The Good Old Days: Grandparents and Thanksgiving

Kempton was always known as the small town with the big heart; the town of my mother’s family beginnings; her grandparents, my grandmother who had passed away in 1958, aunts, uncles and my great aunt, Lulu Pearl. My earliest memories of Kempton were on Thanksgiving Day at Aunt Lu’s two bedroom corner, blue cottage neatly painted in white trim. A vegetable garden was meticulously maintained in the back with her specialties of beets and tomatoes while well-trimmed shrubs surrounded the foundation of the home.

Coming from the city, my immediate family was always the first to arrive while Aunt Lu called the others to join us on her believe it or not box phone with crank and real receptionist named Jenny. That gave me plenty of time to cut out the latest Betsy McCall and her clothes. After the rest of the family arrived, we took our places behind the long table in the dining room eating from her blue willow dishes. Pumpkin pie was always her winning recipe.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving break is Grandparents Day at school; a wonderful time for those traveling to see their grandchildren. For our district, Grandparents Day is usually one of the biggest attended events with just grandparents…not sons or daughters who have kindergarten or early elementary children. Just for Grandma,  Grandpa and Grand friends…sometimes Aunts or Uncles if Grandma can’t attend. Over 300 attended today. Many become new Grandparents on that day for children who do not have a guest. A study out of the University of Oxford found children who are close to their grandparents have fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and are better able to cope with traumatic life events, like a divorce or bullying at school.

Though she never learned to drive, Aunt Lu would find her way to our house in the city by my cousin every summer. I could always count on a game of Yahtzee every time I offered and she always made the best fried potatoes in town. Because of unpredictable weather, the winter months were generally confined to her little town in Kempton but one year she came to stay and had arrived two days after Christmas. It was unusual for her to venture out in the cold months but my father was in the hospital. Children were not allowed to visit during the 1960’s and Aunt Lu felt she could help.

During her first night’s visit, the phone had disturbed our usual game of Yahtzee and after that I found that Aunt Lu could offer so much more than games. It was a nurse from the hospital; my father had passed away. Though I was 12 and tried to be adult, Aunt Lu let me cry as long as it took, keeping her arms around me, never tiring or disturbing me from my tears. What incredible timing for Aunt Lu’s calming patience in such a terrible storm. Ten years later, Aunt Lu passed away after passionately celebrating her 90th birthday with her family.

Today, I appreciate the towering strength she provided that day and the strenuous days that followed; never perceiving the no pomp and circumstance woman as one of the most salient women I was blessed to know. And I try to follow her loving example everyday reminding myself that every tragedy as has a reason.

Happy Thanksgiving!

My Dad, Happy Fathers Day

When I looked up the definition of father, I was amazed at how many categorized fathers we have today. From the weekend/holiday fathersurprised father, stepfathersecond father to just mothers partner or husband; all of which define “the Dad”.  And, believe it or not, there is the DI Dad who is the social/legal father of children produced via donor insemination.

Father is also considered a founder of a body of knowledge or institution like George Washington; the Father of Our Country. And now I can understand why fathers are seen as authority figures and are suppose to possess experience and knowledge in life to pass onto others. That is what being a father is about; the active father who speaks of wisdom and guidance.

My father passed away when I was twelve and Fathers Day was not a Hallmark occasion that was at the top of my list. He was several years older than my Mom and always wanted a little girl. My mother never re-married and someone said that a father is a girl’s first love. Only he could push me on my new swing set at our home in Chicago.

With time, I realized my father, John, was gone and could not be replaced though I would always be grateful for the strong memories of his love for me. Some didn’t have any example in their lives. And as the years passed, I figured out that I could have as many fathers as I wanted; a trusted male friend who nurtures and helps you live a more fulfilling life.

They can be a neighbor that offers support when you struggle, comfort when you are down and their snow blower when there is a foot of snow in your driveway. They can be a manager who reminds you that you are truly worth it regardless of your awkward stumbles at work. They can be a co-worker that offers you a smile, something to laugh at, thumbs up and a cup of coffee when you are having a bad day.

They can be a brother who offers unconditional love and commitment regardless of how you frustrate him. They can be any relative who is protective, concerned and sees your success rather than incompetence. They can be your best friend’s father who spent hours tutoring you in math and building your self-esteem in a subject you never thought possible.

They can be the salesman or contractor that is really looking out for your safety and best interests. They can be your postman who always makes sure your mail is delivered on time and doesn’t rush off without saying hello. They can be teachers and role models to all children of any age and family.

Most of all, they can be the one above…you may not be able to see, but truly loves you.

(Re-posted-originally published June 17, 2018)

Grand Power

By Caryl Clem:

As indispensable as a backup flashlight battery

When life darkens, ahead difficult navigation

Love and wisdom shine in body form

Action centered supporting family

A search light offering a brighter platform.

Transportation to school

Bedtime requests, tuck in stories

Searching birthday gift “cool”.

Spend a 24/7 hour weekend monitoring children

Claiming their company, part of your vacation.

Flip any traumatic tragedy

Reversed by smiles and humor

Into a laughable comedy.

Events spun inside out

Removing personal doubt.

 

Grandparents, living source of family history

Legendary, bridging time

Discover what is mine

Building links to our ancestry

Linking past, future into a living story

Depending on your reliability.

Not important if one’s memories blur

You will always be honored for who you are.

Happy Grandparents Day

Chicago’s Most Popular Ghost: Resurrection Mary

As a lifer in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs, I have taken many trips along the roads, Resurrection Cemetery and the Willowbrook ballroom to find Mary…no luck so far but continue to do so when I hear there may be new sightings.

Who is Resurrection Mary? Just outside Resurrection Cemetary in Justice, Illinois a few miles southwest of Chicago, Mary, a young ghostly hitchiker has been seen along Archer Avenue between the old Willowbrook Ballroom and the cemetery since the 1930s. Mary has been picked up by drivers and then suddenly disappears by the cemetery as the driver passes by. Sightings have described her as having blonde hair, blue eyes and wearing a white party dress. The first sighting of Mary was actually from Jerry Palaus asking Mary to dance and when they touched, she was so cold.

Where and when has Mary been seen? Over the years, Mary has been seen a number of times. She showed up in 1973 at the Harlows nightclub on Cicero Avenue and since recorded sightings include one in 1976, 1978, 1980, and the last being in 1989. Janet Kalal and a friend were out in October of 89 and they were out for a drive ending up at Resurrection Cemetery and claim that Mary stepped right in front of their car. They were moving and felt no bump , seeing a stream of white.  Just this year, a movie was made about Resurrection Mary.

What and who do I believe?

Ursula Bielski, a Chicago historian and lover of ghosts, met her on a bar stool at the tender age of vie, drinking a Shirly Temple at Chet’s Melody Lounge on a Wednesday morning. According to Ursula the research that connects Mary to a real person that is the most solid is that Mary is Anna Norkus who was born in Cicero in 1914.  As a young girl, Anna used her middle name Mary, because of her devotion to Blessed Mary. Anna  loved to dance and her father took her to the famous OHenry Ballroom (Willowbrook) and  on the drive home they were passing Resurrection cemetary and was in a car accident. Anna was killed.

Ursula talks more about her research of Mary She is the author of: Chicago HauntsMore Chicago HauntsGraveyards of ChicagoCreepy Chicago, and the forthcoming book, Beloved: The Lives and Afterlives of Resurrection Mary. With her husband, David Cowan, author of To Sleep with the Angels (on the tragic Our Lady of Angels school fire) and Great Chicago Fires she owns and operates Chicago Haunting’s Ghost Tours. She has been awarded as one of the top ghost tours in America and provides different tours that you may enjoy such as Gothic Chicago Tours, The Devil and the White City, and the Classic Chicago Ghost Tour that includes the site where the Eastland disaster occurred. You can visit her Web site at: www.chicagohauntings.com.

As a Downers Grove resident today, I still wander over to Justice and Willow Springs. Just last year, the Willowbrook Ball Room was destroyed by fire. However, a nonprofit foundation plans to re-build with therapeutic dance programs for seniors and the disabled including a ballroom.

I wonder if there are more ghosts than ever walking along Archer Avenue. It is a beautiful day today….I might just take another cruise.