Fifty one years ago: The horrific Illinois tornadoes

For me, it was in the late afternoon after school and I was playing outside at a friends. We were planning our weekend and the weather had been beautiful for April with high temperatures in the 70’s.

It was a time of no cell phones or computers on April 21st, 1967. But Father called from the front porch after getting home from work early, that I needed to get home. Strange, it was not dinner time when the usual call from Mom went out.  My own home was about a half a block west from where I had been playing and I was shocked as I glanced at the western sky.

I suddenly noticed that the trees, the birds were quiet for April and the sky was a heavy gray, tinged with a smudge of green.  Like the massive snowstorm months before, Chicago’s weather was about to change.  Something in my heart told me that the call to home was not a good one and I raced to the front porch, my Dad sat in his chair.

He loved storms and that was his spot regardless of the severity but this time he told me and Mother, who was standing inside the front door, that we needed to be in the basement immediately. At no other time in my short life, do I remember that command. Mom and I headed for the basement, me first but Mom kept trying to get him to come in as she stood on the basement stairs, scared.

The first tornado, better known as the Belvidere tornado, struck approximately at a little before 4 pm where the Chrysler plant near 1-90 witnessed the destruction of over 400 cars. Then, the destruction continued to the town of Belvidere where hundreds of homes were damaged but it was just at the time that school was getting out and buses were being loaded at the high school.

Elementary students were already on the buses but over 1,200 high students were dismissed and tried to get back into the building. According to sources, twelve buses were rolled over and students were flung like leaves into the field. Thirteen of the 24 fatalities and 300 of the 500 injuries in this tornado occurred at the high school.

At 5:03, Lake Zurich and surrounding suburbs felt the effects of their own tornado where over 75 homes were completely destroyed. Moving rapidly with no warning as had been described by many residents that there was no noticeable roar until upon them. It ripped through Seth Paine Elementary School, tearing down thick brick walls but leaving clocks showing 5:05 pm.  Many people were caught in their autos as they were returning home from work.

But it was the Oaklawn tornado that was on its way to my neighborhood in Calumet Park and according to meteorologists, the worst storm of the day. According to sources, at 5:15 an off duty Weather Bureau employee saw a rotating cloud mass over his house in Romeoville. Windows were blow out at a restaurant at at McCarthy Road and 127th and an observer at the Little Red School House at 99th and Willow Springs Road saw a funnel.

The tornado touched down just east of 88th Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets at 5:24 pM, 24 minutes after the tornado warning was issued for Cook County.  But it continued hitting homes and crossed the Tri-State Tollway, hitting a drive-in movie near Chicago Ridge finally moving to the heart of Oak Lawn. It was here that many homes were leveled. It was here that one of my parents best friend was paralyzed.

As we later learned, Tony was sitting in traffic at the intersection of 95th Street and Southwest Highway where a light pole smashed into the top of his car crushing him as he was heading to pick up his daughter at the Oaklawn Roller Rink. The greatest total of life took place there. Between 25 and 40 automobiles, halted at this intersection for a traffic light, were thrown in all directions, some carried northeast at least a block and set down on the Oak Lawn athletic field.

The Oak Lawn Roller Rink was completely destroyed but his daughter had left early and was safe from the destruction. Four were killed at the rink.  Fortunately, as the tornado passed over the Dan Ryan Expressway and headed our way, it began to dissipate causing lighter damage to vegetation, roofs and garages. According to sources, it finally moved offshore as a waterspout at Rainbow Beach, where we swam as kids.

My father summoned us out of the basement as he had watched the storm pass over from the front porch. Though the clouds were high then, he knew the damage west had been serious. It was the next morning he received the call about one of his closest friends in critical condition.

At least 10 tornadoes raked northeast Illinois, three of which were violent, F4 tornadoes. In the wake of the twisters, 58 were dead, more than 1000 were injured, and there was nearly half a billion in damage costs.

 

Old Town then and now

It was approximately 1749 North Wells which is now an apartment building but was a quaint stone building with a court yard built in the early 1930s. And not only home to my Aunt and Uncles apartment but Van Sydow Moving Company, where my uncle was a supervisor.

I was only about five when he passed away in 1960 and my Aunt moved to an apartment in the suburbs. But I remember the great windows of their large apartment that looked out over the exquisite tree-lined Wells street. I remember the enchanting courtyard where I would chase fairies and the first remote control that changed the channels on their console television.

I remember my Aunt hating God when my Uncle died. She met a new man a few years later just as special but we returned to Wells street many times to talk about her memories of Old Town as well as create new memories for me.

Many have commented that rents had plummeted in the 1960’s and Old Town was the most populated hippy neighborhood in the Midwest. It was the 1960’s that I remember bits and pieces of the Old Town Art Fair which I have enjoyed over the years. On an average, over 200 artists still display their creative work in June every year.

And after the fair or just spending a weekend in Old Town,  it was the Pickle Barrel restaurant that opened in 1960 on Wells that I went to several times where I remember being greeted with a barrel of kosher dill pickles and popcorn  for snacking. The walls displayed a variety of antiques and tables/chairs did not match.

The first Crate and Barrel store opened on Wells street in 1962 filled with European pottery and glass in. And another all time favorite for me was the original Pipers Alley, a cobblestone passageway that housed several eclectic shops and theater at 1608 Wells street.  The alley lent itself to original Victorian architecture.  A huge Tiffany lamp fixture hung over the the trip down the alley that included an old fashioned candy store,  poster shops, a candle shop, and even a pizza place.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Old Town became the center of Chicago folk music which was experiencing a revival at the time.

In 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music opened at 333 West North Avenue and stayed at that address until 1968, when the school moved to 909 West Armitage Avenue. It has retained the name, although it is no longer located within Old Town. Singer-songwriters such as Bob Gibson, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, and John Prine played at several clubs on Wells Street, such as The Earl of Old Town.

According to Wikipedia, The Old Town School of Folk Music was closely associated with these artists and clubs. One large and successful folk club was Mother Blues, which featured nationally known artists and groups such as Jose Feliciano, Odetta, Oscar Brown Jr., Josh White, and Chad Mitchell. It also presented comedian George Carlin, Sergio Mendez, Brazil ’66, and The Jefferson Airplane.

In later years and today, I still walk the streets of Old Town enjoying the great shopping and entertainment such as Second City, The Chicago History Museum and O’Briens restaurant.

 

Bargain town/South Chicago/Toys R Us

We would go to Steel City Bank in South Chicago and then Gassman’s clothing store for my mother to try on numerous outfits that took forever. However, if I waited patiently outside of the dressing room, our next stop would be Bargain Town. A slinky was only 68 cents! And walkie talkies were under 10 dollars, a lot cheaper than cell phones today.

It was Bargain Town where I remember the aisle crowded with my favorite colorforms; the Jetsons, Dress designers, Barbie, Crazy shapes and the Addams Family. If not in the mood, I would take my time picking out a paint by number. Generally, it was an autumn landscape with oil paints. The paint by number assumed a usual routine at home.

It was set up on a card table in the family den in front of the TV.  It was right before dinner that my Mother and Dad would have their 5:30 cocktail and I would be watching Garfield Goose along with spilling my creativity in front of me. I was allowed to have a small glass of 50 /50 soda.  Oil paint landscapes that would take me alot of time were always my first choice. They still are today. I have a winter and summer print I hang over my fireplace during the appropriate seasons.

After Bargain Town, we would head to the new Jewel in South Chicago before we went home, now CVS pharmacy.

According to That’s It, back in 1948, Charles Lazarus – the founder of Toys”R”Us, opened his very first store in Washington, D.C. called Children’s Bargain Town. It wasn’t until he opened his second store almost 10 years later that he adopted the name we’ve all come to know and love. And that is how the legacy of Toys”R”Us began. Bargain Town also offered nursery items, cribs and baby furniture as well as bicycles. Bicycles cost about 30 dollars. And crown pools that you could set up in the backyard were under 100 dollars.

In the 1990’s, my children could walk to the nearest Toys R Us and for my son, anything Power Rangers would work. My daughter loved board games and art sets; her eyes wide as she studied the massive collection.

The company has been in the toy business for 70 years and operates around 800 stores in the United States and around 800 outside the US, although these numbers are steadily decreasing with time. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. on 18 September 2017, and has also filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada.

Charles Lazarus, 94, no longer held a stake in the chain and founded the company 70 years ago, just passed away last week. His passing was one week after the company announced it will be forced to shut down its U.S. operations. Many believed that he was the king of toys.

Check out A Tribute to Children’s Bargain Town USA Toy Store in Chicago on Facebook

Now, back to my painting. I even have an easel now!

Martin Luther King Jr. is dead: Chicago begins to burn

I was in front of the television set when Martin Luther King Jr was shot.  I remember the black and white newscast of frantic  cameraman capturing the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee where he had come to lead a peaceful march and a lone nut named James Earl Ray shot him as he was standing there.

The single shot was heard across the world, especially in Chicago as he was rushed to St. Josephs hospital and pronounced dead on the evening of April, 4th 1968. I was only 12 and his assassination plunged the city of Chicago into massive violence and turmoil. The Chicago Reader calls it the night Chicago burned and many discuss it today since Chicago’s murder rate has increased.

Many ask if the same past measures in calling the National Guard is something that we should do today when there are problems in the city. There are others that feel the riots had nothing to do with Martin Luther King and just about looting and burning.

Many don’t want to talk about it because it added to racial fear and the white flight.  It wasn’t even dark yet as commuters tried to get home among massive traffic jams where chaos ensued especially on the Eisenhower expressway that night fifty years ago.

Strangely, the Eisenhower stills see’s it minutes of closure due to shootings, one that just occurred not long ago. Riots began breaking out and news captured the violence but what was happening in the city was not the massive rioting but the raging fires that were set, one after another that was annihilating Chicago business in 1968. aFrom what sources claim, the police and fire department admitted they they were out of their control and needed help. According to the Chicago Reader, nearly 600 alarms were tripped in 24 hours. We stayed in our homes, evacuating city streets. It was then that Daley made the decision. Approximately 12,000 army troopers and 6,000 National Guardsmen took over the city.

According to the Chicago Tribune,Mayor Richard J. Daley later told reporters that he had ordered police “to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand . . . and . . . to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” No official death toll is given but approximately 11 people died though approximately 500 were injured and many businesses destroyed. Blocks and buildings were gutted and in some sections of the city, remain the same.

And what were our feelings in my neighborhood, Calumet Heights? Though young enough to not quite get it, in my home, family and friends, I saw massive fear along with realtors telling everyone that their houses would drop like a rock and their post war businesses annihilated. This was just the beginning. My father had died a year prior and my mother and I were alone. The house needed alot of work so she was planning on downgrading anyway to an apartment.

We moved in 1970.  Over a half a million fled the city between 1970-1975 for safety in the suburbs and as children, that was the last thing we wanted. Starting high school in the suburbs was a foggy experience since my time spent growing up in Calumet Heights and Pill Hill was amazing along with many new black friends that felt the same way. At reunions today, many of us discuss that time with a deep seated sadness that we will never forget; tarnished by that massive decision. Never again.

I have traveled through the old neighborhood many times. In 2010, I actually had the courage to knock on the front door of my old home. An elderly black woman answered the door as I proceeded to tell her that I had lived in her home many moons ago. She mentioned my maiden name, which many could never pronounce, but she did perfectly.  Mrs Grisham? I said buried in a bank of memory that I did not know was still there. She nodded, smiled and said the neighborhood was not what it used to be since the house had a heavy, metal screen that she did not open. I smiled thinking that we truly experienced the same. She bought the home from my mother. As she spoke, I was reminded of a beautiful black women sitting on the couch under my Dad’s most treasured wall mirror in the living room.  “I have been here 42 years and my husband passed. I raised my son on my own. Just like your mother.I just found the bill of sale to the home and remembered how I felt so terrible that you lost your father at such a young age. That was the reason your mother moved you to an apartment.

All these years later, she knew exactly what I felt. We both wanted the same opportunity as a child, adult and parent.  I can’t give you a tour, she paused still dressed in her pajamas, but she stood aside so I could see the couch that was similar to my own with Dad’s mirror framing it.  Now I was able to glimpse the woman I had become in the reflection of his mirror after all these years and somehow he was telling me that he approved.

Thoughts on Good Friday

I can still remember Good Fridays where I would wait. I was very young and be outside before it happened. Sometimes, I sat on the porch of my house or ride my swings in the backyard. My Mom and especially my Aunt would share the story of Good Friday. Good Friday was a Christian holiday commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was a day for many to fast and go to church services.

But I had to keep watch as a child and, amazingly, what I watched for always came true. I was told that regardless of where you lived, how warm or cold it was outside, how sunny or cloudy the sky was, at 12 noon the sky would darken until about 3pm, sometimes storm, and then the sun would shine. This would be the time that God was angry because of Jesus’s pain on the cross but then when he dies, God begins to rejoice. And, of course, on Easter, Jesus has arisen from the tomb for all to see.

During my childhood, there was never a Good Friday where the skies would not become dark and storms threatened the horizon. I can’t say that as an adult. Many of my Good Friday afternoons have had a cloud show up here or there.

Maybe it was just my imagination growing up but how many of you experienced the same? It was amazing how God loved his son that he would change the weather every year.

As an adult, most Good Fridays were filled with sadness remembering the pain that Jesus suffered for us. Generally, attending a Good Friday service was on my menu to better understand how Jesus’s love is so strong that he is willing to sacrifice himself. How God does allow suffering in this world. And how we must forgive. We must forgive those that have hurt us and how we need to be less absorbed in our own problems. That is what Good Friday means to me.

It is Good Friday right now as I finish my thoughts. Where I live in the Midwest outside of Chicago, it is the Central time zone and it is 8:30 in the morning. As I pour another cup of coffee, I open the drapes and it looks like it may rain. Cloudy, gloomy and quiet.  I check the weather online. Mostly cloudy with a high of 49. And I open up the hourly forecast for the afternoon. Mostly Cloudy with no precipitation.

I will wait a few more hours and I will watch. It is 10 am and the sun is now shining brightly. So much for the weather online. However, now it is about noon and clouds are slowly beginning to come in from the West. They don’t last because the sun shines with distinction all afternoon…….then again?

Whether the sun, sky or earth changes between the hours of 12 pm and 3pm, Good Friday will always keep me balanced on what is important. Living especially for him and grateful for what I have right at this very moment.

Have a blessed Good Friday!

Through Chicago Eternal, the departed still have a voice

Chicago’s rich history comes alive through Larry Broutman’s stirring photographs of grave markers, headstones, monuments, tombs, chapels, mausoleums, and war memorials in his latest book Chicago Eternal. This elegant hardcover coffee table book explores over thirty Cook County cemeteries, featuring striking images of the final resting places of the Windy City’s most illustrious leaders, entrepreneurs, entertainers, artists, and athletes, as well as notorious gangsters.

Each image is accompanied by text that provides fascinating insight into the deceased’s life and historical and cultural contributions. Also included are tributes to the lesser known.  These photographs and their corresponding descriptions tell deeply touching tales of children or entire families taken before their time by diseases or fire and of soldiers who identities may be unknown but whose bravery and ultimate sacrifice have not been forgotten.

“For me as a photographer, it is not only the human stories but the visual richness of cemeteries that is so arresting. Photographing the images for this book has shown me how very many ways Chicagoan’s over the decades and centuries have found to visibly express their love and loss in beautiful monuments.” –Larry Broutman

Title: Chicago Eternal

Author: Larry Broutman

ISBN: 978-1893121-74-4

Imprint: Lake Claremont Press: A Chicago Joint, an imprint of Everything Goes Media, LLC (www.everythinggoesmedia.com)

Categories: Photography / History / Death / Culture

Price: $55

Page Count:  336 pp.

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

Format: Hardcover, 9″ x 13″

Availability: Chicago Eternal is available online at Amazon.com, Bn.com, and http://www.everythinggoesmedia.com. It’s available wholesale from Ingram. Please request from your local bookstore, gift shop, or library.

Everything Goes Media / Lake Claremont Press http://www.everythinggoesmedia.com With twenty-three years of experience and a love for books, knowledgeable authors with passion projects, connecting with readers, and small-scale enterprise, we are an independent book publisher forging our own path within the industry establishment. Our books have an initial print run of 2,000 to 10,000, and typically reprint. We specialize in choosing nonfiction books for particular audiences, supporting authors’ goals, public outreach, and creative sales and marketing. Our imprints include Everything Goes Media (business, gift, hobby, and lifestyle books), Lake Claremont Press (Chicago and Chicago history titles), Lake Claremont Press: A Chicago Joint (distribution for nonfiction Chicago books), S. Woodhouse Books (ideas, history, science, trends, and current events titles), and Storied Hotels (high glamour and intrigue history/mysteries set at the country’s finest historic hotels)

Come join us this week!

From Senior Pastor Scott Oberle

I have had so many people this year come to me feeling very discouraged. The nation seems divided. Politics are so ugly; front and center. So many people seem angry and choosing sides; friendships have been strained. “It’s hard for me to be on social media anymore.” one friend told me.

Any of this sound familiar? Perhaps, it all reminds us of how broken human relationships can become and how messy life together can be. But there is another truth. One which professes that light is greater than any darkness, hope more powerful than any despair, and that the love of God is more compelling and powerful than any hate or violence we might spill out upon one another.

There is Good News that you won’t find on any television news cast or twitter feed…. It is the news that Jesus Christ has come to bring us closer to God forever; that deeper more meaningful and life altering LIFE is available today in the resurrected Christ.

Come join us to reconnect with God and be with a community that believes that faith is more than a religion or an hour on Sunday, but a life that is changed in how we live and see the world around us because of the love of God in Christ.

EASTER SCHEDULE:

Maundy Thursday: March 29th -6pm Simple Supper provided by Congregational Care Ministries.

Maundy Thursday worship: 7:30pm

Good Friday Tenebrae worship service: 7:30pm

Easter Sunday 

6:00am Sunrise Service

9:00am Traditional Easter Service

10:47am Blended Contemporary Easter Service

Come Change the World with us! United in Love, Faith, Service and Community….United in Christ

First Congregational United Church of Christ of Downers Grove where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here. If you are traveling or home bound, you can see all of our services online at uccfn.org

State street that great street

Once again, back in my day, we parked in the Grant Park Underground if with Mom or someone that knew how to drive. If not, it was the Illinois Central, IC, that friends and I would hop on the from the South side. I think we were about 12 when we were able to travel into the city for a day of shopping and lunch at Wimpys. During Christmas, it was the Walnut Room at Fields and we had to dress in our best dresses, shoes and sometimes white gloves and hats.

Shopping on State Street during the 1950s/60’s  included some of the best such as Chandlers for shoes, the Woolworths seemed bigger for some reason than those in other neighborhoods as well as Walgreens. However, probably our favorites was just experiencing the massive Marshall Fields Store ( 8 stories ) and Carson Pirie Scott which was 12 stories.

Marshall Fields was one of the three largest retailers in the country. Before Marshall Field’s death in 1906, his company became the biggest wholesale and retail dry goods enterprise in the world and also one of the first buildings with escalators.

I think that those were the first that I rode too, one that followed a brief curve to another going up and down. But I really loved the elevator; wanting to be an elevator lady some day in their cute matching outfits and great shoes with nylons.

We would span the floors as we rode the escalator. We were fascinated by  the fourth floor toys with toy drums that encircled the hanging lights. I collected dolls so was in awe every time we would visit as we walked down the aisle where dolls topped glass cases as well as an incredible variety of porcelain dolls and dolls from around the world. Depending on who we were with, how much money and the time of year, we would also have lunch in the blue Narcissus room.

You can still visit the magnificent Tiffany Ceiling on the first floor when you go to what is now known as Macy’s, bought from Fields in 2006.  But visiting as a child and young girl, the granite pillars, the Walnut Room, ceiling, clocks and Christmas decorations was so special.  Today, jeans and sweatpants our just fine.

Carson Pirie Scott is 164 years old and still open today though the State and Madison store was closed in 2006. My aunt worked at the store in Evergreen Park and we shopped more at that store than any other.

State Street begins at North Avenue, the south end of Lincoln Park, runs south through the heart of Downtown Chicago, and ends at the southern city limits, intersecting 127th Street along the bank of the Little Calumet River. It resumes north of 137th Street in Riverdale. I never realized being a resident of Dolton, Il for awhile.  From there, it runs intermittently through Chicago’s south suburbs until terminating at New Monee Road in Crete, Illinois.

 

 

Michigan Avenue Chicago: Through the decades

The first places that come to my mind when I think about Michigan Avenue in Chicago that decorate my childhood was The Art Institute and the Grant Park parking garage below street level.

Most of all, I remember driving from Michigan Ave to Lake Shore Drive and back again several times when a handmade sign was placed in front of the ramp to let travelers know that the garage was full. But they must have been pretty good about monitoring customers and that sign. It would always open for us to park if we circled patiently.

I would glance at the Prudential building as we would circle…For me the highest on the 41 floor where we visited the observation deck many times. But then in 1970, the John Hancock opened and at 100 stories high, it was the tallest building in the world.  Now, of course, Sears or should I say Willis in 1973 was built 110 stories surpassing the World Trade Center buildings in New York, destroyed on 9/11.

A trip to the Art Institute during my younger years would have me consumed by the most remarkable Thorne Miniature Rooms, sixty eight glass boxes in walls displaying European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot,  rooms were designed by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932-1940. The Art Institute had the best museum shop that included a wonderful collection of art books, wall decor, special jewelry and charms. Now they have an expanded and you can order right now online.

During the 1960’s/1970’s, it was the historic Blackstone hotel on Michigan where I attended a young friends Bar Mitzvah in one of its banquet rooms. The Blackstone Hotel has been dubbed “The Hotel of Presidents”. It was once considered one of Chicago’s finest luxury hotels, and a dozen 20th-century U.S. presidents have stayed at the hotel. Today, the Blackstone is still a stunning hotel example with beautifully decorated rooms and marble bath facilities.

I still remember The Conrad Hilton on Michigan Ave in the early 1970’s where I attended an overnight convention now called Hilton Chicago. Hilton Chicago is still an elegant choice to stay in as it was for me as a young girl but today the Hilton has one of the largest fitness centers along with cellular phone rental and complimentary WiFi for Hilton Honors members.

Now known as the Magnificent mile,  north Michigan ave  boosted the construction of Water Tower Place in 1975 but in the 1960’s it was Saks Fifth Avenue that was probably the tallest most prominent shop.  900 North Michigan Shops is a visually stunning and highly desired shopping destination that resides on the north end of Chicago’s vibrant Magnificent Mile.

The exclusive tenant mix offers shoppers an unparalleled experience of more than 70 luxury lifestyle shops featuring Bloomingdale’s and a strong line-up of national brands perfectly complemented by an eclectic collection of unique boutiques and a diverse selection of delectable dining options.

Michigan Avenue extends south into near south side of Chicago and beyond – past what was once the notorious Levee District,  the historic Second Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1874 and still offers services today.

The former home of the legendary Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan. In 1993, Willie Dixon’s widow, Marie, purchased the building which was then renovated and re-opened in September 1997 with a dedication ceremony. It is now home to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation.

The Lexington Hotel was a ten-story hotel in Chicago at 2135 S. Michigan Avenue that was built in 1892, once a home to Al Capone. The hotel was closed in 1980 and destroyed despite being a landmark.

 

The Sucker Tree

My grandfather’s whitewashed farmhouse was located in small town, central Illinois framed by an ever-changing horizon and guarded by cornstalks.  Each had grown tall with gangling arms, restive and ready to capture their trespassers, twisting their leafy fingers round and round, threatening to arrest me. I was only six years old then.

I quickly made my way inside the chipped picket fence, protected from the grasp of the tawny soldiers.

The screen door creaked and cracked like the bones of an elder, opening and shutting again as Granddad reached for me with outstretched arms of endearment.

Behind the thick panes of his spectacles, his narrow eyes glistened with delight.  His face flushed with excitement, the color of the early autumn foliage that vividly shaded his home that day.

“I have another surprise for you, little one,” he spoke in a whisper.

Of course, I was expecting this and returned his words with a huge grin.  Once again, Granddad had not let me down for my visits were always greeted with something truly wonderful, a phenomena for the entire world to see but, unfortunately, allowed for Granddad and my eyes only!

He slowly took a seat in his polished, Hitchcock rocker and I piled into his lap, anxious to listen.

“Out back, only a few feet away from the house, my child, something very special is happening,” he said.

“What is it, Granddad?”  I responded, eyes wide with childhood curiosity.

He paused for a moment to gather his thought, clearing his aged vocal cords as well.

“A tree is just starting to bloom!”

……….Granddad had topped himself with amazing stories this time!  I wondered if his mind had taken a wrong turn somewhere, the grownups called it senility, I think.  Anyway, I was always considered bright for my years and knew better to believe that trees did not prosper during this particular season!  Leaves transformed from green to brown, then withered and fell to the ground to be either raked away or covered with blankets of snow at the onset of winter weather.  It didn’t take experience in years to attain that knowledge so what was this man fabricating now?

I was extremely disappointed, to say the least.

“Granddad, trees don’t bloom in autumn!”  I said in defiance.

“This one does,” he answered confidently.

Granddad had never lied to me in the past.  Did he really know something that the rest of Illinois and I had not encountered.  It was certainly possible.  In fact anything was possible.

“What kind of tree is it?”  I asked, attempting to pacify Granddad, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“A sucker tree!”  he proudly announced.  “When all the other trees and shrubs shed their leafy dress, this tiny tree begins to thrive with lollipops of rainbow colors.  One by one, they pop out like magic with stems and all, dangling from the branches.  When each sucker is ripe and just the right size, they can be picked and eaten.”

As Granddad continued to go on and on, I was mesmerized by his delightful description.  This was too good…..just too good to be true!  However, once again, Granddad had me right where he wanted me.

“Are the suckers ripe now?”  I asked, nearly jumping out of his lap.

“Well, let’s find out,” he suggested as we climbed out of the rocker and quickly headed to the backyard.

He gestured for me to go first and my impatience caused me to slide down the back steps, my bottom sore and surely splintered right through my pants!

I didn’t care because, only a few inches from me, a miracle really was occurring right before my startling eyes.

A young tree, only a foot or two taller than myself, caught my undivided attention.  Its’ trunk looked like any other and it was naked of leaves but, lo and behold, lollipops, approximately four inches round, hung delicately on their stems from each branch.  There were five or six already in bloom and pink, blue, yellow, and green colors swirled in their centers.  Each childhood delicacy gently swayed to the tunes of the afternoon breeze.

“Can I pick one?”  I uttered in a small voice.

This was a sight that would be locked in my memory for all time.

“Why, of course,” he smiled.  “Two, if you like”

My mouth watered as I let my tongue whirl around on the colors, blending the pinks into the blues, creating my own masterpiece and savoring its’ flavor while the sucker shrunk in size, eventually disappearing into my belly.

I hugged Granddad tightly, thanking him for letting me share this fascinating September event.

The following year in early autumn, Granddad had passed to another land and my heart ached for his return that could never be.  I would miss him for many years to come.

After his funeral, I removed myself from the crowd and took a seat on those familiar back steps to gaze on nature’s evolution.  Each tree had changed color and their leaves began to drop to their demise, almost like what had happened to my Granddad.

I then focused on the sucker tree.  Its’ barren branches seemed to stretch wearily toward the sky as if asking God to return my Granddad.  Not one lollipop adorned its’ arms.  The tree was lost without him for only Granddad knew the secret ingredients that could provide the tree with eternal like.  The sucker tree had become a fabric of memory along with my brilliant Granddad sitting beside it.