Magical summers

Many Baby Boomers growing up did not always have their summers planned with vacations. Some went to summer camp and many, like me, waited anxiously for best friends to get home from camp so we could play or create the next adventure. Some of us had no place to go during the summer with the exemption of exploring the neighborhood because we did have full freedom to go outside and play on a nice day.  Full freedom to explore and be back by 6 for dinner or for some until the street lights came on. No fear of stranger… danger!

Sometimes, we would go to the local playground or city park such as Chicago’s Bessemer which had a community pool or Stoney Island Park, which was popular for its ball fields, now known as Jessie Owen Park on the South Side of Chicago. Of course, riding our bikes(without helmets) often doing all sorts of stunts to get there. Many families had plastic, above ground pools in their backyard…not so different as those today.  The backyard sprinklers were are last resort but always fun once turned on. We never got sick drinking from the hoses either. Playing hopscotch, kick the can, red light, green light, red rover, Chinese jump rope, jacks( inside and out.)

I am not sure if it initially came from boredom or just not sure what to explore next but we produced plays, musicals and all sorts of summer shows for our families. One my friends and I did was about Betsy Ross and instead of the infamous lemonade s tand we re-created the Sip and Stir on a front porch which was originally an ice cream shop in Old Town. We made chocolate shakes and decorated the porch with tissue flowers. Though unless we had help from a Mom, we had to make sure that cooler was stocked with ice.

If in junior high and a Chicago city kid, sometimes we would ride the local Illinois Central Train downtown for lunch in the Narcissus room at Marshall Fields. Sometimes we would ride the bus to Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park on the west side; one of the first indoor malls.

However, screens did come into play when it was a rainy day. You could select from 3- 5 channels. If it was Saturday morning, you had a variety of cartoons to choose. Prime television was generally in the evening and reserved as a family event after your friends returned home. Board games or blind mans bluff were always an option and some of us had indoor ping pong or pool tables that we were allowed to play in the cooler finished basement since some did not have air conditioning.

Saturday afternoons could offer corny black and white horror movies such as Attack of The Crab Monsters,Teenagers From Outer Space and I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This was all after adjusting the TV antennas which could take some time especially if weather was poor and Mom watching over you while you made Jiffy Pop, the best stove- top popcorn that you loved to gently slide back and forth over the burner and watch the foil expand to new heights. Evenings were always spent with my favorite paint by number set from Bargain Town or reading which was encouraged before I went to bed. We always took trips to the local Chicago Public Library branch. Today, I am an avid reader and love to paint for fun.

Raising children in the 1990’s actually was pretty similar to the 1960’s though there television sets had a lot more channels to select. And they still made Jiffy Pop and my kids loved to help. Personal computers were just showing up in homes and they were pretty bad. So were pagers used mainly for work and more Mom’s needed jobs. I still let my children take over the neighborhood on bikes.Though, they did not have the run of as many blocks like we did in the old days. They did play outside and established some creative plays to perform for parents. Games were similar like tag, Red Rover with the exception of Marco Polo, a new game at the pool. I found sometimes, as parents,we would get too involved in the preparation of games and adventures. Maybe,we should have taken a back seat more often and just watched them build their creativity and love for one another. A very difficult exercise.

Today, just give kids markers, chalk, paper, and even washable paint. Let them go for it outside. Give them boxes, paper towel rolls, saved cereal boxes, tape and let them create their own summer houses, vehicles or forts. Pull out old clothes, dresses and see what they can do. Let them play with their friends and learn together. As far as games,Duck, Duck Goose and Monkey in the Middle seems to be popular. Gathering by themselves to play without you is the best of time for your children during the summer.

But never limit your field trip trips to the local library. You can actually cook Jiffy Pop on the grill outside. And watch the entire shows and movies from the past on Netflix. Maybe true summer fun hasn’t changed that much after all.

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!

 

 

 

Through the decades: Lake Lawn Lodge/Lake Geneva

My father loved to drive. He had a massive 1959 Oldsmobile Super Olds when I was four and then bought a 1966 Vista Cruiser. From the south side of Chicago, it was perfect for our summer trips to Wisconsin. The first time I met Bucky was at Lake Lawn Lodge, a wooded resort that was closed and re-opened in 2011 after 4 million dollars in renovations.

Over 130 years old, the lodge was built on Lake “Waubashawbess” or “Swan Lake”  which was the original name for Delavan Lake, given by the ancient Native Americans who called it home. Bucky, the friendly Native American, was on every wall, in every passage way, escorting us to the indoor pools, the gift shop and of course, restaurant and lodge. Over the years, Native American artifacts have been found on the property. This is the first place that I learned how to play patio shuffleboard on a deck overlooking the lake.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s. Lake Lawn was a popular retreat were you could stay at the Main hotel or one of the lodges that had its own indoor pool. Timber and Boulder was established in the early 1960’s and in the 1970’s; Shorewood, Norwood, and Woodlawn. The main hotel, however, was demolished in 1984.  Now, a new lobby and reservation area beautifully awaits guests.

And during the late 1970’s and 1980’s, since I could now legally drink, though the drinking age was only 18 in Wisconsin compared to 21 in Illinois, I spent more time in nearby Lake Geneva. Some preferred to stay at the Abbey; others… members of the Playboy club in Geneva which opened in 1968. We stayed for a pool and drinks in the late 1980’s at the resort…no longer the Playboy, but was the Americana. Now, the resort is the Grand Geneva.

However, it was the Sugar Shack that brought out the worst; still a world-class Gentleman’s club. Though, it was great for a bachelorette or bachelor party, and when I was there, the men kept their underwear on…thank God.  The Sugar Shack is one of the only clubs in the world to offer a completely nude male venue today.

Today, I would rather go back to the Treasure Cove which originally opened in 1985; now a true historical landmark. You can’t miss it on Broad Street with the giant mermaid out in front. The store was a great place for souvenirs that included fudge, mugs, t-shirts, jewelry and just a wonderful variety. Today, Turkish lamps can be purchased for a reasonable price, planters and Kisii Soapstone by Kenyan women who you are helping with employment opportunity.

Worthpoint offers a great collection of items you can purchase of vintage Lake Lawn Lodge

Wisconsin Dells Sunday dinner

 

“Put on you gloves,” Mom said. And she wasn’t referring to my woolly mittens during winter’s blast. They were dainty white gloves that ended at the wrist, tapered fingers, usually with a pearl closure. It was summer at our favorite vacation spot, the Wisconsin Dells, and we were going to a grand place for Sunday dinner.

Living on the south side of Chicago, we could drive in our Vista Cruiser since airline tickets were expensive in the 1960’s. Though we switched up motels several times on various trips, we never stopped visiting the Tommy Barlett Water Show and we never stopped dressing in our best for dinner. White gloves, a small grown up white clutch purse and, of course, a neatly styled dress; nothing less was expected for the occasion.

Just minutes from Wisconsin Dells located in Mirror Lake State park, you wind through the beautiful woods to the Hoffman Brothers restaurant built in 1953, situated right on the shore of Mirror Lake, Ishnala. My father loved the restaurant built into nature where giant Norway pines grow through the roof. Though only a child under 12, our first stop at the restaurant with my parents was the Arrowhead Bar built in the shape of an arrowhead with a breathtaking view of the bluffs.  Here is where we waited for our seat in the dining room and I could actually sit at the bar in those days. Served like an adult, I graciously sipped the famous kiddy cocktail with maraschino cherries, loaded with sugar, before being seated for dinner.

The house specialty was prime rib but I always got to choose a steak, medium rare, regardless of the cost. The rustic but elegant surroundings in red offered that reverent experience of unbroken time with my parents so long ago. Both now both have passed; not able to tell their daughter how proud they are of her well-practiced manners, always reminding her how she will grow into a lovely woman someday.

But to carry on tradition, I took my own children to this supper club that boosted over 50 years of popularity.  My son and daughter, pre-teen in age at the time, fought as usual, not quite as enamored as I was and were more content with a grilled cheese sandwich and fries then prime rib. Their unpracticed manners or should I say complete rudeness did not go unnoticed. And no, white gloves, were not a part of their Sunday apparel. The thought of professional class and style, ties, sports jackets and a dress could only be described in my warped imagination. Needless to say, I was disappointed at the outcome of our visit.

However, years later we found a picture together of what I thought, a failed excursion that I had quickly snapped for posterity, gobbling their Ishnala food. It was remembered fondly that this was the restaurant where their grandparents, had rekindled their love for family. Imagine that, they had paid attention to the intent after all; an unexpected response to the trip that I thought a waste of time and money.

As a result, they are trying to save their pennies for their own Sunday dinner that offers timeless beauty and what will hopefully be for them,  another excursion of cherished family memories.

Look to see if that favorite restaurant, park, even movie house is still thriving and insist on taking them for a visit. Though popcorn may be the only immediate source of your children or even grandchildren’s concern, they may surprise you in the long run.