Service Merchandise

On a vacation break watching Buzzer TV, I happened to watch a few of the Concentration Game Shows with Alex Trebek in the 1980’s and you could win a beautiful diamond necklace from Service Merchandise. I did not know diamonds where part of their catalog showroom. Lucille Ball was a regular advertising the jewelry from Service Merchandise on commercials; including many other stars. The Chicagoland area had 24 stores. My first experience was at Lakehurst Mall in Waukegan in the 1980’s where I bought a phone answering machine! They were located in Orland, Berwyn, Deerfield to name just a few. Originally opening in 1934 as a small five and dime then became a catalogue showroom 1960 in Nashville founded by Harry and Mary Zimmerman. Service Merchandise was also a prominent sponsor of Wheel of Fortune.

In the mid 1990s, the hand-filled paper forms were replaced with barcoded pull tags placed on/near each item in the showroom. For non-jewelry orders, customers would enter the showroom and receive a carbon-paper order form and clipboard to record the catalog numbers of desired items The jewelry department was in the center of the store operating on a first come basis. Items were displayed in working order in the showroom, allowing customers to test products as they shopped. 

This was changed in the late 1980’s with computer kiosks and changed again in the 1990’s where there was touch screen serives. However, a recession would slow business even further. Places like Circuit City and Best Buy began to take over as well discount options which included Walmart andTarget.

They also tried drive through windows but that didn’t work finally closing the largest catalog retail empire in 2001 due to bankruptcy and disappearing catalog business. It had reached its peak in 1994 with over 4 billion in sales.

Piano lessons

Many Baby Boomer children began with piano lessons building levels of musical accomplishment. Some stopped early on though I did continue through the years and taught individual lessons as an adult. My first teacher was Ms. Vera and it was all about the infamous John Thompson beginning with Teaching Little Fingers to Play. I didn’t like it much… all I remember was playing chords. My second teacher, since Vera retired, was Ms Frank, also known as Corinne Hepburn, when I was 13 and that is when I took off. I had tiny hands but she made everything possible and told me I had talent. She was fun and excellent pianist herself. Others may know her! She taught for 70 years, starting at her studio in Roseland, southeast Chicago neighborhood at the Calumet Conservatory of Music above the Roseland theatre, 40 years at Melody Mart in Homewood and finally in Mt Greenwood.

John Sylvanus Thompson was an American pianist, composer, and educator born in 1889 and lived until 1963. His piano methodsModern Course for the Piano, Teaching Little Fingers to Play (the first part of the Modern Course), Adult Piano Course and Easiest Piano Course are published by the Willis Music Company. According to many teachers, the legendary Modern Course series provides a clear and complete foundation in the study of the piano that enables the student to think and feel musically. It’s known as the method for quick, dedicated learners. The books are still for sale throughout the internet.

I have several John Thompson books from the 1960’s but currently Etsy has Teaching Little Fingers to Play (the picture above) published in the 1950’s for 72.00 dollars. I will keep mine in good condition and my mother’s books. John W. Schaum was another popular teacher and composer Bachelor of Music degree from Marquette University in 1931, a Bachelor of Music Education degree from University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and a Master of Music degree from Northwestern University in 1934 in Evanston, IL.

In Chicago, Forster Music Publisher, Inc. was a major American publisher of popular songs founded in 1916 by Fred John Adam Forster (1878–1956) and was located on Wabash Ave and according to sources, is still in business located at 5309 W Devon Ave # 1.

Calumet Conservatory of Music in Roseland is no longer there but Melody Mart was founded in 1956, and still serves the local community’s needs for music products, lessons, repairs and instrument rentals located on Dixie Highway.

Mysterious history of the Fortune Cookie

By Caryl Clem

The element of surprise and suspense in a dessert amplifies celebrating sharing food.  In Chinese and Japanese restaurants the end of a meal reveals clues to your immediate future.  A slip of paper hiding in the middle of a fortune cookie will offer lucky numbers, a wise saying or fateful prediction. Passing out the traditional free fortune cookie appears to be a time honored legend.  The first forerunner of messages printed on food was the NECCO Conversation Hearts in 1866.

Digging into these cookies past, I realized I knew nothing factual about this treat.  The biggest supplier of this product is a Chinese food company, Wonton Food based in New York, yet the origin of the cookie is Japanese. A Japanese confectionery store owner, Suyeichi Okamura, supplied a famous Japanese restaurant owner of the Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park with this Japanese regional favorite. Several hand skillet molds donated to the Smithsonian, were developed by Mokoto Hagiwara to shape this delicacy. In 1908, the larger than today’s version of a fortune cookie was making its first debut with a slip of paper lodged in a fold outside of the cookie. .

The Tea Garden was shut down when Japanese business owners were sent to internment camps in California during World War II. Chinese business owners took advantage of the opportunity to produce this dessert and devised a smaller cookie with the fortune hidden inside.   The cookie became associated with a new nationality, Chinese.  Ironically, in most Chinese restaurants the fortune cookie tradition is honored with the exception of China.  Romance seekers in the Chinese culture use the fortune cookie as a means to propose, especially on the most romantic holiday of the year the Double Seventh Festival, August 7th, 2021.

Ready to dive into food and your future, National Fortune Cookie Day is July 20, 2021.  If you are ready to cook then Amazon offers Fortune Cookie kits, or try EASY FORTUNE COOKIES

Ravinia Festival

Every type of music can be seen and heard representing the most celebrated, diverse music festival; the oldest in the United States opening in 1904. Ravinia, for me, brings memories of first seeing the Chicago Symphony orchestra; a mesmerizing experience for a young Baby boomer girl with her family. For my grandmother, it was known for the best opera in the 1920’s. For a dear friend, it was Earth, Wind and Fire. Born and raised in Chicago, my Aunt remembered the trains that would stop at the entrance. Trains still stop at Ravinia’s historic entrance today, serviced by the Metra Union Pacific North line, making it the only private train stop left in Illinois.

When it was originally built, besides including an amusement park, Ravinia offered a Casino, Grandstand, Music Pavilion, and a Theater which showed live performances as well as motion pictures. From 1919 through 1931, Ravinia was known as the “summer opera capital of the world and after the Great Depression, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra became a mainstay and still performs today. For five decades, Ravinia has made music more accessible through fine education programs now called Reach Teach Play® so attending student orchestra performances is not uncommon.

Today Ravinia operates as a self-owned nonprofit—the Ravinia Festival Association—still overseen by a volunteer board of business and community leaders, but now managed by President & CEO Jeffrey P. Haydon. The park and Pavilion are available for limiting seating this year. You can still bring your own food for picnics. A non-for profit festival shop is open for gifts and souvenirs. Ravinia Market, located in one huge indoor/outdoor dining pavilion, features five mini restaurants serving burgers, paninis, tacos, pizza, and barbeque. Dining options are run by Levy Restaurants (Spiaggia, River Roast, Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap).

Ravinia is hiring for all positions this summer including front and back-of-house positions for food operations.

Poplar Creek/Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre

It was at Poplar Creek that I saw Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band on July 6th in 1991. Our seats were located in the covered pavilion and were comfortable; the band easy to see and hear. Actually it was a great night and I am not the best at large, outdoor scenarios. The theatre opened in 1980 and closed in 1994. It consisted of a covered pavilion and grass seating area, and had a capacity of 25,202 people: 7,202 reserved seats and 18,000 lawn seats. John Denver was the first to perform along with great bands such as James Taylor, Chicago, and Jefferson Starship.

Poplar Creek began to face declining audiences even though it was suppose to be used for theatre productions, graduations and other shows. World Music Theatre was opened in 1990 in Tinley Park and shows declined even further at Poplar Creek. Sears acquired the property and now the Sears Centre opened right near the former Poplar Creek. At World Music Theatre, Cher was the first performer and I saw Garth Brooks on August 28th 1992. Friends were drunk during that concert and I did not enjoy like my experience at Poplar Creek.

Now called Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, it is one of the largest music venues in the Chicago area, with a capacity of up to 28,000 spectators: 11,000 reserved seats and 17,000 lawn seats. It is a venue pulling fans from the city of Chicago, as well as surrounding suburbs and neighboring states and had over 1,500 concerts.

Believe it or not, many concert ticket stubs from Baby Boomer days are on sale at Ebay. For those into collectable items, ticket stubs are a valuable commodity. Ticket collecting for sports fans is an avid interest and tickets can sell for hundreds of dollars.

Watching the skies on July 4th

By Caryl Clem:

Night’s opaque curtains close

Across America, waiting, watching

For the breathless spark igniting

 July 4th’s freedom show.

Searing red, white, blue flashes

Breaking the darkness into pieces.

Shattering the cloud of Britain’s domination

Our Forefathers wisdom illuminated citizen voices

A government shaped by rebels

Breaking bonds with outdated norms.

A continual battle seeking balance

Citizens united and divided under one flag

Feeling inspired by the fireworks

Aspiration’s symbols showering bright energy

Washing away the fear of a dark night

Observers, our marbled veined granite foundation   

Sharing Hope to strengthen our country’s diversity.

The Fourth of July

Probably the best memories of the Fourth of July for Baby boomer children was anticipating fireworks and Dad lighting those sparklers that we would carefully parade around the backyard with our family and friends. Dad’s eyes were as bright as the sparklers and we never tired of lighting one after another. Many traveled to Lake Shore Drive and Navy Pier. There were celebrations on boats overlooking the Chicago skyline. I got to spend one year on a boat from Belmont Harbor watching the fireworks in the pouring rain. One breathtaking show at the Waukegan Marina while being pregnant with my first son who did not stop moving. There were impressive celebrations at Arlington racetrack that delivered piped in music. But some of the best were local small suburban displays gathered with neighbors on the closest porch or nearest park like the famous Dolton parade back in my day.

After living in Chicago for childhood years, my high school and college years were spent in Dolton and my greatest memories was the Dolton Parade and Carnival on the 4th. Everybody and their brother watched the parade or was part of it in downtown Dolton on Chicago Road. There were bands, dance schools, boys and girls scouts, and a man who played Abraham Lincoln every year. There were 30 plus fire trucks and police cars blowing there sirens. Back then, it was okay to toss candy to those children watching.

My children grew up in Downers Grove and went to the parade. They, too, remember picking up the candy off the street in downtown which they said was the best part. We did not live far from the fireworks display and when they were little, you could see them from are backyard deck sharing the excitement with neighborhood friends. Now, trees are too big and the best place to assemble is a small, mall parking lot close to the firework location by 75th and Main Street. The fireworks last for a half hour and are excellent in design.

This year, there will be no Fourth of July fireworks show at Navy Pier this year though some activities will be presented. Most of the Chicago suburbs will be hosting fireworks and you can check the list here. Some fire works will be taking place today, July 3rd. such as the one at Arlington Park in Arlington Heights.

Stuckeys

That’s what Dad would look for when we were on road trip back in the 1960’s. From Illinois to Virginia and without a GPS, he would get worried if he couldn’t find one because they were located off major highways. One time, we stopped during a storm and Dad was so excited how friendly staff was to its customers. He liked the pecan roll even though I wasn’t much into nuts at the time. But Stuckeys was a convenience store and gift shop too so we could get everything we needed including Texaco gas. On road trips, I always looked for souvenirs with my name, Karla with a K, never found them back then.

W.S. “Sylvester” Stuckey, Sr. founded Stuckey’s as a roadside pecan stand along Highway 23 in Eastman, GA in 1937. With his truck and the loan (from his grandmother), W.S. drove around the countryside and bought pecans from local farmers to sell at his stand, along with local honey and souvenirs. His wife, Ethel, added her delicious homemade candies. It’s true popularity took off in the 1960’s 368 stores in over 30 states, each offering kitschy souvenirs, clean restrooms, Texaco gas, and candy. Stuckeys had merged with Pet Milk in 1964 and the founder died in 1977. That same year, Illinois Central Industries bought Pet Milk and began to close Stuckey stores.

In 1984, W.S. “Billy” Stuckey, Jr., son of the founder and a five-term Congressman from the 8th District of Georgia, acquired Stuckey’s and the company began to grow. In 2019, Billy’s daughter  Ethel “Stephanie” Stuckey took over the company and in 2020 acquired Front Porch Pecans and RG Lama became President. In January of 2021, Stephanie and R.G. acquired Atwell Pecans, The Orchards Gourmet, and Thames corporations.

Today, they have 65 franchised retailers. However, they have an amazing online business with over 200 retailers involved over many decades. Though for me and my dad, it was a roadside vacation all by itself….the place where everyone had to stop.

Chicken Soup of the Soul: Navigating Eldercare and Dementia

I did not even know when I would begin reading the book of 101 true stories, including one of my own, describing the written contributions of those who have experienced dementia and eldercare in some way or another. Many writers are family detailing the devastating effects of illness through caretaking. I didn’t know if I wanted to experience the depression that stories like these usually create. I was on vacation! But this week, I began to read and the first narrative was absolutely beautiful; eloquently comparing the decline of a mother to Alzheimer’s like an Autumn tree. From that story on, I could not put this book down and was truly honored to become a member of the Chicken Soup of the Soul family.

Chicken Soup of the Soul shares some amazing stories of hours, days, years, and sometimes a lifetime, of navigating the world of eldercare and dementia. Stories talk about how eldercare can be like a disconnecting phone line but not steal one’s spirit. They share their experience of that last, gleaming smile of a loved one. Stories relate how choices of new places are never easy but the impressive communities of assisted living are available.

Some stories help us empathize that special walk down memory lane. They talk of the loss of one parent while the other completely declines in health and it takes a village of caregivers to help. How simple notebooks, coloring books, special games, phones or IPads have made a difference. Stories share the beauty of music, projects created and, ultimately, reinventing purpose. Humor is related in stories about missing teeth and snoring. Many stories just focus on having a good day and embracing love.

But, most important, they really inspire support and hope in helping readers who may feel alone while empowering them in their role as a caregiver. Chicken Soup of the Soul: Navigating Eldercare and Dementia is currently available for purchase at a variety of retailers. Check out there website for more information. I have spent many years as a Chicken Soup of the Soul reader and since there beginnings, they have published over 250 books. However, I had forgotten their motto, Changing Your World One Story At Time…..that they have truly done…once again.

Dairy Queen

By Caryl Clem

Hot summer days or nights call for a trip to Dairy Queen for the famous “concrete” served flipping bottoms side up to prove thickness. A tradition started when a customer kept challenging Ted Drewers to make his shakes thicker.  In 1959, Ted tipped the container upside down to prove the ultimate thickness had been reached. Some places will not charge for these if this trick is forgotten. When an Oreo cookie was crushed into a Blizzard in 1985, a legend was born. Sales climbed to over 175 million in the first year.  A farmer, J. F. McCullough and his son perfected the soft serve creation in 1938 now the largest seller of soft serve products worldwide.

In Kankakee, Sherb Noble, owner of a small ice cream shop agreed to execute a sample run of their product to gauge popularity. On a steamy August afternoon the ploy, “All You can eat for 10 cents “brought so many eager customers storming into the small shop, Noble was afraid of crowd damage. After surviving the 1,600 customers, Noble made plans to sell this new product.  Later a freezer was found made by Harry Otis that poured the soft serve treat efficiently.  J.f. McCullough has been quoted for saying, “the cow is the queen of the dairy business.” thus the name “Dairy Queen”.  In 1940, Noble opened the first Dairy Queen store in Joliet.

The first logo for Dairy Queen was a Dutch girl with pigtails.  Next logo, Dennis the Menace reigned for over 20 years until he was considered outdated to be retired in 2002.  The most important feature, the menu. This year the Dreamsicle Dipped Cone came back on the 2021 Spring menu, 3 new shake flavors, Choco Hazelnut Chip Shake, Mint Chip Shake, Raspberry Chip shake, Tropical Lemonade Twisty Misty Slush  (mango, lemon lime and lemonade) plus they reinvented the  1955 Dilly Bar  option that is gluten and dairy free. An array of soft serve favorites and (charcoal grilled food by Brazier’s at many locations will satisfy hunger and your sweet tooth.

Summertime food good for you and others because Dairy Queen’s charitable work is  done through International Dairy Queen Corporation which donates to Children’s Miracle Network. In the over 5,000 stores there are franchises that are independent. I am ready to try the new Tropical Lemonade Twisty Misty Slushy.