Learn about the book, "The Other Side of the World": read an excerpt from it on this post, as well as the other free prequels on this blog.
The summer of 1960 is one of change, and of discovery for young Peggy Standish. In the excerpt from this book (below), the wandering man of the neighborhood, exposes Peggy and her friends to a new kind of music...
“Right then and there he stopped. He did something that you wouldn’t expect a junk collector to do, not in a million years. From a pouch that was perched beneath the handle bar of the buggy, he pulled out a violin and tucked it under his chin. For some reason, I expected nothing more than a scratchy squeal to sound from his fiddle. Instead, he amazed us all.
His fingers went to dancing on the fingerboard of the instrument like a jig, his bow flying across the neck with lightning speed. I swore he could have sawed it right in half. It was a merry, lively, old-timey tune, the kind that you couldn’t keep from tapping your toes to if you wanted to.
I doubted any one of us knew the name of the song that this stranger played. Babs was the one who listened the most to radio in our house, and I was a close second. We were familiar with Elvis, the Everly Brothers and Brenda Lee. The only time we got exposure to different kinds of music was when we flipped the dial from Dick Biondi (the best DJ ever) on WLS in pursuit of another rock and roll station. But we stood there transfixed, listening and looking at the odd sight. It would be long time before I could get that catchy tune out of my head.
Just when we thought we’d seen it all, a dog came bounding out from behind the other side of the carriage. He chased his tail, spinning almost in time to the spirited melody.
I ask you? What could we do after seeing such a surprising spectacle but clap? And so we did.
A white toothy smile flashed beneath the man’s bristly mustache. “Just a little Blackberry Blossom bluegrass,” he told us, and turning to his dog said, “Give a little bow to your audience, Scout.”
The black and white animal looked up at his master and slowly went down on his front legs, placing his snoot between his paws.
Putting his fiddle away, the man turned from us and called out, “Junk! Will cart junk away for free!”
Climbing to the top of the giant monster, moving steadily, my shoes slowly clacking against the bony spikes of its spine, the beast stirred from its slumber. Now I was in for it! Standing on the very top of its head, looking almost straight down, I could see the people crawling like ants beneath me. It stopped for just a millisecond, and giving a mighty roar, suddenly lunged forward descending in a blur of speed. Plummeting downward, a scream of horror escaped my lips … And Then! …And then!..and then…I woke up.
I shot up in bed, my heart racing like I’d been running the fifty-yard dash in gym class. Little by little familiar objects in my room faded-in under the moonlight bringing me back to the calm of reality. Though I lay back down, I didn’t dare go to sleep. Couldn’t if I wanted to. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out where that scary nightmare came from.
Tomorrow was the last day of Dad’s vacation. Usually, this was something our entire family looked forward to, because it meant an annual trip to Riverview, the best, biggest and most spectacular amusement park in Chicago. But this year, at least for me, I was dreading it. My cause for concern could be summed up in one word, the “Bobs”. The meanest, fastest, tallest most fearsome roller coaster this side of Lake Michigan. You would think that since I’d been on every other roller coaster at Riverview Park, the Silver Streak, the Comet, the Flying Turns, the Greyhound, I wouldn’t be bothered by another coaster, but you’d be wrong. The Bobs (or the Beast as we called it) was in a class all by itself. Although I marveled at it, I was also afraid of it.
I’d been told by my older cousin, Wendell, that the main drop was over 85 feet. It looked more like a hundred to me. Seventeen hills of wooden tack dipped and dived with dead man’s curves that had enough centrifugal force to keep you plastered to your seat.
William, Wendell’s twin brother, would tell tall tales about it, just to scare us.
“My friend told me that a girl was killed on it,” he said, his voice low and somber. “She was thrown from the train coming down the biggest slope. SPLAT! Hardly anything left of her after she hit the ground. Not only that,” he added, his eyes squinting with a sinister expression, “she haunts the place. Going on ride after ride…day after day…summer after summer…for all eternity. My friend said the last time he was on the Bobs, he sat in the car all by himself, or so he thought. When the ride was over and it came to a stop, there she was. Sittin’ in the spot next to him, all transparent and white, he could see right through her. I can tell you this,” William added, “he’s never been on the Beast since.”
I was nearly twelve and didn’t fall for those stories anymore. Besides, the thought alone of riding that coaster was enough to frighten the freckles from my face, and with good reason. This year, it was my turn to board the Beast. Call it a tradition, a rite of passage or whatever you want, but every kid in our family was expected to ride the Beast the summer before their twelfth birthday. Tomorrow was doomsday for me.
On the drive up there, we would usually stop to pick up Wendell and William. But this year, only William would be hitching a ride to Riverview Park with us.
“Poor Wendell,” said my older sister, Babs, as we approached their house, “too bad he’ll have to miss the trip.”
I imagined that he was pretty upset. But there was no way he could take on the rides with a cast on his leg. “No good deed goes unpunished”, as Grandpa says, and that’s just what happened to Wendell.
A couple of weeks ago, it seems William had snuck off to play ball with his friends without finishing his after-dinner chores. Wendell, always shielding his twin, offered to finish them. As he was taking the garbage down the back porch steps to the alley, he slipped on a baseball that William must have dropped as he slinked off. Wendell went tumbling down to the stoop, cracking his leg to-boot.
Poor Wendell nothing! I thought to myself. I’d gladly trade places with him today – broken leg included.
The gates of Riverview greeted us. Stepping under the arched canopy of lights that were held up by tall towers of red, white and blue, we waltzed into another world. Our senses overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of a multitude of magnificent attractions. The organ music of the merry-go-round, the scent of sugar spun cotton candy and popcorn, and the colorful bizarre banners of the side shows beckoned to us.
Our family always gravitated to the huge facade of Aladdin’s Castle first. It was hard not to. A man in a turban with enormous and dark hypnotic eyes looked down at the visitors, enticing them to walk through its doors. This fun house had it all. A large turning barrel daring us to run through it without falling, a magic carpet ride, random fans that blasted you with surprising bursts of air sending shirts and skirts flying, and spooky twists and turns. The screened maze was the biggest challenge. William always made sure that he was the first of us to enter, determined to lose his younger cousins in this web of confusion. You could fall behind in the blink of an eye, lose your way and have to start all over again.
As I zigzagged through this puzzle, I kept trying to think of some way that could delay my rendezvous with the Beast. And finally, I came up with a plan.
For the next few hours we were either on a ride, or standing in line waiting to get on one. We went zooming down the slippery ramp in the big wooden boat of the Shoot-the-Chutes, splashing into a pond of cold water. I watched as Babs, sat in a seat holding on to the harness of the Pair-O-Chutes, soaring up and then floating down on the wind. Pausing at the freak shows, our group gawked at sword swallowers and fire eaters. All the while, I was filling myself up with caramel corn, hot dogs and whatever else I could manage to talk my mom into letting me eat. I had to; it was part of my plan.
Then, we finally came to the Crack-The-Whip. The carts on this ride rolled down a long oval wooden track. As it moved toward the end, it would pick up speed, swing round the bend, sending you flying around the turn. Usually, I saved this attraction as my very last. But it was an important part of my plan to ride it. It always made me dizzy and sick to my stomach, and I was hoping that I could rely on it to do the same for me now.
Just before I stepped into the cart, I downed two bottles of orange soda pop. My stomach was rumbling with the abuse I had given it. Good, it’s already working, I thought confidently as the ride flung me around and around.
Unfortunately, this time it let me down. When I got off, I was only a little queasy, not the kind of sick I needed to be if I wanted to get out of riding the Bobs. There went the perfect excuse to delay my initiation into the world of a soon to be teenager.
"Sure you’re not going to back out?” William asked pointing with his thumb at the Beast. He had been ribbing me about my rite of passage from the moment we entered the park.
“Aren’t you coming too?” I asked.
“What? And miss the chance to see the expression on your face as you come in for a landing?” He snickered. “That, little cousin Peggy, will be worth more to me than riding the Beast itself. I can always go again later.”
I frowned at him. Although I could have done without his sarcastic remark, it was good for one thing. It spurred me on. I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of letting him know I was afraid.
We approached the giant roller coaster’s ticket booth, its pristine white pillars looking like the gates of heaven. Up the steep ramp I staggered behind Babs and Dad to the train station, the point of no return. Climbing into the car, squashed between the two of them, the safety bar slammed down, and we stated to move.
I looked down at William, Mom and the rest of the family as we slowly chugged up the highest hill. It was torture knowing what was coming next and not being able to escape.
At the very apex it seemed like we stood still, then as if dropping in a free fall, the train roared downward. The wind pulled at my hair taking my headband as a trophy. My eyes were nearly as wide as my gaping mouth. I let out a scream and discovered there wasn't enough of it left to take me to the bottom of the steep incline. An invisible force at the first curve slammed me to right, pinning Babs against the side. On the next bank, the car jerked smashing me against Dad. Somehow, the safety bar didn’t seem safe enough. Letting go of it, I grabbed Dad’s arm, pressing my fingers deep into his skin. I was sure he felt the pain, but he said nothing. Daring to glance at Babs, I could see her tonsils as she opened her mouth along with me in our next downhill high-pitched duet. Scared though I was, for some weird reason, I sort of looked forward to the next rise. Surprisingly, I was a bit disappointed when it lacked the thrill of the highest hill. Before I knew it, the ride took its last drop, dove into the station and we climbed out.
"Well, Peggy,” my Dad said to me, rubbing the finger indentations I had left on his arm, “it’s official now, you survived the Bobs and live to tell.”
As the tenseness left my body, it trembled with relief. I had spent a heck of a lot more time worrying that ride than it actually lasted.
“What’s buzzin' cuzin'? How was it?” William called up to me with a cocky grin on his face.
I tried to make sure that my expression didn’t reveal my true feelings. “It was a breeze!” I lied.
“Hmmmm….really?” He questioned, not believing a word of it.
“Yes. A regular piece of cake,” I said, avoiding a direct look into his eyes.
We finished covering the whole of Riverview Park, and didn’t leave it till the evening parade was over and it was blazing with colored lights. Afterwards, we stopped off at Aunt Rose and Uncle Earnest’s house to drop off my cousin. Of course, William rattled on to them about the great time he’d had.
Wendell sat at the dining room, his casted leg propped up on a chair. Taking a metal hanger he had twisted into a poker, he reached down into the cast to scratch himself. There was a scowl on his face, and I could tell there was a lot more irritating him than an itch.
“You’d of been proud of Peggy,” my little brother Jimmy said to Wendell climbing in the chair next to him.
“Why is that?” he asked, his words sullen.
“Cause,” he said, “she rode the Bobs today. The biggest roller coaster in the world!”
“Really? Peggy, rode the Bobs?” He asked, his eyebrows high on his forehead.
Wendell looked at his brother, the cause of his cast, and let his resentment spill out the truth, “William, you mean you let your little cousin beat you out of riding the Bobs?”
It didn’t take long for Wendell to tell us the rest of the story.
Two years ago the twins were supposed to ride the Beast. And they did – or at least half of them did-twice. It turns out that Wendell, covering for his chicken brother William, rode the Bobs not only for himself, but again in place of his brother. Until this moment, everybody thought that they both tackled the coaster.
I turned around looking for Wendell’s deceptive twin.
Though William had never been on the Bobs, he had relentlessly teased and taunted me all afternoon. Words of retribution were on the very tip of my tongue. But in true William fashion, he had skedaddled out of there before I could have my say.
As we drove home, I was a mixture of relief and pride. Conquering my fear of the Bobs in spite of William’s teasing was a triumph, but I was glad it was over. Would I ever ride it again? You bet I would. Next summer, I’ll make sure to be sitting in one of the Beast’s cars - right next to William!
Copyright Joyce E.S. Pyka ©
About the photographs:
Photo 1: The entrance to Riverview Park (Wikipedia, public domain)
Photo 2: The entrance to the infamous Bobs! (Wikipedia, public domain)
At the beginning of every school year the nuns gave us the same assignment, a composition to be titled, “What I Did Over My Summer Vacation”. This year, I was determined to have something exciting to write about, though I’d yet to discover what that was. So far, the most interesting thing that happened was the Fourth of July, and that was only because of my Uncles Frank and Ernest. They always managed to surprise us with their competitive pyrotechnics, and were the envy of the neighborhood fireworks fanatics. But, that was about it, and September would be here before I knew it. I was on high alert for anything that wouldn’t make me appear like the dullest student of St. Sebastian’s sixth grade class.
It was on the morning after the Fourth that I found what I’d been looking for. Instead of staring out the window at the breakfast table, or reading the back of the Rice Krispies cereal box for the umpteenth time, I gazed over the top and at the front page headlines of the newspaper Dad was reading.
Bevy of Ballyhoo at Buckingham!!!
Red Carpet treatment for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip
This Monday, July 6, 1959, Chicago is to have a royal day indeed. Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Price Phillip will arrive on their yacht, the Britannia, on their first visit to our city. There will be a much fanfare and celebration as she steps onto a specially built “Queen’s Landing” to view Buckingham fountain where she will be greeted by Mayor’s wife. The festivities will continue…
It was only a glimmer, but by the time I got to the bottom of my cereal bowl, a bright idea lit up my mind. I knew just what I was going to do. The only trouble was, I had to convince my parents, then beg my best friend, Kenna, to come with me. And, I had only one day in which to do it!
“Even if you can manage to convince Kenna’s parents, I’m still not quite sure about this. You’ve never gone downtown without an adult. And to such an ostentatious event? They’ll be thousands of people there. I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Mom.
Here’s the thing of it; I half agreed with her. It would be my first time venturing into the Loop on my own, if you don’t count Kenna. But, I didn’t dare show a single shred of uncertainty. That would have killed Mom’s confidence in me, and my plan would be no more.
“Babs, was my age when she went with her friends downtown on the bus, I deserve the same chance,” I said, holding that fact over my mother’s head.
She didn’t deny it. “Yes, that’s true your sister did,” she said, and then added, “but there wasn’t such a large crowd expected in the heart of the city that day.”
“A lot of those people will be there just to gawk at the Queen, there’ll be police all over the place,” I told her. “I couldn’t be safer.”
And so, like all parents, who really want to say “no”, but don’t want to be the ones to actually come out and say it, she gave that job to Kenna’s parents. Without much conviction in her voice she told me, “If Kenna’s folks say it’s OK with them, than I guess it’ll be OK with me.”
Surprised at my luck, I mumbled under my breath, “That was a breeze.” And headed out the back door towards my best friend’s house.
Kenna, however, wasn’t as easy to persuade. She was a homebody and not prone to exploration the way I was. The idea of going downtown amongst a large crowd was bad enough. Doing it on our own (not to mention for the first time) well, let’s just say I got the feeling that she would have rather kissed the class nerd, Covington Fletcher flat out on the mouth! (well maybe)
“Sooner or later, you’re going to have to do it.” I kept after her.
“I’d rather it be later,” she quipped.
I didn’t ask her where her spirit of adventure was. I knew she had little of it.
Trying a different method, I went from begging, to whining, and finally resorted to guilt-goading. “Awwwwwwww comeon’ Kenna, you owe me.”
She pursed her lips and folded her arms across her chest.
“I went for a whole week with you to your Grandparents dairy farm in Wisconsin. Remember?” I asked, and continued, “you said you’d be bored to the brink there by yourself. Remember? I got butted by a goat. But did complain? When I was chased down by angry wasps after I bumped into their hornet’s nest, did I hold against you? And what about letting me think we going out to their barn to have dessert after dinner. Cow pies? Really? Even after being the brunt of that joke, I helped you shovel out their stalls. Didn’t I?”
“I knew you’d bring that up one day.” She scowled at me.
Though I never consciously stored those things in back of my mind, I supposed she was right. Whatever the case, she agreed.
We had no trouble convincing her parents who said that, if it was OK with my mom, it was OK with them. Of course, I never divulged that they were just repeating Mom’s strategy. There are some things better left unsaid.
Everyone knows when you go downtown you have to wear your Sunday best, so it goes without saying we were prepared and would be more than ready. There was always a (slim) chance that we might get to shake hands with the Queen. If we did get that lucky, would we have to curtsy too? I put that horrifying thought out of my mind as quickly as it came in.
The pair of us rose early in the morning. We’d been to other parades and knew from experience they could draw huge crowds. The evening news said that as many as 50,000 spectators were expected. It was important to get a head start.
Kenna clung to my side, and for her sake, I put on a totally brave front (even though I was shaking in my summer-white patent leather shoes). I’d written down directions, the buses we were supposed to catch, kept extra change in my purse for the fare and a dollar in my sock (mom’s solution to making her feel better in case we lost our purses).
A special landing spot was built next to Lake Michigan, as well as a special crossing. Lake Shore Drive always hummed with traffic. And if the Queen was going to tackle that busy road to get to Buckingham fountain, she’d have to have a more elegant way to maneuver it. I couldn’t imagine her running across holding on to the hand of her husband, Prince Phillip, dodging cars like commoners.
By the time we arrived and found our way to Congress Street, people had already staked out and claimed their spots. It was a sea of humanity, one that Kenna and I slowly waded through. We managed to get relatively close, but were heads and shoulders beneath the crowd.
Blocked from seeing most of the Queen’s Landing, we barely got a glance at the barge that carried the royal couple from ship to shore. At least I got a glimpse of the Queen’s yacht, Britannia. Its flag flying high above the deck; the big cross flapped the wind, and the colors were the same as ours, red, white and blue. I guess that was pretty understandable since Americans were practically related to the English. After all, we spoke the same language (sort of), didn’t we? Suddenly, military planes zoomed overhead and the fire boats spayed geysers almost as high as the aerial display.
“Here, take my hand Kenna,” I commanded her. This was no time to be polite and ask please. “Let me hold on to it for balance.”
She stretched out her arm and asked, “What for?”
I didn’t answer. Instead, I stepped on top of the fireplug next to me, raised my white gloved hand that held my Kodak Brownie camera above my head, and blindly snapped pictures in the general direction of the landing.
“You’ll waste all that film,” Kenna said. “You can’t even see what your shooting at from there.”
“Maybe I’ll get lucky and get in a good shot,” I told her, my hand still high above my head, hoping for the best.
Then, it happened.
“It’s the Queen’s hat!” hollered a spectator.
A blustery breeze blew across the choppy waves and snagged the Queen’s white lace brimmed hat. It lifted from her chestnut brown hair, swirled around above the crowd, and floated on the wind. In the wise words of my cousin, Wendell, “just leavin’ the house, can sometimes bring you an adventure”, and my hand being in the right place, and at the right time, was about to bring me one. The Queen’s hat hooked on to the edge of my camera.
“She’s caught it!” called out the lady standing next to me.
“Caught what?” asked Kenna, tugging on the hem of my dress.
I held on to it, and hopped off the red step stool.
How? I asked myself in shock. How could something like this have happened to me? Me, ordinary Peggy Standish, amongst thousands upon thousands of people. Why me? But other than that small amount of contemplation over the miracle of it all, there was little time to think about it.
A tall policeman had pushed his way through the tight mob and loomed over me. I looked up at him, the sun reflecting off his gold badge, the visor from his cap shading his eyes.
“Young lady,” he spoke in a deep voice. “Please come with me.”
Though I’d done nothing wrong, I felt as if I was going to be arrested. Fearful of losing my friend in this crowd, I grabbed Kenna’s wrist and followed closely behind him. The people parted for us like the Red Sea, and we treaded our way to front. Not more than a hundred feet away from me, and in full view, sat her royal majesty, Queen of England. I had read her full title in the newspaper before we left the house this morning, ‘Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith’, but was sure I’d never be able to get it out in one breath correctly. It was a perplexing feeling; I was both terrified, yet hopeful that I’d be introduced to her.
“Wait here,” were the next words to fall from the officer’s lips.
Kenna and I stood as if someone had put glue on the soles of our shoes.
“What are they going to do us?” she asked, her eyes wide. “Maybe, you weren’t supposed to touch her hat. Maybe, it’s like some kind of holy relic or something like that. Maybe it’s forbidden, maybe…”
Personally, I looked at that hat differently. To me it was like a trophy, like a ball that I might catch right after Ernie Banks slammed a homer across Wrigley Field. I could just about hear the audience cheering and Jack Brickhouse shouting, like he always did on the best plays, “Hey! Hey!”.
So, I felt pretty safe in telling Kenna, “Look, I caught that hat totally by accident. Actually, I did the Queen a favor…”
The policeman interrupted by tapping me on shoulder, and held out his hand. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. Disappointed, I placed her royal highnesses’ hat on his palm. There would be no introduction, no formal thank you, no shaking of two white gloved hands.
Kenna saw the expression on my face. “Well, at least we have a great view of her and Prince Phillip” she said, trying to cheer me up.
And that we did. The weather was “fit for a Queen”. She sat in a convertible limousine with Mayor Daily right next to them. One of the military aircraft buzzed above us, looking like it might knock off the antenna of the largest skyscraper downtown, the Prudential building.
My disappointment soon faded when I realized Kenna and I were given a place of honor at the curb of the crossing. At least we got to see everything front and center. As the Queen drove off, she waved and nodded in my direction – I swear it was meant just for me!
“Anyway,” I muttered to myself waving back, “That’s just how l’m going to write about it my composition.”
Click on the link below to read the newspaper article that inspired the story.
AND the video of the actual visit at
Peggy Standish (almost....12 years old)
I’ve heard people say that you pick up the traits of your godparents. There are ways I wouldn’t mind being like my godmother, Aunt Cynthia, but there are other parts of her personality that I’d rather not inherit.
Though she was sophisticated and smart there are other behaviors of hers that leave something to be desired. Mom said her sister could be a tad bit eccentric at times, Dad said that she was a kook, which is simply a kinder way of saying someone was just plain crazy.
Despite this, there is one thing I had to admire about my godmother. She was brave enough and bold enough to be herself. Something I was having quite a lot of trouble doing lately.
It was Friday night when a startling ring from the telephone sent all of us kids stampeding into the kitchen. Rarely did we receive calls after ten o'clock in the evening.
I was the first to reach it and grab the receiver off the wall. The voice on the other end didn’t wait for the standard introduction, “Hello, Standish residence, this is Peggy.”
“Lionel will be by with the limousine on Saturday, nine AM sharp. We’ll get a nice early start for our special time together.” My godmother said, reminding me of our weekend plans. “And don’t forget to wear your sneakers!”
Some how the words, limousine and sneakers didn’t sound like they belonged in the same sentence together. But coming from Aunt Cynthia, I mean Auntie C, as she likes us to call her, this is perfectly normal. She was a character of contradictions.
I was about to hang up the phone when she added, “Oh, and bring that sketchbook of yours. They’ll be lots of things downtown to inspire your drawings.”
Outside of my family, Auntie C was the only person in the world who knew of my hobby. Mom and Dad thought I was pretty good at drawing, even my older sister, Babs. They all told me that I was like an artist. But when family members tell you that you’re great at something, you don’t know if it’s really true or they’re just being nice.
Except for the family car, bikes and buses were the mode of transportation for the people on my block. Even Taxis were an expensive uncommon occurrence in our neighborhood. So, when Lionel, Auntie C’s chauffeur, drove up to the curb in a limo, it stirred up enough excitement to bring people out of their houses.
“Your visit will do your Aunt world of good.” Mom said handing me her overnight bag the next morning. “Be nice and on your best behavior this weekend.”
I sighed, rolling my eyes at her. “Mom, I’m not a little kid.”
I said good-bye to my parents, waved to my friends who stood on their front porches gawking at the long black automobile, and nodded to a pair of binoculars that were poking between the living room curtains of Mrs. Pearson’s home.
My little sister rushed out of the house with one of her own drawings. “Here you go. I did this for you in my happy color,” she said, giving me her latest masterpiece. “Take this to remind you of me, in case you get lonely.”
Lionel hopped out of the car and opened the door, tipping his cap as I slid inside. You might think that sitting in a fancy limo with your own radio and a cabinet filled with cold pop and chocolate is an extravagance, and I suppose it was. But honesty, the real luxury was the fact that I got to ride in the back seat of a car all by myself, without being crammed between my brothers and sisters.
I looked at Katie’s picture and smiled. The colors weren’t what they were supposed to be. Everything was red, the grass, the trees, the stick figures. It was my little sister’s special color of the week.
As we rode on the highway through the city, the streets zoomed by. I knew we were finally close to Auntie’s C’s apartment when we hugged the tight curve of Lakeshore Drive. A canyon of tall buildings was to my left, and the endless Lake Michigan to my right.
“It’s OK, Lionel,” I said, as the car slowed to a stop in front of Auntie C’s high-rise. “I know the way up.”
“Just as you like, Miss Peggy.” He looked at my reflection in his rear view mirror, tipping his cap once again.
Being called “miss” made me uncomfortable; I wasn’t used to all of this attention. Dad says that you belong to the either one of two worlds, the world of “haves” or the one of “have-nots”. My family wasn’t poor, but we were far from rich. I like to think that we were from the world of “have-what-we-need–but-not-always-what-we-want”.
As I stepped into Auntie C’s penthouse apartment, it made me acutely aware that she was from realm of haves. All of furniture was sleek, modern, curved and quirky, much like Auntie C herself. Mavis, Auntie C’s maid, kept the place like a show room, which couldn’t be easy. It could take you from now until Tuesday to walk through this place. On one side of her apartment you’d look and see nothing but the blue of the sky and the blue of the lake melting into each other. But, if you walked across to the other side, you got a panoramic scene of the Chicago Loop.
Until till Uncle Gabe died in a plane crash last year, the two of them traveled the world filling their penthouse with treasures. Sculptures, antiques, and paintings of every kind and every art movement clung to the walls. It was a cornucopia of culture. The closest I had to collection of art was a scrap book in which I’d pasted covers of the Saturday Evening Post and magazine photos of my favorite artists’ work.
Mavis greeted me at the door and took my suitcase. It wasn’t more than a minute or two later when Auntie C swooped around the corner and into the foyer dressed in a black turtle neck and skinny pencil leg slacks.
"Peggy!” She flung her arms around me. She pulled me in close for a big bear hug, one of her large hoop earrings brushing against my cheek. “How is it possible that you’ve grown so much in just a few months?” My godmother smiled. “Mavis, can you please take Peggy’s luggage to the...” then she turned to me. “Well where will it be?” she asked smoothing back an unruly strand of hair from her pixie hair cut.
“The Impressionist bedroom,” I said trying to impress her with my artistic acumen, all the while knowing what my real reason was. I’d be looking down on the better view of city streets.
"A great choice, don’t you think Mavis?”
“Yes, Mrs. Bolderman,” Mavis answered and then made the comment, “Miss Peggy’s has excellent taste in art, just like her Aunt.”
I started to unbutton my fuzzy pink Robert Hall spring jacket, when Auntie C stopped me.
“Don’t bother to take it off dear, I want to get started immediately, we’ve no time to waste.” She grabbed her black duster coat, swung it around her shoulders, and I was out of the door as fast as I came in.
Lionel was still parked out in front with Auntie C’s limo waiting of us.
“What’s the rush?” I asked as the car took off.
"We’ve much to do.” Auntie C reached down and pulled out a little black bag from a compartment at the bottom of the back seat. “This evening,” she said, kicking off her high heel pumps, “I’m having a soirée.” She opened the pouch and dumped out a pair of sneakers.
I never heard this word and had to ask. “What’s a Swar-A?”
She slid her feet into the canvas shoes and explained. “Soiree is the French word for a party.” Bending over, she tied her shoe laces and continued, “It’s an elegant event that usually takes place in the evening. I’ve invited my renaissance friends – writers, artists, poets, performers, thespians and so on.”
I didn't plan on this. Though I brought some nice clothing with me (you didn’t go downtown without getting dressed up) I hadn't packed anything like a party dress.
Auntie C was uncannily good at reading people’s feelings, and it wasn't long before she told me, “Don’t worry. I’m taking you shopping right after we go to the exhibit.”
The limo came to a stop in front of a large white building. I looked up to see the words, Art Institute of Chicago carved into the stone facade of a structure that looked like a Roman temple from the movie Ben-Hur.
“There’s a display of works by Paul Gauguin, I want to see. He worked with another artist for a while, Vincent van Gogh. Although from what I’ve read, they had a rather stormy relationship.”
Though I knew little of these artists, I had seen a print of van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the impressionist bedroom at Auntie C’s apartment. “Isn’t he the painter that cut off his ear?”
“Yes,” Auntie C said. “There is a thin line between genius and madness.”
I’d guessed she meant that he was a great artist who was kind of crazy. I thought of what Dad had said earlier about Auntie C. It was reassuring to know that she had both of her ears.
Following my Aunt up the stairs, we stepped between two huge larger-than-life sized statutes. Lions guarded the entrance, one lion looking as though he was watching something in the distance, and the other ready to roar and pounce.
As we walked the palatial halls of this art museum, I felt like we were strolling through a time machine. The artists’ styles, the costumes of the people they painted, the places they chose to put on their canvases changed from one century to the next. We had flown out of Auntie C’s apartment so fast, that I hadn’t had time to unpack my sketchbook, and in a way I was relieved. I wouldn’t have been able to decide what to copy. There was so much I wanted to see.
Threading our way through long corridors, we finally came to the Gauguin exhibition. It only consisted of two paintings and one drawing, but Auntie C took plenty of time to look at it. Not too far from this was another self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh. I leaned in close. It looked like dots of color raining across the canvas, but as I stepped back, I could see the picture of the of Mr. van Gogh fall into place. There was over seventy years between us, yet the red bearded artist seemed to look back at me as if he was right there. It was fascinating.
We returned to my Aunt’s penthouse laden down with packages from our shopping spree. I headed straight for my weekend quarters, flung the garment bag across my bed, and removed a Rappi taffeta designer dress. Layers of raspberry-pink nylon floated on its skirt as I placed it on the hanger. Then I grabbed the shoebox, tearing at the tissue paper that revealed a new pair of white shoes. I looked at their squash heels shaking my head. Finally, carefully, I pulled a small red velvet box from the Marshall Field’s bag and removed a delicate strand of seed pearls sighing at their beauty. Guess I could get used to being spoiled by my Godmother's attention after all.
The very next thing I did was to take my sketchbook out of my suitcase. My head was spinning like a whirligig filled with visual information. I had to draw as much as possible while the images from the museum were still fresh in my mind. It’s difficult to sketch from memory. Would I render things the way they were? Or would I draw them the way I remembered? Too much thinking! I decided to plunge ahead and hope for the best.
The afternoon flew by. Auntie C and Mavis had been busy for hours getting ready for her party. Furniture was being rearranged and caterers gathered in the kitchen, while a jazz quartet set up their music stands near the grand piano. I’d been so absorbed in my artistic pursuits that I hadn’t left my room.
“Peggy, it’s time to start getting dressed for the soirée,” Auntie C called out from the hallway, breaking the spell I’d been under from the flow of my pencil.
The finery that my Aunt bought me was about as comfortable to crawl into as a deep sea diving suit. Only when my ensemble was completed from head to toe, did I dare take a look in the mirror. Is that me? I had to ask myself.
Not only did I look different, I felt different. I was a skinny armed, lanky legged individual, struggling to grow into something that had quite a way to go. Stuck between being a girl and becoming a woman is an awkward way to be. Still, because the beautiful dress made me at least feel pretty, I thought there was hope.
Walking in to the dining room that evening was like walking into a different world. I felt like I’d just stepped into a surreal dreamlike painting by Salvador Dali. As I stared out the west window that made up an entire wall, I could see the moon high in the sky. Headlights glared, traffic signals flashed, neon colors lit up signs down below, and lights from surrounding skyscrapers set the city blazing. Downtown Chicago was a whole different world at night.
The table chairs had been dressed up in light blue seat covers tied with giant satin bows. A white lace cloth was spread on the long table with an elaborate centerpiece of periwinkle blue and white mophead flowers in the middle. China plates trimmed in gold, crystal goblets that looked like sculptures, and sparkling silverware were set from one end to the other. At each place setting, atop the dinner platters was a card with a picture of an old man, painted blue, sitting cross-legged while playing a guitar. I opened the card and read the inside.
“Why was Picasso so Blue?”
I placed it back on the plate, and decided not to ask. Sooner or later, I was sure to find out what it meant.
Auntie C waltzed into the room dressed in a black beaded evening gown. She had smoothed the curls of her pixie-do from her face and darkened her eyebrows and lashes. Her berry red lipstick made her teeth look extra white, and she had traded her gold hoop earrings for dangling diamonds. She glided around the room as if she was on roller-skates, I clunked in heels that I wasn’t used to, and we met in the middle.
“You look lovely Peggy. Quite grown up!” She hugged me, patting my back.
"Thanks.” Though the compliment was nice enough, I hoped for something more than “quite” grownup.
Not long after that, the door bell chimed and the first guest arrived. Music soon filled the penthouse while waiters weaved between the guests carrying drinks I couldn’t have, and French finger food I couldn’t pronounce. When we sat down to start our dinner, I found myself sitting with a tall, thin man at my right and a short, round man to my left.
“Picasso, he vas always trying somezing new, experimenting vas in his nature,” said Mr. Short-Round with a heavy foreign accent as he fingered the blue man picture.
“Are you sure about that Rudof?” asked Auntie C.
So there you have it. The little card was something to get the conversation moving, and move it did.
“Frankly,” spoke Mr. Tall-Thin, “I’ve always found blue a rather depressing color.”
After that, talk flowed around the table freely right along with the food and drink. Taking up a spoon, I dipped it into a bowl of tomato consommé, which is (would you believe?) cold soup, when Auntie C asked me, “And what do you feel about it Peggy?”
Though I realized I was about to learn more from their discussion, what I knew now about Piccaso could have fit into one of the thimbles in my Grandmother’s sewing basket. The fact that my Aunt called on me, like an adult, to give my opinion, made this a definitive moment. Could I possibly come up with an intelligent sounding answer, and still tell them the way I really felt? Or was I going to take the safe route, go along with one of them, and agree with what I’d just heard?
Glancing at the picture on the card, suddenly jogged my memory back to this morning.
“Weeeeeeeell,” I said stretching out my answer. I was hoping that what was inside my head would form into words, words that wouldn’t make me sound too ignorant. “I suppose it depends on who’s doing the looking.”
“How zo?” asked Mr. Short-Round, which I believe meant, “How so?” In other words, “What do you mean?”
I scooped up my soup, remembering to mind my manners and not slurp it down, and answered, “Maybe if you knew Mr. Picasso, and you knew something bad happened to him to make him sad, it could influence the way you looked at the painting."
“Ov course it vould, blue is often expressed as a color of sorrow.”
“But, what if you didn’t know Picasso? And what if you didn't know that the color blue is supposed to make you feel sad? You might think he saw an old man playing a guitar, and just decided to paint him in shades of blue.”
By George!” said a lady sitting next to Auntie C. “It’s the old subjective versus objective debate about art once again!”
“Why so it is!” Auntie C exclaimed. “A very astute observation on your part, Peggy.”
From then on the conversation took on a life of its own. I tried hard to keep up with everyone’s opinion, but it was difficult. All this subjective/objective talk was new to me. I think objective means the way a piece of art actually looks and subjective means how you feel about the way a painting looks – at least that’s the closest I could come to figuring out what they were talking about. All I knew for certain was, that I wasn’t about to ruin the impression I’d made on Auntie C and her soirée society guests by letting them let them know where I got the inspiration for my “astute” answer.
Some people could look at my little sister, Katie’s picture and say that she just wanted to use the color red, but I knew that there was more to it than that, red was Katie’s happy color of week.
About the Photos ……………
Art Institute: This beautiful building has been in existence on Michigan and Adams Streets in Chicago since 1893 and houses thousand of works of art. There actually was a Paul Gauguin exhibit that took place in the spring of 1959. The photo is one of own.
Rappi Designer Dress: This is the dress that inspired the description in the story. Rappi was a dress designer of glamorous formal wear for debutantes, etc. of the 1950s. A special “thank you” to Couture Allure Vintage Fashion for permission to use this photo.
© COPYRIGHT , Joyce Pyka on written material and (my own) photographs.
"PLEASE, please do NOT call on me.” I pressed my back against the chair, and slid down to edge of my seat until my chin nearly sat on top of my desk, certain that I’d become invisible behind Dottie Dombrowski.
“Peggy, can you tell me what the word, “misapprehension” means?”
Rats! My strategy failed. It was no use hiding, Sister Mary Therese had eyes in the back of her habit.
I hadn’t done anything other than glance at last’s night’s homework. I grabbed the sides of my seat, and pushing myself upright, made a stab at the answer.
Let’s see now, I thought to myself, misapprehension is like two words put together, mis and apprehension. “Mis”, well the meaning for that is obvious enough, and “apprehension” sounds a lot like apprehended, which could mean being arrested. I heard Sergeant Joe Friday use that word on one of Dad’s favorite police TV shows, Dragnet.
“Misapprehension,” I repeated. “Means you just missed getting arrested.”
Then I heard it, a familiar sarcastic snicker at the front of the room. Only one human being could make that sound. Becky Know-It-All Newton’s arm snapped up like an arrow shot from a bow. Nobody else in the class room had a chance.
“I know what the right answer is Sister.” She looked over her shoulder at me, smirking with satisfaction. “Misapprehension: is a false impression or incorrect understanding, especially of somebody's intentions. As in this sentence, “Peggy is giving her teacher the misapprehension of doing her vocabulary homework last night.”
It goes without saying that I could not stand Rebecca Newton. There was no reason for her to add that example sentence, but she never could resist the opportunity to show someone up while putting them down. I should have expected it.
“Thank you, Rebecca,” Sister Mary Therese said and then added. “However, next time please wait until I acknowledge you before giving me your answer.”
Sometimes, there is justice in the world.
The two hands of the classroom clock met and pointed straight up to the sky, setting off the noon bell. We lined up, half of the students heading for the lunchroom, the other half for home.
I sat at the cafeteria table with my buddies, and reached into my brown bag. What did Mom pack today? Of course, there was the usual healthy piece of fruit, but what about the sandwich? Turkey, salami, ham on rye? My stomach had been rumbling the last hour, and I was more than ready to pull apart the aluminum foil wrapper to reveal its contents. Liverwurst. Unappetizing, brown as the bag I brought it in, liverwurst. I pushed it aside. I’d have to be content with the apple that I usually traded for a Twinkie or tossed in the trash.
Wormeater (you don’t want to know how he got his nickname) lunged for my leavings. Liverwurst was just fine with him. “Well,” he said to Jeff and rest of our lunch crew, “it looks like I’ll be busy for the next couple of weeks practicing.”
“Practicing what?” Jeff asked.
“Dancing. You do know the Christmas Snow Ball is just two weeks away.”
The Snow Ball is a party that was reserved for sixth, seventh and eighth graders. It’s supposed to be a fun way for the upper grade kids to kick off two weeks of Christmas vacation while teaching students proper etiquette at a formal dance.
“Of course I remember,” chimed in my best friend, Kenna, “ though no one’s asked me to go with them…yet.” She glanced moon-eyed at Jeff across the table.
“I’d ask my brother to help me,” Wormeater continued, “but I don’t think he knows anymore about the Hand Jive or the Stroll than I do.” Then, he turned to me and said, “Hey, Peggy, your sister Babs is pretty cool. Do you think if I came over she could teach me some of the new dances?”
I suddenly stopped chewing my mealy apple. Wormeater liked me, but the feeling was all one sided - his. Anyway, that wasn’t saying much, he liked a lot of girls.
"I’ll see,” I said, though I had no intention of asking my sister any such thing. I wasn’t about to encourage him.
I looked at Jeff who was sitting next to me. He had an expression on his face somewhere between acceptance and anxiety. And I knew why too, it could be summed up in one word, Emaline.
Emaline Bogs was a big girl - bigger than most of my classmates (boys included) and fully developed (if you know what I mean). Heck! She should be, this is her third time around in the sixth grade and now her younger brother, Luther, who’s caught right up to her, is in our classroom also. Having two members of the Bogs' family in the same space with the rest of us is trouble waiting to happen.
The season of comfort and joy struck fear in the heart of every male in our classroom. It was Emaline’s tradition to take the cutest boy of her class to the Snow Ball. Like I said, it was her tradition; the boy she chose didn’t have a choice. Worst of all, her brothers were the school bullies of St. Sebastian. There were enough of them to go around for each grade, so whatever Emaline wanted, she got.
This year Emaline targeted Jeffrey Drumbott, or Jeff “Dreamboat” as Jaime called him. He had been an ordinary looking kid like the rest of us, but over the summer, he stretched three inches, his voice deepened and his features changed from round and rosy cheeked to chiseled and rugged. Though I wasn’t into boys (at least not that I cared to admit to anyone) even I had to own up that he was good looking.
Emaline sniffed out Jeffrey and strolled over to our table. She slammed her tray down, tomato soup splashing on to her grilled cheese sandwich and sat across from him. “See you before the dance at 7:00 sharp,” she barked and then added, “Oh yea, my dress is pink, don’t ferget to bring a corsage.” Then she slurped up the soup, shoved down the sandwich and went off to join her bothers. Things must have been done differently in the Appalachians where the Bogs’ family used to live. Around here, boys usually do the asking when it came to dates and dancing. It was clear that Emaline wasn’t bothered by propriety of any sort, she didn’t even ask Jeff if he would like to take her, but then again, she didn’t have to.
You would think that since he’d grown some and was now only a couple inches shorter than Emaline, he wouldn’t be afraid to tell her to get lost. But you’d be wrong. Crossing Emaline meant that you’d cross her brothers at the same time. The Bogs’ family was stickier than Elmer’s rubber cement glue. If you messed with one member, you messed with all of them. Jeff was a goner, and he knew it.
“What’ll I do?” he asked when Emaline was out of earshot.
“Nothing.” Wormeater told him through his beaver teeth. Pushing his thick glasses up his nose, he said, “If you don’t go to the dance with her, she and her brothers will clobber you.” He wiped the liverwurst from his the corners of his mouth.
“Well, I need to do something to get out of this situation,” Jeff said.
Wormeater’s bushy eyebrows flattened into a single line across his forehead. “You need something alright. You need a miracle.”
That evening, as my family sat around the dinner table exchanging happenings of the day, I told them about the Snow Ball and Jeffrey’s problem.
I don’t see a way out for him, he’s doomed,” said Babs. She was as familiar with the Bogs’ bullying as I was. “I sure would like to be at the dance to see the expression on eveyone’s face as Emaline waltzes in Jeff.”
“Aren’t you going?” I asked my older sister.
“No, and neither are you.”
“We’re going downtown that day for our Christmas outing. It’s all been arranged. Dad is going to take a half day off of work to meet us there.” She told me.
You would think that my older sister and I would squawk about not being able to attend the school dance, but you’d be wrong. Babs had her reasons, and I had mine.
I’m sure that my older sister would have liked to go, but there was a rule in our house (actually it was Dad’s rule) of no dating boys until you were sixteen. So I understood where Babs was coming from. In Dad’s strict eyes, going to a school dance with a boy constituted an official date, it didn’t matter if the Sisters of St. Sebastian sanctioned it or not. Babs was taking no chances, she was popular and knew she’d be asked. This was as good as a way as any to avoid the embarrassment of going alone.
I on the other hand, had my own concerns. Being on the shy side, dancing with boys in order to learn the social graces of life was something that I wouldn’t mind delaying for a while.
“We are going to see Uncle Mistletoe in Marshall Field’s department store window,” said Katie changing the subject.
“Me too,” echoed Jimmy, her twin. “We’re going to visit Santa, and eat lunch under the big Christmas tree in the Peanut Room.”
“It’s called the Walnut Room,” Mom corrected Jimmy.
“How much does a corsage cost?” Jeff asked me the next day at school.
“I see you haven’t found a way to wriggle out of it,” I said, ignoring his question for which I had no answer.
“Nope.” He hung his head in resignation. “Not only do I have to take her, I have to spend my money on her too.”
“Maybe you could find a way to cut out of the dance early?”
“What?” Wormeater jumped in. “Are you a ditz? Did you forget that some of Emaline’s brothers will be there too?”
“Emaline won’t let you out of her sight, she’ll make you dance every dance with her,” said Jaime and then added with a sigh, “She’s not the sharing kind.”
Wormeater doused Jeff with more cold reality. “You’ve only got two weeks to come up with a plan to get out of it. And it has to be good one. One that will make Emaline back off without her bothers going ape.”
“I’m doomed,” Jeff echoed my sister words.
I’m sure that for Jeff those two weeks moved faster than the speed of sound. It was just a few days before the dreaded dance when the first school bell of the morning rang. Students lined up according to grade. The Eighth grade first, followed by the seventh grade, and so on. Suddenly, twitters of laughter and muted whispers flew amongst the eighth graders at the front. None of us knew what was up until the pipeline of murmurs made it all the way down to the sixth grade.
Amanda Prittle, who stood in front of me, received the hushed news from Jaime, who received it from Wormeater. “It’s something about St. Sebastian,” she leaned into my ear and said in a quiet voice. “Something about the statue. Pass it on.”
And so I did. By the time the second bell rang, word made all the way to the first grade. And if you hadn’t heard about it by then, you were sure to see it for yourself as the procession of pupils passed by the statue of St. Sebastian. The entire student body knew what had happened to St. Sebastian, except for the nuns.
As we walked in the classroom Sister Mary Therese immediately sensed something. She wouldn’t have to wait long to find out exactly what the source of our unusual behavior was.
“Sister, have you seen what someone’s done to poor St. Sebastian?” asked Becky.
“What do you mean Rebecca?” Sister Mary T asked.
“Why, just look, out the window. I think what’s been done to him is a crime," she said, adding, “Whoever did such a thing should be arrested for vandalism or something like that.”
Sister Mary T walked over to the window and gazed down at the front of the church. The reverent statue of St. Sebastian looked anything but saintly. Sprouting from the top of his hallowed head was a pair of moose antlers. A bright red ball was plopped squarely in the middle of his pious face over his nose, and a long green and white striped scarf straddled his neck. The branches of the sculptured tree that the marble martyr was tied to, glimmered with silver tinsel icicles dangling in the winter wind.
Though I couldn’t swear by it, I thought I heard her start to laugh. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand and changed her tone. “Who on earth would do such a disrespectful thing?” Sister Mary T asked, clearing her throat.
Of course, she didn’t directly ask Know-It-All Newton, but she just might as well have.
Becky folded her arms across her chest with enough attitude and arrogance that would have given President Eisenhower an inferiority complex. “That’s not hard to figure out,” she said. “Who do you think would have enough nerve to commit what is practically a sacrilege?”
With that, the entire class turned around and looked at Luther and Emaline Bogs.
“What?” Luther stared at us like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. “It wasn’t me. I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it.” Though he tried to fight against it, he couldn’t help but cast and an eye in his sister’s direction.
“Hey! It wasn’t me neither!” she said.
While the two of them were busy trying to defend themselves from the suspicions of Sister Mary T and the students, I pulled on the sleeve of Jeff’s sweater and whispered to him. “You’d do just about anything to get out of taking Emaline to that dance wouldn’t you?”
“Sure I would,” he answered and looked at me like I was crazy for even asking.
“Well, here’s your chance.”
There was a puzzled expression on Jeff’s face. I could see I would have to do some explaining. “Listen,” I said, “if Luther Bogs goes down for this, he’s sure to get expelled. He’s already been suspended twice this year. You get expelled on your third offense.”
I could see that the power of understanding was penetrating Jeff’s brain. A look of realization crept across his face as he hung on to my every word.
“If you said you were the one who dressed up St. Sebastian like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and take the fall for Luther and Emaline, you’ll be the one who gets suspended, and. . .” I said, dragging out the word so Jeff could fill in the rest of the sentence.
“. . . I won’t be able to go to the dance!” he said.
“What’s more,” I added. “The Bogs will respect you for it, and Emaline will never be able to bother you again.”
Sentenced to a suspension of two weeks, Jeff had more than enough time to miss the dance and then some. I told Mom and Dad the whole story (well actually not the whole story) of how Jeff took the fall for Luther and Emaline. I just left out the reason why he did it.
“That was quite noble of him,” Mom said. It was the way she used the word noble that made me uncertain of how much of the story she believed. “I have an idea. Since you’re not going to the dance and neither is he, why not invite him to come along with us on our holiday outing?”
As if my raised eyebrows formed question marks on my forehead, Mom answered. “Don’t worry; your father won’t think it’s a date.”
The ride on the El train was not my favorite thing in the world. But, it was a convenient couple of blocks from our house, and a quick means to an end. In less than a half an hour, we would arrive in the heart of downtown Chicago.
It was like looking death in the face, when I stood on the skinny platform of the station. Every so often, I would read about people that were electrocuted on those tracks in the newspaper, fried like eggs on a Sunday breakfast. And if that wasn’t enough to make you back away from the edge, there was always the wind that the El train created when it roared in, ready to suck you under its wheels. I didn’t feel safe until I was on board.
The train threaded through the city at roof top level, flashing unfamiliar neighborhood scenes from its windows. It was a slide show of seedy side streets, back porch life, and a peek into enticing ethnic areas that were as foreign to me as a different county. Just as I got used to my bird’s eye view, the train dove into the darkness of the subway. A continuous howl echoed from the El against the walls of the underground tunnel and made it nearly impossible to carry on a conversation. Getting off of that train was the best part of the ride.
From this cold, dark, dingy and graffitied cavern, we floated up on the escalator and out into the bright blue of the sky. Tall elegant buildings that seemed to touch the clouds formed a concrete canyon filled with bustling people, dazzling lights and traffic. Babs held on to Katie, while Jeff and I held on to Jimmy keeping them safe from being mowed over by fast moving shoppers on crowded crosswalks, or being blown away by the east breeze whipping off the icy waves of Lake Michigan. Mom held Danny close, shielding him from the cold. I didn’t think she had to worry though; Danny was bundled in a snowsuit so thick he looked liked the Michelin Man.
Jimmy started to talk but neither Jeff nor I could understand him. He pulled the scarf from his mouth that muffled his words.”Dad! There’s Dad!”
I had to squint to see the man that Jimmy’s red mittened hand was pointing to. But yes, it was Dad alright, standing beneath the Great Clock of Marshall Field’s Department store.
When we met up with my father beneath the hovering timepiece on State Street, we said our hellos and immediately started the beginning of our Christmas tradition with the tour of Marshall Field’s windows. They were brimming with the red and green of Christmas, holiday fantasies and whimsical characters. The twins, Jimmy and Katie, pressed their noses against the panes, they couldn’t get close enough to the festive magic. It was one eye-candy object right after the other. Uncle Mistletoe, a little elf with wings, flew around a miniature replica of the giant Christmas tree that was inside, while animated characters hammered and sawed making new trains, beautiful dolls and other toys. Christmas mice danced in the kitchen and made scrumptious looking pastries and sweet treats. Finally, when we finished, our red noses chilled, our eyes watering from the biting cold, we stepped inside.
The store smelled of high priced perfumed, Frango mints and expensive chocolate. Everywhere I looked from floor to ceiling was embellished with lavish garland of gold and silver or other some kind of holiday paraphernalia. The entire place glittered, shimmered and shined.
“Are you going to ask Santa for something too?” Katie asked Jeff.
Jeff looked at me with a half grin on his face. “I think I’m a little too big to sit on his lap,” he said to my sister.
“Then, how can you tell Santa what you want from him? How will he know what to bring you?”
“Don’t you know any thing?” Jimmy said to his twin. “He’ll do what Babs and Peggy are going to do.”
“What’s that?” I asked Jimmy.
“Write him a letter of course,” he answered.
“Oh.” Katie sniffed. “Well, I’m glad I get to sit on Santa’s lap, cause all I can write is my name.”
After the little ones' visit to Santa, came my favorite part of the Standish Christmas tradition, hot chocolate heaped with a mound of whipped cream and a slice of Yule log cake beneath the giant fir tree.
As we walked into the elegant Walnut Room restaurant with the magnificent Great Tree towering above us, Jeff looked up, his eyes sparkling with the reflection of the lights on the tree. “Wow!” was all he could say.
The waiter seated us at a table close enough to see our faces in the giant ornaments.
“I’ve never been here before,” said Jeff, as he sat himself between Dad and me. “It was really nice of your family to let me join in.”
“Well, my Mom thinks you deserved a reward, for helping out with the less fortunate,” I told him.
“The less fortunate?”
“That’s what she calls the Bogs kids. She says that she thinks they don’t have the same advantages as most children, whatever that means. But then, she doesn’t know them like we do,” I added. “Anyway, Mom thought that by taking the blame for Luther and saving him from getting expelled, you were being “noble” and should be rewarded.”
“But, I…” Jeff was about to blurt out the whole premise behind his act of supposed nobility, when I hushed him up.
I removed my hat and scarf, and started to work on unbuttoning my wool coat. One of them was hard to undo, so I pulled off my glove to make it easier. A single strand of silver tinsel fell out from the glove and floated down. I was able to scoop it up in mid air before it landed on the floor, but not before Jeff caught sight of it.
I quickly shoved it into my pocket and said not a word to him, but then, I didn’t have to. Jeff’s eyes twinkled, and it wasn’t because of the Christmas lights.
Follow this link to Tour Chicago Christmas of the past at
About the photos
Marshall Field's Department store created the Uncle Mistletoe character to compete with Montgomery Ward's, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Uncle Mistletoe often appeared in their fantasy windows and was usually placed on top of the fully decorated, 45 foot Great Tree in the center of the Walnut Room restaurant.
The Great Clock where Peggy’s family met up with her father to mark the start of their Christmas tradition still hangs on the Marshall Field’s building (now Macy’s).
Follow this link to see the Great Tree at Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s)