At a recent business luncheon, I delighted with anticipation as I shared my memories of Christmas in Chicago with someone who shared their childhood memories of Christmas in Grand Rapids. We both remembered going to see the window decorations in the big department stores and the street light displays. How delightful it was to find this commonality between us.
One of my favorite things as a child was going to stay with my aunt and uncle for a weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This weekend always involved a trip to downtown Chicago to see the Christmas decorations.
When I spent this weekend with them between the holidays, my uncle would leave notes from the “Brownie” in the refrigerator and throughout the house, letting me know that the Brownie was watching me.
My aunt would take me to Chicago on the “L," the elevated train. What a thrill it was as the train went up around the buildings in the Loop, as the locals called it.
My aunt and I would walk by all the decorated windows at Marshall Field's, which were always spectacular. There would be a theme for all the windows, and each one would have animated figures to watch and enjoy.
Then we would go inside and have lunch in the Walnut Room. The Walnut Room was a multilevel open space in the middle of the store and there would be a beautifully decorated Christmas tree right in the middle of the room, reaching up through two or three stories in the store. Dining tables were arranged all around the base of the tree and there was always a line to get in for lunch.
What a great memory this still is. My aunt worked full-time as the assistant to the president of a big company in the Chicago area, so her wardrobe was quite sophisticated, in my young opinion. I remember her wearing three-piece suits with high heels, matching purse and, of course, gloves. Funny how certain things stick in your mind.
What did I wear? I’m sure I had my Sunday-best outfit to wear for this special occasion.
This is where I left my writing on Friday morning before I got on the Amtrak for Chicago. Since the weather was mild Friday, my girlfriend and I decided to spend the afternoon walking around the State Street area. She had arranged for us to have lunch in a quaint restaurant with windows that looked out to the corner of State and Madison. This is where Marshall Field's, now Macy's, was located.
As we ate, I could see the large brass horn decorations that lined the side of the building. After lunch, we went to look at the windows, which used to be thematic and most spectacular. To my adult eyes and mind, the windows did not mesh with the memories I carried from childhood.
I think this is why there’s the expression, “You can’t go back." Childhood memories need to remain as is and not be compared with our perceptions as adults.
So, my friend and I moved on to see the Christkindlmarket at the Daley Plaza. New memories were created as we oohed and aahed over all the German goodies and decorations. We munched on roasted nuts as we looked at all the beautiful handmade ornaments and decorations. Everyone around us was enjoying the festive atmosphere that the holidays bring.
When it came time to head to the train station for our trip out to the suburbs, out the side of my eyes I caught a big-screen TV display on the side of one of the buildings. As the byline rolled by at the bottom of screen, the only words I caught were “school shooting."
My immediate thought was, “Not again." Another shooting? Another school? This is not the memory I want wrapped into my holiday memories, old and new.
But I will keep this memory as we all do — having both happy and sad memories intermingled through our lives.
When we arrived at her home, my girlfriend lit her menorah for Hanukkah, and then took out another 24-hour candle to light in memory of the anniversary of the passing of her mother. This was a Jewish tradition I was not aware of before this weekend.
So, we lived a weekend of happy and sad memories going through them together as friends.
What greater holiday gift can we all experience than to have the love and support of family and friends surround us while we go through our lives filled with both joy and sadness? May you be blessed with family and friends to share with this holiday season and all the days of your life.
— By Tribune community columnist Janice Beuschel. You can contact her at her website, janicerbeuschel.com.