Meet Peggy Standish! Historical fiction, humorous, stories about growing up in Chicago during the 1950s and 1960s. There are prequel stories on this blog to my book, "THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD" which is now available on Amazon (link to the right). Find out what happens to Peggy in 1960. Copyright Joyce E S Pyka,author. To ENLARGE text and images, press ctrl while scrolling up on the mouse.
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.
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 don'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.
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 track 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
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.”
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.
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.
Wendell,” said my older sister, Babs, as we approached their house, “too bad
he’ll have to miss the trip.”
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.
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.
nothing, I thought to myself. I’d gladly trade places with him today – broken
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
you coming too?” I asked.
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.”
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.
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 started to move.
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.
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 the right, pinning Babs against the side. On the next
bank, the car jerked, this time 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.
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.”
tenseness left my body, it trembled with relief. I had spent a heck of a lot
more time worrying about that ride than it actually lasted.
buzzin' cuzin'? How was it?” William
called up to me with a cocky grin on his face.
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.
regular piece of cake,” I said, avoiding a direct look into his eyes.
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. Afterward, we stopped off
at Aunt Rose and Uncle Ernest’s house to drop off my cousin. Of course, William
rattled on to them about the great time he’d had.
sat at the dining room table, 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.
of been proud of Peggy,” my little brother, Jimmy, said to Wendell climbing in
the chair next to him.
that?” he asked.
“Cause,” he said, “she rode the Bobs today. The biggest roller coaster in the
“Really? Peggy, rode the Bobs?” He asked, his eyebrows high on his forehead.
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
didn’t take long for Wendell to tell us the rest of the story.
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 identical
brother. Until this moment, everybody thought that they both tackled the
turned around looking for Wendell’s deceptive twin.
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
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!
"PLEASE, please do NOT
call on me.” I pressed my back against the chair
and slid down totheedge of my seat until my chin
nearly sat on top of my desk, certain that I’d become invisible behind Dottie
“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 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.
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 classroom 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 by 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 the rest of our lunch crew, “it looks
like I’ll be busy for the next couple of weeks practicing.”
“Practicing what?” Jeff
“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 the 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 any more 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
I suddenly stopped chewing my
mealy apple. Wormeater liked me, but the feeling was 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
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 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 in 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 Kenna 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 yeah, 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 brothers. 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.
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 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 everyone's face as Emaline waltzes in with 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
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
“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
“Nope.” He hung his head in
resignation. “Not only do I have to take her, I have to spend my money on her
“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
“Emaline won’t let you out of
her sight, she’ll make you dance every dance with her,” said Kenna 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 a good one.
One that will make Emaline back off without her brothers going ape.”
“I’m doomed,” Jeff echoed my
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 Kenna, 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,theword made it 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
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 haloed
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
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
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 an
eye in his sister’s direction.
“Hey! It wasn’t me neither!”
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
“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
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 dragged 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
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
“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
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 country.
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 like 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 the
store 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 perfume, Frango mints, and expensive chocolate. Everywhere I
looked from floor to ceiling was embellished with a lavish garland of gold and silver or some other 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
“Then, how can you tell Santa
what you want from him? How will he know what to bring you?”
know anything?” 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 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. 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 midair before it landed on
the floor, but not before Jeff caught sight of it.
I quickly shoved it into my
pocket and didn’t say a word, 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
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)
Sister Mary Therese's pointer smacked against the blackboard! White dust
floated from the word written in nearly perfect penmanship.
“CONSCIENCE,” she said loudly, “is what we must rely on to tell us what is right
Then she put down the pointer and took up the chalk. Pulling back the long
sleeve of her robe, she added more words so it read, “Conscience is the moral
compass that guides our souls.”
Sister Mary Therese was an imposing figure enough, but when she waved that
pointer of hers around, you knew you’d better pay attention.
I thought about what those words meant. Most of the time I was able to let my
mind steer me away from doing something I thought might be wrong. Still, there
were moments when my will was weak, and my compass wasn’t always pointing
My best friend, Kenna, and I looked at the flyer hanging on the hall bulletin
“What? School just started a week ago and they’re already putting up things
about Halloween?” Kenna shook her head.
I reread what the prizes were, and barely heard her grumbling. Who cared about
the lunch box, I was in the sixth grade and wouldn’t be caught dead with one.
Though the Nancy Drew book sounded good (Heck! I’d even like the Hardy Boys
book), it was the first prize that caused my eyes to shine. A box filled with
new art supplies.
Last year, I’d made a surprising discovery about myself. I could draw. Actually, draw!
It started one Sunday morning when I took the Chicago Tribune and tried to copy
Snoopy and Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip. As much as I liked my
new hobby, only Kenna and members of my family knew my secret. I wasn’t
ready yet for the world to know, not until I got better and felt more confident.
That case of new art supplies was just the ticket I needed to help me on my
journey to get there. I wanted to win first
prize more than anything.
For the next few weeks, I worked on my
entry, writing story after story. Nothing seemed to be working. It needed to be
different; it needed to be interesting...it needed to be the best. I had given
up my favorite television shows, Dobie Gillis and Bonanza (twice) and a trip
to Buffalo’s ice cream parlor. But my sacrifice didn’t yield a single word
that pleased me. Nothing I wrote was good enough.
It was Tuesday, October 13th. I looked at the flyer once again in the hope that
I had read the submission date wrong. But nope. I stared at the flyer,
searching for I don’t know what, and like the beacon of a lighthouse shining
through a foggy haze, the words guided me right to an idea. The flyer rhymed,
and so would I.
I had just two days to make it work. That evening, filling the wastebasket with crumpled paper, the pressure
mounted. Anybody who's ever tried to make words rhyme knows it’s not easy.
Each time I wanted to give up, I thought of new brushes and bright
colored tubes of paint. I would have to wait
all the way till my birthday or Christmas to get what could be mine by
It was late Wednesday evening when I reprinted everything and read it out loud.
I wasn’t sure that it rhymed the right way, but it sounded OK to me, and if I
do say so myself, kind of spooky.
Next, I needed an audience. After all, I’d be expected to read it in
front of the whole school. I was about to ask my older sister,
Babs, and thought the better of it. She might tell me what I needed
to know, but didn’t want to hear.
Instead, I headed straight for the twins bedroom and asked them if they wanted
to listen to a bedtime story.
They were only five, and for a moment, I
hesitated. Was my story too scary for them? Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
I knew that Katie could be a bit morbid. She had a section in our backyard near
Mom’s flower garden where she kept an animal cemetery. Dead birds, squirrels,
rabbits and who knows what other carcasses made their way into Katie’s
makeshift graveyard, so she might be able to handle my Halloween poem. And as
for Jimmy, well he did have a sensitive nature. But Heck! I needed someone to
listen. If he got scared, he’d just have to get over it.
“Who wants to hear a story I made up?” I knew I’d get a positive answer.
The pair of them would jump at the opportunity to garner attention
from one of their older sisters.
“Sure,” Jimmy said, climbing to the top of his bunk bed.
“What kind of story is it?” asked Katie sliding off her slippers.
“It’s a poem, the kind that rhymes. It’s about Halloween,” I answered.
Giving away no more details than that, seeing that they were settling in
their beds, I sat on the floor cross-legged. Opening my black and white
composition book, I began to read.
couldn’t wait for costumes,
and bags of candy to collect,
for party games at school,
and jokes and pranks to pull.
excitement in the air,
the old word for it…All - Hollows - Eve,
our word for it …The BIG SCARE.
This year was going to be different,
this year was going to be rare,
cause we thought up something awful,
for our annual Halloween dare.
At the end of Shady Tree Lane,
stands an old abandoned house,
it’s been cursed, some say, for many years,
ever since the last owners moved out.
Our parents won’t tell us exactly why,
“It’s much too horrible to hear,
for a child’s delicate ears.”
“If we told you, you’d have nightmares
for a solid straight year!”
So, on Halloween night,
a ghost, a tramp, a vampire, and clown,
headed out together to the edge of town,
to a place that was cold, gray, and crawling with rats,
with rickety shutters, fallen gutters, and flying bats.
The wind seemed to whisper a warning of,
“Don’t go, stay away,
from that house today.
For wicked things happened
within that space,
and evil still lingers
about the place.
You’ve one last chance to change your fate go
not a step further,
before it’s too late.”
Above the ancient stone house
hung a haloed moon,
Casting down its silver glow,
a sense of impending doom.
I should have paid attention,
to my feelings and the signs.
‘Stead, I chose to ignore it,
told myself, “It’s in my mind.”
joined hands beneath the white bones
of an old dead tree,
We took an oath to seal our dare,
and swore to each other
to take on The Big Scare.
of us …,
must spend the entire night,
in that empty shell.
must come out and (hopefully)
live to tell.”
then, for a moment, I swore I heard it
The wind whistling in my ear,
“Don’t go, stay away,
from that house today.
For wicked things happened
within that space,
and evil still lingers
about the place.
You’ve one last chance to change your fate,
go not a step further,
before it’s too late.”
Then clown opened his big red mouth,
broke the spell and spit,
“Yea, but who’s gonna' be the one?
Who’s gonna' walk into that pit?”
This shook us from our trance,
we dropped our hands to our sides.
Our bond was broken,
by what we now had to decide.
Each of us thought the -“other guy”
had nothing to fear.
Guess we were hopin’ that the - “other guy”
would be the one to volunteer.
Cowards may be short on bravery,
but they usually have ideas to spare,
“Let’s draw straws. The shortest gets the rap,”
We searched and found,
some old dried brambles,
broke them in fours,
and took the gamble.
of us drew one,
till there were only two left.
was between tramp and me,
I could hardly catch my breath!
how quickly time can fly.
A years’ already come, gone,
us right by.
of us knows our lives will never be the same,
because of that stupid game.
see... I was
the lucky one that night.
The tramp drew the short straw,
and was bound to take on the fright.
Slowly, he crept up the path,
toward the crumbling old home,
We stood by, watched him walk,
by himself, all alone.
He stopped for moment
and asked with his eyes,
“Call me back, please,
won’t you guys?”
But I wasn’t,
and ghost wasn’t,
and clown wasn’t,
going to be the one…
To break the oath,
to pop the pact,
to tell him to turn around
and come on back.
So the tramp kept on movin’
though he didn’t want to go,
till the shadow of the house,
to swallow him whole.
Silence can be really noisy,
if you know what I mean. It seemed to last forever,
till we heard a curdling scream!
Then the house itself,
began to rattle and shake,
the ground beneath us,
shifted and quaked.
Green bolts of lightning
shot out through boarded up windows,
thundering down on us,
like clashing cymbals.
Knocked right on our backsides,
rolling land. We found our feet,
scrambled, and ran.
We spoke not a word,
read each other thoughts.
What happened back there,
all our fault.
No one ever saw
the little tramp again,
And we swore we’d never tell a soul
happened to our friend.
with a guilty secret,
and living with fear,
can really gnaw away at your conscience
if you’ve done it for a year.
This Halloween night we’ll hide beneath a cover,
in the attic or under the bed,
if you ask me, it won’t matter,
'cause nothing can stop the dead.
Sure as dark clouds loom high in the sky,
I can feel it way down deep in my bones,
the tramp’s comin’ to take one of us back,
to the other side, he now calls home.
sudden gust of coldness
just rushed past my side.
blew off my blanket
under which I tried to hide.
A familiar voice, a warning,
on the wind,
“Don’t stay, run away,
from your house today.
things will happen
within this space,
evil will come
tonight at your place.
You’ve one last chance to change your fate,
I‘m sorry… BUT…,
I think it‘s too late!”
did you think of my poem?” I asked them closing my notebook.
“I like the Cat In The Hat better…that rhymes too you know,” Katie answered, her voice muffled beneath her blanket.
I looked up at Jimmy. He was sitting in the corner against the wall
with his Davy Crockett covers pulled to his face, only his large blue eyes
were visible as they looked down at me.
“What about you Jimmy? What did you think of it?”
“I think we should leave the light on in our room tonight, that’s what I
think,” he answered.
“Awww come on,” I chided them. “Don’t act like such little kids.”
“We are little kids,” mumbled Katie, still buried under her bed covers.
The pride I felt in my hard written work overshadowed any guilt I should have
had. Now, I was sure that I had it made in the shade with my spooky story-poem.
I walked out with a smile of satisfaction on my face, leaving their bedroom
light blazing brightly.
The next morning as Mom poured cereal into my bowl, she was still in her robe
and pajamas. Unusual for my mother, who was up and ready, well before any other
family member, frying eggs or working on some kind of hot breakfast.
“Jimmy and Katie crawled into bed with us last night.” She yawned,
rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “It seems that story of yours
“It did?” I asked, trying to feign an expression of innocence.
Dad was reading the morning news. “Yes.” He barely lifted his eyes
from the paper. “We didn’t get a wink of sleep last night.” He immediately
returned to his reading and randomly said, “This is interesting, they launched
the Explorer 7 yesterday at Cape Canaveral.” And then went off mumbling
something about it measuring the energy of the sun.
Mom wasn’t sidetracked for a second. “They are too young for such things,"
she continued with her lecture. “You know how gullible Jimmy is. I would have
thought you had better judgment than to read something that would scare the ba-jeebers
“OK, OK.” I scooped up my last spoonful of cold Post Toasties. “I won’t read it
again to them.”
And that was the truth. Of course, as I
left the table, I omitted telling her
that this was the tale I would enter in the contest and most likely be reading
it to the whole of St. Sebastian’s students. I was sure the kids at school
would love the spookiness of it. Mothers don’t know everything.
“I mean it. No more of those,” she added one more time, as I walked out the
door. “It’ll give them nightmares!”
That very day at noon, I handed my entry to Johnny Hersztski, the editor
of the Eagle’s Quill.
“Looks like you put a lot of work into this,” Johnny said, flipping
through the pages.
“I did,” I told him proudly.
“I’m glad you got it to me on time. There aren’t many sixth graders who entered
the contest. Counting yours, only three. It’ll go before the committee of
judges this week, you’ll find out soon if you made the cut. Those in the
running will be announced over the PA Friday or Monday afternoon.”
“Only three?” I asked, hoping he would tell me who.
“Only three,” he confirmed, divulging no more information.
The next few days were filled with anticipation. With only a few entries from
my grade, I was a shoo-in. I imagined myself taking on a project with my secret
hobby with new paint, crayons, and
pencils. It would be a challenge to draw the fashionable Katy Keene comic book
I suppose it goes without saying that rehearsing my poem was a priority. I
kept trying to get just the right effect. Soft and whispering for the voice on
the wind, bold and loud for the main character’s voice. If the contest was a
close call, this could be the difference between winning and losing.
While we lined up to leave the classroom for recess, I was just about
to give up on Friday, resolving to wait
for Monday, when the principal’s voice rang out over the speaker.
“Good afternoon boys and girls,” Mother Scholastica's voice crackled. “I would
like to announce the following contenders for the Eagle's Quill writing
As she slowly read through the names of each grade level, I scanned the room to
see if I could detect who the other sixth grade contestants might be. I
knew that one of them would be upset if they lost out. Curbing my enthusiasm
when my name was announced wouldn't be easy. It isn't nice
Finally, Mother Scholistica said,
"And now for the students of Sister Mary Therese's classroom. “Janice
Gomez, Ronald Lawson...”
“And, and?” I held my breath.
“And…,” she said, “now for the seventh-grade
I was stunned into silence. “Wait a minute, I don’t think she’s done!” I wanted
to call out.
After that, I didn’t hear a word. My mind couldn’t cope with the catastrophe of
defeat. Gone were the brushes and drawing paper, even Nancy Drew fell through
Leaving the classroom, my shoulders dropping in disappointment, I said to
Kenna, “I can’t understand it. I worked so hard on that poem.”
“Me neither,” my best friend agreed.
Johnny Hersztski, who was right behind me, heard the two of us talking and
said, “It was great, I think it should have won,” he told me. “Mother
Scholastica liked your work too, she said it was very creative. But the
principal has the final say so on the
“Then how come Peggy’s poem didn’t make it?” Kenna asked for the both of
“Cause of the younger kids," Johnny said as we walked out the door,
"she told me it'll give em’ nightmares!”
Young Adult Historical Fiction, Spooky, Humorous, Halloween, Short Story)
About the photographs:
Keene was a comic book character in the 1950s. Sophisticated and stylish
her books were quite popular with young girls back then and in later years.
Today, some of the older issues are highly collectible. This picture was
printed with permission of mycomicshop.com. To see more of Katy Keene comic
books follow the link to their website:
Explorer 7 Satellite was actually launched in October 1959. The space race was
on, and anything launched from Cape Canaveral was exciting and big news. Follow
the Wikipedia links for more on the Explorer 7 Satellite and Cape Canaveral: