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.

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!

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.

 

First grade

I thought it had been lost decades ago…..I looked because we were supposed to bring a picture of me in first grade, 56 years ago, to my current school early in the month of February….my first grade classroom where I assist with special needs students today in 2018. This photo had been posted unexpectedly on Facebook and so, as always, it was time for a story.

It is class picture month at our school too! Which school…..yeah, I am getting confused too. Sometimes these past to present stories that continue to blossom in my mind amaze me.

So what it the same about first grade today in 2018 compared to 1962?

  • First of all, both elementary schools were named after courageous woman, Kate Buckingham and Elizabeth Ide.
  • With the exception of plastic today versus metal, the desks are really not a whole lot different and now we slice tennis balls to place on each metal foot of the chairs to protect the floor.
  • We have the same lined paper that we learned to place our letters and numbers correctly.
  • We, too, have the flag in our corner and we still say the pledge
  • The alphabet in the back of the room is attached in the same spot
  • Still globes exist on shelves and windowsills
  • Plants still grow as well as artificial arrangements decorating classrooms
  • Still tights and leggings for girls
  • Still learning how to tie shoe laces

Different?

  • White blouses for the girls and boys
  • Ties on picture day for the boys
  • Black and white photographs sitting at desk…only choice. Now, individual photos include a colorful garden background in 8 by 10, and numerous 5 by 7’s. Lots of choices.
  • Chalk board instead of white board
  • My room today’s theme is a classroom of monkeys
  • Back in 1962, it looks like it was elephants
  • Desk blotter and no lap top or COMPUTER
  • Teachers desk chair…much more comfortable and generally swivel today
  • NO STICKERS ANYWHERE IN 1962….especially on desks…
  • Books on shelves but more organized in 1962…of course it was clean up time for the picture
  • No snacks, lunch or water bottles….In 1962, we went home for lunch and went back
  • Walls are jammed packed with color in 2018

I brought the picture to school t o share with my first grade class. Actually, they were more excited about it more than I was and because they saw an old childhood photo of me just recently for a school contest, they knew who I was. They said the hair gives me a way even now……the same thin hair. 1962 they cried!!!! You must be as old as my grandmother.  Somehow, they don’t seem to make a correlation between teachers that can be as old as Nana!

And many asked for a copy to take home. Maybe they already understand the cost of an antique photo. They are much more mature than we were. Maybe they already realize they need to collect now so memories may be triggered in the future.

Mrs Sullivan………who was she? Where is her cell phone? I vaguely remember this old…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Historic Pullman Chicago

It was in the early 1960’s that they planned on demolishing parts of Pullman to make way for industrial expansion especially between 111th and 115th. But Pullman residents including some of my own good friends, fought continuously to keep Pullman alive. They founded the Historic Pullman Foundation in 1973. Pullman was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and has received similar state and local designations. Through the years as I go travel back, I am amazed by the beauty of Pullmans original architecture.

The first planned industrial community for workers to work , live and worship with family  was the Pullman Historic District south of Chicago; a unique community established by George Pullman, founder of the Pullman Palace Car Company. In 1880, the project began with housing built as red brick row houses including indoor plumbing and spacious accommodations that workers had not been accustomed though workers did have to pay rent. However, the panic of 1893 devastated the railroad industry causing lowered wages and rents that were not decreased. It was just last two years ago that President Obama designated the historic neighborhood as a national monument.

Pullman Foundation Center

On the site of the Arcade Building, this is a great place to begin your tour of Pullman. The center provides a video of the history and exhibits that include antiques from the Pullman Mansion that was located on Prairie Avenue as well as historic rail service items. You can grab a walking tour brochure or plan a guided tour that is available the first Sunday of the month and lasts for about 90 minutes.

Hotel Florence

Known for its luxury and elegance, the Hotel Florence, named after George Pullman’s daughter, was opened in 1881 and cost around $100,000 including $ 30,000 in furniture that included maroon plush velvet upholstery and fine mahogany. A veranda 16 feet wide and 268 feet long extends around the front of the building. When opened, the hotel included a gentlemen’s reading room, a billiard room, lunch room and saloon. The hotel is currently being renovated and for the ghost hunter, many have said that the hotel is haunted.

Executive Row

Take a stroll on 111th street between St. Lawrence and Langley to view the Executive homes that were located near the Pullman company plant.  This row of homes was a showplace back in the day consisting of eight and nine rooms including several fireplaces and a basement in each. Even executives had to pay rent and the going rate was $28 to $50 a month.

Pullman and Arcade Parks

Designed by Pullman and hired architect, Solo S Berman, the Pullman Park was created for recreation and enjoying the green spaces  that are not interrupted by structures. Another Park in the Pullman community is Arcade Park donated by George Pullman once again. Formal carpeted gardens graced the park across  from the Arcade building that housed a post office, library and theatre but was demolished in 1926.

Pullman Factory Complex

Beside the administration building and clock tower, the factory building provided wonderful conditions for the working man. They were well lighted, ventilated with soft colors to provide a upbeat atmosphere, different from so many sweatshops of the era. The 1880 car manufacturing plant was a 700-foot long Queen Anne-influenced structure of brick with limestone accents. The Clock Tower and building was seriously damaged in 1998 by fire but was rebuilt in 2005 located at the northeast corner of 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Greenstone Church

The sanctuary is unchanged  being built  in cherry wood with the original pews. The first tenants of the church were Presbyterian in 1887 but sold to the Methodists in 1907. The distinguished  Steere and Turner organ is one of the very  few manual track organs remaining in the US, the organ has had little repair over the last 100 years with the exception of being powered originally by hand bellows.  The organ contains 1260 pipes with two manuals for the hands  and can be a physical challenge to play, though a treasure for experienced musicians.

Gateway Garden

On the corner of 111th and Langley, the Gateway Garden was the size of 5 city lots with weeds and trash until the Historic Pullman Garden Club  received a grant from Chicago Botanic Garden for development.  Trees and spring bulbs were planted and now the garden offers spectacular color of various annuals, perennials and breathtaking curved seats of shrubbery ; a peaceful place to observe such beauty. The Garden Club hosts special events and tours throughout the spring and summer months.

 

A.Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Celebrating 75 years of the national first Black Labor Union, Randolph and the Pullman Porters made real impact in African-American union history.  Pullman Porters were the best in railroad hospitality as they provided excellent service to passengers on Pullman’s luxury trains. In 1925, they established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor union with Randolph as president. The museum provides a calendar of special events celebrating black history.

Pullman Cafe

Complete your tour with a cozy seat at the Pullman Cafe, with fresh fruit and homemade lemon bars or dreamy bread pudding.  The charming cafe also offers a Gotham Salad with toasted walnuts, a garlic sausage pizza, or just enjoy a cup of coffee with friendly staff and all the comforts of home.  The ambience of the Pullman Cafe provides a wonderful conclusions to your trip to historic Pullman. The Pullman cafe is open daily at 112th and Lawrence Ave but currently is closed for winter but will be opening on in March of 2018.

Shoe box of memories

Andrea gazed out the window as the first snow fell, blanketing the ground with its grace.  It was Christmas Eve and any other year she would be jumping for joy at this wondrous sight.  Andrea and her Dad would try to build a snowman or sprinkle reindeer food with dashes of glitter scattered about so that Santa’s sleigh could find the food easily.

Those moments were only memories now.  Her father had passed away the day after Christmas one year ago.  As she cried herself to sleep many times in the past year, she tried to hold on to his embrace and the image of his gentle face.  Her loneliness had continued to grow rather than subside.

Especially now.

Andrea wanted to stop the arrival of Christmas Day unless it could bring her father back to life!  No other gift could be greater than his self-assuring presence and constant love for her.

Her mother tried to create the excitement of past holidays by continuing family traditions.  Beautifully wrapped packages sat under a balsam tree decorated with favorite ornaments and twinkling lights.  Homemade dressing was being prepared for a feast of all feasts.

Yet, none of these holiday trimmings seemed to fill the gap and make Andrea whole once more.

Fortunately, she had her shoebox.  It was neatly decorated with hearts of many colors and golden stars.  Beneath the cover, photographs, travel brochures, post cards including a trip to Niagara Falls, a broken wrist watch, a tie clip and other treasures symbolizing her father’s life filled the container as well as the barren spot in her heart.

Tonight, it was time, time for Andrea to feel safe, secure and loved.  So, she went to her dresser drawer and carefully pulled the box from it’s’ place, cradling it like a baby in her arms.  After many minutes, she spread the contents of the box on the floor to be touched, read and admired.

She felt close to him now.

But on the floor nestled in her collection was an advertising card that Andrea had not seen before.  It was a rectangle in blue and advertised the top automobile glass companies with their phone numbers and addresses on it. Maybe her Mom had found it somewhere and put it in her box for safekeeping.

The third company on the card was her father’s “Glass Sales and Service” and beside the name, his familiar phone number.  Andrea couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that she had dialed that number, anxious to share her accomplishments at school or simply to tell him “yes, it had been a good day.” On Saturdays, her Dad would take her to his shop and she would spin around in his office chair and he would always take her to lunch for a hamburger and chocolate shake.

After he passed away, her mother had sold the business and the new owners changed its name, requesting a new phone number.  Had that number which offered Andrea private words of concern with her father been disconnected forever?

Maybe it had been issued to another business or home for those to share similar conversations as Andrea had experienced.

Andrea was tired, tired of missing her father, tired of the queasiness in her stomach, tired of feeling so alone. With her shoebox, she decided to lie down just for a minute and climbed into her bed. She was asleep in an instant and the dream began.

A voice, deep within, had prompted Andrea to find out about her father’s old phone number.  Why, she didn’t know, but, still the whisper of the unknown urged her on.

Cautiously, she picked up the receiver and dialed the number…

There seemed to be a connection!  The number had not been discontinued after all!

After two rings, a voice responded.

“Good evening, Glass Sales and Service,” followed by a brief pause, “Hello, Andrea.”

The voice was distant and almost inaudible due to crackling on the line but there was no question whom the voice belonged to.

“Dad?” she stammered, her throat parched, her heart throbbing as she shut her eyes quickly, hoping to hear a response over the pounding in her chest.

“Yes, Sweetheart,” her father said calmly and deliberately.

Andrea could not believe what was happening or how and why.  All she knew is that her father was finally here.  Tears of joy began to flow freely down her face, “Dad, are you really alive?” she asked.  There was a pause that seemed endless.

“Andrea, I cannot come back to the life as you know it.  But…..”

“No! It wasn’t true!  Andrea had been dreaming, a long and dreadful dream this year.  He was really coming home soon and……..

“What you are hearing, Andrea is the voice of your heart, my spirit that will always be there.”     She was so confused and at a complete loss for words.  Though buried within her soul, Andrea knew he was right.  His funeral had been too vivid, too horribly real and that indistinguishable voice inside of her convinced her that death was final, final in the physical way.

He did not wait for her reaction because he knew it would be too difficult for her to understand.  So, he continued.

“Regardless of where I am today, death cannot tear us apart.  If you believe in the importance of your life and look inside your heart, you will always find me waiting.  Waiting to guide you through problems and loving you as you are and will be.  Don’t ever lose hope for what is hidden in your heart.  Just open it, Andrea, like you do with your shoebox of memories and you know what, if you listen carefully, you can hear the angels……………..”

Static drowned his words.

“Dad, I love you…….”  Her voice suddenly dropped dramatically, “Dad, are you there?”

Within seconds, she heard a click followed by a dial tone.  He was gone.

Instantly, Andrea dialed the number again.  It began to ring and suddenly she heard, “I am sorry, that number has been disconnected.”

She opened her eyes and her body was shaking with emotional exhaustion.  Shock trembled through her, but somehow, she felt a peace that she had not experienced for a long time. She did not have that feeling of nausea. She had heard stories about dreams being much more than someone’s imagination working overtime. Was that it or had she really received a message from her Dad that everything would be ok?

Peace had found a place in her heart that had been barren.  She truly believed her father’s words and she knew life could go on in her world as well as his.

She heard her Mom call so she made her way to the bathroom to wash her tear-stained face.  She glanced at her reflection in the mirror above the sink and smiled.  She not only saw her own features but the wonderful love of her father standing behind her.  And as her Mom called once again, she thought she heard other voices as well.

“If you listen carefully, you can hear the angels……..sing.

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.

Trying to preserve love?

For over twenty years, a wall of family photos compliment the staircase to our family home. And one photo scares me as I watch it changing….as I watch three people in the photo keep fading away. My father, Mother and myself taken over 50 +years ago.

Dad passed away two years after the picture was taken and Mother passed away 16 years ago.  Me at 10 years old, was ready to party in one of my best dresses.  Today, I don’t run as fast up and down the stairs. I spend more time staring at pictures from the past.

I remember the moment well when the picture was taken. It was a celebration for a new gift. We were all going out to dinner on Easter. My fathers closest friend just got his first color Polaroid  camera and he couldn’t wait to take a family photo of us. We didn’t have many stills since my father had a movie camera and somebody was usually left out.

Yesterday, I walked down the stairs and noticed how much color had drained and even our facial features had faded…strange, how mine were probably the most prominent. I was the only one still alive? And I had less years in front of me than behind. Does this picture define our earthly existence? How creepy, sad….should I take it down or restore the colors of that evening that I still remembered so perfectly?

Even the picture I took with my cell phone for this article is fuzzy. Is that a coincidence as I think and write of faded photographs, a bad photographer with a poor camera, or a  spiritual answer to my questions.

Later that day, I heard one of my Mother’s favorite songs by the Vogues, Turn Around Look at Me, and if you listen to the words, there is someone who will stand beside you. There is someone who will love and guide you and most importantly, waiting forever for you .

And suddenly, it hit me. For some, a message from God or the spirit of a loved one. The past is the past and memory, pictures, scrapbooks will deteriorate with time but the love expressed in a painting or photo will live on now in this world and the next. In this case, a family that loved each other and a reminder from heaven that true love never dies. I will see them again in new color, image and light. And maybe, just maybe I should be more concerned about right now.

As I gazed at the wall again, I thought that maybe I would create a new element to the staircase. Maybe some of my primitive paintings I am trying to master today would be a creative addition or my daughter and significant other’s current sketches. I will check my computer pictures and cell phone gallery for the latest in family, friends, birthdays, and holidays.

And I am going to leave the first color Polaroid just as it is.