Mr. Peabody, set the wayback machine to 1986.
After a year of weekly visits to read to a newly-blind woman, it’s time for University of Illinois senior John Foreman to graduate. John brings his girlfriend, a music performance major, along on his final visit, and when Lynn LaPlante pulls her viola from its case, the blind woman’s crooked old rental house transforms into a resounding recital hall.
I wouldn’t hear from Lynn LaPlante for decades. I lost track of John Foreman after he graduated. And as it turns out, So did Lynn.
When Mike Knezovich and I moved to our Printers Row neighborhood here in 2003, we had no idea that Lynn LaPlante and her marvelous husband Mike Allaway lived here, too. When Lynn saw my memoir, Long Time, No See on display at Sandmeyer’s Bookstore, she scribbled out a note with her phone number and left it with Ellen Sandmeyer. Ellen called me. I called Lynn. A friendship was born.
In the years since then I was fortunate to meet Lynn LaPlante-Allaway’s’s beloved mother, Alice Gervace LaPlante. Anyone who met Lynn’s mother loved her, and I fell right in line. Alice died of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease on May 31, and a Printers Row neighbor generously offered to drive Whitney and me to the wake, where I had the privilege of meeting Lynn’s sister-in-law, her nieces and nephews, her old neighbors and her childhood friends.
Lynn’s mother Alice had been the music director of St. Edna Catholic Church in Arlington Heights for nearly 40 years, and a writer for the Chicago Tribune was so taken after reading Alice’s obituary that she contacted Lynn after the funeral. “They said they like to showcase people who have touched a lot of lives,” Lynn told me. That describes my Mom perfectly!” From that Chicago Tribune article:
Mrs. LaPlante, the mother of eight, enjoyed music from Bach to Benny Goodman. She taught piano out of her home and a local studio for many years and instilled a love of music in all her children, each of whom learned to play at least one instrument.
“I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today had it not been for my mother,” said LaPlante-Allaway, the principal violist with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. “She guided me every step of the way.”
I haven’t seen a whole lot of Lynn the past couple of years – she devoted the majority of that time to her mother, who had always been so devoted to Lynn and her music career.
Lynn played a viola solo at Alice’s funeral Tuesday, and she brought her viola with her on visits to her mom. The beloved Alice Gervase La Plante spent her final years surrounded by the same breathtaking sound her young daughter brought to me all those years ago, and thanks to her mother’s guidance early on, Lynn pleases all sorts of audiences with her music now. When I emailed Lynn to ask for a photo to publish with this blog, she said she’d send it asap. And then in that uncanny way of hers she ended her message by showing pride, humility and appreciation for her career all at the same time. “I leave in an hour to go play with Earth, Wind and Fire at Ravinia. If that isn’t the most surreal sentence I’ve ever typed, I don’t know what is.”
Thank you, John Foreman, wherever you are. You could never have known how your decision to volunteer as a 20-year-old young man would not only help me through those first unsettling months of blindness, but live on to sustain me decades later through my friendship with Lynn and her mother Alice. What a gift.