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.

Creating new holiday memories

Is it true that more people pass away during the holiday season than any other time of year? According to researchers, studies have shown that there is an increase in mortality caused by natural death. After an analysis of millions of death certificates, there seems to be a 3-9 percent increase around the season that should be jolly.

Individuals are exposed to weather changes, stress and tend to be less cautious when it comes to dietary restrictions and alcohol consumption. Therefore, the next question raised; do many just mentally give up during the holidays? Is it because they may not have the financial means or the people in their lives that they want to celebrate with?

Regardless of how lucky I should be, I do shed tears on occasion due to the loss of many family and friends that are no longer with me while staring at my Christmas tree or watching a holiday tear-jerker on the tube every year.

I cry for my own childhood lost and too many packages that I could not count under my family tree. I cry for my own children when they were young who couldn’t wait to sprinkle oatmeal food sparkled with glitter outside so the reindeer could find their way to our home at night. I long for the seats at my dining room to be occupied next to the place cards of my mother, father and all the ones that were invited for the holiday feasts of the past but only appear as ghosts in my memory today. I cry for those holiday celebrations that offered smiles, laughter, friendship, hugs, kisses and the feeling of not having a care in the world!

My holidays have changed over the years and maybe yours have too. But with time I have learned to just be grateful for past holidays that have been wonderful and glad to have that memory.  I have learned to be grateful for my tree, lights and magical ornaments without the mountain of boxes from childhood or even my own children’s. toys.

I have learned to love those who are here today and create new memories for the future. I have learned to let my daughter cook and create her own place cards instead.

I am creating new traditions and activities; maybe a choice to give instead of getting such as volunteering musical skills at a church or retirement home, crafting a scrapbook or watercolor canvas that someone today will really appreciate and taking a co-worker that doesn’t expect an invitation to lunch or dinner.

Just Sunday, I attended the children’s pageant at church of those students who are in my first grade class. So many hugs I received in return for attending their performance was worth more than any gifts under my tree.

Though many of our loved ones have passed on and are sorely missed, I do not think they expect us to drown in misery because they are gone but want the love and gifts they gave us, especially during the holiday season, to be transformed into happiness rather than pain for others to experience and enjoy.

You would be surprised who needs that hug from you now!

Chicago’s Most Haunted: The Iroquois Theatre/The Oriental

The most devastating theatre fire in history happened on December 30th 1903. Over 600 people died which were mostly woman and children during a matinee performance of Mr. Bluebird.  Many Chicagoan’s did not think a fire of such magnitude could ever happen again since many had lived through the Great Chicago fire. This building was built to be fireproof.

However, A Day in History comments  that at the same time the fire inspector and Chicago’s building commissioner claims that the Iroquois was fireproof, the editor of Fireproof magazine inspected the theater and wrote an article that there were major fire alarm issues including no alarm and sprinkler system.

The Iroquois opened just shortly before on November 23rd of that year and was located on West Randolph between State and Dearborn. The theatre had a capacity of approximately 1,600 seats with three audience levels that included a main floor with orchestra that offered about 700 seats. The second floor had about 400 seats and the gallery or balcony areas had about 500 seats. The backstage area was extensive with emergency doors that remained locked the day of the fire. The theatre had only one public exit.

The December 30th 1903 matinee performance drew a huge crowd since so many children were out of school celebrating the holidays. It was about 3:15. Strange, how that time was very close to the same time only 50 plus years later when the most historic school fire broke out at Chicago’s Our Lady of Angels School on the south side. A fire, I  was alive to see and never forget.

During the second act, sparks from an arc light ignited a curtain. Stagehands tried to put out the fire but it had spread mainly to the fly gallery high above the stage. The stage manager tried to lower a fire curtain on the stage to block the fire from the audience but what they thought a fireproof stage curtain snagged and was flammable. The stage doors had bascule locks which protected people from not entering from the outside but nobody knew how to open them. Many were killed by being trapped especially in the balconies.

There were no exit signs, no emergency lighting, no iron fire escape and locked exit routes that nervous ushers forgot to unlock. The burned out theatre  was completely demolished and in the 1920’s, the Ford, Oriental Theatre was built with beautiful art Deco decor design and great access to bathrooms/ emergency doors designed by the firm Rapp and Rapp. Exceptionally different from the interior before and still safely operating today.

However, as elegant as the Oriental is, many ghost experts say that there is a real presence there because it was a site of such tragedy and death including David Cowan author of To Sleep with the Angels and his wife, author and 30-year veteran and paranormal researcher Ursula Bielski who host Chicago haunting tours

Especially behind the theatre, many have called the alley… Death Alley, because it is there that the most haunting s have been sited including a child crying. Other ghost experts claim that there tour groups continually experience sounds and apparitions today. It was also here in the alley during the 1903 fire that the corpses of so many tragically burned victims were piled and arranged to be eventually removed.

Others have felt cold spots and have actually been touched by unseen hands!

The light on Quiet Harbor

In the early 1990’s, it began at the Clipper Ship Gallery in LaGrange, home to Charles Vickery, a local artist who showcased his work with paintings of the sea. His eyes lit up as we walked through the store admiring the beautiful work of clipper ships and Charles Vickery’s ability to make water come to life. I knew then what Kevin Sullivan’s next birthday gift would be. So my Mom, young Kris and Kaleigh returned to choose a Quiet Harbor, a limited edition print, framed with a light to highlight the respected artist.

As the print became a new highlight in our home, with a picture taken of Kevin and his children sitting on the couch in front of the new painting, Charles Vickery inspired others and through the years, has become a renowned artist for tall ship collectors. He passed away in September of 1998.

Until death do us part, Quiet Harbor remained in Kevin Sullivan’s life until he passed away almost a month ago. Kristopher, his 30 year old son, displays the Vickery today on his own wall and shares an email sent to the Charles Vickery Clipper Ship Gallery.

I remember my Mom buying Quiet Harbor for my Dad and admiring the models the Clipper Ship Gallery offered. I was just a kid then and we were in your shop alot back in the early 1990s 

Charles Vickery has touched me as well  considering he, myself and my Dad shared a similar passion for the sea and sails. Since my Dad and Mom divorced, the Charles Vickery print has always been on my father’s wall; Quiet Harbor print number 321/950 for over 20 plus years. When they were married, it had a light on it and he even asked me if I remembered the light not long before his own death just a few weeks ago.

It has been through many homes and yet pristine, he cared about it as he cared about his own children. My father had a passion for the sea and the tall ship. He was an avid sailor, I, his son, was his first mate. Toward the end of his life after being diagnosed with stage four cancer, he didn’t have much time but he did have time for the Vickery which still hung by his bed when he passed away on August 17th.  He was only 58 years old.

 Its one of the few things he had left and something I can appreciate and remember him by. Recently I bought a plate to commemorate the picture ….the same print which seemed to be difficult to find.

What am I trying to say?

I hung that picture the day after he passed away in my own home. I cried as my lighting lit it up for the first time in over 20 years.  Charles Vickery art touches more people in ways you can never imagine. For me, its sailing, its my Dad. I just wanted you to know.  Thanks, Kristopher Sullivan

And you know my personal feelings about the light for those readers that truly know me……a beautiful world beyond this earth without pain, suffering. A quiet harbor with peace and tranquility, a place to go home to the light.

Closer to God

My ex-husband, Kevin, passed away this week from Stage 4 cancer after being diagnosed in May. And now I watch my love and concern for the children we had together, my almost 30 year old son and daughter, Kris and Kaleigh, grow in a new direction as I help them take one day at a time through the grieving process of losing a parent. Though, I lost my Dad at an early age, this is not about me. This is about their Dad.

After he was diagnosed, I had spent more time with Kevin who only lived a short distance away. I wanted to be there for my children when they needed me to take them to tests and cancer treatments. As so many cry for his loss, I celebrate the time that was blessed to him so that he could be with those he loved.  I watched sharing texts or phone calls every night with his daughter, making sure each other was ok and most of all, saying I love you. He was able to spend quality time with his 13 year old son Mikey from a previous marriage, advising him of what to do. He had celebrated my son’s 30th birthday in July helping to host the party and stayed a long time even though he was sick. We, too, as many of his lifetime friends will remember, celebrated Kevin’s 30th surprise party and still visible on VHS. However, it will be transferred either online or DVD for those to enjoy soon.

In the last few months, he and I were able to talk about those friends from the party as well as others from that day. He talked of his friend Jimmy who always called Kevin Fred still in contact today. He talked about his friend Davey who came to visit him just a few weeks ago….so proud of the time he could spend.

And he talked about visiting his Mom who lives out of state, not able to travel , proudly showing me the new sailboat weather vane she had purchased; sailing was always his first love. Our first date was on a sail boat in Lake Geneva. He shared his love of his Dad who had passed away a few years ago. How he missed his close friend Billy. Kevin was known as the Sal-man or Salsky in Billy’s eyes who had also passed away from cancer a year ago. He talked of his sisters and brothers, many who lived out of state, but always came to visit and he would take them to his favorite bar and grill called Paps. A memorial service is being held on Saturday at Paps in Mount Prospect on August 26th at 2 pm.

Most of all, he talked of God….that he truly believed now more than ever!

I had a strong premonition early on, that he would not live any longer due to complications that can occur when battling  this terrible disease and tried to prepare my family. Unfortunately, there really is no way to do that; Kevin passed away in his sleep at home on Thursday.

Today, I watch my son and daughter reach out to those in his life that were important and continually amazed at their strength and courage. I watch how they share each others tears and pain.. until numb with spent emotion And my pride grows even more pronounced for dealing with the pain of death; a true adulthood tragedy.

And Kevin? He is more impassioned in spirit than ever before; being greeted by his Dad, his grandparents, and Billy, welcoming Salsky with a beer in his hand to a world that offers no pain but only love. He is always there for his family to say good morning, good night and just sit down together to pray for their lives here throughout the years as they experience struggles and new opportunity.

He is always there to say “sgood” a common phrase for that’s good that he was known to give on earth…. but more powerful than ever in heaven. They will hear that more than ever before.

Thank you for all of your wonderful prayers!