I grew up in La Grange, Illinois, the greatest town on the planet earth for families and kids.

We had seven kids in our family, and there were somewhere around a zillion Dunne relatives in the handful of towns surrounding our house and our St. Francis Xavier school and church.

As a kid, as I’d head out our back screen door to get on my mud-brown, used one-speed Schwinn bike to go off to battle at the school down the street, or in a little league game at the park, or to mow the lawn at somebody’s house – my dad would always bend down and look me square in the eyes – and remind me not to forget that ‘I’m a Dunne.’

During those hot, muggy air-conditionless summer days and freezing cold February afternoons, I put on pounds and pounds of love and character and competitiveness and wonder that I’ve never been able to lose.

After college days, one of my brothers and I left the nest and flew west to California, where we’ve both raised our kids and built the careers, friendships, and foundations of our lives.

Over this past holiday, my wife and two daughters flew to La Grange to spend Christmas with my brothers and sisters, my mom and dad, and my girls’ 24 fabulous cousins.

For Christmas Eve, it was my youngest sister’s turn to host the perennial “Christmas Eve Talent Show,” where every kid and every adult stands up in front of everyone and does some talent act.

It’s the greatest.  For weeks before, the kids and moms and dads get a group together and rehearse their singing, musical playing, juggling, magic tricks, dance routines, comedy shows, poetry raps, art demonstrations… you name it.

No matter if you forget the words, drop your juggling balls, trip over the lamp, you can count on always getting a gargantuan hoot-and-hollering applause along with compliments about how you are absolutely brilliant in every possible way.

For my girls, the treasure of hanging for a few days with all their nieces and nephews – was a better Christmas gift than anything we could ever give them under the tree.

For my daughters, it was a treat to be in La Grange to get together with everybody – because we live so far away.

While for my other brothers and sisters, mom and dad, and all the rest of the cousins – they live down the block from each other.  The kids ride their bikes to each other’s houses. Many of the cousin kids are best friends with each other.  I can’t possibly express to you what it means to both of my parents (in their eighties) to be blanketed by their children and their children’s families.


It’s been a powerful, rich, inspiring fabric of every generation in America back to the beginning.

We almost didn’t go back for Christmas. With a daughter in New York, and the other in Texas, all of us had a whole bunch of distractions and strong forces whispering in our ears with lots of reasons not to make the trip.

I’m so glad we did.

The other night I was falling asleep watching some science show about our planets.  It was about two of our seemingly opposing forces: the gravitational pull that keeps planets circling the sun, and another powerful force that is causing everything in the universe to distance itself from whatever it’s near.

Being together.  Hugs.  Pats on the back from folks truly rooting for you.  Being in the moment.  Looking in other’s eyes to find reflections of who you are and where you came from.

As we step through the door of the New Year, may you and your family be blessed with a ‘La Grange’ in your lives.


Back to Essays