Without the Weekly Reader

Decades of children, all ages, couldn’t wait until Fridays when the weekly newspaper was passed out in school.  Ninety years ago, the first edition of the Weekly Reader was distributed on September 21, 1928 and was an immediate success. The first edition catered to older children and a second edition to younger ones; introduced in 1929. By 1931, there were four editions complementing a variety of grades with a circulation of over a million. After a series of several owners in the last fifteen years, Scholastic no longer publishes the reader as we knew it since 2012.

A few years ago, I shared my surprise and sadness over the news of discontinuing the Weekly Reader with my cousin a few years ago who was almost as old the Readers life. We shared our fascinating stories of invention and themes of the week which included anything from safety to volunteering for others even though my experiences were younger than his.

He asked if we had to pay for the Weekly Reader and in 1934 it was approximately 20 cents a semester. In the early 1960’s, my mother always wrote a check every year for the Weekly Reader for me to read about mice going to the moon, a memorial to John F Kennedy and finally men taking that  one historical step for mankind on the moon with the Apollo landing in 1969.  Great progress and history was made as I traveled through the years with my Weekly Reader.

After researching the Weekly Reader, I found one for sale from 1935; a perfect gift for his 84th birthday that he would be celebrating along with the reader.  In January of 1935, it was time to celebrate the birthday of Ben Franklin and his ideas on thrift while articles today in 2012 focus on the similar including protecting the environment and recycling.

However, the main story of 1935 was Old and New Ways to Travel which compared the old steam engine to a new train engine that pulls cars that are streamlined and cuts through the wind. America by rail today is still available with luxury suites and trains that can exceed 300 miles per hour.  Another form of travel mentioned was the celebration of the Wright plane built in 1903 being able to stay in the air 59 seconds. And, of course, new planes had taken part in the event and some of them went three miles in a minute. What a change there has been in airplanes in 31 years.”      “What a change there has been in airplanes in 109 years,” those same individuals would say about the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the new airplane of the 21st Century. Who would have thought you could view a presentation on your computer introducing this dream in the sky.

Wig Wags, the dog, shares experiences in a designated column and children still respond enthusiastically to the little canine friends who can really talk. While another column talks about safety and the game stop and go. A boy plays a policeman with a stop-go- sign and whistle which he blows while turning the sign to stop. A girl is riding her bicycle and must stop when the police boy blows his whistle. She gets a ticket if she does not follow the rules and after three, must forfeit something she likes.

Ultimately, the lessons of the Weekly Reader have never lost their relevance, a treasured memory added to the scrapbook once again. However, Scholastic does publish a weekly nonfiction print and digital magazine for elementary classrooms. They use the most-taught science, social studies, and safety topics to create a multimedia curriculum

For us, the Weekly Reader exemplified more than a just a recap of current events but a cherished time for so many every Friday afternoon during rain, sleet, snow and sun when the Reader was placed in our hands to begin our weekend.

Courtesy of Ebay who offers many vintage copies of the Weekly reader.

It looks like a lilac to me

During the spring, it stood in the east outdoor corner of my childhood yard. Probably the most healthy of the plants that grew there. I couldn’t wait for my Mom to cut a large bunch, wrap them in tin foil during Springs mornings before school and give them to my favorite teachers; usually for my kindergarten, first grade and my fourth grade.

Then, I had no idea that the elegant smelling lavender lilacs would not last very long. Old Moms did not know the tricks in getting the beautiful fragrance to last more than a day.

Even when I became a Mom, I did not have a lilac bush at home so I would steal my neighbors lilacs at night. He was a great, longtime friend watching his tree dwindle but never said a word. I scattered them in vases throughout the house knowing not to send them to school with my little ones. Not because they were stolen…but knowing they would fade quickly.  My own children didn’t seem to be that interested anyway in brightening their teachers day with flowers from the garden.

My neighbor moved and I was scared to steal anymore so I  planted a lilac tree in our backyard. As it grew, my developing children pressed their noses into the tree while filling my vases inside and out.

However, I still liked my neighbors tree better; the fragrance was more overpowering reminding me of my youth. Occasionally, after many years, I will race down the street with scissors in hand when no one is watching.

Helping lilacs live longer:

If you want to give it a try, take a cutting from a healthy lilac and place the stem in a clear or amber glass or jar with 1 to 2 inches of water. Be sure to strip the leaves from the part of the stem that will be in the water to keep the cutting from rotting. Add fresh water as needed.

Though she did not know my love for lilacs, a first grader gave me one of the best handmade flower that looks like a lilac to me! That especially reminds me of the gratitude towards teachers that is still expressed and appreciated today. Thankfully those virtues remain.

I will be sure to wrap my flower carefully…maybe in tin foil….and take home from school to celebrate my summer vacation. The flower can sit beside me in a protected vase during the early months of summer while I lounge outside………under my lilac tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Soap Opera Moms

“What are you watching?” I asked. It was lunch time in the small cafeteria for a company I had visited and I chose a seat near the TV.

“The Young and the Restless”, she said in a whisper as if anyone around would think her crazy for a 40+ year old woman watching soap operas.

Even though the Young and the Restless had not been one of my own personal standbys, one character graced the screen from One Life to Live; remembering him with less gray hair when I had watched him years before. He looked like me without the hair dye. I guess one serial comes to an end and the actors trade places on another just like the soap operas of life that frivolously continue on.

Ah, yes now the memories begin. We grow together regardless of the channel or year.

As I ate and watched, the quiet of home long ago and Mom when I was a child became my first thought. I clearly remembered the time I was home from school, ordered to bed sick but Mom would stroll in with the portable TV and we would watch As the World Turns, Guiding Light, Secret Storm  and The Edge of Night to name just a few.

During those early years of the 1960’s, Mom was a stay at home and sometimes would switch commitments that included soap opera, Search for Tomorrow but most of the time she never varied from her serial, Love of Life which opened in 1951. It was a time to bond, get to know my Mom by the comments and reactions to messy relationships, illness, drinking, and even murder of Another World……that too.

And the clips in my mind are filled with Tide, Ivory Soap, Camay commercials and a dish washing liquid that you could soak your fingers in for beautiful hands. If Madge said so, Palmolive it was for all to wash dishes, before dishwashers, and soften their hands.

And as far as my soap opera guests, they always looked untouched through the greatest drama, their homes fashionable, their nurses uniforms crisp and spotless even in black and white.

And then one day, I became a Mom at home and I switched TV addictions, a difficult journey to re-route. But for my family beginnings, I chose All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital. And I didn’t have to change networks either. And I didn’t have to change my college friends since they were talking about the same characters and we all shared phone calls of the drama abound as our little ones napped.

Here was Erika who always got her way in AMC and Brooke who I actually grew with  from a snotty teenager to a sophisticated editor, the tragic death of Megan in OLTL, who chose Dancing in the Streets as her funeral music and message to live on, Vickie and multiple Vickies and of course, the wedding of all time, Luke and Laura in General Hospital. We laughed, we predicted on Fridays what Mondays would bring, we cried when we lost our favorites. Even now, as I smile, they are still with us; the moments of sharing. Even working Moms could tape their reasons for escape.

I visited this company another time and the lunch room was empty. The TV silent as I found the remote. I sat down and tuned into the Young and the Restless; mesmerized that Robert Scorpio had showed up on this one who had entertained me in the past on General Hospital.

Another lady sat at the table and commented. “Wow, that reminds me of me and Mom; home from school and watching the soaps together.” A slight tear in her eye as she glanced again at the projection on the TV.

Thanks for the memories, Mom. Thanks to all of you who can wait to watch you favorite soaps. I never realized how melodramatic episodes that span decades can offer such peace . Once noted, daytime television was coined by Time magazine as TV’s richest market.

They had no idea!

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.