Calumet Heights/Pill Hill Chicago

It began at 2436 East 91st Chicago Ill, 17. Phone: Essex 5-5930. That’s how I remember zip codes, addresses and phone numbers. It was called Calumet Heights where I went to Hoyne Elementary with Mrs O’Brien and because the area was overcrowded, a new school was built in time for first grade in 1962, Kate Sturgis Buckingham that provided kindergarten through fifth grade.

It was in the gym where we had a make- shift library session in the third grade where I sat and stared at the wall clock when President Kennedy was killed. Fourth and fifth grade were probably my favorite with Mrs. Mary Landon who taught me to write and love to read… the little girl that grew oh so much over the years as she wrote in my eighth grade autograph book from Joseph Warren Elementary in 1969. Though, my least favorite teacher was Mrs. Madsen at Warren school, I did win an award in my sixth grade class for writing an essay on Keep Chicago Clean. Overcrowded then at Warren, we had several mobile classes.

My friends are too numerous to mention and we still keep in touch today on Facebook. Some lived in what was known as Pill Hill, where many of my friends parents were doctors that worked at South Chicago Hospital and dentists though there was a variety of business owners in the area; some owned furniture stores.  We had a special group of girls called the Consolettes though I don’t exactly know why we were or established or  what we had done. Every week we met at each other’s home after school….that I remember.

Since we went home for lunch, many of us ate at Marcon’s restaurant, only a block from Warren. A hamburger, fries and Green River float was my standard. During the summer, the Jewish Community Center was next to Marcon’s and it was a special treat to go swimming in their outdoor pool. On 87th street, between Jeffrey and Stony Island we would travel to one place that had the best lochs and bagels, and Totville for clothes.  I think there was a Woolworths there too where I could spend my meager allowance.

I have been back to the old neighborhood many times through the decades. It is not quite the same. In 2009, I knocked on the door of my childhood home and a Mrs. Grishman opened the door. I told her who I was and she had just found the bill of sale when my Mom sold the house to her in 1970. She could not show me the inside but told me my Dad’s mirrors and glass work still decorated the interior.

Recently, I have been back and Buckingham School is closed. In the last few years it had been a special education school but CPS closed the school in 2013 due to lack of funding and need…just the opposite in my day when it was a booming community. The original Warren school had been built in 1920s which had been torn down and a new junior high built. A student was just shot in the playground not long ago.

The windows of Marcons restaurant are sealed with concrete and the community center is still there though I am not sure about the pool.  Perruso Cleaners is still there on 87th Street though most places are closed. However, at the corner of East End and 87th is Thomas’s restaurant….I am also certain that it is where I ate lochs, bagels, and now it  still has an excellent menu and reviews.

The homes have stayed the same with Pill Hill still remaining elegant and many have kept the same landscaping over the years. One day I did a Google run through the neighborhood and in my research found, that Mrs Grisham had died in 2014 and her son had inherited the house.

How ironic that her obituary represented the family, friends and parents I recognized in the same neighborhood.

Mrs. Grisham and I were neighbors for many years. She was a hard-working, intelligent, proud woman. The apple of her eye was her son, Terrence Paul. We grew up together on the south side and cared for our neighbors.

We made a village that took care of each other.

We were neighbors that protected the children and offered the best in culture and education.

Just like us!

Happy Valentines Day

After sitting down to tutor a young fifth grade student, she reminded me of Valentine’s Day.  She shared a story about her grandmother who lost her Dad when she was a teenager, then her husband just recently….Grandpa…..

It was a cedar box that her Grandmother opened when she was sad and inside were a special collection of Valentine’s Day cards. Beautifully wrapped in tissue, she would open each one and smile. Sometimes, tears of love would tag along.

The cards were elaborate with elegant designs in red, white and pink while others were framed in lace or velvet. To my love, my darling, my precious; written in neat handwriting to introduce the verse inside which was usually an encouraging message. After listening, I realized that many of us have probably done the same with our own inspired Valentines either preciously saved in a box or scrapbook.

My mother had a box just like Samantha’s grandmother. My Mother and Dad had passed away several years ago but I knew where the box was stored. So after returning home, I found her box.  I found my Mother and Dad.  A glossy silver card with a vase filled with flowers complimented the cover. In small writing, it said I love you in a white heart…he had signed his name though difficult to read…placed among the assorted floral collection designed on the card. To my darling wife stood proudly inside.

Now, I was excited…..this really was the true meaning of Valentines Day for me so I began the search of Valentines from my own personal scrapbook collection. I was looking specifically for Valentines that were given to me by my own children, now aged 25+.

I always loved scrap booking and am pretty organized in creating scrapbooks that preserve memories from certain years or should I say decades.  But, completely forgotten about, were my own childhood Valentines sent to me when I was in elementary school.

Lets be a couple of Love Birds graced the cover of my own childhood years in the 1960’s from Michael and Tommy….though can’t really remember who Michael and Tommy were. I had also saved several from my Mom and Dad; to a wonderful daughter. At that moment, I cried at the irony.

And the next day of tutoring, I shared my collection with Samantha. She decided to make her Grandmother a special card to add to her box of treasures this year.  Nothing says I love you like the hand-crafted cards trimmed in elaborate lace and personalized just for you.

Alzheimer’s: The perfect love story

When I worked in home health care to help in emergencies, I was told that the husband would relay my care taking  job duties when I arrived at their home.

I knocked… but the door was ajar…he told me to come in. He would not leave her alone. When I walked in, the kitchen wasn’t in the best of condition; crumbs on the counter, frying pans that needed elbow grease. That is where he spent most of his time. She needed to be fed soft foods because of her condition. He tried to make interesting recipes.

She really didn’t know what they were but she ate them without complaint. She would smile as he picked up the fork and spoon, alternating between one dish and feeding her steadily. She didn’t know how to do that anymore. I just sat and watched.

“Sorry that the kitchen is such a mess, would you mind cleaning it after we are done. Then you can iron…I just don’t do well with the iron at all, he commented.

By his tone of voice, he wanted household responsibilities to take precedence such as cleaning and laundering. Not feeding his wife of 50 years; the latter was his job and his job only with never ending love and patience.

“She loved to cook and the holidays were always here at the house. She would invite neighbors, friends that didn’t have a place at a festive, dining room table with the best of food. I was out working in one job after another”. I really didn’t pay attention to what went on in the kitchen” I came and just ate,” he said, a sad tone escalating, “Why didn’t I tell her then…. I don’t know.”

“She knows, I am sure of it,” I responded assuredly.  Because of what you are doing right now.”

“It is the least I can do,” he said, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Quite, I said. Though her beauty had been ravaged by Alzheimer’s and other physical issues, to the unknowing eye anyway. Never to his.

She turned to meet his gaze. In a whisper, she said, “Thank you,”.

Unsure whether she was thanking him for his compliments or just a reciprocation for his efforts, it was a thank you with emotional meaning and trust.

He told me more about their life together, the minute he met her…. knowing that it was just natural for him to feel comfortable, the sense of humor they both shared, the instinctive level of intelligence they had assumed.

“No problems?” I asked though I knew that only fairy tales were without those.

“Of  course,” he said but I learned that women think differently than men.  It was probably better for me to just nod and accept. I have two daughters.I will never quite understand them either. I guess that is okay….it worked for us.”

“And women should just stop trying to figure you guys out as well,” I laughed.  He agreed.

Filling the spoon more slowly and gently nudging her to eat one more bite, he smiled at her, as their eyes briefly met.

“I guess with her beside me all these years, that is all I have ever really needed. You know you are with the right one when you lay your head on the pillow, place your arm around her and close your eyes to sleep.

You just know!

Lost in love

Lost in the past websites not only bring back detailed memories of events and places but can make you quite the historian. No, Kresge’s didn’t close that year, but Zayres did. Scary that many don’t know the real statistics.

And as I scroll with a midlife friend born the same year, we scream out the name of the person, place or thing with recognized excitement; we sing the phone number or song that was repeatedly drilled from one ad to the next in out childhood….will probably still remember to sing during our future days of dementia.  We stop for a moment at the photo of W.T Grants, a United States chain of low priced mass merchandise which briefly gives me the chills as I recount my missing child experience when I was only four or five.

I slowly turned and Mom wasn’t there. I just walked down the same aisle and I would be sure to see her and no Mom. So I turned down the next aisle, a little bit more quickly, a little more panicked…no Mom. The next aisle looked exactly the same as the last, cloth, linen that appeared colorless through my unmanageable tears….no Mom. Finally, someone grabbed my hand,

No, we will find her…. a saleslady had said. How did she know?

I was only sobbing a little by this point and the kind lady walked me to the service deck and I had to crane my neck to face the women behind it who asked me my name. I admitted no shame and spoke it clearly. It was strange to hear my name announced on the loud speaker. It was strange to hear my last name pronounced correctly. That was always an exception to the rule. But she found me…did not leave me stranded.

So we continue on our journey down memory lane, buying our first records at Rose, ski jackets at Robert Hall, Buster Brown Shoes and helped collect our S & H green stamps to buy a phonograph. Strange, how we all went to the same places for the same stuff at the same time.

Finally, the dining experience begins with chuckles of neighborhoods Chicken Unlimited, Aunt Jemina’s kitchen, Howard Johnson’s breakfasts, Cals Roast Beef and of Uncles Als barbeque, hotdogs, polish sausage. It seems like there is an Uncles Al’s for everyone’s eating pleasure across the county.

But when we begin to visit the photos of the more elite restaurants of our time, our moods become more contemplative of our own unique dates, desires. and turning points. It was the Chez Paree my friend celebrated prom.

For me, instead of prom, I chose a Jethro Tull concert instead but, yes I do remember the formal restaurants.  It was at Dunlap’s restaurant opened in 1935 that my fathers handwork in glass was displayed behind the bar and only polished until the restaurants closing in the early part of the millennium. A tear descended, while envisioning elegant ladies and their partners, sitting at the bar, my own Mom and Dad gazing with satisfaction in the smoked glass mirror beyond.

We began to crawl through the pictures to maintain our emotional composure. and suddenly, The Deacons Bench was discovered, boosting eighteenth century decor with hurricane lamps on the tables, scattered benches with embroidered seats and crisp red and white checked table clothes, My first visit when I was 10 with my Mom and best friend for lunch, mesmerized at being able to truly step back in time, my second visit for lunch with my Mom when I was twenty one; her sternly lecturing me about my after hours social life even though we lived apart.

Was I really too frivolous in those days?

Though a great work ethic, my free time had its moments of carelessness. Savings in the bank, a fleeting thought. Maybe, I should have been planning for the retirement that I don’t have now.  Finally, the Green Shingle restaurant that had somehow captured the most love in the early 60’s. It was my first date with my Dad in my best dress, shoes and gloves. It was my first steak sandwich medium rare but would not be last. It was my second date with my college professor who helped to celebrate my birthday with fellow students after my Dad passed away. A college professor who passed away from cancer a few years ago. And finally, a date with my first boyfriend as we first held hands at the candle lit table.; killed in a car accident shortly after.

Until today, I never realized that we had all shared the same place. A Dad, a lifelong mentor and my first love in a building who enclosed the magic of it all.  Though the restaurant is part of that which is lost.  Love never is. Though life moves on to another dimension, the surrounding spirit remains as long as I do.

The friend I sit and laugh with today; another love of a new day.  How wonderful it is to be reminded. How wonderful it is to be loved.