Decades of holiday decorations

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the early 1960’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same.  The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street.  The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today.

After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton.

And then during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Christmas became more involved with my own little ones and the art of decorating traveled outdoors. I also worked for Christmas Around the World part-time and still have the manger scene today. Now, it wasn’t about just the Christmas tree, though we did have a perfect cathedral ceiling foyer to show off our large green, fake tree. It was about the entire house even changing out the art work to celebrate the holiday. It was about stringing lights to frame the garage and wrapping the garage with ribbon.

And the new millennium came and it was still about Christmas trees, though now we had switched to white lights and lace lights trimmed the porch and frame.  The fake tree finally fell apart and still in the same house with the cathedral ceiling all these years, we are back to a real tree from Home Depot and unfortunately, not quite as large. Though the indoor decorations have remained, the outdoor lights have broken, wreaths have withered, faded, a wooden replica of Rudolph has lost its leg and Santa flying his sleigh with his plastic reindeer have seen much better days.

As for this year specifically, I have had help, we have scaled back as far as outdoor decorations though the weather in Chicago has been unseasonably warm.  A deck decorated in lights from last year still works and flower pots from summer are left in their spots filled now with fake poinsettia leaves and maybe other items from the dollar store.  An easy fix.

It is a little sad for me as I leave for work everyday and think …..hmmm….maybe today when I come home, I will add a few more decorations outside. Though I haven’t yet.

But when I do leave in the morning, it is strange that the sign of hope by my driveway seems to be especially illuminated with light from the sun, sky or the spirit world. Every morning it gives off an unusual brilliance….a special message.

Many friends and family have passed away through the decades, and maybe this is there way of telling me that it doesn’t matter what kind of costly decorations we have to celebrate the holiday season, as long as we share the sign of hope with others, there is nothing else that is more vibrant….more important! There is always hope if we truly believe.

Just thankful

The last day of school was my birthday. Now I am old enough to legally retire but I won’t. It was also Grandparents/ Grand friends Day, surrounded by those that know and truly get me. Not one myself…yet But certainly a celebratory holiday before Thanksgiving break. And when I walked into my first grade class yesterday, the other teacher had a plant, chocolate which I can’t live without, and a beautiful portrait of the twenty three girls and boys holding a Happy Birthday sign.  Then as they do for all birthdays in the classroom, they put together a birthday book for me to treasure. I found out that I was osum (awesome), amazing , nice and actually smart. Who knew?

As the day went on Grandparents visited sharing how we had to walk to school, did not have IPADS and didn’t get a holiday called Grandparents Day when we were growing up. Later in the day after the grand group left, we switched gears and decided to focus on the final turkey project: what I was thankful for this year.  I made one too and it didn’t take me long to write how thankful I was for all of them in the classroom.

The day was not over after coming home to Happy Birthday decorations, hundreds of beautiful Facebook messages which I truly appreciated. Finally, the end of the day approached with a wonderful meal at my favorite restaurant with family.

Today, I decided to think about my own writing of what I was Thankful for back in my day when I was a child. I wonder if  had written a thankful message in first grade? Probably not, because I was not very good in that particular grade. I wondered what my own children had been thankful….probably just an extended holiday from school.

I saved many of my own elementary writings that I had recently bound in a book  according to dates through the years.

So I opened the cover of the book today and was shocked to find one of the first writings saved. It was written on November 21, 1967, my birthday just fifty years ago yesterday…..just. I had just turned 12 and it was written in cursive with ,of course, my favorite type of pen, the blue cartridge. And at the top of the paper it said Warren School, Room 104, Grade 7.

I was thankful for Thanksgiving in the Country

I can’t wait to eat my aunt’s turkey, cranberries, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy on Thanksgiving Day. My cousin will be there and we can talk and play games. After dinner we will probably take a ride in the country and see the leaves of red, brown and gold fall from  the trees. We may even see snow. My aunts pumpkin pie will taste good after the long ride. When it is time to leave, I will say to my self “I wish it would never end” but then if it weren’t for the Pilgrims, we would not have this wonderful day to enjoy every year.

Yes, it was family tradition to travel about an hour from the southside of Chicago to a small town just south of Kankakee…in fact there were two towns. When I was very young, it was Kempton where my mother’s family was raised, the small town with the big heart sign always greeted us at the turn off to town and in later years, it was in Cullom, only about 500 people, where my cousins were in charge of dinner just a few miles from Kempton.  Here we would join family for a Thanksgiving feast many who have passed and some who I still keep in touch today.

And my first graders are better writers than I ever was…..

Regardless of whether you are dining together with family or friends in the city or country or spending sometime alone…..Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Holidays in Chicago: Remembering Marshall Field and the Walnut Room

The first clock went up in 1897 at State and Washington while the second was added in 1907 at State and Randolph. It did receive a new paint job in 2015 according to ABC news.  and still keeps time.

Being a lifetime resident for many years, Chicago has magnificently celebrated the winter holidays with amazing, timeless displays at the building behind the clock that have become well-known throughout the country.

I continue to meet people today who talk of the same tradition that they had experienced as children, parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. The Marshall Fields store on State Street that began in 1870 and renamed Macy’s in 2009 have kicked off the most treasured memories for family and friends.

During the 1960’s, it began for me in a car driven by Mom accompanied by my best friend and her Mother. Of course, we were dressed in our finest, sometimes with hats and matching gloves, but always in dresses. We parked in what was known as the Underground Parking Lot on Michigan Avenue though many took the Illinois Central to walk a short distance to Marshall Fields Department Store. And there it began before we even entered the massive 8 story building.

The store had designed animated windows that told a story and so we would begin our trip around the building to see each breathtaking display. In 1946, Marshall Field’s created Uncle Mistletoe that became so popular, it was a local television show for awhile and we would watch his adventures in one window after another. Finally, generally cold and hungry, we made our way to the 7th floor to the beloved Walnut Room established in 1907 with beautiful paneling, seating 600 guests around a phenomenal Christmas Tree always stretching our necks to see if Uncle Mistletoe graced the top of the tree.

In the early 1990’s, I took my little ones to the Walnut Room as well but they seemed more impressed in the pagers signaling when a table was available.

The Walnut Room at Macy’s can still be enjoyed for the holidays. Macy’s on State Street still offers holiday windows and lunches around their Christmas tree though weekdays are the best for wait times. Holiday shoppers will receive a pager so they can still shop while waiting for a table. A breakfast buffet is also served through the holiday season. Relive your childhood or start a new tradition with your children and after lunch, visit Santa on the fifth floor. See if Uncle Mistletoe is still on top of the Great Tree.

Two of Chicagoland’s haunted restaurants: Red Lion Pub and Country House

The Red Lion Pub has an excellent Shepard’s pie and its decor is one of my favorites……an English manor library with bookshelves filled with books even above the glassware and liqueur at the bar. Walls are complimented with WWI and WWI pictures especially in the Great War room dedicated to his grandfather. Current owner Colin Cordwell has paid homage to his family. The second floor balcony honors his mother who was an expert on African art.

The Red Lion used to be Dirty Dan’s Western Saloon originally built in 1882 and it was a horrible place owned by a gambling, unmanageable alcoholic. John Dillinger saw his last movie at the Biograph Theatre located across the street. But it was John Cordwell who saw the saloon as an opportunity and was remodeled/ opened in 1984.

The Red Lion Pub is on the north side of Chicago at 2446 North Lincoln Avenue. Now a more upscale neighborhood, according to Haunted Houses people have died in the building including a woman who died from an epileptic seizure, a mentally challenged woman, a young cowboy, and another male entity according to ghost experts. These spirits walk the floors of the restaurant to name just a few.

John Cordwell had built a beautiful stained glass window over a stairway and added a plaque to commemorate his dad who died in England. He was buried without a tombstone there. Guests who pass the window actually feel a presence, or are overcome by dizziness which was a condition his father had.

According to Haunted Places, regulars at the pub have heard footsteps and voices, and objects crashing, among other pranks. The phenomena are said to occur when the pub is not very crowded, such as late evenings or Sunday. Nightly spirits offers a ghost tour of the most haunted pubs, and alleys actually leaving from the Red Lion and walking the same path that Dillinger did before he died. Drinks are not included in the ticket price.

One of my favorite burgers on dark rye while enjoying a rustic atmosphere and a beautiful fireplace in the bar area is served at the Country House in Clarendon Hills; a family friendly restaurant I have frequented for over 30 years and even their website talk about the famous ghost. The Country House is a two story building erected in 1922 as a place for locals to congregate for drinks, food, and good conversation.

In 1974 during a meeting with a contractor to renovate the restaurant the men were sitting in the bar and shutters on the windows opened without human contact displaying shafts of light. Other workers have seen dishes move and have heard moaning in the walls. Others have actually seen a woman who they call the lady in blue.

The Country House has gone through a number of ownership changes over the years and is currently owned by two local residents who purchased it in 1974 according to the Clarendon Hills Historical Society.  It’s the late 1950s, and the story begins like so many others – with a bartender and a pretty blonde. On this particular evening, the woman visited her regular establishment. After a few choice words with her lover, a fight erupted that greatly upset her. The woman was so hurt by the exchange and the actions of her lover that she left in huff. Unfortunately, the roads were as uncaring she collided with a tree or a telephone poled a short distance from The Country House. While she might have perished in the accident on that fateful night, she lives on through her daughter and the legend of The Country House.” Some say she had a daughter with her And the lover went after her.

Richard Crowe, Chicago’s famous ghosthunter, was asked to come in for a consultation. He brought in two self-professed mediums who claimed to “feel” the presence of a young woman looking for something or someone she had lost. They went on to describe the woman as blonde, good looking, in her late twenties, and someone who died in the late fifties of abdominal injuries and this is discussed on the Country House Restaurant website.

Fond memories of fine dining: Restaurants now extinct

Fine dining was a special favorite for my Dad and we went to a new place frequently. He was a business owner and that was the way he felt he could thank those that purchased his product. That was the way he thought he could teach his only child manners and grace. Though, I loved to explore new places , it was always the same as far as my food choice, a kiddie cocktail and a steak sandwich/medium rare without the bread. After he passed away, my Mother continued the tradition with me through the decades. Though long gone and my list could go on and on, I just included places that I had visited in the outlining suburbs/towns of Chicago back in the day.

Green Shingle in Harvey had exemplified true love from the early 60’s. It with 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.After my Dad passed away, it was my second date with my college professor who helped to celebrate my birthday with fellow students;  that same 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 candlelit tabkle; killed in a car accident shortly after.

Dunlaps started as a concession but moved in 1937 to its Palos Heights location on 123rd lasting for 60 years. My father owned a business in decorative and auto glass. One of his clients was Dunlaps in which he created the smoked glass that enhanced visitors behind the long, bar still in exquisite condition when the restaurant closed. Even as a child and adult, I remember staring at my self, proud of my family contributing some part to an institution for great food including real relish trays with pickled beets.

Yesteryear in Kankakee,IL was a restaurant situated in the Frank Lloyd Wright home the B. Harley Bradley House located on Harrison Avenue. In the early 1940’s, my Mother lived in Kempton, IL and wanted to go to college. She rented a room from the Gates family who lived in the 400 block of Harrison Avenue  and attended Kankakee’s Business College.  The Gates, George, Ruth  and son Les became her adopted  family until they passed away in the late 1970’s. Les, who is 94, is still alive today. As a very young child, we would walk to Yesteryear which had opened in 1953. As a young adult, I attended a 50th anniversary of a family member from Cullom, IL.

Phil Schmidts, on the border of Illinois in Indiana, had been opened for 97 years . It was a place of many memories that included the celebration of events such as graduation parties. Known for their seafood, their most popular was frog legs and perch. Beginning in 1910 and closing in 2007, also made their own amazing tartar sauce.

The Tivoli on Glenwood Rd in Chicago Heights was also a favorite establishment especially for weddings or other family events. Though older when I visited the Tivoli, I had graduated from a steak sandwich to a wonderful porterhouse they served there and a broiled filet mignon topped with blue cheese.

The Old Barn in Burbank was a beautiful, elegant adventure for me as a child and adult dating back to the 1920’s when it originally was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Another great choice for wedding receptions and family dinners which had closed in 2008 and was 87 years. The Old Barn was especially beautiful during the holidays with leather chairs in the dining area and beautiful sofas and fireplace in the lounge.

Country Squire in Grayslake, IL was originally built in 1938 as the residence of a Sears family member and it was a mansion that became the Country Squire Restaurant in 1954. A breathtaking estate that I enjoyed often as an adult, experiencing on a date and also enjoying a wonderful wedding of a dear friend. I remember celebrating Mother’s Day with my own Mom  as she cried for its beauty and wonderful food.

The Flame, finally, in Countryside became another family favorite celebrating the same Mom’s  65th birthday there with her grandchildren. The restaurant was a classic with another dress me up atmosphere and the best in seafood and steak.  My love still was always steak or a Chateaubriand for two and for Mom, the best orange roughy she had ever tasted!

Ingredients for love and family

 

I thought about her famous recipe.

And beginning in my pre-teen years, I wanted to be just like her. It seems like yesterday that I knocked on the door of her duplex that was located across the street from my family home; introducing myself and asking if she needed a babysitter.

Her voice was articulate but child like, her smile, dark eyes and thick, short haircut, fashionable for the late 1960’s added to her confidence more than most 22 year olds could conceive. There was a playful side on the surface, a sterling intelligence deep inside and a young mother to Marc who was only two years old.  I was only 11.

My first time babysitting was while Marc was asleep not suspecting that his Mom had left him with me. Of course, he woke and cried miserably until she walked in the door; only gone a short time which seemed like an eternity for me. I was sure my days as a babysitter had begun and stopped all in one day but I was wrong. Nothing was ever said about me being more upset than her baby and I learned that I truly had talent; my first job. Finally, I was promoted from an afternoon sitter to evenings and when her second baby came along, Michael, I become an expert in my field at 50 cents an hour.

She loved to read one I again remember clearly, James Michners The Source…a story of the history of the Jewish people, her nationality as well, that she could devour in a few hours. A novelist whose writing was based on extensive, detailed research. I could only handle Trixie Beldon and maybe Nancy Drew. I wasn’t sure that I could sit quietly during a read of such depth.

Judy could appear in her husband’s oversized button down shirt with jeans rolled to the knees but when she dressed to go out or entertain, her makeup was expertly designed to compliment her features as if she used none at all and her clothes did the same for her figure; the latest in conservative fashion. But it was her nails that always caught my eye, watching her white hands maneuver the steering wheel of her blue Bonneville 1965 Pontiac. Her nails were the perfect length as we headed to the new McDonalds or Rainbow beach.

Her interior style of decorating was creative, black and white stripes in their bathroom, deep blues with yellow and white accents in her living room and off white dining room with powdered blue French curtains. Her den was made from her own imagination with tall barrels and handmade tops as end tables. The boy’s room had red, blue, yellow and green stars made out of felt decorating the ceiling.

But her real talent was her cooking and, most of all, her pepper steak published in the Chicago Tribune. Her signature smile, turtleneck sweater replacing the usual button down, was photographed as she sat on a stool by her favorite kitchen counter while Julia Child endorsed her work. Throughout the city, she was known for her Pepper Steak where all mothers, including my own, attempted to create the same.

Where was that recipe that sat in Mothers yellow metal recipe box? Where was the box after mother died?

Remember when your dad died?

Yes, I was only 12 and during the ride with neighbors to my father’s wake, I had vomited on my good clothes, remembering a variety of women all shapes and sizes, ushering me into the washroom when we arrived to clean me up the best they could. After spending a few minutes in front of Dad’s casket with my trembling mother, somebody suggested the little family room behind.

My nylons were stained and another lady kindly rinsed them off to hang there. I sat and waited in the small room away from other’s drama…too much toxicity for my own soul. It was Judy and her husband who finally rescued me and suggested that the best place would be at home with them that evening. They had no idea what they had done for me in that small gesture.

In the 1970’s, we all relocated to the suburbs and somehow the years of college, becoming a teacher and then mother became the essence of life; the recipe removed for a different time.

During the late 1980’s, I had heard that Judy had gone back to school to become a lawyer and after locating her law office in a phonebook, I called and explained to the receptionist who I was. Shortly after, I received a call back in that familiar voice to come across and baby-sit with the boys…. for a brief moment nothing had changed. After we met at an old neighbors home for a reunion, this time was with Judy holding my two year old.  Her sons were almost as old as me.

In the 1990’s and 2000s, we had are own intense lives to lead, Judy had become an appellate court judge losing contact with only words and articles in reference to her success on the Internet. The judge was creative, innovative, dynamic energetic, beautiful and charming.

Yes, that was her.

Since divorce, single motherhood, teaching, training and my roles in corporate management, I have bloomed as a writer published in a variety of newspapers, blogs and magazines. Ultimately, an avid reader of all literature. The Source was one of my favorites.

But the thought of Judy’s pepper steak has never been forgotten.

And, of course, one day my search began and, somehow the metal recipe box reared its décor behind an old collection of cook books.  Located in the front was Judy’s pepper steak, neatly written in my mothers handwriting on a significantly yellow card; the original newspaper article not among its files.

After a dinner of delectable flavor with my own family, I journeyed  back to my time of impressions. It does not take much for young children to form impressions. Children as young as 3 tend to judge an individual’s character just by looking at their face. Those young experiences tend to become our own fingerprint as we mature and, hopefully prosper.

As I publish this article today, I realize that it is Judy’s birthday…July 9th. Maybe she , too, approves of the days of old. The days when it was the warm and engaged family dinner that deterred us from the stress of our demons; giving us a more positive view of the future. Being able to enjoy what was important, those that sat at our table, bringing out the best in all of us.