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Laurie Levy’s book “Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real” is a collection of essays that, taken together, constitute a love letter to the communities of which she has been a part. Some of these she joined; others she helped create.
The reader meets her as a freshman at the University of Michigan in the fall of 1963 as she “crossed into the baby boomer community in spirit if not in birth year.” There, she “felt the power of being part of something larger than myself.”
After graduation, Ms. Levy and her husband came to Evanston. Being Jewish but disconnected from organized religion Ms. Levy’s family and five other families in the neighborhood formed a chavurah to practice Judaism in their homes. The ties remain strong, as do their traditions, which date back to 1974.
A few years later, in 1979, Ms. Levy greeted at her front door a man who “would become my mentor as an administrator, educator, and community builder.” Warren Cherry, the principal of Lincoln School, where her children would attend, was making house calls, introducing himself to families and dropping off start-of-school packets.
Although some say one cannot be an Evanstonian without either having been born here or having lived here 50 years, the name Warren Cherry is familiar to almost everyone with even a two-year stint in the community. His death a few years later in 1990, the founding of the Warren Cherry preschool – in which Ms. Levy played a large part – and later the creation of Cherry scholarships that help send youth to college, are major parts of the story of education in Evanston.
What Ms. Levy first learned – after her shock that a principal visited homes to meet families – was that there are worse things than stealing a book. Mr. Cherry advises her of this when she reports that children were hiding books from the school bookstore, the Bookery, to retrieve them later without paying for them. Ms. Levy writes that Mr. Cherry’s empathy for a child “who had to steal a book to possess one taught me a profound lesson about educational priorities: getting a book into the hands of a child was what really mattered.”
As her children matured and became parents, the devastatingly fierce love of a grandmother came to the fore, and since one of the grandchildren was found to have special needs, Ms. Levy has been there – as advocate, witness and, of course, grandmother. In “Letting Go,” the final chapter of the book, Ms. Levy ruminates on the past, on losses, family, and funerals.
In the final essay, “How a Boomer Woman Learned to Let It Go and Embrace Turning Seventy,” Ms. Levy tells of that uncharted territory, which she finds terribly strange and wonderfully real.