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!

 

 

 

Family reunions

WRITTEN BY CARYL CLEM:

Across America, families plan reunions during the summer months.  My Dad was the youngest of 13 living siblings.  I was the youngest grandchild.  On my calendar the 2nd week in August had stars to signal my relatives congregating in southern Illinois for a reunion extravaganza. After the 6 hour car ride, I felt like a time traveler roaming through Grandma’s cozy farmhouse, touching the immense, cool cast iron wood burning stove, examining lace covered carved wood tables and chairs under glowing Gone with the Wind kerosene lamps; exchanging hugs with relatives in every room. Outside, the foul smelling 3 dirt hole bench seat under a decaying sun speckled wood roofed shed was still in use. There was no plumbing until after 1962.

Every family was assigned a dish to bring at either the Saturday or Sunday meal, depending on your arrival time.  Tables and chairs provided by the local church covered the spacious front yard with predominantly red and white checked tablecloths. Large washtubs lined with plastic were filled with ice for the lemonade and tea. Grandmother would not allow any beverage served in a bottle including milk, soda or pop.

All of the family members, without gray hair, took turns passing water buckets from the pump to the porcelain kitchen sinks. No motels or hotels were close. By 7 p.m., caravans of relatives spread out to neighboring family farms to spend the night. Country breakfasts featuring eggs with homemade ham, bacon, sausage, gravy and biscuits would start the next day.

After feasting, musical entertainment was provided by a large assortment of musical instruments forming an impromptu band accompanied by several vocalists. Voting by elected judges would begin on whose fried chicken, pie and homemade ice-cream deserved the “Best” of that year award.  A photographer came on Sunday after our church service to take a photo before the last dinner together. Sisters Aunt Edith (English instructor) and Aunt Inez (culinary chef) compiled a yearly newsletter with a family collection of favorite recipes and stories to give everyone before they left.

Leaving suburban Chicago to jump into haystacks, feed livestock, eat finger-picking good potluck dinners followed by sleeping with 8 or more cousins in one big room was a summer highlight until Grandma, 98 years young, died in 1965. The attendance started to drop with grandchildren putting careers first.

After 10 years, the original 4 who did the organizing were aging and tried to find a younger core group to keep the reunion going. However,with no success. A property developer wanted to build a subdivision along the winding creek.  Just before the farm was sold, the final reunion was held with over 125 members, all wearing name tags with ages. Progress also brought hotels to provide lodging. Currently, sections of the family living near Windsor County, Illinois still unite on the 2nd Sunday in August to eat and celebrate another year.

My brother’s wife’s family includes me in their family reunions as an “outlaw” with privileges.  Each year celebrates new members, honors those who have passed, as we eagerly exchange photo albums and stories of the past years events.  The elephant gift trade is hilarious.  Hotels provide lodging but meals are at family members’ homes.  At the close, there is the T-shirt with a landmark picture to wear through the year.

Family love is the strongest when shared; the magic feeling of a reunion keeps me looking forward to the next one.

Courage

BY CARYL CLEM:

A soldier’s uniform, fire men drowning  a fire,

Ambulance sirens screaming, roaring past red lights

Brave workers humbly avoiding spotlights

Common symbols of experiences to inspire.

 

Courage , a catalyst,  shapes determination

Pushing you forward, empowering action

Motivation to fight any battle

Challenging  consequences of the struggle.

Courage cleans anger and fear’s pollution

Courage forms pioneers seeking solutions.

 

Courage wins struggles hidden from view

Healing for a heartbroken victim

Daily doses vital, courage stronger than a vitamin.

Opens doorways to a path to pursue

 

Selects steps towards achievement

Ending isolation, disappointment

Now ,  the  letter V  stands for victory

Courage leads into support, love, a new life story.

Heroes

POETRY BY CARYL CLEM:

When life is thrown wayward

Unasked, coming forward

Beside us, courageous collaborators

Humble companions, even champions

Faithful, loyal, upholding honor

A pioneer discovering solutions

Forced by coincidence or circumstance

To save others with intelligence and grace

Never expecting rewards or recognition

                                             Thanks for being my Hero 

Reflections song

POETRY BY CARYL CLEM:

Just a note unlocks a memory

A mix of love and mystery

Holding on, then letting go

Loves continual ebb and flow

In just a note, magic returns

Remembering passions burn

Time heals, the music plays on

Finding desire embraced in a song.

Summers in Saugatuck

We climbed out of the Vista cruiser after pulling up along side the small white cottage. The trees towered above us as we began to grab our suitcases and, of course, my pillow. I could hear the waves of Lake Michigan located across the road which was called Lake Shore Drive in Saugatuck Michigan.

The rental was tiny inside; only two bedrooms for the adults which was Mom and her friend. Me and Rita’s two daughters …my same age… slept on cots and sleeping bags in the expansive living room. Our Dads would come up from Chicago in a few days for the weekend and then travel back with us to Chicago.

We read, we swam, we cooked hot dogs on the beach and visited quaint shops in downtown Saugatuck.  The entire week, I had a stomach ache and constantly complained. They took my temperature. They gave me medicine. And still my stomach ached and ached. And sometimes my head too. But when my father arrived, it was amazing how the pain began to subside as we played miniature golf and took a trip on the ferry. Unfortunately,when we all left together…I never felt better. I was only eight and the first time I had ever been separated from my Dad.

I returned to Saugatuck many times in the, 1970’s, 1980s and 1990s with friends and family. And did find the cottage that had been renovated in a more upscale environment and could not believe the disappearing beach caused by erosion. Those vacations usually included a stay at the Blue Star which has been revamped over the years or Lake Shore Resort though today, Saugatuck is filled with excellent bed and breakfast mansions.

I remembered shopping downtown; a much more powerful experience when I was an adult. My mother returned on a trip with me in the 1990’s and said that the artistic shops and culture had truly expanded. This included a variety of antiques,collectibles, and art galleries which were just beginning in the late 1960s.

Now, Saugatuck is named one of the best art towns by Expedia, which included the plein air painters of the early 1900s, the Art Institute of Chicago’s OxBow students, and the artists who continue to live their today. Through its affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ox-Bow still offers one and two-week courses for credit and non-credit students.

There were also more places to eat and drink but the Butler, once an historic Inn, offers spectacular waterfront dining. Today, live entertainment can be enjoyed every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day

Saugatuck is one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World,” and also a great place for hiking and fishing.

I remember sitting on the dunes trying to enjoy the sunset and the amazing beauty that surrounded me. I didn’t think I missed my father; I had no idea why my stomach hurt.

But now, I can go back; still mesmerized by sun, sand, and water without stomach pains. and with an amazing understanding of the love a daughter has for her father.