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Merry Christmas


One of my earliest Christmas time memories is melting crayons with my cousin Suzzie on an exposed heating duct outside our apartment at the Glenview Naval Air Base. Originally designed to be living quarters for pilots, the buildings were turned into low-income housing through the Chicago Housing Authority.
We moved there after vacating our brownstone apartment near Wrigley Field because Mom got in an argument with our landlord, “Old Man Breedy.” I’m not sure how he spelled his name but I do know it rhymed with greedy. Mom was pregnant with her fourth child, my younger sister Bonnie who passed away several years ago, and Breedy wanted to raise the rent from $58 to $65 a month. Mom complained, perhaps for the first and last time in her life, and he responded with an eviction notice.
I don’t know what happened to Old Man Breedy– I’m guessing he joined Tea Party if he lived long enough– and I don’t remember much about the base apartments so I called home and talked with my parents.
Dad, who is now 90, answered the phone just before the sixth ring and the answering machine picking up. “Were you asleep?” I asked, knowing darn well that it would be a cold day in Hades when he couldn’t get to something because he was snoozing. “No, I was peeing,” Dad replied without missing a beat, “and now I have to go change my pants and my shoes.”
Of course he was joking– at least I think he was joking– you never know for sure with Dad. We talked for a while about the old days at the air base, and then the conversation switched to our upcoming visit over Christmas.
“There’s going to be a two-drink minimum this year,” he said.
“What?” I responded, taking the bait.
“We’re having a floor show and there’s a two drink minimum to see it,” he kept reeling. Turns out he was talking about the new flooring they finally got in the kitchen. The linoleum they put down in 1977 developed a small bubble about a year ago and grew to the point where it could trip someone. It’s been the main topic of conversation the past couple of family gatherings as neither of my parents wanted to go to the extraordinary expense of buying new flooring.
We wound up at the air base because Jerry, my father’s youngest sister and mother of Suzzie, was married to Jim, a career man in the navy. He was stationed at the base, heard about the program and passed the information on to my parents. It was just a two-room apartment, one big bedroom and one eat-in kitchen. We lived there a little less than a year and I remember only a few things.
I remember that there was a kind man in the neighborhood who picked my brothers and I up and took us swimming once a week. I think he was a career navy guy like my uncle who thought everyone should learn to swim and serve time in the navy. Whatever, it was a huge treat that I looked forward to each week. I also remember saying “hell” in earshot of Mom and getting a soapy washcloth poked rudely into my mouth at the end of her fingers for saying a dirty word. Probably nothing like either event happens any more. Does anyone out there let a stranger pick their kids up in his car and drive them to a swimming pool? Does anyone force soap into a child’s mouth to teach them to keep a civil tongue? I’m guessing not and probably for good reason, but still...
And I remember mushing the crayons on the warm metal with Suzzie. To be honest I’m fudging a bit when I write it was around Christmas. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know it was wintery and the warm metal felt good. It also felt good to play with Suzzie. She shared her crayons and admired my art. Over the years Suzzie has been generous and supportive many more times. She’s always been in my corner.
My thoughts go out to her this Christmas season because she and her husband Vic have had a hard year. Vic is diabetic and this past fall doctors had to amputate part of one of his legs. It sounds like he’s through the worst of it but still has a long road to complete recovery.
So here’s a wish for Vic and Sue, and you and yours, to have a merry Christmas.