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German Thanksgiving (by Crystal)

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It’s November and all of our girls and grandkids and son in laws and Ron’s Dad and I are planning for German Thanksgiving which is taking place on Nov. 18,  at our house in Warsaw.  When we were a young couple, Ron and I sometimes had two thanksgiving dinners. One would be at his parents’ house in Oak Lawn and one would be either in Dolton at my parents’ house or at my Aunt Carol’s house in South Holland.  I don’t know how we did it, and when we had Elizabeth, we brought her with us and then when we had Michelle we brought her with us. Then we moved to Michigan and would drive seven and a half hours, sometimes on Thanksgiving Day, to be with the families in Chicago.

Ron’s mom was an excellent accomplished cook.  She made German, French and American dishes and really outdid herself on holidays.  So our girls grew up eating many different types of food.  Ron learned to make the traditional German dishes from his mom.  So this year he is making sauerbraten, bread dumplings, red cabbage and beet salad.  Michelle is making a flour-less chocolate torte and Savoy cabbage (Ron’s recipe). Ron’s mom use to make tortes especially chocolate ones. I am making pecan pie, and Ron will make his cranberry apple pie.  Elizabeth is making 7 layer salad and Lisa will probably make deviled eggs.

Ron’s father’s 97th birthday is Nov. 15th, which is also the anniversary of our first date (Ron never remembers).  We are bringing him from his apartment at Sunrise on the Scioto in Upper Arlington.  We are combining Papa’s birthday party and our Thanksgiving celebration.  Our granddaughter, Jazmyn, is making a Happy Birthday poster.  She and Lisa will decorate with balloons and streamers.

Even our son in laws, who had never eaten most of these German dishes before they joined our family, are excited about German Thanksgiving.  All of the girls are going to want leftovers.

This year we have two little girls added this year to our family.   Addelyn, aged 9 months, is Elizabeth’s fifth child and Ayla, 8 months old, is Michelle’s first child.   Both of them will be in high chairs at our celebration. We still have Ron’s wooden high chair for one of them.  It will be a full house with four generations of our growing family, full of laughter, yummy sounds and children’s voices. Throughout my life, Thanksgiving Day has always been a big celebration with family and delicious food.  Many times we had dinners with 24 or more people of all ages attending. Since Ron joined my family, he has experienced the bigger group, very different from his parents and him alone.

Now that Michelle lives further away in Kentucky, we really cherish this special time, we can be together to eat and catch up and have fun.  We usually play silly games in the house while the grandsons and Ron play outside the house.  We will come together and have coffee and dessert before the girls pick up the children, pack up some leftovers, and go home, happy and full of German Thanksgiving food.

Ron’s Corner:

In case you haven’t guessed November 18th was picked out of convenience. When you have grown children with families it’s not always easy to get them in the same place at the same time. We choose sauerbraten because it’s one of dad’s favorite dishes and all of my girls (Crystal included) love it. For those not familiar, it’s a sweet-sour German pot roast. The meat is marinated in a vinegar/spice mixture for about four days prior to cooking. It is finished with a generous amount of Ginger Snaps (yes the cookies). If you get a chance, try it.

Today is November 20th, and I am pleased to report that German Thanksgiving went off as planned. Our family got together without incident. After giving thanks we ate. Kids played, babies crawled and enjoyed the commotion, adults talked. At the end, a lot of very full and happy people departed as planned. Dad couldn’t get over the effort and love in our family. Sometimes we have to remind him that it is his family too and started with him, Mimi and of course Crystal’s parents. As Crystal said, Mimi was a wonderful cook. One of my main motivations for learning how to cook is that, the thought of living without some of the specialty dishes for which she was known was too painful to consider. In an effort to keep traditions alive, I am working on a cook book to preserve many of our family’s favorites. There will be more details in upcoming posts.

Some might say that celebrating Thanksgiving on the 18th was silly. Those same people probably say bah humbug around Christmas. However, in one sense I agree with them. We are all so fortunate and have so many blessings that celebrating on the 18th or even on Thanksgiving Day is silly. We need to be giving thanks every day.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

November 18th 2017 or German Thanksgiving / Dad’s 97th B-day party

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Halloween, Then and Now

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As a kid of the sixties, it was always my favorite holiday. OK to be fair my real favorite was Christmas, but Halloween was the start of the holiday season. And what was not to love? There were costumes, house to house pillaging for candy, the rustling of leaves in the crisp fall air and the Halloween Festival at Gasteyer School. Every year from the age of six to eleven I couldn’t wait for the festival. It was magic. The normally boring classrooms were transformed into magical game and event rooms. This was the big PTA fund raiser and a big hit for the entire Oak Lawn, Illinois community. Kids talked about it for weeks.

My mom (Mimi) usually baked a cake for the cake walk. It was like musical chairs. Everyone would step from number to number until the music stopped. Then a spin of the wheel would reveal who got to pick a cake from the large cake table. I think I was seven or eight when I got to pick a cake. It was chocolate, of course. I ever so proudly and carefully carried the cake home in the dark to give to my mom before returning to the school for more fun. There were game rooms, where you could win valuable prizes like pencils, crayons, and you guessed it, more candy. The gym was open for games involving basketballs, bean bags, and volley balls.  There was also the room, which every parent hated, where a good toss of a ping pong ball would score you a pet gold fish. They generally had a life expectancy of slightly longer than the trip home, before joining all of their fishy friends on the other side of the toilet bowl.

By 1965 I was at the top of the ladder. As a sixth grader I was a school elder. At eleven years old and a patrol guard I was practically an adult. As such, I was honored with an inside look at my favorite room of all, The Haunted House! For a young child, this was a rite of passage and a test of bravery. You could brag to your friends. ‘Naw I wasn’t scared.’ Or you could talk about the kid who cried. But this year was special. I got out of class to help set up the room. Curtains hanging from cloth lines would hide the numerous workers. One would lie on top of the closets with the rubber spied on a fishing line to dangle in front of hapless victims. Another would have a wet sponge on a stick for a quick jab to the back of your neck or a girl’s legs. Others would jump out in ghoulish costumes. To my great disappointment, I discovered that the bowl of worms was nothing more than spaghetti. Although, when I think about some of my friends, I would guess that by the night’s end there had to be at least a few real worms in the bowl. The eye balls were only pealed grapes. I ate a few when no one was looking.

Even though I had lost my Halloween innocence I gathered my courage, donned my pirate costume and joined Tim and Tom to walk the streets and gather our quota of goodies. Back then, everything seemed safe. Kids old enough to find their ways home could go out unattended. There were no real demonic overtones to the holiday. Horror movies, which I loved, like Frankenstein and Dracula were non reality based and had at least semi-positive endings. Candy didn’t need checking. Communities had networks of moms, who were vigilant of any potential threats.

Today, however things are a little different. As I think of the world our kids and grandkids have grown up in I cringe. Security at schools has become far more important than fun. Reality has infiltrated fantasy. Crystal and I were on vacation in Florida around 1978. At the insistence of her old friend we saw the movie “Halloween”. When Jamie Lee Curtis screamed Crystal screamed louder. I screamed louder than her. She was grabbing my sun burned shoulder. The point is, that movie wasn’t like my old horror films. Today horror is real and vigilance is the order of the day. Our kids today suffer from an all too early loss of innocence. Trick-or-treaters still come to our house in substantial numbers but generally parents aren’t too far off.

As my girls grew up I still shared their enjoyment. I would dress up, mainly for their benefit, as a mad scientist to take them trick-or-treating. Generally a neighbor or friend would join us. Today, I notice that while most of the little monsters and princesses have elders watching over them, some are on their own. I attribute this to parental apathy and neglect, which unfortunately is prevalent nowadays. I worry that these kids are no longer safe.

I have to admit that those days of seeing my own kids, with their eyes widened by the many spectacles and bountiful treats was as special to me as to them. Today, while some churches have offered safe alternatives, trick-or-treating seems as popular as ever. So this Halloween, should the opportunity present itself, offer to help out some overburdened parent. If not, at least remain ever vigilant and report any suspicious behavior. Our kids deserve to remain innocent and safe for as long as possible and to enjoy the Holiday. Have a happy Halloween.

A princess, a Hawaiian girl, and their pet bunny. Lisa (bunny) was about the same age as Liz’s (princess) and Michelle’s (Hawaiian Girl) daughters (Ady and Ayla) are now.

 

 

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God at Work

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In an earlier post, I bemoaned missing an opportunity to help an elderly lady when I had a chance. Well, God must have read it. He gave me another chance. This past Sunday, our student pastor, Michael Cormack, gave an inspired sermon about how God is at work even when circumstances don’t indicate His presence. I remembered his words later that day.

I was on my way home from visiting dad in Columbus. It is a 75 mile trip, and I almost always take the same route. This Sunday was an exception. It was a beautiful evening and I decided to take the scenic route. It’s not as fast, but passes through some picturesque hilly forests and farmland. It was about 8 PM and I was about four miles from home. I was passing the turnoff to Mohawk Dam. The sun was just setting, and inspiration hit. I felt that I had to drive the few extra miles to the dam for a photo op. When I arrived, the sun was in a perfect position, the sky was blue with a hint of orange, and, as always, the dam was a great foreground. I called Crystal to tell her of my whereabouts and plan. I got out of the car and began shooting. It felt good to get out of the car. It was wonderfully quiet and peaceful.

I had taken only a few pictures, when I saw a pretty young women walking directly toward me. She was, I would guess, mid thirties with long dark hair. Her face was red. She had obviously been crying. As I glanced down the hill, I noticed several other people making their way up. When she came up to me, I greeted her. She tried to hold back tears and asked what county we were in. I told her Coshocton. I immediately thought, oh, just a lost traveler needing directions. Well, I was right, and I was wrong. She, her husband, and their three kids were where they were supposed to be. Her husband, like me a former Eagle Scout, had taken his family on a twenty-five mile canoe trip down the Mohican and Walhonding Rivers. It wasn’t until they arrived at their destination that they realized that their car keys were back at the beginning in their second car.

The mom told me that she was responsible for forgetting the keys and felt horrible. She asked whether there was any Uber or taxi service in the area. At 8 O’clock on a Sunday, in Coshocton County, the sidewalks are rolled up and the roosters tucked in for the night. I told her not to worry; I could take them. She looked stunned. She offered to pay. I said ‘don’t be silly, that’s not necessary.’ ‘I told her I needed to call Crystal.’ When I did, Crystal just said, ‘of course, I needed to help, be careful.’ She would still be there when I got home.

So the husband, one daughter and I took the 25 mile trip through Coshocton and Holmes County’s back hills country. We followed his GPS instructions, not knowing where the destination was. We avoided the deer, the Amish, and a few tractors on the way. We had a nice talk in the car. They too were Christian. They were vacationing from the Cleveland area. Apparently, the father was trying to share some of his scouting skills with his family. His father had done the same when he was growing up, and it made a lasting impression. I related, since I had always done the same with Crystal and our girls. By the time we arrived, it was almost dark. They thanked me again and I was on my way home again. Since I finally knew where I was, I took a slightly simpler route home.

The chance of me being at that exact location at that time was incredibly small. Five minutes later, I would have been gone. When I regaled Crystal with the tale, she had the same reaction I did. It was God.

 

.Crystal’s Corner

When Ron and I were students at Bradley University we would go to one of the tallest buildings on campus and watch the sunset holding hands.  It was something that couples did because the Bradley campus was on a hill and known for beautiful sunsets.  Ever since then we have occasionally watched the sun set together and held hands and talked.

What happened on Sunday night with Ron was spiritual as well as earthly.  He was stopping to look at the sunset, the light, and ended up helping people who were lost as well.  He was on a hill as well.  To go up to a stranger today is risky, but I think the young mother was led to Ron by God.  I’m sure they had been praying for help and this was God’s response.

As Christians we need to be aware of what God wants us to do and where he wants us to be.  Sometimes we just get this push to go somewhere, to talk to someone, or to get involved. That is what Ron felt on Sunday night.  He responded and God’s will was done.

Ron and I often look at the sky and we are in awe of its beauty.  I tell the girls that “God paints us a new sky every day.”

I think that it is interesting that Ron was interrupted while taking a photograph of God’s sky to help some of His children.  Most people don’t like to be interrupted, but sometimes God stops us because we are needed elsewhere.

Keep looking up and believe that the Creator who made the earth and the sky also sees and hears us and knows our troubles.

Psalm 121:1 I will lift my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help   King James Version

Pictures taken just prior to God’s interruption.

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When Someone Dies

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When someone dies, I believe as part of grieving, we have a tendency to look at our lives.  As we contemplate mortality and loss we might ask questions. Where are we going?  Where have we been?  What do we do, now that this person who meant so much to us is not here anymore?

My father lived a long time, much longer than he thought he would live – to 90 years old.  The last few years were not good for him. He stopped doing his leather-work.  He stopped writing letters to family and friends. He couldn’t remember things like what time it was or what day it was or what season.  He would eat a meal with us and ten minutes later, ask “When are we going to eat?”  We would tell him he just ate and bring him a snack and a drink.

Ironically, my brother told me, he was in pretty good health. His blood pressure was normal as was his cholesterol.  My Dad loved donuts, pie, cake, ice cream, cookies and candy.  But his cholesterol was always fine. He got much thinner during the last years. He was wasting away.  We had to get him smaller clothes and punch more holes in his belt.  My brother said it was like we were losing him inch by inch and pound by pound.

My father didn’t lose his sense of humor.  He liked to tell funny stories. He was very witty.  We all have a pretty good sense of humor. We have the ability to laugh at ourselves.  It is a good quality to pass on from one generation to the next.

My mom also had a great sense of humor and told funny stories. I miss her laugh. I miss my Dad’s voice and the love for me I saw in his eyes when we visited him. He was someone in my life I always wanted to talk to; to listen to and to share what was happening in our lives.  There is a void in my life without him that is impossible to fill. Even now, I sometimes forget that he is gone.  I won’t need to buy a father’s day card or present this year for him. Somehow that hurts, and yet I wouldn’t want him back because he wasn’t well.

Do we really understand heaven?  For those who believe in everlasting life, heaven is the place we are heading for at the end of our lives.  I wonder if heaven is like the People’s store.  I use to go to the People’s Store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago with my mom and my Dad when I was a little girl.  There was a large landing with a half circle of chairs between stair cases.  We would sit there with my Dad eating chocolate covered peanuts from a paper bag and watch the people.  This was the best part of shopping according to my Dad. My mom was buying what she needed.  We were watching the world go by and having fun with Dad.

When I was growing up in Roseland, I thought my Dad was the handsomest, nicest and funniest man that I knew.  I had watched him shave with the old type of razor and shaving cream.  I watched him comb his black hair. He used some type of greasy stuff on it to hold his hairdo. I knew all of his hats – mostly fedoras. I watched him tie his ties not understanding how he was doing it. I was very glad that girls didn’t have to wear ties. They looked completely uncomfortable and it was easy to spill things on them like gravy and chocolate syrup.  They were also hard to clean although my mom usually managed to get the stains out.  My Dad had a leather case he had made for his shirt pocket.  In it he would keep his glasses, his pen, and some pipe cleaners.  He always had a pocket knife in his pants pocket and change and keys that jingled when he walked.

Now my brother, my sister and I are getting everything out of my Dad’s house. My talented brother is painting all the walls and ceilings and redoing both bathrooms.  He also is removing the horrible disintegrating faded rose carpeting and cleaning the wonderful hardwood floors underneath.  We always called mom and dad’s house, the Quilt house, because there were quilts hanging up in almost every room, on the beds and on quilt racks.  My mom also had a large doll collection and teacups scattered on shelves around the house.  Their home has been a home to me and my children and grandchildren.  So many memories of family get togethers, eating around the large dining room table, opening presents on Christmas morning, and finding the Easter eggs.  Always talk and laughter filled that house.  Now it is quiet.

The last time I was there in May, I felt like the house was saying goodbye to me.  It was letting me go.  As we drove away with our car filled with boxes, it was like we were taking time with us; time that would be spent in our house around our dining room table, in the living room and on our wraparound porch.  I felt a certain peace about it, like mom and dad were looking down from heaven and smiling with love and approval.

 

Ron’s Corner:

Crystal writes so well; don’t you think? I too love remembering the many good times in my life. Every life has both good and bad. I think the key to satisfaction in life is remembering the good and learning from, but not focusing on, the bad. I too have many fond memories from my childhood, some of them are recorded on this web site.  I am so glad that we took the opportunity to interview our parents while they were all still with us. Now only one parent, my dad, remains. However, we are determined to get the memoir published to preserve and share their lives. I read a few pages every now and again. My totally unbiased opinion; It’s really good!

I am so glad we undertook this project. If you are fortunate enough to have living parents, ask them about their lives. You might learn something. It might help you understand a few things. If nothing else, it’s never a waste of time talking to someone you care about. Do it while you can. The time is fleeting.

Ron holding Liz, Crystal holding Michelle, Mary Jane and Jim circa 1986 (the way we want to remember Crystal’s parents).

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Where Have all the Sandlots Gone?

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The other day I was talking with my grandson, Keylan. I asked how he was doing on his high school track team. As usual, he is doing his best, but the World and Olympic records are probably safe for the time being. I told him about my non-record setting times from my high school gym class. I also told him that my best sports were football and baseball. I explained that while I never tried out for a team, I played a lot of sandlot sports. Suddenly, I felt quite old. I was using terminology unfamiliar to today’s youth. I also felt somewhat bad for this generation, staring at screens all of the time, when they could be experiencing life.

When I think back, my interest in baseball probably goes back to around 1959. Even as a five year old, the energy around Chicago was palpable. I didn’t understand much, but this baseball was an exciting game. Everyone was talking about the White Sox. In the end, they prevailed. The Sox won the Pennant. Little did I know that they would not win another Pennant until 2005. However, that’s not the point. At that time, commonly recognized as the Golden Age of Baseball, there were games everywhere. It seemed that every field big enough would have kids playing. My Oak Lawn neighborhood was no exception. From the first day school was out, we played baseball. The school park was only a block away. Sometimes that seemed too far. We would play in the street until Mr. Brown came out and yelled at us. I tried to reassure him that we were all too talented to hit any parked cars. He never seemed to buy that argument. So we walked the tiresome journey to the park where we could run and hit and field for the next three hours, unencumbered.

Some days we would break for lunch and return in the afternoon until dinner. I never really had any lessons. I just watched my favorite players on TV and did what they did. We had a core group, but some different players would show up every day. Often, there weren’t enough to field two full teams so we played modified games. We could play a modified game called Indian Ball with as few as four. With three we played running bases. With two, we played catch, hit, and pitch with a tennis ball against the wall of the school (usually around the corner from the “NO Ball Playing Allowed” sign).

A nice lady across from the school let us drink from her hose. I still remember the taste of the warm rubber flavored water. As bad as it tasted, it’s probably allowed us to survive on the really hot days. After playing, mom usually had cold Kool Aide and cookies waiting for anyone who wanted it. We probably drank a couple glasses before we actually could enjoy the flavor.

Over the course of a summer, we went through a lot of baseballs. However, funds were scarce. Being resourceful, we found tricks to prolong their life. It usually involved sneaking into dad’s tool chest and stealing tape. Eventually, no matter how hard we tried to preserve it the cover would come off. Then it was time for a serious tape job. It made for some colorful baseballs; green, red, black, or whatever tape I found. Mrs. Byczek always thought it was hysterical. To me, it was just a lesson in survival.

Over the course of a few summers, I actually got pretty good. I was a natural hitter and rarely missed. I was also quite good in the outfield. However, I spent most of my time in the infield. I needed more work there. I had a lot of difficulty judging hard grounders. They made it look so easy on TV. Somehow I never considered that the inconsistent clumps of grass and sand and rocks might have some effect. I thought it must be that I wasn’t keeping my eye on the ball, or getting in front of it. What I lacked in ability, I made up for in determination. My favorite game came at a price. The price included scrapes, black and blue shins, an occasional ball in the face (the wrong way to keep your eye on the ball), and at least once a summer the dreaded groin shot (with laughter adding insult to injury). Broken fingers were part of the deal as well. A couple of them are still noticeably bent. Unlike my TV heroes, however, no trainer rushed onto the field. Instead, I excused myself and went home. I enjoyed a Popsicle. The stick made an ideal splint. When combined with a little more of dad’s seemingly endless tape supply, I was again set to rejoin my friends on the field of honor.

Yes I do feel sorry for today’s generation. They don’t know what they are missing. Or maybe they do?

Crystal’s Corner

I also remember sandlot baseball.  My brother and his friends played often.  Sometimes they let me play with them even though I was a girl. Other times, they refused to let me play.  I would get mad at them, yell at my brother, and stomp home.  But after a while, I learned a way to get them to let me play.  I stole the ball.  There was usually only one ball.  Balls got lost so often in weeds and prairies that the parents couldn’t keep replacing them.  I would bring the ball home with me and my brother would follow yelling. “Crystal, you have to give the ball back to me.”  I would go in the house smiling, gripping the ball.  My brother would try to get my Dad on his side, but Dad would say, “Let your sister play.”  Finally, my brother would give in and say, “All right come on, I will make them let you play.”  We would then return to the sandlot where all of the players were now sitting on the ground resting.  That was what was really good about playing sandlot ball. When you got tired, you just sat down.  Then either we would find a hose we could turn on for a drink or go home for snacks and Kool Aid.  A lot of the time, my brother’s friends, Georgie and Bobby, came to my house because my mom made the best chocolate chip cookies and other baked goods.

Summer was fun. Summer was being outside in the sunshine running around, roller skating, playing tag, jump roping, playing red rover, playing mother may I and other games.  We didn’t watch much TV because our moms wouldn’t let us stay in the house to watch TV.  All the parents agreed to tell us, “Go out and play.”  They knew it was good for us.

OK, it’s not sandlot, but it is my grandson Keylan playing baseball. He’s a good kid. He’ll never know what he missed.

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Our Hearts belong to Daddy By Crystal Meinstein

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Sorrow lasts for a night, but Joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5)

Last week this Bible verse came true for my family. On Thursday evening, Feb. 16, my father went home to be with the Lord.  On Friday morning, Feb. 17, my daughter, Elizabeth, gave birth to my granddaughter, Addelyn Klein.

I will miss my father very much.  We were always very close and happy to be together.

I have wonderful memories of my childhood with my Dad.  We would go to the People’s store on Michigan Ave. in Chicago.  My dad would buy chocolate covered peanuts at the candy counter and we would sit on the large landing dividing the staircases and watch the people.  I thought that was why they called it the People store.

Every fall we would rake the leaves and my dad would burn them so we could roast marshmallows over the fire.  When our hands could reach the push mower handles, Dad would have us stand in front of him to help him cut the grass.  We also learned to paint the walls as toddlers: first with water and then with paint.  Dad and I loved to watch Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller on Saturday afternoons. As a child I thought he knew Roy Rogers and Gene Autry personally.  We watched westerns with him and he liked shows like Bonanza and Gun Smoke. Sometimes when our old black and white TV broke down, he would get out his harmonica or his mandolin and play for us.  We would sing cowboy songs with him.

He would eat Jeannette and my tiny cakes we made in our Easy Bake Oven.  A few years later, he was even happier when we baked large cakes, cookies, brownies, etc. in the real oven.  My mom made great pies and butterscotch meringue was Dad’s favorite.  She would make it for his birthday.  Fortunately, mom taught me to cook and to bake when I was young because when she got sick I could do the cooking.  When mom was very sick, Dad, Larry, Jeannette and I joined forces.  Dad said we would never be able to do all that Mom did, but we could team up together and try.  He would split the grocery list in half and give me half and then race me in the grocery store. This didn’t work very well because Dad didn’t know the products that Mom usually bought.  I did.  But he always tried to make things fun even in the worst of times.

Dad was a wonderful speaker who won awards in the Toastmaster organization. Most of his speeches were humorous.  His sense of humor got us through a lot of trouble and hard times. I followed in his footsteps, giving several public speeches in Jr. High School and joining the Debate team in high school. He also read all of my term papers, poetry, and short stories.  When I was about 10 years old and having problems with mean kids at school, my dad gave me his books, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.  He also would read Rudyard Kipling’s poetry to me.  He told me that when someone hurts you write him a letter and then tear it up.  He also said that, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”  After I left home, I had Dad’s and Mom’s voices in my head. When I had difficulties, I would think; what would Dad do; or what would Mom do?  It helped me in making decisions.

For several summers when I was in high school I worked at dad’s office at Sherwin Williams.  This experience consisted of riding in Dad’s car pool with his friend, Crazy Fred. I attribute learning to pray often on those terrifying trips.  Dad at the office was very well respected.  He would take me out to lunch with his friends, Alice Harris and Norris Bishton.    I could tell that he was proud of me and that gave me confidence in myself.

When I married Ron, Dad walked me down the aisle.  He really didn’t want me to get married yet.  He said I was completely trained to do everything in the house and now I was leaving.  Ron and I lived close to Mom and Dad in Illinois and so Ron established a close relationship with both of them.  After they moved to Cincinnati and we moved to Indiana, we saw them as often as we could.  We played pinochle, went out to dinner, visited and took care of the kids together.  Daddy was a wonderful grandfather and great grandfather.  He loved babies and was a great babysitter.  My children were all very attached to their grandfather and my grandchildren were also close to him.  His presence in their lives will be missed.

I know that Dad is with Mom in heaven right now and that is where he wanted to be.  But it will be difficult to not see him and talk to him.  When I lived at home, every morning, Dad would hug me and tell me that he loved me.  He knew when I was upset and would ask me to tell him what was wrong.  He was my confident, my companion, my supporter and my Daddy.

 

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The Gift Grinch     

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That’s me! I am the Gift Grinch! When it comes to giving gifts I am probably fine. I say probably because I don’t do a lot of Christmas shopping. I generally buy for Crystal and for my dad. Crystal is the real shopper. I think she starts Christmas shopping in July. Of course books are a big part of her shopping list. I think she is just determined that everyone should enjoy reading as much as she does. She is affectionately known as the book nana. She is also happy with whatever you give her. I think gratefulness is in her nature.

It’s not that I’m never grateful. I have a great life. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and family. We live in a nice house in a very pleasant small town. We basically have everything we need. However, I definitely have a problem accepting gifts. It is never the fault of the giver. I know my wife and daughters spend a lot of time planning and shopping.

I am truly grateful for all of the efforts and truly grateful for the sentiments behind them. It’s just the gifts and my reactions, I have problems with. Oh, I often say all the right things and smile appropriately, but that’s not enough. The real problem is that I am surrounded by women. Women can tell when you are sincere, unless you are a really good liar, which I’m not.

You see, I have simple desires. When I need something, I will either buy it or start a prolonged process of searching for it. Often, I will have a list in my mind and when I stumble onto what I need, buy it. For example, I have needed a new golf bag for a while. My old one was still functional, but getting holes and more and more worn. I first went to a few stores. Before long, I realized that golf bags are overpriced. I wasn’t going to pay that for a bag to hold my clubs, and no one else should either. The bag won’t increase your enjoyment of the game or improve your swing. In my research I did however decide on exactly the perfect type of bag. I wasn’t about to mention it to my daughters or Crystal. They would probably spend way too much and buy one. Instead, I just kept my eyes open for a few years. One day Susan, our neighbor, mentioned that her church was having a garage sale. Always trying to be supportive of our Christian community, I checked it out. There it was…my bag. It was slightly worn, but marked down to five dollars. I’ve been using it ever since.

OK, so what happens when I do get a nice, meaningful gift from those who care about me? Maybe the best example which my girls still talk about happened a few years ago. My favorite charcoal grill finally broke down. I had picked the neighbors Webber out of the garbage and used it for another ten years. Naturally, since I grill quite often, I went immediately out to look for a new one. Webbers were too expensive, so over the next couple of years, I tried a few others. None worked as well. My girls knew that and went in together to buy a really good grill. I pulled the paper off and looked at the picture. It wasn’t a Webber. It looked more like one of the grills I had already tried and trashed. OK, I’m sorry. I once again need to apologize to my girls. I can’t help what my face does. They instantly knew I wasn’t happy. All of their planning and conspiring to please me were in vain. So I took the grill back added a few bucks and got my new Webber. I’ve been happily using it ever since. I’ve also been periodically thanking them with grilled food. Somehow, it will never be enough. My initial Grinchy reaction may never be overcome. It does, however, provide for fun stories from time to time with the moniker, Oh that’s just dad.

Another example: A few years ago I got a new set of knives. I didn’t need a set of knives. I still used the same knives I had used for the previous twenty years. They were getting a little smaller from continuous sharpening. I had lost one and the handle was loose on another, but it was still functional. Again I made ‘the face’. SORRY! Finally my favorite knife’s handle broke off. It was time for a new set. WOW, look at that I found a new set of knives under the kitchen table. Didn’t someone give that to me for Christmas or my birthday? Of course, it was from Michelle. I used it for a while and came to a stunning revelation. This set was actually better than my old set. I finally called Michelle and earnestly thanked her. The only problem was that the set was from Elizabeth. OH well….do you see the problem? That’s why I’m the Gift Grinch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not without hope. If the Grinch could do it so can I.

And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?” “It came without ribbons! It came without tags!” “It came without packages, boxes or bags!” And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.” “Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

It is nice to be understood and accepted by your loved ones for who you are. Of course, I will try to be more grateful for whatever I get. After all, it’s really the love of the giver that’s the real gift. Jesus knows that.

Merry Christmas!

The grinch grin

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Getting in the Mood for Christmas

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Now that all of the election unpleasantness is over and our bellies are returning to normal after Thanksgiving, we can turn our attention to the really important matters. That’s right, Christmas. In the old days, listen to me kids, you started talking Christmas after Thanksgiving. These days, however, Christmas decorations appear in Wal-Mart around Labor Day. The Hallmark Christmas movies start two weeks before Halloween. Sadly, it’s no longer about preparing for the birthday of Jesus, but Black Friday and shopping. Of course, this is nothing new, probably worse, but not new.

I still remember, as a kid, this season being my favorite time of the year. Mom wouldn’t have it any other way. I was her only child and the rightful prince of the house. i.e… I was spoiled. The only thing I think I liked better than the day, was the anticipation of the day. It would start when every day in November I would check the front porch. I knew it would arrive in a timely manner. Then finally it came! About two to three inches thick, everyone got one. The day the Sears Christmas catalog arrived, my season began. I would spend hour after hour pouring over each page of the colorful guide to my happiness. Yes, I even gave a casual glance to the clothing section. Models would be poised like they were having fun just wearing clothes. Of course, I spent most of my time studying the new and wonderful toys and sports equipment.

The first few days I would just fire through the pages to get a feel for them. What a wonderful feeling. After that it was time to get serious. With pencil in hand, I began to form my strategy. I would start to circle all of the possible choices and duck tailing the pages. It might have been easier to circle the ones I wasn’t interested in. Of course, at least I could skip over the girl pages. I had no interest in dolls, tea parties etc… However, I might admit I kind of had a thing for the Easy Bake Oven. The idea of baking my own cookies and cakes did have a certain appeal. Once my list was complete, I would categorize according to priority. A target rifle and scuba gear was always at the top of my list. I never got either.

Then it came; the shopping trips with mom. We would typically go by bus the ten miles or so to the Evergreen Park Mall. Mom didn’t drive until I was older. We would get to the mall and there was Santa. I stopped believing in him at an early age. How could he be on every street corner and at the mall? Santa’s brothers? Give me a break. I had friends with brothers. They were named Tim and Kevin, not Tim and Tim. Besides, why would so many parents be wondering around my favorite area of the department (toys) if Santa did all of the heavy lifting? I pretended though. It seemed to make mom happy. I even remember once sitting on Santa’s lap and when he asked what I wanted, saying, ‘Didn’t you read my letter?’. This seemed to embarrass mom.

Then things got real. For days, the house would get more and more Christmassy. I never appreciated how much work was involved until many years later. The tree and lights were my favorite part. Occasionally, I would go with dad to pick out the perfect tree. Without me, he would inevitably get it wrong. I do remember some “discussions” about the tree quality. However, they always looked great once decorated (mom’s job) and after dad cut enough off and the proper side was facing the street.

On Christmas Eve, mom and I would walk through Oak Lawn by night. We would enjoy all of the beautifully decorated houses on our way to St. Linus Catholic Church for the service. It was my favorite service of the year. It was mercifully short and almost entirely in English (they still spoke a lot of Latin back then). Then back home for my half-hearted attempt at sleep. Usually, I would find an excuse to get up a few times before actual sleep occurred (bathroom, water, etc.).

I think it was probably a late night for mom and dad; but in the morning I was never disappointed. I would rip open the clothing presents and toss the contents casually aside in order to get to the more important gifts. While I don’t think my parents were overly concerned with my Sears catalog marking, I always got more than I deserved. On Christmas night, we often drove through the neighborhood. Dad always seemed to know where all of the best decorated houses were.

These days, as an adult, the times seem a little more turbulent. There is no more Sears catalog. I read an article saying that Sears itself may not be long for this world. These days, I wish someone else would buy my socks or underwear. I miss mom. However, when I talk to our girls, I can see that they are not willing to give up on our traditions or the season. Liz drags her kids around shopping unceasingly. Lisa usually is with her to assist. Michelle, while she no longer lives in the area, calls to ask all of the when and where details of our celebration. Our grandkids look forward to getting time off of school and all of the associated festivities.

I guess, all in all, there is still plenty to look forward to, and even more to pass on. Getting back to the real reason for the season, this last Sunday was the first of Christian Advent. The first candle lit was for hope. I think that’s what it’s really all about. The future has no guarantees, but where there is hope, there is life. May this little look back help prepare you to truly experience the joy of this season. When you are fighting for the last ‘Rogue One’ doll at Wal-Mart, try to ask yourself WWJD.

Crystal’s Corner: Christmas Traditions

To me, Christmas is the best season of the year because we are celebrating Jesus coming into the world to bring us light and peace and hope.  My family, especially my mom, was very involved with Christmas.  I sang in the choir at our church, so for weeks we were practicing for our December Cantata.  That music in my head would last for months afterwards.

My Mom sent out over 100 Christmas cards.  Before she did a newsletter, she wrote a note in almost every card.  She would set up an assembly line in our living room.  Signing the cards (usually Jeannette’s job because of her excellent handwriting), putting on the return addresses and stamps, sealing the envelopes and then sorting them into states.  We were very organized.  Some of my friends, once they saw what we were doing, wanted to join in.  My Mom took all helpers.

Then there was the baking.  We started right after Thanksgiving and every weekend, we baked cookies, sometimes raisin bread, and pumpkin bread and other sweets.  We froze the cookies and then right before Christmas, we made up plates and gave one to everyone we knew including the paper boy, the mail man, the neighbors, the tax man, etc.  We also had our cookie bake with friends.  My best friend, Debbie, and her mom would come with their cookie dough including potato chip cookies.  We had mixed up several batches especially cut out cookies, snickerdoodles, spritz, gingerbread, drop cookies, etc.  The morning was spent baking and in the afternoon, we decorated the cut outs and gingerbread with icing and sprinkles and candies.  Then we would divide up the cookies.  This way, we got quite a variety.  I have continued this tradition with my girls and my granddaughter.  Boy, can these girls make wonderful cookies and candies.  One year, we had the cookie bake at my house.  We were making goodies in the kitchen, the dining room and the living room.  I was having problems with my microwave that day (it was sparking) and when you opened my freezer, something would fall out.

We have a lot of fun at our cookie bakes, no matter where we do it.  I miss Jeannette and my friend, Debbie at our cookie bakes.  Jeannette and I did a lot together with Mom for Christmas.  Beyond shopping and decorating and baking, we made many of the presents to give away.  Mom would get us started in the summer, buying craft supplies and patterns on sale.  We always made items for the craft bazaar at church in the fall anyway.

I actually shop for Christmas presents all year round and for birthday presents too.  I learned a long time ago to spread it out and shop the sales.  Now I shop online which is very helpful as well.

I cherish our Christmas traditions and I am very glad that my girls also continue to make the season very festive and enjoyable.  Mostly, we enjoy doing things together, laughing, talking, eating any mistakes when we bake, and being thankful for each other and our faith. Christmas can be a lot of work, but if you do it with family and friends, it can be a wonderful season.  My mother would sing carols all the time and we sang right along with her. “Tis the Season to be jolly!”  Ron and I both hope that you are.

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A couple of Christmas pictures from a few years ago.

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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

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I would like to start with an apology to those loyal faithful fans of the Cleveland Indians. They played their hearts out. If any of a dozen balls had bounced a little differently, I wouldn’t be writing this. But the Cubs did win, and I’m happy for them and for my old home town of Chicago. It still amazes me that my dad will turn 96 later this month, and, in his lifetime, this is the first time they have won the series.

This was a nice break from one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns in American history. I am proud to be an American, but disappointed in both of our major candidates. However, Donald’s slogan made me think. “When was America really great?” For me, that would have to be 1969. Why, you might ask. It was because of the Cubs of course! That was the year they were destined to win it all.

Being from the south side of Chicago, I was a diehard White Sox fan, but it was obvious from the start they were going nowhere. The Cubs, on the other hand, started the season winning eleven out of their first twelve games and were due, heck, overdue!  With one of the most compelling lineups in the history of the game including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ferguson JenkinsRon Santo, and Billy Williams, they were the team of destiny. On August 19th, they led their division by 8 1/2 games. What followed was one of the most indescribably painful collapses in baseball history. In the end, they wound up 8 full games behind the team, now known as, the Miracle Mets.

I suffered right along with them. I remember that summer, walking everywhere with a little transistor radio glued to my ear. Even when I played my sandlot baseball, if the cubs were playing, the radio was right by my side. Occasionally, I had to field a ball to protect it. By the way, in case you were wondering, yes I was pretty good. At fifteen, I too dreamt of the day when I would play for the Sox. I would play for ten years, raking in an excess of $25,000 a year and be set for life.

But baseball aside, truly this was a time of America’s greatness. It had been six years since Kennedy had been assassinated. So that scar had almost healed. Of course it had been only a year since his brother Bobby Kennedy (then running for President) had been killed, and the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  That was not so great. Still, President Kennedy’s cold war inspired dream of beating Russia in putting a man on the moon had happened. The pride was back.

Housewives and mothers were, for the most part, still in their homes. Neighborhoods were safer because of it. And then there were girls! At fifteen, I was alive at the right time. Long straight hair and miniskirts made life a little more fun. Even our future was assured. The women of Star Trek showed that to be true. I wonder how many outtakes there were when Yeoman Janice Rand or Lieutenant Uhura bent over wearing those short skirt uniforms.

Of course, in 1969 AfroAmericans (before they were blacks) were rioting. I never understood that. Here they were living in the land of opportunity. They had been free to enjoy all of the country’s privileges for over 100 years (ironically the same amount of time it took the Cubs to win). They were on TV, and in sports. Of course, living in the all white community of Oak Lawn, I had never actually met an AfroAmerican. Oh, I had seen them. Several worked in the Branding Iron Restaurant. They made the best spare ribs I had ever eaten. Surely the problem was just some giant misunderstanding.

Speaking of misunderstanding, this was also the height of the Viet Nam war. What was the big deal? We were America, so we had to be right. Nobody wanted the Commies to be on our doorsteps or under our beds. Besides, we always won our wars. A bunch of hippies didn’t agree. Of course, the girl hippies were cute, rocking out with flowers in their hair. OK, and the music was the greatest ever. Still, most of it didn’t say a lot of great things about our country.

I guess, when you look at it objectively, it makes you wonder, outside of baseball again becoming our national pastime, to what “great America” are we trying to return? On the eve of this critical election, please remember the words of the immortal long time mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daily. ‘All “yous guys” should vote early and often’ (yes he actually talked like that).

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Lisa and my dad at a White Sox Game (not Cubs) in 2012.

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Everyone Should See Casablanca   

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Crystal has problems sleeping through the night. I too get up occasionally. Usually when I do she will be lying on the couch in the living room watching TV. Inevitably some old movie will be on. I often make a joke about the TV being broken, since it is only showing black and white. I have known for a long time, that Crystal’s preference is well made older movies. She explained to me that she used to watch them with her mom. Her mom would get excited and tell Crystal about all of the well known actors and explain the movie plots as needed.

I have always liked that about Crystal. She has an old spirit. She knows most of the old actors and the best of the old movies. As a writer she is drawn to movies with good, well thought out plots and good character development. Sadly, today’s movies all too often fall short. While I’m not as hooked on old movies as she, I totally agree that Casablanca is on the must see list.

Crystal’s Corner

I watched Casablanca recently.  I think everyone should see this award winning movie.  I understand it better now than I have in the past.  It would be a good idea to have my daughters, and my grandchildren watch it with me.

Because of our memoir, 150 Years of Marriage, and interviews with our parents, I have learned a lot about WWII.  Also, I have read many memoirs and historical fiction books about WWII, France and the Resistance. I know some French history and took French in Jr. High school and High school.  I have also watched numerous movies about WWII – some true stories and some from novels that were made in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Through these films, you get a better picture of what real life was like during and after the war.

There is so much history referred to in this movie. Casablanca is the major port in Morocco in what was, at the time, called French North Africa. During WW2, there was constant tension between the indigenous French government and occupying German troops.  So there were French officials and German officials running the place.  There was a concentration camp on the island as well.  Casablanca was a place people went because they were trying to leave France.  The transition papers are a major topic of conversations.  There is a black market where people went to trade for what they needed to leave.

Casablanca is a humorous and serious movie with many famous one liners and the music is from the time period.  At one point in the movie, in the restaurant (“Rick’s Café Américain”), the German soldiers sing a German song that is pro Hitler and the Third Reich and then the French man who is married to Ingrid Bergman stands up and goes by the band to sing the French national anthem.  The entire restaurant joins in because they are French.  This causes quite a stir and brings a lot of tension into the scene.  It is what makes this movie great and also important.

Of course, as with any great and timeless movie, the acting is amazing. Humphrey Bogart played Rick, the restaurant owner, and secretly, a gun runner.  Ingrid Bergman played Ilsa, Rick’s now married ex-lover, who wandered back into Rick’s life for mysterious reasons. Together, Bogart and Bergman demonstrate what scene chemistry is all about. The part of Sam (played by Dooley Wilson), who is Rick’s closest friend and ally, is brilliantly portrayed.  He has some funny parts and lines in the movie.  Claude Raines, Paul Henri, and others add significantly as the plot develops.

So if a great love story, told amidst the backdrop of war and espionage, isn’t your cup of tea, don’t see Casablanca. However, you will miss an amazingly written and acted movie.  If you are into Academy Awards, it won three, including Best Picture.  Furthermore, it is part of our culture, which is why we should be having our young people watch it, and show it in history classes at schools. The history teachers then could explain all the WWII references and cultural understanding of the film. It would sure be better than lectures, reading the history books and taking tests.

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