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Real Life Revealed During Family's RV Vacation

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: Daily Herald, Chicago
Publish Date: Friday, September 7, 2007
Summary: We did it all the time in the RV," he said. We did it all the time in the RV," he said.

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Ab Scalf | Daily Herald Staff

Real life revealed during family's RV vacation

Author reveals his thoughts on human condition in tale of family's RV vacation

By Abby Scalf | Daily Herald Staff

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Published: 9/7/2007 12:19 AM

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Mike Leonard passes by the RV driven by his daughter-in-law. There is metal and fiberglass strewn everywhere.

The daughter-in-law, Margarita, did not estimate a turn correctly and ran over a concrete barrier at a gas station.

As family members assess the damage, she sits, sobbing.

His mother, Marge, known for her "stinkin' thinkin'", assumes the trip is over. His father, Jack, remains the optimist.

And so the cross-country odyssey -- which includes his aging parents, three of his own kids and a daughter-in-law -- begins.

Leonard, an NBC feature correspondent known for telling witty stories about ordinary people, decided to put the focus on his own family in his book, "The Ride of Our Lives, Roadside Lessons of an American Family."

While the book follows the family's one-month RV trip, Leonard said the book is about more than that.

The focus is finding the value of realizing a person's imperfections, he said. Weaknesses often become a person's strengths.

"We're like everyone else. No one is perfect," he said.

It is through use of humor and touching memories that attracted the Lake Villa District Library to select his book as its "One Book, One Community" title this year.

Telling the story

Leonard first documented the road trip in a four-part series on the "Today" show featuring some of 50 to 60 hours of home movies they took along the way.

Leonard said his literary agent suggested writing the book after the series aired. Not only did he share the experiences of the trip, but the book also brought Leonard back to his childhood and helped open his parents' lives.

Leonard said his favorite part of the book is describing his mom talk about her difficult childhood and a mean father. In the book, she recalls smashing a chair over her father's back.

Leonard said his mother managed to raise four boys without bringing them into that kind of life.

"Women didn't get credit for that a lot," he said. "It's an emotional war she waged every day. She survived it and moved on."

Heart-felt tales

In the book, Leonard shares times when his mother curses, shows her fear of heights or enjoys a drink. He said a narrow-minded person would say she has no class.

But he wanted to put all of those traits in the story so the reader realizes that is how his mother fights the battle.

Leonard allowed his children and wife to read parts of the book in advance. But he did not let his parents see it before publication, concerned they would fear being judged harshly by others. But when Jack Leonard first read the book, tears rolled down his cheek.

"He said, 'I'm so happy people will know about my mom and dad,'" Mike Leonard said.

The book is not all heart-heavy emotions. The Leonards also share many funny moments during the journey -- particularly as Jack breaks into song -- that are shared in the book.

"We laugh at life. It's an easy target. We did it all the time growing up. We did it all the time in the RV," he said.

Leonard chose to add a DVD to the book, giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at the trip. He said he did not want people who read the book to think he exaggerated anything.

"I wasn't exaggerating. My parents are like that," he said.

Leonard the author

Leonard has served as a feature reporter for NBC news for 25 years.

But the 58-year-old Winnetka resident is not the type to be impressed with his newest role as author. He attributes that trait to his parents.

His family will not let him focus on his new role, either, adding his daughter Kerry has given him the title "authoress."

"No one in my family will let me get carried away with it," he said. "But I am respectful of it because it was really hard to do."

But the process of writing the book was gratifying, Leonard said, because he told the story not for financial reasons, but to talk about the human condition.

"When I hear you got it right, it's way better to hear that than some guy from the New York Times giving a four-star review," he said.

Leonard said his literary agent suggested writing the book after the series aired. Not only did he share the experiences of the trip, but the book also brought Leonard back to his childhood and helped open his parents' lives.

Leonard said his favorite part of the book is describing his mom talk about her difficult childhood and a mean father. In the book, she recalls smashing a chair over her father's back.

Leonard said his mother managed to raise four boys without bringing them into that kind of life.

"Women didn't get credit for that a lot," he said. "It's an emotional war she waged every day. She survived it and moved on."

Heart-felt tales

In the book, Leonard shares times when his mother curses, shows her fear of heights or enjoys a drink. He said a narrow-minded person would say she has no class.

But he wanted to put all of those traits in the story so the reader realizes that is how his mother fights the battle.

Leonard allowed his children and wife to read parts of the book in advance. But he did not let his parents see it before publication, concerned they would fear being judged harshly by others. But when Jack Leonard first read the book, tears rolled down his cheek.

"He said, 'I'm so happy people will know about my mom and dad,'" Mike Leonard said.

The book is not all heart-heavy emotions. The Leonards also share many funny moments during the journey -- particularly as Jack breaks into song -- that are shared in the book.

"We laugh at life. It's an easy target. We did it all the time growing up. We did it all the time in the RV," he said.

Leonard chose to add a DVD to the book, giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at the trip. He said he did not want people who read the book to think he exaggerated anything.

"I wasn't exaggerating. My parents are like that," he said.

Leonard the author

Leonard has served as a feature reporter for NBC news for 25 years.

But the 58-year-old Winnetka resident is not the type to be impressed with his newest role as author. He attributes that trait to his parents.

His family will not let him focus on his new role, either, adding his daughter Kerry has given him the title "authoress."

"No one in my family will let me get carried away with it," he said. "But I am respectful of it because it was really hard to do."

But the process of writing the book was gratifying, Leonard said, because he told the story not for financial reasons, but to talk about the human condition.

"When I hear you got it right, it's way better to hear that than some guy from the New York Times giving a four-star review," he said.


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