#TBTMemory 61: Trick Or Treat!

Maggie is our hostess this week, and asks us about Halloween and costumes and stuff.

Let me preface all this by saying that Halloween was not exactly my favorite "holiday" …

Did you celebrate Halloween? If so, what was your most memorable costume? When I was in grammar school (grades 1-8) I did. The costumes I wore in grades 6, 7, and 8 are the ones I remember best:

  • in sixth grade, I was determined not to go trick-or-treating, and was in a generally shitty mood. Mom, not wanting to deal with her oldest son, handed me $5 and told me to go buy a costume and get out of the house and go trick-or-treating. The drug store at the end of Glenwood was the only place open, and all they had left were Snow White and Satan, so I bought Satan, brought it home and put it on. The costume consisted of a cape and a plastic mask. Since it was the end of October in Chicago and colder than a penguin’s ass, I had to wear my winter coat under it. About halfway down the block when I ran into a friend of mine, dressed (as he had since 1964) as Paul McCartney. He said "What the hell are you supposed to be?" I decided I had enough and went home, knowing that I was supposed to be at home.

  • In seventh grade, one of my brothers talked me into going. I put on a pair of blue jeans, an undershirt on which I had written "NUTS TO YOU" in glow-in-the-dark paint, my gym shoes, and the lining from my trench coat (which I had removed and couldn’t figure out how to put it back). I don’t know what I was, but October 31 was about 75 degrees (roughly 50 degrees warmer than it had been the previous year) and I was in a better mood.

  • In eighth grade, I was going with a bunch of friends of mine. I didn’t have time to buy a costume, so I went to the local trick shop and bought myself the worst-looking rubber mask I could find, and that was my costume.

When was the last time you dressed in a costume? What was the reason? At work, we decided to have a "Christmas in July" contest, and they chose me to play Santa, because I’m built like him. I made several phone calls to the contestants (the idea was to get them to sell training classes and services to our unsuspecting client base), which was fun, because I got to write them (my crowning achievement was the line "Santa’s got to see a man about a reindeer"). My manager knew they were having a meeting in Atlanta, and asked me to attend, dressed as Santa, to introduce the idea. I had to rent a Santa suit on the hottest day of the year and do five minutes of standup while I told them what to do.

Too bad they didn’t have ne do it now. I can supply my own hair and beard…

A week later, they were having this big celebration for one of the executives, and my boss, who was in Dallas, called on me to deliver the present from Customer Education, once again wearing the Santa suit. I might as well have bought the damn thing…

As a child, did you like pretending you were someone else? Did you create costumes with things around the house? Yes, I enjoyed pretending I was someone else, and still do, but costumes weren’t involved.

Did you ever attend Mardi Gras, Carnival or any other festival with masks or costumes? Did you wear a mask or costume? No to the first, and if I had I wouldn’t have worn a costume.

Were you ever in a play (school or otherwise) that required a costume? If so, who were you? Nobody got out of St. Ignatius School without being part of the Christmas play in December or the operetta in the spring. I tell the story of my Tony-award winning performance as Balthazar in the Christmas play here.

As I explain in the Christmas post, even-numbered grades did the Christmas play, odd-numbered grades did the operetta. If you didn’t have a starring role in the operetta, you were generally relegated to some goofy dance choreographed by Mrs. Wolff, a superannuated former chorus girl who had been doing this since my aunts were in grammar school. In fifth grade, we were to do a "firefly" dance, where we would run around on a darkened stage lit with black lights, wearing black sweatshirts with phosphorescent tape on them and flashing little penlights. This was just after Dad had died, and I didn’t have the patience needed to do the stupid dance, so I tried to get out of it. And I did, for one week, then decided they needed me too much, so I relented.

Do you participate in cosplay or go to Comic Conventions?

Ya’ll liked this so much the last time…

What character from movies, comics, or plays has the best costume? All the villains in the Batman TV series had great costumes. My personal favorite, of course, was Julie Newmar in her Catwoman catsuit (which I understand she had a hand in designing).

This was the hottest scene in the whole show. Too bad they couldn’t do the same with Eartha Kitt…

Think of scary or horror movies. Which character’s costume and/or make up was the most frightening? Was it the costume alone, or the movie itself which made it frightening? Buffalo Bill, in The Silence Of The Lambs, wearing a suit made of women’s flesh. AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Have you ever visited historic places where the staff wears period costumes? If so, where was it? Can’t say that I have. The closest I got to something like that was at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, where the docents wear these unusual robes and hats…

Have you ever attended a Broadway or Off Broadway or Community Theatre production with great costumes? Leave a clip or photo here of your favorite. Can’t say as I have… sorry…

That’s all for this week. Time for me to blow this popsicle stand…

Tally-ho and away we go!
See you next week with a brand new show!

#TBTMemory 59: No One Else Would Know

Lauren has the questions this week, which are all about “Passing on the (family) stories.” I’ve written a number of family stories on the blog and have been told repeatedly that I ought to gather them together in a book and sell them. Which I have begun, and have quite a few, and I really need to get back to it, because Mary says so.

Anyway, here are the questions and my answers and associated media and stuff…

Did you have multiple family generations nearby when growing up? We did: Most of Mom’s family lived either in Rogers Park (on the far north side) or South Shore (on the south side). Most of Dad’s family lived in Rogers Park. Our family tree is a bit of a rat’s nest….

I’m in there somewhere…

What are some of the earliest family stories you remember hearing? See next question. There is one story that Mom told on her brother Jack, about his graduation from grammar school, but I need to confirm it with him…

Did your parents tell you the story about how they met? Mom did, and I recounted it here. Mom being Mom, she omitted a major part of it, which evidently she didn’t omit when she told Kip the story. You can read his comment over there… Mary and I don’t have children, so it would be a little hard to have told them about how we met…

Did aunts, uncles, or grandparents ever share embarrassing stories about your parents when they were children? Not really any embarrassing ones, though my Dad’s brothers told stories about when they were kids. Some of them might not have been totally true. My family worked on the same philosophy of storytelling that I do: it’s okay to modify history (a little) to achieve a greater comedic effect…

Did your parents or siblings ever tell your kids embarrassing stories from your youth? We don’t have kids…

Were there tales you wish you had asked your parents or grandparents, but never did? What would you like to have asked them? Most of what I know about my family tree is thanks to my aunt Alice. She’s done an outstanding job with the Connelly side of the family, and filled in some of the blanks on the Holton side based on notes my aunt Cash took from Grandma Holton. I wish I had picked Grandma’s brain a little more about the Holtons and the Welches.

If you had a magical way to speak to a deceased relative, what would you most like to ask them? There are two relatives I never had a chance to meet that I really wish I had: Grandpa Holton (who died in 1939) and my aunt Eleanor, Dad’s sister (she died in 1931, before Dad was born), not so much to ask them questions as to just know them.

Do you share stories about your time growing up with your children or grandchildren? No children or grandchildren, ergo no. Is there something you don’t want to be lost when you are no longer in this realm? I don’t have anything that would be worth keeping for generations.

Have you ever done research to find out more facts about your lineage? Did you ever find anything surprising? One thing that I discovered, somewhat to my chagrin, is that many of Grandma Holton’s brothers and sisters lived in Rogers Park, in fact a few lived within a few blocks and I never knew them. I knew her brother Bob, his wife Ann, and their boys, Bobby and Paul, but her brother Dave lived two blocks over and the only time I can remember her even mentioning him was when he died (she had some of his clothes that fit me). I met a couple of Dad’s cousins online, a brother and sister who were the children of Grandma’s brother Jack, who knew a lot more about me and my family than I did. I also had a weird (in a good way) experience when I found a picture of her oldest sister Estella online. Estella died in the 1940’s and her husband remarried, and his daughter by his second wife had posted the picture to Ancestry.

Estella Welch. She looks a lot like Grandma…

Have you kept journals, records, or important information about your family, that you want to be handed down for future generations? Well, there’s that book I mentioned…

#TBTMemory 57: Family Meal Rituals

It’s BACK! Maggie has a pile o’ questions about mealtimes that I’m going to answer in my own inimitable style. Took me a while to get thru these….

Let’s start at the top of the day, breakfast! Did your family have a sit down breakfast or were you more grab and go? What beverages were served at breakfast? What was your favorite (and/or least favorite) breakfast meal?

For us boys, it was mostly cereal, usually Rice Krispies, and milk. Mom would have a poached egg on toast and coffee. As I got older, milk to drink was replaced by coffee. Some mornings for me, breakfast was a Dr Pepper and a cigarette. We didn’t have Moon Pies in the Chicago area, though we did have RC Cola…

Sundays were a little different. When Dad was alive, we’d go to Mass at 12:15, and since we hadn’t eaten (there was this 3-hour fast thing before Communion) we were all hungry when we got home. Dad had usually bought a coffee cake the day before from Arfa’s Bakery, and we’d have that while he and Mom made either sausage or bacon and eggs, which we’d eat while watching ancient reruns of The Cisco Kid, followed by either baseball or WGN’s early-afternoon movie, which was either one of the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies or one of the Charlie Chan movies with Warner Oland or Sidney Toler (and usually Keye Luke as #1 Son, sometimes Mantan Moreland as Birmingham, the chauffeur). After Dad died, Tex (Mom’s second husband) would make scrambled eggs with bits of ham cut up into it.

Did you snack before the mid-day meal?

Occasionally, when the opportunity presented itself.

POP TARTS!!!

Lunch for most children was eaten at school with the exception of weekends, holidays, or summer vacation. At school, did you buy your lunch from the cafeteria, or did you pack lunch? In high school, were you allowed to leave school grounds during the lunch period?

In grammar school, we lived a block from school, so we’d go home. There was no cafeteria. There were some kids that stayed at school and brought their lunch, and would eat in the lunchroom (a big room that had two picnic tables and a milk machine) under the watchful eye of Mrs. Johnson, a superannuated and cranky old woman. For part of the 1966-67 school year (I was in fifth grade), Jim, Kip, and I stayed at school for lunch. Jim and Kip had Batman lunch boxes, while I had a James Bond one, and Mom would pack our lunches that morning, before she left for work.

In high school, I brought a lunch most of the time. We had open campus in my junior and senior years, and I would occasionally walk home. But usually not…

For times when you had lunch at home, was it sandwiches, leftovers, or a newly prepared meal?

Since both my parents worked, they hired a woman named Lillian to come on weekdays. She’d get to our house before Mom left and go home after Mom got home. We had a couple of women before her, but she was the one I remember best. She cleaned the house and gave us lunch at noon when we came home. Our parents made it clear that she was the boss while they were gone, and whatever she said, went. I think she might have been the first Black woman any of us had met, but that didn’t matter; we all loved her and weren’t about to give her any grief. (I did once and really caught hell for it.)

Mom and Dad decided during the summer of 1966 to buy a new car, because our 1959 Chevy Biscayne was in really bad shape (I swear, there was a hole in the floor of the back seat that was almost big enough to fall through). Unfortunately, that meant they had to let Lillian go and have us eat lunch at school. They bought the new car in October, and about a month later Dad got sick, or maybe I should say the symptoms of the cancer that killed him manifested themselves. He died in January 1967. Not long after the funeral, the doorbell rang: it was Lillian. She had seen the news about Dad and came back for the rest of the school year. Mom told me she refused to take any money. (That’s the way I heard it, anyway).

Lillian was great: sometimes she’d make us French fries for lunch. Most of the time, it was the usual sandwich and/or soup. One day we were out of milk, so she gave us Dad’s Pepsi to wash lunch down with. He had a real shit fit when he got home:

“Who told you guys you could have my Pepsi for lunch?!”

“Lillian did, Dad.”

“Oh.” He wasn’t about to give her grief.

After that year, we came home for lunch and served ourselves. Mom decided she could trust us. On Mondays, we usually had sandwiches made of whatever was left of the roast from Sunday. We usually had cold cuts on hand, soup, and good old fashioned peanut better and jelly.

The evening meal is usually the most formal meal in many homes. Did your family sit down together and enjoy the evening meal or were you more of a TV dinner in front of the TV family?

We ate in front of the TV when we didn’t have company, but all of us were there, so it’s kind of a hybrid.

How did your weekend meals differ from your weekdays?

Saturday was pretty much the same as the rest of the week. Sunday was big. More to come on that.

Who did most of the cooking in your household? Did that person also do the meal planning and grocery shopping? Were you taught to cook or were you shoo’d out of the kitchen?

Mom did most of the cooking and meal planning, make a list, and I’d do the shopping. When we moved to the suburbs and Tex did a lot of the cooking, he did all that, though Mom still cooked during the week. I learned to cook from watching Mom and Tex, who didn’t mind me hanging around.

Did you have dessert served at your meals? If so, what types?

Frequently, Mom would make a cake. She’d use a cake mix and bake it in a 13×9 pan. About half the time, she’d make a frosting using Baker’s unsweetened chocolate or from brown sugar, but sometimes we’d just eat it without frosting. Either way, it was good. Sometimes Mom would have me buy a Sara Lee pound cake. We usually had cookies and sometimes ice cream, basically on a “help yourself” basis.

Who cleaned up after meals? Was it a shared responsibility between men/women, girls/boys or was it delegated based on gender?

We bussed our own dishes to the kitchen, then my brothers and I took turns loading the dishwasher. My brother Jim is particularly adept at loading a dishwasher…

How about late night snacks? Okay or discouraged?

They were okay, and we usually had them…

Were dining manners stressed in your household? No elbows on the table, no hats at the table, no belching, please, thank you, and may I be excused?

Oh, yeah…

Did you have occasions where you had large family gatherings for meals? What occasions?

All the time. After we moved to Northfield, we would have a big dinner on Sunday with Grandma Holton, her sister Florence, and Mom’s Aunt Cash. Tex would drive into the city and pick up the ladies and drive them out around mid-afternoon (he called them The Lavender Hill Mob, after the movie with Alec Guinness), then he’d start cooking while Mom and the ladies (and usually one or two of us) sat and visited in the living room. Tex would make hot appetizers (not from scratch, more like pizza rolls) and cocktails.

Around 5:30 or 6:00, two of us would set the table (which usually meant adding a leaf so everyone had plenty of room). Mom had a set of dishes she got from Cash, who had gotten them from her “Auntie Floss” (called the “Hail Mary” dishes because you were supposed to say that prayer any time you used them) that we used most of the time, along with the good silver and water glasses.

Dinner was usually a roast of some kind (beef, pork, lamb, turkey) with mashed potatoes and another vegetable (actually two: turnips and something we boys would eat, like corn or green beans). Mom had a “well and tree” platter, with the large center section for meat and two side sections for potatoes and vegetables. We’d have rolls (the Poppin’ Fresh variety) and usually some sort of dessert, which occasionally was supplied by Grandma.

The ladies would stay until around 9, by which time Tex would have packaged a generous portion of leftovers for them, and would then take them home. There was always more than enough food to go around.

Holiday meals were essentially the same, but with many more people.

Did you say grace or have a blessing before meals?

Of course! Except, when Patrick (Mom and Tex’s son) was young, he preferred Grace be done in the form of a toast…

Now for the fun part. What dishes are you glad disappeared over the years? What dishes have you carried forward into your own home?

You rarely see lamb anymore at the grocery store, or maybe we just don’t look for it. Anyway, that’s gone…

Thursday Wrap

This Thursday Wrap is brought to you by Schlitz Malt Liquor. Nobody makes malt liquor like Schlitz. Nobody!

So, what’s the idea, and where have I been all day, you might ask. Is this a new feature, you might ask? Well, not really. I just never posted anything on Thursday besides the Song of the Day, partly because I had nothing to post and partly because, after several nights of barely sleeping, I finally got a good night’s rest Wednesday night/Thursday morning, albeit not nearly enough because I had to get up early Thursday. Needless to say, I was dragging my butt around most of the day. Anyway, I have a couple of things I should have posted today, but didn’t, so I’ll do that now…

First, here are the results of my most recent Battle of the Bands, which pitted blues guitarist Samantha Fish against organist Lucky Peterson on the song “Who’s Been Talkin’.”

Samantha Fish – 3

  • Arlee
  • Birgit
  • Jack

Lucky Peterson – 5

  • Max
  • Stephen
  • Dan
  • Lauren
  • Eugenia

Congratulations to Lucky Peterson and a pat on the back to Samantha Fish, who did a tremendous job at keeping it close. This really could have gone either way, as some people who voted for Lucky thought Samantha was just as good.

I never received any prompts for this, and considered using another from last week’s batch or going back a year and choosing a prompt from a year ago, but ultimately fell asleep and never got around to it. I hope it wasn’t anything serious, so send good thoughts and prayers Kat’s way.

The subject of today’s Throwback was “slang.” I was going to do it this afternoon, then I read Paula’s response and realized mine would have been almost exactly the same, so I said “screw it.” Check her replies out.

All for now!

#TBTMemory 56: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?

Maggie is this week’s hostess for Throwback Thursday, the subject of which is “Is it Better to Have Loved and Lost?” So let’s get into it…

How old were you when you had your first heartbreak? 16

Who broke your heart – first names only? Holly

Do you remember how the breakup happened? I think we both came to the realization that we were too different from each other coupled with my friend Mark (who had been out with her before) deciding he’d like her back.

Did you have a ring or token of your love? No.

Did you think this was true love? Until we broke up. Then I realized, while my heart was in pieces on the ground, that it just felt good to have a girlfriend like her. I mean, she was really good-looking…

Did you play any sad songs to soothe the pain? If so, do you remember the name of the song? Not really a sad song: it was a song off Chicago’s (then new) album, Chicago V, “All Is Well”…

If you were an adolescent, were your parents sympathetic or were they of the “it’s only puppy love” school of thought? My mother, sympathetic?

(that was fun!)

How long did it take you to get over it all? Not long at all, really. We all stayed friends after the obligatory two weeks of my being pissed at both of them.

Do you remember this person fondly or is it someone you prefer to forget? Very fondly. I can’t find the story, so I’ll just tell it again: about November of my freshman year at college, I get a phone call from Holly. “Hi John, it’s Holly. I dropped out of school. Want to go see How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying? I have a couple of tickets…” It was the New Trier West High School production of said play, and my brother Kip was in it, so I said “Sure!” It was really nice to be with her without Mark and just talk (she and Mark were still madly in love). I was considering dropping out of school at the time, so I had a chance to pick her brain about that. When the play was over, we hugged and kissed, she went her way and I went mine. The next day, I get a semi-irate call from Mark, demanding to know why I was out with her, so I told him the story. I think he was curious if she told me anything about dropping out that she didn’t tell him…

By the way, Kip was fantastic in the play. He played Mr. Twimble, the guy who had been in the mailroom for 25 years. Here’s the song he sang…

After all was said and done, was it for the best or did you remain longing for a love lost? It was for the best. She ended up breaking up with Mark and marrying someone else. Sad to say, she passed away about 40 years ago (congenital heart issues, I think). By then, Mary and I had been married for several years, and Holly was a friend who died too early.

Tally-ho and away we go!
See you next week with a brand new show!