My Mother and I Visit Chicago 2009
By A. Rod Paolini
Choosing to Visit Chicago I normally make two trips each summer: to the reunion of my college fraternity, and to the reunion of the Daniels’ family–my mother’s family–in Harmony, Minnesota. I love to spend time with my mother, but Harmony, Minnesota, population 1054, affords little diversion: a block long main street, two churches, and two cemeteries (Daniels in Big Springs and Harstad’s–my grandmother’s side–in Greefield). “Let’s meet in Chicago,” I offered but thinking that should be reticent. But she had no reservations: “Okay–when?” was her reply. Hotel 71 or the Executive House My fraternity brother Rich Rosenberg dropped me off at the hotel–Hotel71–located at 71 E Wacker Drive in the heart of the city. It had been built in the early 60's as a swank hotel called the Executive House. When I was working in Chicago, I would often roam the Loop on my lunch hour and peruse the theater of life being played on the streets. I remember gazing at this hotel and imaging that it catered to the movers and shakers of Chicago’s business class. And now I was staying here, though hardly a mover and shaker of anything. Mixed Feelings About Chicago My mother wasn’t due to arrive by train until five o’clock; so I had time to wander about and take some photographs of Chicago’s amazing architecture and reflect upon my feelings about Chicago which are mixed. Chicago is my home town. It was the home town of my father whose family settled here in 1906 after emigrating from Italy. My father’s stories of his childhood in Chicago are as much a part of me as my own experiences. I often felt exasperated when he related the same stories that I had heard before; now I feel sad that they will never be told again. I became involved in politics in Chicago. After the riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention, many liberals in the city thought that a new form of politics was needed to counter the regular Democratic Party controlled by the ‘machine’ of Mayor Richard J. Daley. The form of this new politics was precinct operations using volunteers to mirror but counter the patronage workers of the machine. It was through this activity in late 1969 that I met Kathleen Marie Donovan whom I married in 1971.
Kathy & Rod (1971)
My first employment was with a private urban planning
firm, and then with the Model Cities’ agency which was subsequently combined with the Neighborhood Planning Organizations to form the Department of Human Services. To become a city employee, I had to submit to the screening process of the machine: approval from my Democratic precinct captain. I was successful, and I was not immediately asked to become a precinct worker; but three years later, I was tapped for work. I did some precinct work but not very enthusiastically–stalling really until Kathy and I would move; but, in the guise of a reorganization, I was rifed--‘reduction-in-force’. Wanting to work in the public sector and to be a player in the political life of the city, I was shut out. And so for this and other reasons, Kathy and I sought another city and settled in Reston. Kathy and I had made friends in Chicago–good friends. They were friendships born during our formative years–and here I mean our twenties–and during the formative years of a new society: the feminist movement had freed men as well as liberated women, and I participated in two men’s group during this time. The loss of frequent contact with these friends is my only regret in leaving Chicago. Kathy and I return to Avenue Chicago every few years in order to visit these friends and also to visit her mother and siblings around Bloomington, Illinois. On these visits to Chicago, there is no avoiding these mixed emotions. But on this visit, I decided that it would be as though I were visiting a foreign city–like Naples or Rome–for the first time–or perhaps a second time. While we would tour various places, the passage of time and consequent changes would present us with new images that it would be a new experience that would not dredge up the past.
Bridge Tower, Michigan
Meeting my Mother I met my mother at Union Station, 35 E Wacker Drive lobby collected her luggage, and exited to the street to grab a taxi to the hotel. Canal Street is oneway, and as fate would have it, the taxi stand was on the other side. We crossed at the
corner and then proceeded to the taxi stand in the middle of the block. A taxi pulled up and I let go of my mother’s arm in order to put her luggage in the trunk. Then I heard some woman exclaim, “Oh dear!” I turned around, and there was my mother lying face down on the sidewalk. I was stunned for a moment; she wasn’t moving at all. She had tripped on a strip of duct tape that had been used to hold down a cord. The woman and I helped my mother to her feet. She was bleeding from the lip, so I fumbled in my bag for a handkerchief and tried to help her into the taxi. Rather than urging me to get her to the hotel, she wanted to report the incident to the police. She also complained that her front teeth might have been knocked loose. I’ve learned, through hard experience, not to pressure my mother as to what to do. The best course is to ask questions and let her decide. She decided to proceed to Union Station interior the hotel, and then call the police. In the hotel room, I had her lay down, went to the drug store to get some first aid supplies; then administered the first aid while also telephoning the police who surprisingly did send a policewoman who made a report. Nothing further was done about the matter. Needless to say our visit was off to a bad start. I was feeling guilty for having failed to safely escort my mother; and during the week my mother felt guilty for looking silly with a bloody lip. But we were to have wonderful days together, and so the thought of this incident receded.
The Art Institute of Chicago Given the fact that our main activity would be sightseeing, I thought that a wheelchair would enable us to see more of the city and reduce the stress and fatigue on my mother. I give myself credit here: I was correct. I rented a wheelchair from Carnegie-Sargent Pharmacy, and so Monday morning we rolled down Michigan Avenue to the Art Institute of Chicago. This endeavor was for my mother primarily; an The Supper After the Masked Ball hour at an art gallery is usually my limit. But the Institute had an exhibit entitled, A Case for Wine which portrayed the many aspects of wine–its making, storage, serving, indulging, over-indulging, and religious use. It was fascinating though unfortunately I was prohibited from taking my own photographs so I have no evidence save a few images from the Institute’s website.
We then joined a guided tour entitled the Old Masters. Our docent described the history of each painting, the biography of each painter, and the artistic merits and details of a series of paintings. I’m always amazed at people who get so much out of a picture while I often simply stare and wonder why this is so great. The Institute is quite old though it now features a new addition that is larger than the original building; the two are connected by a walkway that serves as a bridge over train tracks (formerly the Illinois Central Railroad and now part of the Metra system). There are three levels plus a few intermediate levels, such as a mezzanine. There are elevators to each of these levels, but not every elevator reaches every level. Since the elevators were installed after the construction of the building, they are not in conspicuous places as a hall or lobby, but within a gallery, perhaps behind the statue of the Vishnu. Thus it became a challenge similar to Dungeons and Dragons in which it was necessary to reach one level, traverse, then take another elevator to the desired level. Sometimes I became so confused that I unexpectedly returned to our starting point.
Building Ornament In our travails of this labyrinth, I came across a marvelous exhibit of building ornaments. After the Chicago Fire of 1871, and with the development of the steel frame that enabled the skyscraper, Chicago became a leader in architecture. However, increases in land values demand increases in return, and so old buildings must give way to new. There is always a interest group formed to save each one of these gems; these ornaments are the remains of the losers.
Millennium Park One of the great new attractions of Chicago is Millennium Park. Located adjacent to the Art Institute, it contains several art pieces, the most famous and photographed being the Crown Fountain and The Cloud Gate or otherwise known as the Cloud or the Bean. There were many people in the fountain, mainly young children, either under the stream of water, sliding or body surfing on the slick surface. We sat in front of the Cloud Gate; my mother was exhausted and so laid on a bench while I drank a lemonade and watched the people amuse themselves by looking at their reflection. Many seemed somewhat embarrassed to be looking at themselves but also intrigued–almost fascinated. The kids made outlandish faces or contorted their bodies, then laughed or squealed with delight.
Crown Fountain We ended our tour of Millennium Park at the Pritzker Pavilion, a very modern and abstract sculpture that serves as the odeon for the Grant Park concerts. To the south is the old James C. Petrillo bandshell. I remember attending a few concerts with my parents and my grandmother Beatrice Paolini; -5-
and later I accompanied her to some concerts a few years before she died. She attended every concert during the summer, and she arrived two hours early in order to get a seat in the front row along with about a dozen cronies who probably had attended these concerts for the past forty years. An orchestra and opera singers were rehearsing, and so we sat on the lawn to listen along with others who simply viewed the auditorium or wandered about the lawn. Three young girls, probably about eighteen years old, with rolled up pants and barefoot, began kicking a soccer ball. It quickly became obvious that they were skilled players: they could ‘dribble’, fake, and pass with ease and dexterity. A boy joined them, and they played keep away. I compared this scene to those of my teenage years. I couldn’t recall a group of girls playing a sport spontaneously–just for fun. I couldn’t recall a group of girls playing any sport with such ease and skill. I couldn’t recall girls and boys playing together as equals. It was a pleasure to watch them, not only for their skill, but for their enjoyment of their play. Downtown Deco It was a long day; we had been touring since ten o’clock and now, at five-thirty, we were take a walking tour of the Loop called Downtown Deco. This was a tour of buildings built in the art deco style of the 1920's and 30's. We met the tour at the Railroad Building, also called the Santa Fe building, which houses the offices of the Chicago Architectural Foundation, which sponsors the tours. Our group wove its way through the crowded streets of the Elevator Door of the loop and in and out of buildings to view the lobbies which were Board of Trade also fashioned in the art deco in style. Wheeling my mother along sidewalks, crossing streets, and through doors, I began to appreciate the difficulties of disabled people. However, I must say that everyone was very patient and considerate–holding doors open and moving to the side for my mother to view. It was quite gratifying. As our tour was scheduled during Happy Hour, it included a drink at an Italian bar and restaurant called Bella Bacino’s. Having a warm and convivial atmosphere, and now among acquaintances of the tour, we continued our assemblage through dinner. One of the more interesting members of the tour party was a news broadcaster from Seattle as she was in town for a convention of broadcasters. One of Chicago’s major assets is its plentiful supply of hotels, and so hosting conventions is a major part of its economy. We returned to Bella Bacino three more times for dinner. One particular was outstanding: crispy polenta and mushroom ragu. Magnifico! The other major feature of the restaurant was its location: thirty feet from our hotel. Two Tours
The next day, we were both still tired from our walking tour, and so I decided that it would be best to ride. We took a bus tour around the Loop, and then a boat tour on the Chicago River. Reminded by various buildings and locations, my mother recalled her early days in Chicago. She had arrived in 1938 just after graduating from high school. It would have been daunting to start her life on her own in a city of three and a half million after living in a town of a thousand. One of the significant changes in city planning is the use of the Chicago River. Initially it was a water way for Native Americans and trappers to travel about; then it became terminus for commercial shipping; then a sewer until the early 1900's when it finally dawned on people that the River flowed into Lake Isabel Flavia Daniels [Paolini} Michigan which was the source of the city’s drinking water. Maybe that had something to do with the outbreaks of cholera. Rather than take steps not to pollute the River, the city dug a canal to connect to the Des Plaines River, Illinois River and then Mississippi River; deeper than the Chicago River, the flow would be reversed–backward and toward St. Louis. The denizens of that city filed suit, but in Chicago fashion, the dam that was temporarily blocking the canal waters was blown up, presenting St. Louis and the court with a fait acompli. The current mayor, Richard M. Daley, employed a similar tactic when he wanted to close Megs Field on the lakefront and turn the area into parkland: he had bulldozers dredge trenches in the runway. Trudy Rafelson We returned to our hotel about four o’clock, and I knew that my mother was exhausted. She lay down and was soon asleep. I had anticipated this situation, and so I had arranged to meet a friend for a drink at five o’clock. This friend was a woman. She had attended Beloit College, and we were in the same class. In a school of twelve hundred, you would expect to know, or at least recognize, everyone. I can’t recall ever seeing her. We met at a college reunion in 1993 and again in 1998. In both times, her husband Max was in tow. She was also from Chicago, and we had, and have, a lot in common. Trudy and Max moved to San Antonio, Texas around the Kathleen D. Paolini year 2000, and Max passed away about 2004. Trudy returns to Chicago to visit friends, her sister, and ailing mother. She toys with the notion of returning to Chicago. We correspond every so often by E-mail. I informed my wife Kathy of our correspondence, and I told her of our meeting before and after the trip. My mother was too tired to leave the hotel, so Trudy and I had dinner as well. It
was a wonderful evening; I value our friendship. Cemeteries The next day we traveled by train to Elmhurst, Illinois in order to visit the cemeteries in which member’s of my father’s side of the family are interred. My fraternity brother Rich Rosenberg met us at the station, then drove to his house and let us have his car. I had thought I could just take a taxi to the cemeteries and then walk around to the various grave sites, but this was a great miscalculation on my part;
Charles N. Zickgraff & Emily Paolini [Zickgraff] Columbarium of the Holy Cross Carla Lautenschlager
Rich’s offer to lend me his car saved the day. An improvement over our previous visit a few years ago, it was now possible to conduct a search by last name on a computer screen, select the desired name, and then print a map with the “address.” The address for my cousin Linda was Niche 159, Tier 3 in the Columbarium of the Holy Cross. Maps are quite helpful, but, as I discovered in Italy, if the locations roads and places are not marked, their value is greatly reduced. For example, if there is no sign at the Columbarium of the Holy Cross, it’s extremely difficult to find the correct niche, especially when you’re at the Christ the King Crypts. Even in the correct columbarium, there were no markings on the tiers or niches. I was frustrated! We sought out each of our known ancestors. To my surprise, my cousin Carla, sister to Linda, was buried next to her parents, Charles and Emily Zickgraff. Emily was a Paolini, my Paolini Gravestone father’s only sister. Poor aunt Emily! Her husband was a drunk, her oldest daughter Carla died at age 41 of breast cancer, and her youngest daughter Linda was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 57, three years before Emily herself died in 2000. I noted that there was no inscription of Emily’s name; probably because Linda was incapacitated and her husband John was busy taking care of her. I pledged to have her name engraved upon my return. While neither my mother nor I are religious, we said a little prayer for Linda.
In the computer search for the Zickgraffs, I noticed a “Baby Zickgraff” that was buried in the same tomb as my grandfather, grandmother and an uncle. My mother said that she knew Emily had lost a child before she had Carla and Linda, but she thought there were twins. The database had only listed one baby, but as we viewed the tombstone, I noted that there are two urns. Could they symbolize the twins? Another research project for the Paolini genealogy! We visited the Del Grande mausoleum; entombed are Don Francesco, the father of my grandmother, his wife Gemma, his son Hugo, and his young son–the mysterious and recently identified–Donato. I peered into the mausoleum, and could see the little altar on which rested two pots containing dried flowers, some having fallen. I examined the lock and chain on the door: very rusty. Who was the last person in this chamber? Probably my grandmother before she died in 1969. I was quite sadden to think that no one honors these people. Lastly, I attempted to locate Angiola Paolini, the mother of my grandfather, Ildebrando Alfredo Paolini. Surprisingly, her grave was not in the same location as the Paolini tombstone, but in a different lot on the other side of the cemetery. Alas, I couldn’t find it in the time remaining as we wanted to catch the train at three twelve. A search for another day! Pritzker Pavilion Upon our return and after resting for a few hours, we traveled to Millennium Park and the Pritzker Pavilion to listen to the symphony orchestra play works by:
Mendelssohn: Overture to Ruy Blas, Op. 95 Schum ann: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 Haydn: Sym phony No. 103, E-flat m ajor Pritzker Pavilion
It was a gorgeous evening, a huge crowd, and wonderful music. But best, I knew that my mother enjoyed it. The Love of my Mother In addition to the wounds from her fall, my mother suffers mild bouts of anxiety and depression. She takes a maintenance dose of an antidepressant but occasionally the dosage has to be adjusted. She said that she was feeling a bit anxious just before the start of my trip to Michigan, but I assured her that since I would be with her at all times in Chicago, she had nothing to worry about, even though she is a worrier by nature. During the week, she acquired the notion that she was leaving on Thursday rather than Friday, but in examining the ticket, she was scheduled to leave the
-9Del Grande Mausoleum
same day as I was. So Thursday morning we had a leisurely breakfast in the room while she seemed to be obsessing about her train schedule and doing a little packing for our departure the next day. But then she came over to me and handed me some small notes and an envelop. They were poems and a valentine that I had given her when I must have been very young; I had no recollection of writing them. I shan’t embarrass myself or my reader by repeating them her except on that simple said: “For the best mother in the world.” In the envelop was a current letter to me from my mother which started: “To the best son in the world.” In short, it said how much she loved me and how much I meant to her. I was taken by surprise; I was dumb-stricken–having the wind knocked out me. I forced the words from my lungs: “I love you too, Mom.” I gave her a hug.
Lincoln Park Conservatory We took a taxi to Fullerton Avenue and the newly constructed Peggy Notebaert Nature Center. We toured the building but soon started our trip south through Lincoln Park, which runs along Lake Michigan. It was a warm sunny day, but the lake effect provided a cool breeze. It was delightful.
The last time I had visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory, we lived in Chicago–so it was about 1978. It is an imposing structure, but it was in need of better upkeep and repair. We entered, and I was blown away. It was fantastic. The National Botanic Gardens on the Mall may have more variety of plants, but none more spectacular. The Conservatory consists of four rooms - Palm House, Fern Room, Orchid House, and Show House. I took more photographs than I knew I could use, but I marveled at the multitude of trees, leaves, and flowers. We strolled through the outdoor gardens between the Conservatory and the entrance to the zoo. As it was noon, there were many families having a picnic lunch. The various sections of the garden were in full bloom, and the Eli Bates Fountain was spewing water as children splashed in the pond. We had lunch at the cafeteria of the Chicago Historical Society, and then toured its museum. I was familiar with many of the exhibits and photographs of Chicago. Many of them were of events that occurred in my lifetime which I found somewhat disconcerting; my life was becoming history. The only new fact that I found interesting was that
Lincoln Park Conservatory
when the National League was formed in 1870, the Chicago team was called the Chicago White Stockings; then In 1902, the team was composed of many young players, and someone termed them cubs. Obviously the name stuck and became the official name. North Dearborn Street Being such a beautiful day, we continued our travels south on Dearborn Street. The neighborhood is known as the Gold Coast where the elite of Chicago migrated from Prairie Avenue on the South Side. We passed remnants of its affluent past such as the Racquet Club of Chicago and the Three Arts Club of Chicago. I learned later that the Racquet Club features squash courts and one tennis court, converted from a real, probably an Anglicization of reale or royal, tennis court, as opposed to a lawn tennis court. A real tennis court is an enclosed space in which players play off the walls.
Washington (Bughouse) Square
The Three Arts Club was built in 1914 as a “clubhouse...to provide a safe, supportive, and economical residence for young women studying the arts. The Byzantine-style entrance contains mosaics representing the three arts of music, drama, and painting. The 110 units are arranged around a central courtyard.” Washington Square We concluded our walk at Washington Square, which is about one block from a 1000 North LaSalle where I resided as a bachelor before I married Kathy. The park is one block square with bisecting diagonal sidewalks, lawn, trees, flowers and a central Victoria fountain. It is better known by its nickname, Bughouse Square. The original purpose of the neighborhood park was as a place of assembly to discuss community issues; however, like Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park, it became a popular spot for soap box orators that included artists, writers, and political radicals from 1910 until the mid-1960's with its heyday in the 20's and 30's. The name came from the word “bughouse” which was popular slang for mental health facilities in the early 20th century. When I lived in the neighborhood, 19681971, it was a cruising place for gay men. The atmosphere we found that day gave little hint of its past though I understand that there is an annual speaker’s day that coincides with a book sale sponsored by the adjacent Newberry Library.
Homeward Bound Our day of departure required a schedule of logistics: return the wheelchair; drop my mother off at the train station; travel to O’Hare to catch my plane. I returned the wheelchair at Water Tower Place and then walked back to the hotel, taking photographs along the way, in order to accompany my mother and all our baggage to Union Station. As my plane departed at 1:40pm before her 2:15 departure, I would have to leave her unattended for three hours. I was sure that she was still uncertain as to the date of departure, so to make sure we checked in at the ticket desk where the clerk assured her that she was at the right place at the right time. We also were able to check her luggage. I left her in the boarding area with food and water for her trip, gave her a big hug, and prayed that she would successfully negotiate the boarding. With my two bags in tow, I oriented my way toward the Clinton Street subway stop and descended into the dungeon-like station. I had enjoyed the time with my mother, but I also felt the responsibility of taking care of her. Taking care of myself is difficult enough but at least I couldn’t let myself down. I started to relax as I boarded the train. I have come to regard the ride on a Chicago subway train to be a mind-blowing experience: perhaps a jerk-like start followed by some spasmodic motions, then acceleration that produces a howling noise that is deafening; the car yaws, shifts, and turns as it barrels through the tunnel; one turns to look out the window, but the view is pitch black, then one notices that the glare from the pale florescent light presents the reflection of your own vacant stare; at intervals there are openings in the tunnel that allow trains to switch tracks if necessary, and so the train jostles over the track switches; Chicago River finally the brakes are applied as the train approaches a station that whizzes by and then rapidly comes to a halt; doors open and people shuffle out, then in, each quickly surveying the seats, determining their options, and then securing their choice; a recorded voice announces the doors are closing and the name of the next stop, usually inaudible; and the whole performance is then repeated. I exit somewhat numb and deaf, but relieved. About two third of the way to O’Hare Airport, the train emerges and travels at ground level on the median between the so-called express ways, which are really just slowly moving parking lots. At one particular point in the journey, I could see the tall buildings of the loop, just a silhouette of dark against gray in the haze and over miles of two and three-flat buildings that comprise
Chicago’s residential neighborhoods. It’s an incredibly big city. If I lived there, I’m sure that I would traipsing all over the place, spending an inordinate amount of time in travel and hassle. Reston and Herndon are my orbit of existence; they contain ninety percent of what I need and use. It’s my size. Chicago definitely has its magnificence and spectacular, its vitality and artistic creativity. But the residential neighborhoods are often decrepit and ugly. Brick, asphalt, glass, and signs blot out the ground and the sky. There is the noise of cars, trains, and buses in constant motion. In Reston, the houses are among the green, and one can view the sky without looking straight up. One can sit on one’s deck, and listen to the birds and the crickets and feel in touch with nature.