Troubled times? Remember to whistle a happy tune

As an aspiring advertising copywriter in New York City in the mid-1970s, I escaped for a year to find myself on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

For room and board, I took a job as weekend manager of a charming guesthouse nestled in the hill across from the post office in Charlotte Amalie. Monday through Friday, I filled in for a first-grade teacher on maternity leave at Antilles School.

At the guesthouse, Sam and Lillian oversaw housekeeping operations and the kitchen. Originally from Antigua, the couple showed me the ropes with their dedication to hospitality and a job well done. I can still hear Sam's whistling familiar melodies while he tenderized and cubed turtle meat for soup, a Galleon House specialty.

I'm a terrible whistler, more apt to hum, which can be annoying to folks in the next room. Once when I lamented my lack of talent, Sam said, "Only truly happy people can whistle."

I've often wondered if it's true!

The other day I was reminded about Sam's axiom when I heard a landscaper whistling in West Wind. I puckered up and made a piercing sound to the tune of "On a Clear Day," a song I sometimes sing on morning walks around May Watts Pond where no one can hear me. Funny. But no success.

Considering recent challenges with aging parents; trying to keep up with global technology, including GPS, and its impact on infrastructure and transportation; and dealing with discombobulated distractions, walks in the park with nature keep me grounded in the Midwest.

I was amused that I used "discombobulated" to denote I'm confused. Newspaper writers are known to choose short words sometimes to save space. So what if I can't whistle?

Shop local

In what may seem unrelated thoughts, I'm happy to live in a thriving city where the shop local and dine Naperville movement has had its impact on our city coffers during what's often called a "new economy."

Innovative folks seize opportunities to be productive, paid and passionate here. Purchases at local car dealerships also drive up sales tax revenue.

Yet when I visited a local sweet shop to purchase a dark chocolate bar for a friend, I recalled a recent conversation with my dad, an enthusiastic chocolate consumer, about how sugar subsidies have hiked the price of confections. Go figure.


In the spirit of the awareness campaign planned by the Alzheimer's Association in June, I planted a small garden of forget-me-nots, a tribute to my mother for all the joy and sacrifices she's given to our family as she moves into 24-hour memory care.

As we live longer, only research can help the unpredictable conditions of memory loss that know no boundaries of age, social status or gender. Anyone can encounter symptoms affecting thinking and social abilities that accompany Alzheimer's disease and progressive dementia.

I'm hopeful folks will live and learn to make the connection that a robust economy is our way to larger paychecks and generosity, a means to help fund nonprofit initiatives doing research for mental health and more.

Just recently, headlines announced that "financier Sandy Weill and wife Joan aim to advance brain research with $185 million gift" to the University of California at San Francisco for the creation of the Weill Institute for Neurosciences.

On our local scene, we received good news about trials for Batten disease, a rare disease that few of us knew about until last fall when the Naperville community rallied together to support former resident Kristen Kaiser Gray and her family.

And Angie Lee, a junior at Metea Valley High School, was recognized with a 2016 Jaycees Distinguished Service Award for her volunteerism since second grade as she and her friends have heightened awareness for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, raising $190,000 since 2007.

Nickels and dimes make a difference, too.

To meet obligations, I'm grateful our community recognizes that local social services need assistance.

I'm also encouraged by collaboration among nonprofits. For instance, some 30 organizations that serve needs of local veterans already share knowledge and services via an initiative called "Naperville Joining Forces."

And my thoughts turn to Buddy Poppy sales, Memorial Day and how much I cherish liberty and peace.

I'll keep trying to whistle a happy tune. Freedom to choose and volunteer is good for the soul.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville once a month in Neighbor.

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