Home for the holidays

By CARYL CLEM:

Festive holiday surround sound

Familiar refrains, bells and chimes

Baby, its cold outside, travel back to past times

Looking forward to being snowbound

Visiting with friends and family, staying warm.

Masterpiece art forms, radiant ornaments

Reflecting light and past traditions

Packages waiting for childlike astonishment

Glistening stars and snow, sparkling companions

Adorn the skies, trees, translucent accents.

Dine and enjoy once a year treats

Symbols of heritage and past sweets

Made with love and secret ingredients

While baking, unforgettable scents

Blend treasured old memories with new ones

Tell stories that tickle everyone’s funny bones.

Rejoice in the love that is shared

Stand united promoting everyone’s welfare.

Hold on to the holiday cheer through the New Year.

Generosity

By Caryl Clem:

Kindness and empathy spin

Words that make you grin.

Spreading mental sunshine

Spiritual goldmine.

 

Physical evidence of  caring

Charitable donation sharing

Multiple systems, non-profit versions

Human generosity, busy repairing

Play it forward, ease another’s burden.

 

Victims of major disasters crushed

By any Mother Nature’s devastation

Homesteads damaged or  broken

Victims feeling lost without protection.

Americans have a network to trust

Courageous trained rescue organizations

State to State Red Cross volunteers

Join Fire and Police Service workers

Create then secure a new beginning,

Human lifelines determined on winning.

 

I am thankful for educator’s ingenuity

Encouraging every student’s identity

Inspiring, planting the seed

Every student has the power to succeed.

 

Thankful for the spirit of generosity

Living on in human acts of charity.

Thankful for birthdays

Birthdays! The joy of a new life, a truly momentous occasion for all ages, a new beginning, a new pleasure or just thankful you have lived another year.

Assisting in the kindergarten, the children’s birthdays are the most treasured day of their young lives. In the 1960s, I felt exactly the same way. Even though I can watch my home movies Dad took of my parties in the finished basement and see the real thing, I understand the same feeling the little ones experience today. I remember that incredible nervous feeling waiting for my friends to arrive for my day with presents for me…….no one else. I was extremely fortunate that my parents planned great parties with plates and napkins that matched, a bakery birthday cake decorated with my choice of theme; one year was a carnival cake.  Sometimes, we had noisemakers, hats or bubbles as favors. And always ice cream!

But birthdays lost their sentiment through high school, college, until the dreaded legal one though I don’t remember getting drunk. Throughout my 20s, I taught high school and again..classroom parties were few and far between until I turned 30. That was the age I  finally seemed credible…even as a teacher.

In 1988, my one year old son cried terrifying tears while several guests sang happy birthday to him. It was the first time I had ever seen a child uncomfortable at birthday time. Strange, he still does not like that kind of attention in his 30’s. But it did improve with the birth of my daughter who treasured theme parties to plan such as The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and parties reserved at places like Let’s Dress Up.

When she was about 10, we passed out tickets, rather than invitations, from the White Star Line to travel on the Titanic where they ate in the Grand ballroom and experienced a surprise sinking of the ship during a sleep over. My son and I handed out life jackets and we told the girls that they had to climb into plastic boats in the backyard. On a beautiful summer night, we drenched them with a hose. They didn’t complain and after drying off, they watched the new movie.

This month is my birthday. It is actually marked on the classroom calendar. November 21 is the day, the day before Thanksgiving this year….a day off of school. One girl asked me how old I was and she was confused. She couldn’t count that high!  Those numbers are still foreign to her. Me too! But she doesn’t care as long as I can still sing and dance. Certainly I have more birthdays behind me than ahead, but I am thankful. I am truly grateful.

And I will celebrate; making my own page for my birthday book in class. We have shared many coloring techniques together and I love to color. They can still sing happy birthday to me without the cha cha cha. They can still give me a hug, a high five, a special handshake,  a completed, detailed job coloring their own birthday artwork for me or just a warm smile. And another wonderful day will be spent with the kindergarten class who still helps me out when random aches and pains strike and they know its time for a chair. Many will sit with me on a bench in the playground during recess. Not afraid to become too close.

And probably the best birthday of all time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ghost Army: Honoring our veteran heroes

Unfortunately, my father passed away in January 2014 before I discovered the Ghost Army  World War II PBS Documentary, which was released in May of 2013. A couple years afterward, I started to hear there was a committee looking into honoring the brave men of the 3132nd and possibly 3133rd with the Congressional Medal.

It was around 1998 that Charles Weingate, my father,started talking about his time in the war with the Ghost Army. I recall him telling my brother and I about running the wire all night long and in the morning, tried to get some sleep. He was suddenly awakened by another soldier telling him that the German Army had just surrendered to them shared by Diana Weingate.

Its existence was finally acknowledged in the mid-1990s, when it was declassified. The Ghost Army, the 1,100 men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, was finally able to share their personal experiences. Consequently, they were able to share the fascinating battlefield illusions they created whose American purpose was to fool Hitler with fake strategic games and theatrical events leading more than 20 missions and saving the lives of thousands.

These disguised missions were composed of inflatable tanks and false radio transmissions. Giant speakers were used to broadcast the sounds of men and artillery to make the Germans think that the units were larger and deflect their concentration from other battles. Painters designed hundreds of rubber tanks, jeeps and aircraft. Aircraft could be inflated with gasoline fueled air compressors that looked authentic to Nazi military. They were told never to tell anyone about their war experience even after the war had ended.

Les Gates, 95 from Arkansas, spent the better part of three years with the 3132nd and 3133rd signal service companies. I got to the 3132nd from the A S T P program when it was dropped. The 3132nd was the first organization that started training in the art of sonic deception at Pine Camp, N Y . We were all ushered into a room with guards outside the door and we were told we were not to speak to anyone about this. I developed appendicitis at Fort Slocum-Port of demarcation and “missed the boat” and was transferred back to Pine Camp to join the 3133rd. The 3132 operated in the European theater .

The 3133rd went on to Italy and operated there until the end of the war. Both units were reported to have been VERY effective in their operations. 

Diana Weingate was able to read a previous article about the Ghost Army that I wrote about the story of Les Gates’s participation in the Ghost Army and who currently lives in Arkansas. She contacted me and Les Gates by email. She was able to to talk to Mr. Gates on the phone and felt honored to hear his stories, bringing her even closer than ever to her father. Diana and her family are organizing a media push to find out more about The Ghost Army Legacy Project where you can donate and send letters to help support the campaign in awarding a Congressional medal to the unit. Her father is in the picture;standing on the left.

After investigating the Legacy Project, head over to another site which is ghostarmy.com and you can learn more about Rick Beyer, the award winning documentary filmmaker, best-selling author, and long-time history enthusiast. He produced and directed the award-winning PBS documentary The Ghost Army, and is the co-author (with Liz Sayles) of The Ghost Army of World War II.  Rick Beyer is also president of The Ghost Army Legacy Project.

Please feel free to contact Les Gates or Diana Weingate at lesgates@suddenlink.net or Diana at razmuth80@yahoo.com.

Thankful for brothers

By Caryl Clem

No matter how many cards were surveyed

Not one lengthy card accurately conveyed

The man who is my brother and friend

Thoughtful,wise,whose mind is always open

Searching, discovering innovations

His talent, continually fresh expressions

For your birthday, I wish for you

Feeling pride in what you are able to do

Eagerness to live each day renewed

Stay ageless, conquering time with emotion

As a sister, I couldn’t be luckier

Thankful to have and love you, my brother

After the impact: Thoughts on 9/11

Thirteen-year old Richard worked on his model train and listened to his favorite radio show which was interrupted with an alert that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. At first, actual witnesses at Pearl Harbor thought it was a training exercise.  As if it happened yesterday, Richard still remembers the day. It became his first exposure to the true definition of terror. What would happen next?

For Richard and the next generation better known as the Baby Boomers everyone knew exactly where they were when John F. Kennedy was shot. When first announced, some thought it was a mistake; the President would be fine until the second fatal announcement that confirmed his death. I was in the grade school library when it was announced over the loud speaker. I even remember the agonizing cries followed by a deafening silence that stifled the country.  It was the first time school was dismissed early without the sounds of celebration. No one knew what to do, what to say but they moved through the days ahead with caution; immobilized by fear. I remember watching nothing else but the dramatic events of our President’s death unfold on television. At the scene of JFK’s shooting, Governor Connelly’ wife, had cried out, that they would kill us all. What would happen next?

Ironically, both American tragedies mirror the perfect responses and actions of the American people years later as they witnessed the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001.

While remembering my own place in time when the Twin Towers fell, I decided to ask others about their memories of 9/11. One recalls sitting in a Freshman English class in college and someone running into class to say that the World Trade Center had been attacked. Class, too, was dismissed for the day. And another was asleep but awakened by his hysterical father who was telling him to get up and watch the news, that the country was doomed.  What would happen next?  But then someone who overheard my curiosity about remembering 9/11 spoke three quiet but penetrating words, “I was there.”

She began her recollection of 9/11 describing a gorgeous, cloudless day on Church Street in New York City, visiting a friend from school, when she  saw the first plane crash and thought it was an accident. And for a brief second, I remembered that one moment the President was still alive. When the second plane hit, she knew that it was not an accident.  A fireman grabbed her and her friend, having them hide; protected underneath a fire truck.  It seemed like time had stood still under that truck…would they kill us all? She listened to the desperate screams, sirens blaring but then an eerie silence along with the smell of sulfur. Days later, it was like a disaster film as people wandered the streets of New York. It changed her life, her dreams and she joined the police force because of its effects

Though many feel that Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F Kennedy  cannot be equalized to the events of 9/11, any American tragedy leaves a lasting impression; creating nation-wide emotional pain  encompassed by mortal fear; always prompting the question where were you that fateful day. Unless your memory has been altered or too young to develop those mnemonic skills, we all get a perfect score when answering that question.

However, as we remember the 17th anniversary of 9/11, will we express thanks for our own and be grateful for the ones who continue to fight for us today? Can we give ourselves high marks for reflecting on the lives lost, families stricken and the brave responders who didn’t think twice about their own welfare but tried to create calm within the storm?

If we can always remember exactly where we were at the time tragedy claimed our attention, we can take time to increase our participation grade and honor those whose lives will be forever impacted by the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

(Originally published in the Chicago Tribune)

Summer road trips

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

The travel bug bites again

Packing suitcases, phoning friends

Destination selection conversations.

Cheap gasoline fills tank for less than a five

The open road, 2 lanes with sparse road signs

Mom and Dad, navigators

John and I, back seat observers

Maps, snacks, Mom’s daily journal

Wallet ready, a cash withdrawal

Inked map messages bold dots

Time to buy gas town stops.

Cool cotton throw covering hot vinyl seats

Hours pass, I’m waiting for a place to eat.

Mom and Dad listening to radio fame

John reads, I play the alphabet game

Real ice cream milkshakes, fries, cheeseburgers

Truck stop diners to delivery done by roller skaters

Foamy root beer floats, dogs Coney Island style

Lunch was savored for many a mile.

Next surveying the landscape for Mom and Pop motels

Stark white buildings stick out, is there a place to dwell ?

Ready to call it a day sense of urgency

We felt lucky to spy signs flashing vacancy

61,000 motel choices

No credit cards, only green back dollars.

Today, guesswork replaced by internet options

Road trips remain an American pastime passion.

 

 

 

Back to school

I don’t remember the beginnings of kindergarten though I do remember that my teacher, Mrs O’Brien, at Hoyne School on the South Side of Chicago. She was kind, patient and always encouraging. I had a favorite friend that she would let me sit next to while we sang songs. I loved to watch her play piano and she said I had the hands of a musician. She would tell me that when I would become frustrated with writing. Yes, Mrs. Obrien, I taught and played piano for many years probably because of you.

I do remember beginning first grade because it was at a brand new school that had just been built in 1962 because of overcrowding at Hoyne.  We were the first class at Kate Sturgis Buckingham school; in the second picture (currently closed because of just the opposite problem).

The school was to offer kindergarten through fifth grade. I remember sitting only two rows in the back from the four long windows on my left that hung over the built-in bookcases and heating vents. I remember watching the new playground being built and my teacher Mrs. Fox who invited her entire class to her wedding at St Marys in Chicago. After, she was called Ms. Boz and though I liked her, I was scared in first grade.

In the early 1990’s, when the school bus came to pick up my son in Downers Grove for kindergarten at Indian Trail School, he got on but cried… seated in the first seat. My husband put him on because I was too busy crying too. And my daughter who was next in line, could not wait for the bus to arrive on the same spot to take her to school.

Currently, I am assisting in a new kindergarten classroom. Parent and student orientation was on Tuesday morning and how wonderful it is when parents and students from previous year come to find out what class you are in. So many families found me; telling them how they missed me over the summer, sharing their fears and concerns for a new school year.

Wednesday was the first day of school without Mom and Dad. And I wait by the main door to help monitor bus and parent drop off. That is when amazing things begin to happen. As soon as they exit the bus, many come running and that’s when I hear my name called out like never before. There are several ready to give me my hug for the day; sometimes I have one on either side excited to know that I am here for them anytime, any day and any year. Today, I had parents snapping pictures on their cell phones of little ones beginning kindergarten for the first time and asking me to stand with them. How proud it made me feel!

As teachers, administrators, assistants and all staff within a school environment, we inspire hope, establish trust, ignite imaginations and establish a passion for learning. But most of all, we demonstrate love… genuine love for the children, families and the staff that surrounds us.

And when we stumble out the main door at the end of the day, bleary eyed, muscles aching, voices and thoughts strained after the struggles we will encounter as the year progresses, we can never forget those first days we celebrated on the playground.

And that is why we do what we do!

 

 

 

The forgotten shoe store

I hated going to the shoe store when a child in the 1960’s.  Especially for new shoes to start school. Nothing I liked ever fit according to the shoe man who measured and would measure again with that thing….never quite seeing such a skinny foot.  And no, I never met one young enough that I could fall in love with either.

It was just too narrow and the only shoes that would fit would be tie shoes. He would search, for what seemed hours, in the back behind the curtain. Walls of shoe boxes all different shapes and sizes. Tie shoes that were pointed…yuk. Tied tightly to convince my Mom that they were a great fit.

Tennis shoes did seem to work for play but not for school. During those years, we dressed up going to school and could not wear them. There was only one kind of tennis shoes that I could remember and that was Keds. It had to have the red mark on the back heels. Now, Keds shoes have a blue keds name on the side. Keds celebrated its centennial in 2016 and the continuation of its “Ladies First Since 1916” campaign with a birthday celebration held during New York Fashion Week.

Even when saddle shoes were popular, I had to wear a different form of them…the color was off… whether I liked it or not. I didn’t like it at all! And when I went to junior high and high school, it was the season for loafers, penny loafers which had a place to add a real penny. Again, even with insoles added, nothing seemed to fit me correctly.

For some reason, the name Florsheim convinced my mother that was best shoe store to visit. Many stores were privately owned by family that passed the store down for other generations to follow. Stocking up on a variety of shoe brands. Many sold Florsheim shoes in Chicago and had a sign in their window that sold Florsheim or another popular favorite; Buster Brown.

In the 1950s, the Buster Brown Shoe company began purchasing retail outlets as a new way to expand their signature brands. “I’m Buster Brown, and I live in a shoe. That’s my dog, Tige, and he lives there, too,” went the jingle for Buster Brown shoes according to America Comes Alive. George Brown started the company in the late 1800’s and became the Brown Shoe Company. In 1904, the company realized that children’s shoes and the Buster Brown character could really be successful and it was.

I tried Mary Janes, also a popular style for many girls, but still were too wide for me. In 2015, the Brown Shoe Company was called Calares that sells all types of brands; still a billion dollar shoe business.

My mom was not much of a Thom McAn or Kinney’s fan so did not visit those stores often. Thom McKan was a retail chain but currently still sold in Kmart and Sears. My mom thought that Thom McKan had a better selection of men’s shoes than women’s and wider width shoes. She, too, had a narrow foot. Kinney’s has been defunct since 1998, but strangely enough you can find Kinney shoes on eBay; an entire collection from the 1950’s, 60’s and 1970’s.

In later years, my feet have remained the same, but somehow many stores sell 7 narrow, double narrow or even triple narrow. I guess they found more people that really do have feet like mine. One of the best places for shoe shopping was Carson Pirie Scott soon to be another extinct department store.

Today, I still pick out shoes with added insoles but Target sandals work well for me since they have sandals with elastic bands and I can wear sandals everywhere!

I don’t know what those shoe men were talking about and I don’t know anyone who has dated or married a shoeman except on T.V.

How many of you know what show?

 

 

 

Rain, storms and August tornado memories

It was always after school….generally around 3 o’clock when it would begin. That was the most exciting. The determination whether to play with my best friend inside or out. When it began, the soft lights were lit inside our 1960’s neighborhood homes that brought comfort and clarity. Sometimes it would happen on the way to our ballet lesson in South Shore on a Tuesday….we worked hard on those days, occasionally glancing at the long windows to see what was happening outside before Mom would pick us up.

I loved late afternoon rain storms with thunder and lightening. Somehow, they would inspire and energize me. I always wanted to be a storm watcher but job and family got in the way. So I would watch from home. Watching them form were the best of times, even though we had watches and warnings through the years, you never knew the end result before Doppler.

I remember watching the green, overcast sky of the Oaklawn tornado approaching on April 21, 1967 though when sent to the basement for that one,  excitement was quickly exchanged for fear, forecasting destruction and the loss of lives. Storms, then, took on a different meaning.

When my children were toddlers, they, too, were taught to love storms. I had two neighbors who would be knocking on the patio doors; pointing to the sky and telling me it was time during the spring and summer months. We would watch the impending doom together, watering our flowers just in case, while the kids could care less and played outside. And it was the month of August I remember offering significant tornadoes in the surrounding suburbs of Downers Grove.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 28, 1990 we heard the reports that something was happening further south. We sat on our deck and tried to watch the changing sky though we seemed pretty safe among the warnings of a tornado.  It was an F5 tornado; the only F5 Chicago had ever seen. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm for the entire Northern Illinois area from 1:30 to 8:00 pm. A bad storm had formed just south of Rockford. We watched, waited and we were safe.

The tornado struck Plainfield, Illinois, around 3:28 p.m. Around 3:30 p.m. the tornado directly struck the Plainfield High School, killing three people. After an alarm was pulled by a dean in the main office, the volleyball players preparing for a game in the gymnasium rushed to the nearest door and took shelter in the hallway. It is reported that as soon as the last football player was pulled through the door from an outside practice, a coach quickly closed it, only for it to be immediately destroyed by the wind. The gymnasium proceeded to fall apart and crash down filling the gap in the doorway. They took shelter in the same hallway as the football team, and once the tornado had passed, that was the only hallway left standing in the building.

The tornado crossed Route 59 and ripped into St. Mary Immaculate Church and school, claiming an additional 3 lives, including the principal of the school, a music teacher, and the son of the cook at the rectory. Fifty-five homes were destroyed in Plainfield itself, a few of which were swept away.

The storm then worked its way southeast towards the large city of Joliet, damaging homes in the Crystal Lawns, Lily Cache and Warwick subdivisions and killing five more people. Sixty-nine homes were destroyed in Crystal Lawns, 75 homes were destroyed in Peerless Estates, 55 homes were destroyed in Lily Cache, and 50 homes were destroyed in Warwick. Moving on to the Crest Hill, Il where it caused F3 damage and claimed another eight lives. After reaching Joliet, the tornado began to lose strength and finally passed the Indiana border at about 4:30 when it had dissipated.

Another storm took place on August 15, 1993 in the late afternoon and my children were home. My husband was playing golf in Lemont. My neighbor and I once again were watering flowers, my garden more luxurious than ever before. But this time the sky was a smokey color with a slight green tinge and nothing was moving which immediately scared us.  Something was too close and we heard a sound like a nearby train. I have never heard that sound since. We ran, gathering the children and headed inside. The power went out as we waited. There were no cell phones to check on others. There was a crashing sound; not far from the neighborhood.

As is turned out about an hour later, as the lights came on, the TV and my husband walked in the door, some sort of tornado/wind calamity damaged a store under construction in Woodridge about a mile away and the tornado did pass the golf course. They had no time to find shelter and laid flat on a low point in the grass. The tornado was an F2 and did finally touch down in New Lenox but no serious damage or injuries were reported.

My daughter was only a baby in 1990 but in 1993 she remembered, to this day, the shaking hands of her Dad. Today, my adult daughter and son sends me text messages, Nexrad and pictures of the sky ahead of time to give me warning that the forecast will be bleak.

And I am eagerly ready!