepared in Aunt Mary’s garage, which had a full kitchen and bathroom and a table that sat eight. At 5, all children had to exit the garage for the adult cocktail time. “ After dinner, we went to the Dairy Queen and then we scattered to all parts of Kale Island to feed the swans at the Chinese Gardens, catch fireflies or sneak out for a forbidden midnight swim,” recalls Peele. “The swans and the big willow trees made the gardens magical.”
Over the years, Aunt Mary and Mogi bought all the children shoes and clothes for school, sent checks for mortgage payments and gave them money to rent a rowboat and buy candy at the root beer stand.
The shells and the rocks found by the children on their many swims were always a source of joy to Peele. “We never talked about what was happening at home as we swam under the pier and chased each other. The lake always gave us peace
Peele writes of her difficulties at local church schools, her reactions to her challenging family life as well as the joys of learning how to fish and clean the fish. “ Years later, when we started bringing our boyfriends and girlfriends around the adults would signal their approval by saying whether or not they were keepers,” said Peele.
The overall theme of Aunt Mary’s Guide is that “it’s not what the memory does with you, but what you do with the memory that makes it either a useful lesson or an excuse not to do what you were put on this planet to do.”
As many lake children would say, life at the lake was about abundant food and total freedom. And as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. And the process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.”
Peele and her husband, Mark Schatz, live in Novato, Calif.