Love Story


Note: Visiting Mom in an assisted living facility comes with more than chit-chat. There are little chores to do… sorting laundry, hanging up the towels, making ice cubes, filling up her snack bowls, sorting her mail. When that’s done, it’s time for conversation. Her world has shrunk since January, but her mind, memory, and sense of humor are active. So, I decided to lead her through some old stories that the family can share.

Mary and Ted March 48           Mary and Ted wedding

“One look and I had found a world completely new

When love walked in with you.”

— from the song “Embraceable You” sung by Bing Crosby, songwriters Geoerge and Ira Gershwin

Mary was a high school senior in 1943, and dates were scarce, with so many young men off to war. When Alvernia High School’s senior prom rolled around, Mary invited a guy named Frank Sherer – not a cousin exactly, but the son of landsleit – immigrants from the same region as my grandparents. Frank was nice enough and the only guy available because of his 4-F deferment. Mary and Frank doubled with Mary’s friend Peggy and her 4-F boyfriend Joe. After the dance, the group continued the party at a nightclub on Rush Street. The girls, both eighteen, and Joe, twenty-one, ordered cocktails. Poor Frank! While girls could drink legally at eighteen, guys had to be twenty-one, and Frank fell somewhere between eighteen and twenty-one. Maybe the waiter take pity on Frank and let him get a drink, too.

In 1947, Mary was twenty-two. With the war over, wedding bells rang for many young couples, but Mary and her friend Pat were still “old maids”. When Pat’s Aunt Sis, nearly thirty, invited them to join the Our Lady of Mercy mixed bowling league, the girls agreed. They liked to bowl, and even though some of the other members were older by a decade, it sounded like fun.

There they met a bunch of guys, including my dad Ted, who’d joined the league with a bunch of his buddies. Later, Ted told people that he met Mary at a bowling alley because she was the pinsetter, the person behind the bowling pins who replaced them after each roll of the ball. Mary thought Ted was cute and funny, and he liked her too. Before long, Ted invited Mary on a date.

It was November 26. They doubled with Ted’s high school buddy Austin White and his girlfriend Anne Carr and, since Ted had no car, Austin drove downtown to the Allerton Hotel’s Tip Top Tap. Even though the car didn’t have a regular back seat and Mary and Ted had to sit on some makeshift bench or board in the back, Mary was impressed with Ted, looking sharp in his suit and Fedora. Of course, Mary looked her best too — her long brunette hair curled to perfection, her red lipstick applied perfectly. The Tip Top Tap was a swanky place –a glamorous room on the twenty-third floor of the Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue. While sipping whiskey sours or manhattans and enjoying big-band entertainment (maybe Gloria Van or Johnny Desmond), they took in the view of the city and the lake through the floor-to ceiling windows.

The evening was a success. Three nights later they went to The Tavern, and Mary tucked flyers in her purse to remember both evenings. She was smitten by Ted’s big blue eyes, his long eyelashes, and his sense of humor. Both Ted and Mary loved to dance, so they often went to the Bismark Hotel or other night clubs where bands played foxtrots, waltzes, and the jitterbug. Sometimes Ted was able to get the family car, but only if the couple drove to Evanston after the date to pick up Ted’s father Mike, a retired cop who worked as a night security guard. For Mike, the rides with Mary in the car gave him a chance to get to know her. He hadn’t been too impressed with some of Ted’s other dates. “Mooty-mawty,” he called them –dismissing them as simpering airheads. But Mary was different. He reported to his wife Katie that Mary was a keeper.

When Christmas came, Ted wanted just the right Christmas gift for his girl. With the help of his sister Helen, who did the shopping, he gave Mary a pair of silky black gloves, still in her dresser drawer today.

Mary’s German parents wondered why their girls couldn’t find a nice German boy to date. Their older daughter, Elizabeth, met a naval officer during the war, and he’d swept her off her feet and moved her to Worcester, Mass to live upstairs from his Irish mother in a double-decker. Mary’s mother mourned the fact that Elizabeth left home every day of her life. Ted knew that he had to impress Mary’s mother, so he brought her a poinsettia plant. Later, she’d tease him that once he got the girl to marry him, he never gave her another gift.

Winter of 1948 arrived, and the romance heated up. They rang in the New Year with a steak dinner at the Morton House and posed in a photo booth. A couple of weeks later, they joined friends at St. Michael Alumni dance featuring Eddie Rose and his orchestra at the Sheraton Hotel.  On January 24, Ted took Mary to  the Magnum Chateau in Lyons, a hot spot that featured a chorus line — the Chateauettes –and a floor show, complete with a singer and a comedian. While enjoying the show, Mary and Ted’s casual conversation drifted toward the topic of marriage. They were engaged! But when Mary told her parents that she and Ted were getting married, her father didn’t believe it, not without a ring on her finger. On Valentine’s Day, Ted presented Mary with a ring, and the engagement was official.

Their courtship was short – couples didn’t live together back in those days – and they were married on October 16, 1948. It was Sweetest Day, a holiday concocted by a candy companies. They were married thirty-seven years before Ted passed away in 1985.








Reading the Landscape

“I think that I shall never see

A billboard lovely as a tree.

Perhaps unless the billboards fall,

I’ll never see a tree at all.” — Ogden Nash


Snowbirding requires nineteen hour treks from Naperville to Sarasota, from Sarasota to Naperville. Last weekend, we packed the car with all of our essentials and all of my clothes, tucked into black plastic garbage bags, easy to cram in and perfect for hiding Mike’s golf clubs, and headed north.

Bummer! The book-on-CD turned out to be a dud, so we tuned into the 60’s on 6 on Sirius, and used the billboards as our entertainment. Northern Florida’s best ones tried to lure us in to a souvenir superstore to see their baby alligators, but since gators big and small roam our Sunshine State neighborhood, we weren’t interested.

Before long we were in southern Georgia, where there are apparently no guidelines for the number, size, or ugliness of billboards. It seems that Jesus has taken to outdoor advertising, as He spoke to us several times along the way:

“Let go! I’ll catch you!” – Jesus

“I’ll be back!” – Jesus

“Jesus is Lord, and you know it.”

Of course, Jesus is not the only one who tries to grab the attention of drivers zipping along Interstate 75. The Magnolia Plantation baits motorists and their snack-craving passengers with its ads for pecans, pecans, pecans. I pictured Margaret Mitchell’s Twelve Oaks or Tara, but The Plantation itself, right off the Tifton exit, is a seedy-looking place that’s no lovelier than a Cracker Barrel.

Of course, some signs offer other local diversions : “$tripper$ — Need We Say More? As Featured on Jerry Springer” boasts one not far from Jesus sign.

At Exit 71, I was charmed by the darling name Sunsweet – doesn’t that sound like a cute little town? I imagined pretty white houses with genteel ladies drinking sweet tea on wicker porch swings and waving to neighbors strolling by. Then I spotted the humungous Confederate flag waving in a field, followed by another sign down the road that featured only this; #secede and the web address Even an ad proclaiming Gone With the Wind Tours couldn’t entice us to get off the interstate.

We passed Adcock Pecans, and I wondered if they were better than Magnolia’s. One board with a group of smiling doctors in scrubs asked, “Heavy periods? Overactive bladder?” and told us “We can help.” We pondered why Horse Town, “the largest western store in the world”, was in Georgia and not out West, but we didn’t stop to find out.

We passed Atlanta and eventually reached Tennessee, with lush, green rolling hills, scenic vistas, and a glut of fireworks stores. Our favorite was the Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks store with a Citgo station right in its parking lot. Now, that’s convenient — gassing up while stocking up on sky rockets, roman candles and sparklers. Gas? Pyrotechnics? All in one place? Gee, what could go wrong?

Also in the Volunteer State, the Outpost Armory displclever signs at frequent intervals, but these are a far cry from those long-ago Burma Shave ads that delighted  drivers as they tooled past. The Outpost attracted our attention with its tastefully done compositions in hues of brown and tan, touting the joys of weaponry. Their catchy slogans left me unamused.

More Guns Than Your Weird Uncle

Yes, Silencers Are Legal

Not Your Grandpa’s M1A

Empowerment Comes Standard (This one shows a woman peering into a rifle sight.)

We spent the night in Murphreesboro, and were in Kentucky the next morning, a lovely place almost devoid of billboards. The only scar on the landscape was one oversized Confederate flag near Paducah bidding us farewell as we neared our home state.

Then, Illinois! We knew we were on the last leg of the trip when we gassed up at a Jack Flash store that sold all kinds of Lincoln geegaws – shot glasses, tee shirts, and tote bags emblazoned with our sixteenth President.

Seas of pretty yellow plants that we couldn’t identify colored the fields. We scoffed at a sign for a Tuscan Hills winery near Effingham. Tuscan? Hills? Here? But, whatever wine they sold, it had to be more palatable than the peach wine we saw advertised back in Georgia. We passed through Kankakee, where one of our four felons/governors, George Ryan, is now on home confinement, since he’s been released from prison a while ago. This was OUR Illinois, home of Ryan, Blagojevich, Dan Walker, and Otto Kerner, criminals all.

Rural became suburban and subdivisions sprang from the ground where corn once sprouted. I57 to I80 to 355 to our exit. We hauled in all the garbage bags, the golf clubs, the near-empty bag of Twizzlers we’d nibbled on along the way. It’s good to be back.