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JP Grace: Bombings were part of rushabout week

Apr. 29, 2013 @ 09:45 PM

Whirlwind week! Call it a mad dash or just the kind of week the psyche can stand only once in awhile.

I set off on a Sunday after church, headed for a visit with a college year-abroad friend, Judy Ziegler, and her husband, Wayne, right on ocean's edge at Virginia Beach. Long drive but worth the view. Good lasagna and an evening of scintillating conversation.

Judy and Wayne run a video production company, shooting both commercials and documentaries.

Already, however, the airwaves were overflowing with emerging details from the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, the smoke, the chaos, the victims, the hunt for the killers.

After coffee and hotcakes next morning, I was off on the second leg: a rendezvous with my granddaughter Meghan O'Keefe and her high-school orchestra from Marietta, Ga. They were part of a competition at the Kennedy Center with orchestras from three peer institutions from California, North Carolina and New Jersey. Meghan, only a freshman, plays violin.

Biased though I was, when I heard her Hillgrove High School ensemble in the early afternoon, against other orchestras, I told myself: "They're the best. They ought to win." Meghan and her mates had a big, sweeping sound, rich and nuanced. I thought the Cary, N.C., outfit was close but not quite at Hillgrove's level.

Lot of tense waiting through the rest of the afternoon wandering the halls of the Kennedy Center waiting for the judges' appraisal. Like a good reporter, I got it first -- a scoop. "Tell Hillgrove it might be worth their while to hang around for the evening," was the tip I got when I buttonholed one of the judges. "Unofficially, of course." An hour later the formal announcement came down: Hillgrove had won.

Following Hillgrove's evening encore performance, I roamed a bit through downtown D.C., searching for a route to my motel in the Maryland suburbs. The police were everywhere, cars walling off certain intersections to traffic. You couldn't get near the White House. Security, big time, post Boston bombings. No one knew then whether al-Qaeda was involved. Or what other strikes they might have planned. And Washington was considered a target.

WNEW, all-news radio for the D.C. area, kept me gobbling up a steady stream of developments from the investigation.

The next day I had meetings with two of our Publishers Place authors, Frank Joseph in Chevy Chase, Md., ("To Love Mercy") and Kit Thornton in Charlestown, W.Va. ("Milton's Child"), both novelists. Much more sharing on the terrorism question, as Frank worked with me at AP Chicago and Kit is a prosecutor.

Barely back home in Huntington, I took off almost immediately for three-and-a-half days of Kairos Prison Ministry at Mt. Olive, a maximum security men's prison, near Montgomery. So now I was off the road and behind high walls and coils of barbed wire huddling with fellow volunteers and inmates on Godly topics. By now news had percolated in via the cable channels, which inmates may watch, that there'd been a shootout in Boston. One suspect and an M.I.T. Police officer killed, the younger suspect still on the run.

The third evening of prison ministry brought a tremulous call from my wife Paula: her mother, Genevieve Siemianowski, had died suddenly post surgery to repair hip damage after a fall at home. Two weeks from her 88th birthday.

I bailed out of the prison ministry, leaving my prepared talk to be delivered by a fellow volunteer, hurried back to Huntington and got ready to leave, post-haste, for Chicago with Paula. Within hours we were off on a 500-mile trek with our three pets, dog Cooper and cats Cleo and Punkin, bundled into the van with us.

Quite a week.

John Patrick Grace filed this column from Chicago, where his journalism career began in the mid 1960s with The Associated Press. He is currently a book editor and publisher based in Huntington.

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