A Looking Glass…..Colored Thankful

A reflection written by Caryl Clem

Thanksgiving season is a great time to reflect on the blessings in our life. Not all blessings are tangible because I am grateful for the time I spent in classrooms during my life.

As I walked to school as a child thinking the cold stern brick building with unblinking eye windows appeared formidable. I soon discovered that classrooms are alive with caring and sharing.  I thrived in the small town classes. Kids on phones are missing out on the secret note passing experience.

Magically through the years, friendships are at the top of the blessings list. I doubted my continued career in education then a birthday gift changed my mind. A small picture frame contained a big moment in life message: “ One Hundred from now…it will not matter what your bank account was, the sort of house you lived in, or the kind of car you drove, but the world may be different because you were important in the life of a CHILD.

Every time I view this silver framed jewel, like a movie reel inside my head a past teachers’ voice and smile surfaces. “I had talent. I must never give up. Believe in yourself and your potential.  Stay positive.” The same advice I carried into my classrooms.

When I asked my Dad for guidance on how to manage students, he thoughtfully replied: humor, compassion, preparedness. He said his favorite teacher opened every class with a joke, or some thought provoking comment.  I remembered my Dad’s classroom with an array of Salada tea bag sayings, quotes or Peanuts’ cartoon plastered on a bulletin board.  Dad urgently stated, “Listen to every student’s story, they need to feel you are on the same page with them.”

Years later, a few students have updated stories left unfinished when they graduated. A former gang member had a scholarship in Criminal Justice.  Another former gang member, now a mentor working with the Sheriff’s Department.  Students who thought college was not possible became college graduates.  A determined male teen opened a successful business with his older brother. Years of stories have convinced me the majority of students win in the Game of Life.

I am thankful for all the teachers who know the unbeatable formula, combine your heart and soul with the science of learning.  A classroom is so much more than a backpack with textbooks.

(the glass is available at ETSY)

Happy Halloween

As a child, I loved autumn with the breathtaking color of the season, pressing leaves in scrapbooks, spending hours selecting a costume and, of course, carving a pumpkin with, for me, Dad. It was his job to cut but I scrapped away the innards. The only time I liked kitchen duty. And I remember being a gypsy, (above/ black and white) with my best friend, Karen next to me and her brother behind and another neighbor. My first celebrated Halloween; living on the south side of Chicago on 91st street. Future Halloweens in the city included becoming Little Bo Peep with a crooked staff that eventually gave way to the wind and a date girl wearing a beautiful wide skirt with mini calendars attached. Among the many dressed as Super Man, witches, Bat girl, Sleeping Beauty and Minnie Mouse, cowboys and Indians, and of course, Casper, with silly masks to match our attire back in the 1960s.

For me as a Mom in the 1990’s in Downers Grove, it began when my son was only two and hated being a clown. That’s because the face Mom had painted on his delicate skin was way too scary for Halloween. He scared himself when he looked in the mirror and trick or treating was just out of the question. But it did get better especially when he was some sort of car robot with a mask and my daughter was a princess with her best friend as a cat…still a best friend today (above/color picture). As my son and daughter celebrated the season each year, costume decisions improved to include Robin Hood and a court jester, a baby. a Power Ranger instead of Super Man and a nerd with a huge dictionary….not a computer… Though there was one Halloween, that costumes were trash bags since the rain was incessant for trick or treating. That didn’t stop us. We also decided that a carved pumpkin was not enough so the house was dressed with lovely rust and yellow floral arrangements and a yard filled with ghosts, signs, funny gravestones, and spider webs throughout.

And the neighborhood was packed with children trick or treating; knowing the adults that answered their doors. If we didn’t have an appropriate trick or treat bag, a pillow case would do and besides the candy bars, suckers and bazooka gum with comics, we would get even more like a popcorn ball. Sometimes we would worry about the occasional razor blade showing up in our candy but candy being spiked with chemicals was rare.

Now, though there are no grandchildren, I am assistant in a grade school and there is nothing more fun than watching the fabulous costumes, parties and parades every year and they continue to knock on the door, same door, on October 31st, 2021. Though the signs have become faded and the gravestones totter, new additions such as a family of scarecrows have been added, floral arrangements refurbished and my 30 plus daughter coming to spend a pre-Halloween weekend, carving the best pumpkin ever, while munching on roasted pumpkin seeds and home-made pumpkin bread.

Once a child, forever a child and another year of adding more pictures to that scrapbook or should I say, Facebook page instead.

Memories of the Pump Room

In my best dress, I barely remember eating in a beautiful booth with my Mom and Dad; one of my first Baby boomer childhood trips of elegance. In later years, I celebrated a friend from college’s birthday and excited about seeing the unexpected appearance of one of Charlie’s Angels; a TV series in the late 1970’s and Kate Jackson was her name from the program. My daughter also celebrated a friends birthday at the Pump Room in the 2000’s; bottom picture, my daughter, is second from the right. Dining at the Pump Room, opening on October 1st in 1938 and located at the famous Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago was a popular place for many celebrities who wanted to be seen such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and even Judy Garland and her children. It was the infamous booth number one where they would eat together. It always remained vacant until someone important arrived. The table actually had access to a rotary phone where they could make and receive calls. They could also unplug the phone from the wall if they wanted privacy.

Ernie Byfield created the restaurant based on the concept of the original Pump Room in Bath, England, where aristocrats would meet and wanted the same for celebrities visiting Chicago. It worked. Another area I remember is the hall leading to the restaurant that for over 50 years have shared the framed celebrity photos that fill the walls of the room’s entrance, lives that are gone for many. The Ambassador East was located on the northeast corner of State Parkway and Goethe Street in Chicago ‘s Gold Coast area and later was renamed. Until the 1950’s, train travel across the US was the only way and celebrities would have a special cross-country Pullman car switching at the LaSalle Street Station. Sometimes they would stay overnight but they did have a suite where they could freshen before returning to the train. Many stayed for lunch at the Pump room. Irv Kupcinet also talked about the Pump room and his celebrity interviews in his column for the Chicago Sun-times.

According to a wonderful article by Dr. Neil Gail, Saving Illinois History One Step At A Time, in 2010 real estate developer Ian Schrager—known for cofounding New York’s Studio 54—buys the Ambassador East for $25 million. In 2011, assets are auctioned off including the phone and is remodeled which reopens as Public Chicago. In 2016, Schrager sells Public Chicago to investors Shapack Partners and Gaw Capital for $61.5 million. In 2017, the hotel is renamed Ambassador Chicago. Rich Melman’s restaurant group, which formerly owned the Pump Room, returns to manage the space and renames it Booth One. After a remodel, the team installs a rotary phone at the famed table. The actually operated the Pump Room from 1976-1998.

The Pump Room went through many changes before finally closing in 2019. Ebay offers some great items of the historic Pump room including a variety of match covers, boxes and menus.

Songs still played in kindergarten

Working with students in kindergarten, it continues to amaze me how they are mesmerized listening to the same songs like I did in kindergarten over 60 years ago. And my own children reacted the same when they were little; 3+ decades earlier. One day I watched one little guy work on his ipad to the sounds of Go Tell It On The Mountain, Skip, Skip, Skip, To My Lou, Are You Sleeping, Brother John, also known as( Fre er Jac Que). I learned the French version of Brother John in third grade. Do You Know The Muffin Man, and B-i-n-go, B-i-n-go, B-i-n-g-o, and Bingo was his name…..O, more of the past. I thought that was it….done… until the teacher put on the video of the famous all-time children’s song Wheels On The Bus and he couldn’t stop singing….neither could I. The music we sang when learning the ABC’s is another melody where everything stops and they listen to the classic creative music. We play that everyday just before we leave for home; a celebration song earned for a good day.

Go Tell It On the Mountain is a Christmas carol as its original lyrics celebrate the Nativity of Jesus: Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. An alternate final line omits the reference to the birth of Christ, instead declaring that “Jesus Christ is Lord”. This is popular with Cedarmount kids who released a music series in the 1990’s. Skip to my Lou was song produced in 1844 and was recorded by Judy Garland in the movie Meet Me in St Louis. BeeCeeDee is a popular You Tube channel for kids with entertaining vidoes of the old music and nursery rhymes with over 2 million followers. Are you sleeping…..is another video that you can’t stop listening to as well as watching.

Do you Know the Muffin Man was a traditional nursery rhyme for the Baby Boomer generation but back then it ended with the guy who lived on Drury Lane since the song originated in London. This was a street where fresh foods delivered, such as muffins, which were delivered door-to-door by a vendor known as a muffin man. The “muffin” in question was the bread item known as an English muffin, not the typically sweeter U.S. variety of muffin. Drury Lane is still a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in London. You Tube, once again, has transformed the song into a creative video with cartoon characters that also introduces the Ice Cream Man and the Fruit Stand Man!

Bingo was a folk song created as early as 1780 and has been transformed in a number of ways for children. Again, a Barney video created in 2004 with the Bingo song as well as number of videos that include the Muffin songs, the Countdown Kids, The Countdown Singers, the Little Series and Debbie Doo. “The Wheels on the Bus” is a traditional American folk song from the 1930’s written by Verna Hills in Boston, MA. The song is based on the traditional nursery rhyme “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush ” sharing the same tune. It was a popular for teachers to share in the 1950’s and has been translated into several languages. The YouTube video by Cocomelon is the one our school children delight over but YouTube provides many animated rhymes.

The ABC song is the same melody we learned as we watch the video by Cocomelon and as she writes the letters on a green chalk board just like ours and our children. The song was first copyrighted in 1835 by the Boston-based music publisher Charles Bradlee, and given the title “The A.B.C., a German air with variations for the flute with an easy accompaniment for the piano. Music done well never dies.

Highlights for children

A husband and wife team began a magazine in 1946 to give children Fun with a purpose(their tagline). And it worked giving children the encouragement to learn in all different avenues that included stories, art work, puzzles, games and for me as a child, finding the hidden picture. It took me awhile learn to read, write and comprehend but I could not take my eyes off the picture page whether I checked it out at school or in a doctor’s office where Highlights were found for many Baby Boomers. Highlights encouraged to me read and now celebrating 75 years, Highlights has a book that is collection of just hidden pictures. I have placed my order.

Founder Garry Meyers and his wife were teachers of illiterate soldiers and became nationally known in education for a column called Parent Problems and co-authored many books before starting Highlights. There first copies only sold approximately 20,000 copies in 1995 they sold over 2 million. Highlights circulation numbers declined by 2015, and the magazine announced that it would move some content onto tablets and mobile devices with the help of San Francisco startup, Fingerprint Digital, led by former LeapFrog Enterprises executive Nancy MacIntyre. The magazine launched a new mobile app Highlights Every Day, in April 2017.

Highlights today offers clubs and a variety of magazines including Highlights Magazine ages 6-12, High Five Magazine which focuses on pre-school ages 2-6 and Hello Magazine. With new discoveries in every issue, HELLO magazine is made for babies and toddlers. Durable, wipe-clean pages and stitched binding means they’ll enjoy it all month. They offer a great collection of picture, puzzle, arts and craft, sticker and game books for all ages besides the magazine as well great gift bundles. It’s never too early to inspire a love of reading!

Celebrating 70 years of Colorforms

When assisting in kindergarten in past years, the kids would share their version of colorforms with me knowing it was my favorite game to play as a child myself. But just last week I walked into a kids store and there they were…the original colorforms…dressing up for the weather just like when I was kid in the 1960’s but modernized. I also remember dressing up Tammy, the Beatles in 1964 and for the boys they gravitated to Batman and Scooby Do. In the 1990’s, my son enjoyed Colorfoms when he wanted to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Curious George. Colorforms is easy with shapes cut from vinyl and can cling to a smooth background making your own special design. Colorforms is one of the most loved and respected toys beginning with the couple Harry and Patricia Kislevitz in 1951.

The first Colorforms® set was hand-cut: a thimble, a bottle, and a medicine container top were just some of the shapes that would become the foundation of the very first Colorforms set, designed by Patricia, and now housed in the Museum of Modern Art in its permanent collection. Colorforms® first launched through FAO Schwarz.  Colorforms first launched through FAO Schwarz and in 1957 Popeye became the first licensed cartoon character to be featured in a Colorforms set.

In the 2000’s, though Internet use boomed, Colorforms came alive with Harry Potter, Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer and the Hungry Caterpillar. In 2011, Time magazine awarded Colorforms as the toy of all time. In 2014, Out of the Blue Enterprise acquired Colorforms. Billions of sets have been sold and Colorforms continues to make the best plastic creative toys and I continue to gravitate towards any student who is playing with a set. I can’t wait to play.

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.

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.