Category Archives: nostalgia

St. Patrick’s Day: My Top Childhood Memories

Our Irish surname was all our family needed to wear over-the-top green on St. Patrick’s Day, with little regard for appropriateness. It mattered little that we were off to school or the dentist, my father scoped out our attire hinting at times that the green quotient could be kicked-up a notch. My memories that are etched in green stone include:

1. My green hair fiasco: I wish I could say it probably happens to everyone at some time in their life, but of course, that would only be true if you were trying to impress your father with kelly green hair on St. Patrick’s Day. These were the days when primary colored hair was not at all fashionable and actually considered weird. The fiasco part came when I tried to wash out the supposed temporary rinse. It wasn’t.

2. Everyone loves a parade: The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade when I was a kid had a pretty straightforward route. No zigs or zags or hairpin turns just straight down a long street for a few miles. I was marching in the parade and trying to Irish Dance when we would stop. There were so many parade participants and different groups, I lost my parents for a short while even though they were walking alongside the troupe as we marched.  When my group got to the end of the line there was a little confusion and for a few minutes my parents lost sight of me–you can only imagine that fear as a parent. We did quickly find each other but I was never allowed to be in the parade again. My mom said something about not being able to take the strain on her heart and my dad mumbled something quietly to my mom about hell freezing over but I heard it.

3. Send in the clown: Nobody necessarily likes to see their parent dressed like a clown–unless of course, that is their occupation. As kids, my sister and I used to cringe as we witnessed my father go off to work on St. Patrick’s Day in his bright green blazer, green pants and a green tipped carnation in his lapel. Of course, now as an adult, I would give anything to see my dad dressed once again in his green garb.

4. The green river: One year on St. Patrick’s Day our family went downtown so we could witness first-hand just how green the Chicago river really was. We were able to get really close to the river and I noticed that it really looked rather dirty and murky, with maybe a tinge of green. I guess as I kid, when I heard they turned the river green, I was expecting a river of bright green Jell-O. I think they have much improved this today.

5. The family bar: Our family used to go to a neighborhood bar on St. Patrick’s Day and eat corned beef and cabbage. I don’t remember that I even particularly liked the meal, but as kids we got to go into an actual bar and I thought that was really cool. We got to play pinball and a bowling game, plus we got to see what the big deal was about bars. We quickly figured out it was the popcorn machine and the kiddie cocktails, and some of the adults were even drinking green beer. Imagine that, we thought, who would drink that?

6. Since I lived in Chicago in a predominantly Irish/ Catholic neighborhood we had to go to church before school on St. Patrick’s Day. I thought this absurd but the nuns and priests used any excuse possible to get us to mass. They said it was because St. Patrick was a saint and we had to go. But then eventually, many of the saints got thrown under the bus because the Church claimed they weren’t “real” saints after all. My personal favorite, St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers was taken off the Universal Church Roman Calendar but I ignore this as I do most Church doctrine. I figure I could have slept an extra hour at home on St. Patrick’s day instead of sleeping through the mandatory mass.

7. The few non-Irish kids in our neighborhood didn’t really get the “green thing.” Sometimes they even tried to make fun of our outfits or corned-beef-and-cabbage dinners. I didn’t even like cabbage back then but I still stuck up for our Irish traditions, claiming our Irish soda bread was far better than their Italian bread, Polish sour dough rye or whatever they ate.

8. And of course as kids we heard the Irish sayings, many of which we didn’t understand such as “May the road rise to meet you.” What? It simply means; wishing you much success. But, Erin Go Bragh would bring giggles to our Irish faces as we struggled to figure out who the heck Erin was and why were they talking about her bra?

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Will Old Acquaintance Be Forgot? Or Not?

 

When I was a kid my folks occasionally went to a neighborhood bar on New Year’s Eve.  You know the kind, where everybody knew your name, your kid’s names, what you drove, where you went to school/church and if you ate meat on Fridays. They always came back before midnight to ring in the New Year with us kids. They weren’t big party people and my dad used to say New Year’s  Eve was amateur night, so if they went out it was only for a few hours and it was close by.

They entrusted our care to a babysitter that lived across the street from us. We thought she was older than dirt but who knows? We were just kids.  We knew she came from “the old country” but we didn’t know which one. When we asked my dad he just said it’s shaped like a boot. We didn’t get that at all so we figured it was his attempt at a joke. She always brought her knitting in a fold-up knitting bag and sat on a chair and I swear, she never moved. I mean she moved her arms and knitting needles but I don’t remember her ever rising from the chair or interacting with us. Not that we cared. We could watch TV on the four available channels without input from our dad, who typically ruled the TV with a nod of his head. Yes for Bonanza and Lawrence Welk,  no for the Untouchables (for us not him).

We were always already dressed for bed, so I never understood why the babysitter was even there? I guess to watch us watch TV and get our own snacks. My sister and I pretty much ran the show on deciding what to watch and what we were going to do but we always had a dissenter in the group; my brother Kevin. He never wanted to watch what we wanted to watch and we never liked his choices either. He was a real channel flipper. This was in the days when you actually had to walk up to the TV and manually turn a knob. Yeah, it was hard work but sitting on my brother so he wouldn’t keep turning the channel was much harder. Normally, an adult would intervene  but I think the “babysitter” must have thought we were playing a game or something and went back to knitting her 100th pair of slipper socks.

On one particular New Year’s Eve while waiting for my folks to come home just before midnight and give us their noisemakers and hats they invariably got from the bar, I heard a loud racket outside about 10 minutes before midnight. I stepped outside on our porch and I saw all seven of the McGurk kids banging pots and pans and making a hell of a lot of noise and it wasn’t even midnight yet. I ran into our kitchen and grabbed some pots and pans and of course, not to be outdone, I started banging the pots together and on the metal railing and even on the cement porch. In the meantime the folks came home, we all yelled happy New Year and my dad walked the babysitter back across the street where presumably, she had a giant boot hand-knitted in her room somewhere or that was my vision anyway.  The next morning my mom pulled out a pot to make Cream of Wheat, my sister Diane’s favorite but the pot was so dented up it wouldn’t lay flat on the burner. My mom started laughing–lucky for me.

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The Ghost of Christmas Memories Past

I used to wonder why old people liked to talk about the past.  Now that I am in the “old people” club, I totally get it. It has little to do with not being progressive or keeping up with the times or even wanting things the way they were. and everything to do with fond memories.  I mean, who doesn’t want to visit great memories? Especially around Christmastime. I don’t necessarily remember visions of sugar plums dancing in my head but I sure remember spritz cookies, Russian tea cakes and homemade fudge. Since I was a product of The Greatest Generation and a Baby Boomer I didn’t have to worry about The Great Depression and other atrocities,  me and my siblings had it pretty good.

I remember the giant Sears catalog along with a few others in our household becoming dog-eared as we searched the “Wish Book” as it was called for the perfect gift to ask Santa to bring us. In reality maybe we got one or two items on our list and it is doubtful the items ever came from Sears as my parents were Montgomery Ward shoppers, but it didn’t matter. The fun was in the wishing and looking and dreaming (geez, I think that was a 1960’s song). Anyway, the anticipation of maybe getting a thing or two on our Santa’s  list kept us on relatively good behavior for at least a few weeks and undoubtedly a blessing for our folks who barely had to utter “naughty or nice” to keep us in line.

Most moms didn’t work outside the home in those days so my mom got into the swing of Christmas by stenciling Christmas decorations on our window panes by dabbing a sponge dipped in liquid pledge (odd but true) that formed Santa, trees etc. Then she baked up a Christmas cookie storm and hid the cookies from us because she didn’t want them all gone before Christmas. We were always pretty sure my Dad got some early cookies though. She also always made us nightgowns or pajamas that were usually red flannel with really dumb looking Little-House-On-The-Prairie sleeping hats (the book not the TV show) so we could take an equally dumb picture in front of the Christmas tree. She always gave us these pajama things on Christmas eve along with slippers. One year I got beautiful blue fluffy, furry slippers. I was thrilled not to once again get the slipper socks which were the norm back then. Imagine getting excited about a pair of slippers? This is why we call it the good old days.

I remember we went Christmas caroling with the kids on my Chicago city block even though most of us couldn’t carry a tune. About a month before Christmas the only music teacher on the block and probably the only parent who felt up to the task would contact our parents and ask them if we wanted to participate in Christmas Eve caroling. I don’t ever remember being asked by my parents if my sister and I wanted to do this, I just remember going over to the teacher’s house (one house down ) for “practice,” a few times before the big night. I do remember her telling me I needed to sing from my diaphragm and that I sounded nasally. And I do remember thinking I was into dancing not singing and people would just see a bunch of cute neighborhood kids singing and not necessarily care if they sounded like a professional choir.

We only went to houses on our block where we knew people well or that had kids in the singing group. Some people gave us candy or hot chocolate, it was great to be out at night on Christmas Eve as a kid and some people even gave us money. I remember one time a guy named Moose Krause, who was the brother of the policeman, who lived next door to us and was visiting, giving the music teacher $20.00. That was a lot of money back then, it was the late 1950’s. We all figured it would be divided up amongst us singers who were freezing out butts off singing in the snow. But our music teacher had other plans for the money and told us it should go to our neighborhood Catholic church collection box at midnight mass. The Christmas spirit took hold of course and we all agreed she was right. It wasn’t until years later and talking to my Dad that I realized that Moose krause was the athletic director of Notre Dame and a huge notable athlete in his own right. My Dad was talking to him for quite a while on the front porch that one Christmas Eve and for my folks, who would go to Notre Dame games quite a bit in those days, meeting  Moose was a big deal. For us kids the big deal was yet to come, Santa Claus was coming to town.

 

 

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The Ghost of Print Magazines Past

Sometimes my life flashes before my eyes in glossy form. Just like in the pages of a magazine, or more accurately, the pages of magazines past. The magazines that are gone but not forgotten, at least by me. I don’t just mean Look magazine or Life that everyone’s mother and grandmother read I mean the important magazines that got me through my teen years like Teen and Seventeen. The magazines that told me what I should be wearing even though I either wasn’t allowed to or couldn’t afford to comply. The magazines that showed me how to apply make-up before I was even allowed to purchase a mascara wand. Yeah, those magazines. They are all Kaput.

We didn’t have a lot of extra money as a kid but whenever Teen magazine came out my mom would come home from the grocery store with it tucked into her paper grocery bag. I would thank her profusely and race up to my bedroom, flop on my bed and read it very slowly, savoring each page. I would read about the latest teen idol, music, movies, fashion etc. It was the best 35-cent entertainment in my world.

While the older crowd was flipping the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Better Homes and Gardens, McCalls and Ladies’Home Journal (all defunct) I had moved on to Mad magazine for my humor and Cosmopolitan for the love, sex and how to marry a millionaire stuff. For really covert stuff my sister and I used to visit a friend’s summer cottage and find such delights as True Confessions, True Story, True Romances etc. hidden under chair cushions so the “kids” wouldn’t read them. These we felt were quite interesting if not necessarily believable despite the “True” title. We however, thought they were great summer reading. Of course at some point I grew up and started reading news magazines, literary magazines, women’s magazines and of course, decorating and home magazines since I loved DIY decorating. But, many of them have died a print death with some resurrecting online. I mean, I scan a website but I read a magazine.

So, while “foodies” still mourn the demise of Gourmet Magazine you can get your recipes online at a million different sites complete with pictures that you can’t really feel between your fingers but hey, that’s digital progress. Due to the recession (the one experts said we weren’t having) the last few years, general interest magazines were waning as advertisers were falling by the wayside and/or looking for new places to put their ad revenue. Niche marketing magazines whether online or in print seems to be what’s popular today.

If you write, bike, hike or draw tattoos a magazine exists for you. Some are print but many now have an online presence. Demographics have changed and so have the devices changed that bring us our news/entertainment information. I know the answer is that the print world and digital world should mesh. But sometimes I just like to open a magazine that I don’t have to connect to, download, worry about batteries or software glitches or all that cloud stuff, and just throw the damn magazine in my purse and be on my way.

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July 14, 2014 · 2:24 pm

Summer In Chicago 1950’s style

 

I grew up in the city although it didn’t seem all that urban to me. What I though urban meant as a kid didn’t connect in my kid-brain with the tree-lined streets, lush lawns of Marian Blue grass or Creeping Bent and the Georgians, Cape Cods and Ranch style brick homes of my neighborhood.

My neighborhood was a direct result of much-needed housing for those returning from WWII who married, started having kids, in many cases lots of kids and yes, everybody knew our name. It was the law of the land I guess so our neighbors could tell our parents that we walked on their grass or tried to climb their tree or walked between parked cars or God forbid, rode our bikes in the street. We didn’t know it then of course, but we were the baby boomers.

It was a working class neighborhood for the most part with a few professionals thrown in for good measure. You could always tell who made a little more money, their houses were just a little bit fancier than the rest.  Oh yeah, everyone was Catholic. Some even wore their Catholicism on their front lawns, in the form of statues. These were usually the Italians, the Irish thought such outdoor displays tacky yet every room in their houses claimed enough crucifixes, rosary beads, holy cards, holy medals, holy statues and palms from Palm Sundays past to outfit a new church. Tacky? In many cases overkill too, but I’m Irish so I can say such things.

Everyone had a front porch or as some called it a front stoop. Folks would sit on it and talk, or watch kids play or read the daily metro newspaper. Lawn furniture? I never saw anyone with lawn furniture, not even on their lawn. Lawn furniture was up at my grandparents cottage. It was hard and metal and the back was shaped like a shell. But, in the city we sat on the cement porch.

Everyone played outside all day almost every day, especially in the summer. We found plenty to do with bats and balls, Hula Hoops, jump ropes, roller skates, chalk, dolls, trucks and toy guns. Some of us had dancing lessons or organized baseball or softball but we weren’t carted around daily by our parents so we would have stuff to do. The neighborhood was safe, we didn’t always lock the doors and we played in the alley with marbles because they would roll better. When the streetlights came on we knew we had to go inside because well, just because that was the unwritten rule for anyone that wasn’t a big kid.

My sister and I were going to take a trip back to the old neighborhood last week to see what our old house looked like now. She and my brother had been back more recently than me and of course we keep tabs on it through the news. I’m no spring chicken and I was worried about what we might see or encounter even in broad daylight. I figured two old ladies, even in a car could look like an easy mark. She agreed. We figured maybe we should spend our twilight years remembering the good times in a great neighborhood, rather than face the reality of toy guns that have turned into real guns. Alley games have now been replaced by drug deals and sitting on your front porch can make you a gang target even if you never met a gang member in your life. The streetlights rarely go on as many of them have been shot out and now what I thought urban meant as a kid is a far seedier, grittier, unsafe version of reality for my old neighborhood than what was in my mind’s eye as city life.  My old Chicago neighborhood is like a war zone and I can only hope and pray the good guys win.

My brother sent me this DVD;  http://amzn.to/1qzaaRz called Chicago, the Boomer Years. I think you can only get it used on Amazon as the PBS Chicago channel sells it for much more new.  It sure is a riot to watch if you are a boomer. I am an Amazon affiliate so I get a small commission if you purchase through my link.  My brother said he sent it because he remembers me and my sister wearing funny hats to church and saw some just like ours in the DVD. They were like a scarf with flower petals and we thought we were quite fashionable  little kids in the 1950’s.

 

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July 7, 2014 · 11:07 am

Thanks Dad, For Holding My Hand Through Life

I grew up in the “wait until your father get’s home” era. Even as a kid I found it unfair (not just for me) but for my Dad who just worked a 10-hour day and would walk through the door and have to punish one of us (usually me because I was the one with the big mouth) without having  been through the supposed crime/event/misdeed to judge for himself. He went strictly on my mother’s story. I found this ludicrous, and said so on a few occasions. I used the word unfair of course because if I used the word ludicrous he would know I had been in the basement reading his book-of-the-month-club books that he insisted were for adults and not kids. He had no idea how books about submarines and WWII increased my vocabulary. Then my dad would tell me that life wasn’t fair and blah, blah, blah and go to my room for a while and think about what I had done/said etc. I would usually write an apology because even as a kid I expressed myself better in writing.

My dad wasn’t one to yell, I never heard him swear ever and he was just as calm as anything as he glanced up from his newspaper to tell me to take off the eye makeup “I looked liked a streetwalker.” He was however, observant. We disagreed of course, especially in my teens when I was trying to spread my wings and I felt he was trying to clip them. I can still hear the old “As long as you are under my roof…and because I said so, that’s why…” These types of statements were the end of the road. We never had yelling matches or even loud disagreements, I was allowed to express myself but it was really an exercise in futility. If he did have a change of heart on something it was usually due to my mom’s influence. This all seemed perfectly normal for that era as I look back on it and it was normal for most of my friends as well. Yeah, I respected my dad but I now realize, because he was who he was, he taught me to respect others and most importantly myself.

When I won my very first, first place award from the Illinois Press Association for an editorial I wrote years ago, it was my dad who drove a couple of hours and surprised me by walking into the newspaper office where I worked.  After introducing himself to the receptionist he said he would like to speak to the award winning editor.

100_0287 The whole newsroom got the biggest kick out of that.  As I get closer and closer to the age that my dad died, I find myself thinking more and more about him, especially of course on Father’s Day. I now wish I would have paid a lot more attention to some of his  blah, blah, blah stuff that I used to let go in one ear and out the other. Thanks dad, for telling me not to worry about being lousy at math and science because you knew I had common sense and perseverance, you were right. It has served me well. And thanks dad for holding my hand all through life even when I didn’t think I needed it, I still knew it was there.

 

 

 

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Footnotes in Time: My Life in Shoes

English: Ruby Slippers on display a the Americ...

English: Ruby Slippers on display a the American History Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Growing up in the Catholic Cult

Confessionals in the cathedral of Santiago de ...

Confessionals in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bless me Father for I am about to sin. If you grew up Catholic, particularly in the 1950’s and 60’s and were forced to take part in the Holy Sacrament of Confession every Saturday afternoon as a kid, you remember a similar opening line. It was “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” You then went on to tell a priest who slid open a little dark screened window in the rather creepy (to a kid) Confessional box so he could hear but not see you, while you explained what atrocities you had committed that week.  Mine were usually of the I talked back to my parents or called my brother or sister a name variety. I then worried if my discretion’s were a venial sin or God forbid a mortal sin. What would a 10-year-old have to do to commit a mortal sin? I didn’t have a clue but as a child I lived in fear of committing one and being banished to hell if I died before absolution and being given a Penance (another famous Holy Sacrament) greater than the usual “say three Hail Mary’s and three Our Father’s and now say the Act of Contrition.” No wonder I feared so many nuns and priests in grammar school. Everything was shrouded in darkness, pomp and circumstance, secrecy and for many of the older nuns that should have been put out to pasture; pure meanness. By contrast, I did run into some nice nuns and priests throughout my 12 years of Catholic education but most of them “saw the light’ and eventually left the convent and/or priesthood. These I felt, were the smart ones. I stayed friends with one nun from high school who told me after 30 years as a nun, she could do more good in the “real” world. The priest that performed my marriage, a very progressive type that everyone in the parish liked, was a bit too hip for the Catholic Church, he too left for the “real” world. There was a definite pattern emerging, the good ones left. Today, the good ones don’t even join.

I used to wonder what a kid would have to do to get a Penance of saying the whole Rosary? I also wondered why the priests always seemed to give all my friends the same Penance. Was there a rule book for the punishment fitting the crime. Did taking the name of God in vain mean you had to spend a perfectly good Saturday afternoon in church reciting a million prayers? I don’t know, we didn’t do that in those days, our parents would have given us a far greater penance than the priests could ever think up. I have no idea if things are the same with Confession or any other Holy Sacrament of the Catholic Church now-a-days as I pretty much fell-away from it after my four years of Catholic High School were over. The day a Catholic priest walked into our high school and announced he was going to teach us sex education was pretty much the day I knew the Catholic Church had blown it for me.

A priest? Who supposedly was celibate, was going to instruct our Catholic girls school about sex and marriage? I found this astounding enough to ask him about it. He admitted to me privately that he was uncomfortable with the task but his higher-ups told him he had to do it. I remember saying that at least the nuns were women, would they not be as ill prepared as the priests to take a stab at it? Oh no, he said, they are not allowed to teach such things. It has to be a priest. I learned nothing about sex and marriage from this priest’s class  but I learned volumes about what the Catholic religion really thought about women. Only men can give absolution, only men can teach anything they deem “important,” only men can tell women what they should or should not do with their own bodies and when the chips are down, only men really count. All these years later, the Catholic Church hasn’t changed. They are still behind the times and out of touch, they are still arrogant, narrow-minded and operate like a well-oiled good old’ boys money machine. Now how the hell Godly is that?

 

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Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Was My Dancing With The Stars

I was a pre-teen with a mission. I wanted to be a teenager so I could go to Philadelphia and be on Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand. My mom was pretty good about not bursting my bubble as we lived far away from Philly, I was years away from the age requirement of I think 13 or 14 to be on the dance show, and hundreds of kids lined up daily to be on the show and mostly the “regulars” from Philly the “dancing stars” I watched daily after school, were the only kids that actually danced on the show. But she would routinely say things like; “you’re a really good dancer and could do just as well as those kids.” Nothing like a mother to instill confidence and keep the dream alive.

When American Bandstand went national on ABC in 1957 with Dick Clark, it was on weekdays after school and the favorite part of my day. The couples on the show became stars by virtue of how well they danced, how cute they dressed, how cool they looked as a couple and how much we liked their hair styles. I got to know these dancers on a first name basis as Paula and Ritchie who won the Mashed Potato (dance) contest or Bunny who was the best at the Pony or Justine and Bob who everybody loved. I learned how to do the Stroll, the Hop, the Twist, the Locomotion and if I needed a partner my mom filled in. She taught me how to Jitterbug and once in a while when my dad came home from work and I would be showing him some of my new steps, he would grab my mom’s hand and “show me real dancing.”

Dick Clark gave so many singers a start on his show and it was always about the music. I watched Paul Anka, Fabian, James Brown, The Jackson 5, Connie Francis and even one hit wonders like Edd Byrnes, from the popular 77 Sunset Strip TV show. Hard to believe now but his popular song “Cookie, Cookie Lend Me Your Comb” which he sang with Connie Stevens, also from the TV show, was a hit. What I liked most about the music on Bandstand was the variety. When no one paid attention to what diversity was all about, Clark was busy practicing it. He brought us singers, acts and bands from all walks of life and acted like it was normal–because it was. He was way ahead of his time in realizing all music was to be enjoyed by everyone and never pidgeon holed certain music or musicians to certain segments of the population. As many teens have said over the years on Bandstand when rating a new song, “it has a good beat and you can dance to it.”  Those words were certainly my mantra as a kid. Thank you, Dick Clark.

Someone gave me this book on Dick Clark and American Bandstand a number of years ago. Whenever the nostalgia bug hits me I skim through it;  http://amzn.to/1n1NRtj  As an Amazon affiliate I make a tiny commission if you click through my site to buy it but I’m sure you could find it used somewhere on the internet as well. Great memories.

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My Top 10 Best Childhood Christmas Gifts

I decided I needed to write down these top 10 childhood Christmas gifts quick, before my long-term memory goes the way of my short-term memory that can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday.  I won’t get into the Christmas is not about the gifts stuff and how we should all be grateful for whatever we think we should be grateful for, this is strictly about the shallow part of Christmas. The materialistic, me, me, me, Santa’s list type, emotional yearning for–gifts.  Also, as a child I never bought into the it-is-better-to-give-than-receive creed. As an older and wiser adult–I still don’t buy it. Herewith, my all time favorites:

1. RED COWBOY BOOTS

I was six, I lived in Chicago, far from any cowboys except the ones I saw at the yearly Chicago Livestock Show and Rodeo at the Chicago Ampitheater. Just to be sure I got those boots, I asked for nothing else. I figured, how could Santa say no to just one request? My poor mom told me years later that she had scouts out everywhere looking for those damn red boots. Word was, the first night I had them, I slept with my boots on.

2. YELLOW TRANSISTOR RADIO

Nobody under 40 probably even knows what this is. This was even before boom boxes. It was the 1960’s and WLS Radio station in Chicago was king and so was my favorite radio disc jockey, Dick Biondi. I really NEEDED this radio so I could listen to a radio station that was more in-tune with my top 10 favorites (played over and over every hour) and much less of my parents favorites like news and talk radio (thanks mom and dad, I eventually went into the news business). This radio was yellow with a leather carrying case and shoulder strap. It was a Westinghouse and the size of a medium size purse. I didn’t need a dog, this radio was my faithful companion.

3. STADIUM CHECKERS

I have no idea why this game was called checkers because it was a plastic stadium contraption with marble-like pieces. I loved this game and since you couldn’t really play it alone it forced me to play with my sister. She was three years younger and could play the game well enough to assure my winning most of the time. Playing my folks however, was a losing situation for me. The stadium seats moved to advance the marbles to various levels. Okay, it was a much simpler time but we weren’t all zonked out on video games.

4. HEIDI

This book made me cry every stupid time I read it but I just kept re-reading it anyway. Yes, I knew Heidi was going to eventually find her grandfather but each time I read it and they would come so close to finding each other and miss, I would be yelling at the pages. This was during my sad books (Black Beauty) with happy endings era.

5. PINK ANGORA SWEATER

Only rich kids in my neighborhood had Angora sweaters, and rich kids in my predominantly working class/middle class neighborhood were few and far between. I never really asked for this sweater because I figured it was out of reach for my folks so I figured I would just settle for the scratchy mohair. When I opened that box I was never so shocked, it was just like–Christmas.

6. RED LEATHER BUCKET PURSE

These purses were very popular in the 1960’s and I had never really had a nice leather purse. I can remember this purse like it was yesterday. It was a pebbled grain red leather, a long shoulder strap and two small flaps folded inward on top of each other and it looked similar to what else? A bucket. I used this purse for many years. I suspect it was not made in China.

7. BLACK WOOL CHESTERFIELD COAT

It was all in the details. Double-breasted, velvet collar, sophisticated and perfection. I was 13 and it was my first black, grown-up coat. I remember that this coat was $50. because even though it was a Christmas gift my mom left the tags on in case in didn’t fit. This was a lot of money for a coat in the 60’s, and a huge amount for my parents to spend on a single item. But, my parents always felt quality clothing was more important that quantity. That coat lasted me all four years of high school and beyond.

8. GAS STATION

I was never into real girly type toys and thank God my parents didn’t buy me dolls I wouldn’t have played with or gender based toys that girls would have traditionally liked. My father owned a Standard Oil gas station and this was a sturdy, metal gas station with a bay for fixing cars, gas pumps etc. And of course, a Ford and a Chevy. Loved this gift.

9. HAWAIIAN  UKULELE

I don’t actually know if it was from Hawaii, but I told everyone it was. It was the real deal and not a toy and had a nice carrying case. I wasn’t very “instrumental,” I usually took dancing lessons and acrobatics. But, after watching “The Parent Trap” movie (the original one) with Haley Mills (playing twins) singing the song “Let’s Get Together yeah, yeah, yeah…” I had to have a ukulele and learn to play and sing that song. I did. My youngest brother still has that ukulele. Why does he have it? Geez, my mom must have given it to him, I need to talk to him about that…

10. FIGURE SKATES AND OUTFIT

Even though frozen vacant lots is where I did most of my ice skating my parents would occasionally take me to Michael Kirby’s professional ice skating rink in Chicago. Kirby was a Canadian National champion ice skater who started the first ice skating schools in Chicago (now long gone). I couldn’t afford lessons but I could afford the small fee to free skate whenever I could talk my dad into taking me there. I decided since it was a professional atmosphere I needed to look the part. My Christmas gift that year was the most beautiful pair of figure skates, flesh-colored skaters tights and a black corduroy short skaters skirt with red satin lining (red again). The next time I went to that rink I felt like a million bucks. And, I swear, I skated way better than in my typical street garb.

( In case you just have to have a pair of red cowboy boots for a child in your life I found these;  http://amzn.to/1ryj1Zo They are a little fancier than the ones I had a a kid but at least they are red. I’m an Amazon affiliate so I do get a tiny percentage if you click through this link and purchase these or anything at all. I almost forgot, here is a very, very similar ukulele like the one I had that my brother more or less stole under the guise my mother gave it to him. It’s made out of mahogany; http://amzn.to/1tipR1G . I have no idea what mine was made out of but I’ll bet it was better than any ukulele they make now-a-days, after all it was made in Hawaii-or somewhere.

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