There were those crazy red neon lips atop the billboard on Lakeshore Drive.
And the alley by the brick high school where we played games on summer nights.
That walk to the little park with the swimming pool that would be full of local kids.
Warm, fragrant “dilly” bread, rich chicken soup with doughy “rivels” and wonderful German cookies and cakes.
Endless card games at the dining room table where the adults got to enjoy wine while we drank soda.
Mass in the beautiful Catholic Church in the center of town, led by the priest who sometimes stopped by the house bringing Fannie May candies for Grandma.
My childhood memories of our summer visits to Chicago center around the grandparents, aunt and uncle who accepted three little girls as their own flesh and blood, and the two cousins who soon became our fast friends. When my dad married my step-mom over 50 years ago, her family opened their arms wide to welcome us, his children. Instant family.
Because my step-mom grew up in Chicago, and her parents and one brother still lived there, we made trips back and forth along U.S. 6 across northern Indiana to the Windy City several times a year.
But summers were the best. We’d stay for a week, maybe two, traveling back and forth between my grandparents’ house on 101st Street in Roseland and my aunt and uncle’s big square house on Union Street in Blue Island. Sometimes our plans would take us by bus into “The Loop” to have a green phosphate at Walgreens. Once, we went with a group to O’Hare Airport to watch the arrival of a famous rock star.
And then there were the trips to the “north side” to visit my two great-aunts. The aunts had never married and shared a second-floor apartment in a brownstone on the city’s north side. I thought they were rich, with their furs and jewels. The romantic story was that one of them once had a “beau” who gave her beautiful things. The late night, dreamy drives back to my grandparents’ house were a blur of city lights, punctuated by those giant neon lips.
So many jumbled memories, flowing into one another, mixed together according to a young girl’s fancy. Warm and sweet and treasured.
Later this week, I’ll make a return trip to Chicago. My uncle — my step-mom’s brother — has passed away. I haven’t seen my aunt and uncle for years, last visiting them in Blue Island during a family trip to take in Chicago’s museums with our young boys. It will be good to gather with my cousins and their mother, to remember the grandparents long gone and my uncle, a good man and a wonderful brother, husband, father, son.
When my step-mom (I’ve long since stopped calling her that — she’s just Mom) learned that her brother had died, she said her thoughts flew back 70 years to her 16th birthday. Her older brother made her a dress, blue with a black belt, and sent her 16 roses. Other gifts came over the years, including a set of beautiful rose-patterned china that we use at my house every Thanksgiving.
And nearly every Sunday evening, brother and sister would “catch up” with a telephone call. He was that kind of guy, my Uncle Bill. He will be missed.