Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fond Memories of Catholic Schools in Chicago

I love this video, which I found at Msgr. Charles Pope’s blog.

So glad I had the fantastic education depicted in some of these historic shots.  I knew one of the narrators, Fr. Arturo Perez, who was a young priest at Maternity B.V.M. Parish when I taught fifth grade at the parish school.  I remember him telling me how very excited he was that he would be leaving to study liturgy at one of the finest Catholic Universities in the country.

There is also glimpse of a Pope John XXIII School uniform on one of the contemporary models.  I taught at that Pope John school and my daughter Catherine was a student at that time.

Growing Up Catholic #1: My First Catechism Lesson

Seminal events shape our lives and set us on a path. This is the story of one of those moments as I remember experiencing it.

Dad told me that it was time for me to begin catechism classes at St. Edward School. I asked, “What is that?” He said, “You will learn about God.” This seemed like a good idea, because I didn’t know much about God. Now I could learn. I was six years old.

On the day of my first lesson Dad took me to St. Edward School. He accompanied me to the school office. Someone else escorted me to the classroom and introduced me to my catechism teacher, Sister Mary Luke.

Sister Mary Luke was seated at her desk. She looked different. She wore what I would later learn is a habit, the garb that Dominican Sisters wore at the time. Sister also had freckles---like me. She asked me some questions, like my age, the grade I was in, my name, address, and telephone number. I hesitated when she asked for my telephone number, because I didn’t know it. So she said, “It’s important for you to know your telephone number. Learn it and tell me next time you come.” Sister also mentioned that I had missed the first catechism class, so I would need to "catch up." Then she gave me a little grey catechism book and assigned the desk where I would sit. It was the first desk in the second row from the windows. I liked it 'cause it was right up front.

I sat down with my little book and peeked around to see the other children. I recognized two of them Pat Gutting and her brother Danny. They also went to Palmer School. Pat was a year older than I, and in second grade, and Danny a year younger. I soon learned that the children in this classroom were mixed ages and grades ranging from Danny Gutting in kindergarten to some who were in eighth grade. It was like a one room schoolhouse.

I paged through the skinny, plain, grey-covered book. I saw lots of letters and words inside, but I didn’t know how to read yet. So I closed it and waited. I looked around some more. I noticed a very large statue, which I would learn latter is a depiction of Mary as Our Lady of Grace. She was stepping on a big snake. In front of the room I noticed the American flag and a crucifix. We had a crucifix in our house.

Soon it was time for the lesson about God to begin. Sister Mary Luke stood up and took her place in front of us. She wore a long, creamy white dress with a black belt. Her hair was covered with white material in such a way that only her freckled face showed. On top was a black veil with a white lining. The top of the veil was heart-shaped. When she turned around to write something on the blackboard, I saw the back of the veil was very long and pleated. It came to a point below her waist. All sorts of interesting things hung from Sister Mary Luke’s belt. She had holders for a watch, like a pocket watch, a pencil/pen, and keys. There was also a long, long rosary that hung from her waist nearly to the floor. The rosary beads rattled when she walked. I thought she looked nice. ☺

Sister Mary Luke looked at the girl sitting next to me, on the window side, and asked her, “Who made you?” I thought that was an interesting question. The little girl said, “God made me.” I was very surprised to hear her answer. I scrutinized her carefully, because I wanted to see what someone God made looked like. Sister Mary Luke asked the next child the same question, and this one answered the same way. One after another was asked the same question, “Who made you?” One after one they answered in turn, “God made me.” I was amazed, almost overwhelmed, to think all these kids were made by God. I began to wonder who made me.

Then, it was my turn. Sister asked me, “Who made you?” I looked right at her and told her I don’t know. No one had ever told me. I guess I had never asked or even thought about from where I had come or how I was made. I honestly did not know. Sister gave me that same look as when I didn’t know my telephone number. I thought, “I better find out who made me.”

After every student---about 40---had answered that first question, Sister Mary Luke asked another, similar question. “Who made all the people in the world? Here was another good question for me to contemplate. But I didn’t do so for long, because student after student gave the answer, “God made all the people in the world.” Although I was still a newly minted six-year-old, my powers of deduction kicked in. “If God made ALL the people in the world, then God made me!”

This revelation, this insight, filled my little mind and heart with wonder and awe. I was excited to think that God, too, made me! I visualized God making me. I somehow saw him taking a head, and arms and legs and putting me together, sort of like a doll, but alive.

Next I found out that God is a “Supreme Being who made all things and keeps them in existence.” I knew this meant that God was very important and special, even if I couldn’t fully fathom the notion of “Supreme Being” or “existence.”

By the end of my first class session of religious instruction I had also learned my destiny and the meaning of my life---the reason why God had made me. “God made me to show forth His goodness and to share with me His everlasting happiness in heaven.” Sister Mary Luke talked to us about heaven and about happiness. Heaven is where God lives, and when we get there we can see God face to face. And heaven is a place where it is happy all the time. This idea of being happy all the time certainly attracted me.

Next I learned that to get to heaven “I must know, love, and serve God in this world.” So, this was why I would be coming to catechism classes. This was the place to “know” about God. I didn’t yet understand there was another kind of knowing that would lead to the loving and serving part. But a new “vision” had emerged for me. This was faith. My faith came alive. Hearing the answers to all those questions about God resonated within me. I was sure it was true, and I accepted these truths with joy. Faith comes through hearing. (cf. Romans 10:17)

This knowledge of God fired my very young imagination, and I think it was the beginning of my consciousness of a spiritual life. I began to understand that God knew who I was and that He cared about me, and I really wanted to know more about Him.

When that first class session was finished, I took my little grey catechism book with me and followed the children to the front door of the school. Outside there were what looked to me like hundreds of grown-ups waiting. I looked for my dad’s face, but I didn’t see him. Panicking I started to cry. I thought he had forgotten me. I didn’t know my way home. Someone---one of the bigger kids---looked at me and said, “Don’t be a cry baby.” I felt embarrassed. In a few seconds Dad was there. What a relief.

In the car I told Dad everything I had learned about God. From then on he helped me with my catechism lessons. There was a lot of "learning by heart" in those days.

I was very fortunate to have a father who was thoroughly schooled in Catholic thought and who could explain the difficult concepts to me, like “Supreme Being” and “existence.” He could also answer my questions about God, of which I had many, in a way that I could understand. My enthusiasm for my faith grew. I couldn’t be more grateful.

I know from experience that young children are capable, with the guidance of faith-filled parents and teachers, to understand the mysteries of God. It’s a real deprivation when parents procrastinate or deprive their children of developing this relationship.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Remembering Dad #14: His Book

My cousin Julie, found a book that belonged to my dad among some my Aunt Eileen's possessions when she was cleaning some drawers. It is called The Imitation of Christ, and Julie asked me if I’d like to have it. Of course I was thrilled to say, “Yes!” I do like having memorabilia of my loved ones. Thank you, thank you, Julie!

The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis is a Catholic classic about the Christian life. Next to the Bible, this book is the most popular guide to living the Christian way of life. I, myself, have a copy that my best friend gave me when I had graduated from high school. Because it is a classic, it is still in print and widely available. It has also been translated into modern English to make it more palatable to modern readers. Dad’s copy and mine retain the old English. So there are sentences like this, “He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, saith the Lord (John, viii. 12).

In dad’s copy there are some inscriptions. Some are in English and some are in Latin.

English Inscription #1 on inside of back cover:
.30 Purchased
Calvert Book Store
Nov. 25, 1939

Dad would have been 20 years of age at that time.

There are also some numbers, which I surmise are page numbers, perhaps passages that were important to Dad. I looked up those pages. On one page he penciled a box around these words, “It is better for thee to have less than much, which may puff thee up with pride.”

English Inscription #2 on page facing inside cover:
First, Dad wrote his name as follows: Robert Keller. That’s not too significant except most of the time he included his middle initial, which he didn’t do here.

Below dad’s name are these words, “What will God think?” As soon as I read that I thought of a modern saying that has gained popularity, “What would Jesus do?” Dad was ahead of his time. ☺

My Latin is very rusty, so I found a Dominican priest who offered to translate. He said he's not a Latin scholar, but the following translations are his.

Latin Inscription #1 on inside of front cover:
Dad wrote:
Loquere, Domine, quia audit servis tuus. Da mihi intellectum, et scrutabor legem tuam, et custodiam illam in toto corde meo."

Translation: "O Lord, who hears as Thy servants speak, grant that as my mind studies Thy laws, I retain all of them in my heart."

Latin Inscription #2 on page facing inside back cover:
Dad wrote: "Praesta, quaesumus Domine, auxilium gratiae tuae, ut quae, te docente, facienda cognovimus, te adjuvante, impleamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen."

Translation: "Grant we beseech Thee, O Lord, that by the help of Thy grace we come to knowledge of Thy teachings and move according to Thy direction. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen."

I think all this gives a glimpse of my dad and what he was like as a young man.

Photo: An old family photo of my dad that was taken when he was in his early 20s. I think he worked at Sears.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Remembering Dad #13: Dad Had Some Serious Childhood Health Problems

When Dad was a boy, a very young one, in the 1920s, he contracted the dreaded childhood disease of polio, also known as infantile paralysis. How severe his case was I don't know for sure. I vaguely remember him saying that he needed a leg brace for awhile. Dad had a large and terrible-looking scar on one leg, and this may have been connected with his bout of polio. He did recover and go on to live normally. When he was in his 50s he may have had post-polio syndrome, which causes muscle weakness, and fatigue, and pain in both muscles and joints. But, he never complained of it and didn't let it get him down. Immunizations for polio did not come along until the 1950s.

While he was still fairly young Dad was prone to bouts of pneumonia. In the 1920s and 30s antibiotics for pneumonia were not available, so recuperation was a matter of getting rest and having one's immune system fight it off. Dad received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church twice when he was a boy because he was in imminent danger of death. The sacraments were called Last Rites because they were [at least until recent years] usually administered when the person receiving them was in grave danger of dying. The term in those days referred to the reception of all of the Last Sacraments, Confession, Viaticum [Holy Communion] and Extreme Unction [Anointing of the Sick].

Even in adulthood Dad was prone to pneumonia. I recall his having it once or twice when I was a girl. But by then it could be treated with penicillin. Still, it wasn't a pleasant illness and could require hospitalization.

Photo: The photo above shows Dad with his dog, Maybe, when he was about eight years of age. By then he was over the polio.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Remembering Dad, #12: He Encouraged a Positive Outlook

I don’t know if Dad ever read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. He really didn’t need to.

Dad promoted the idea and the practice of not complaining, not saying nasty things about people---even if they deserved it. Perhaps he felt no one deserved to be maligned, calumniated, defamed, slandered or libeled. I guess that covers the territory of all the badness one can do or say to or about others. Oh, and yes, I did forget negative criticism and gossip.

He had his ways of enforcing that outlook on his children. In my case, when I attempted to complain, he gave me “the look.” It was a tacit message to “say no more.” There were boundaries, and I had stepped over one of them. So I learned early not to complain---at least not in my dad’s presence. Perhaps that sounds harsh to say this type of behavior was enforced. I would say it was strict, not harsh. What he did was provide a strong guidance for developing virtue---as in good habits.

When Dad, on occasion, took us for a tasty treat to the Mayflower Doughnut Shoppe in Chicago, he made it a point to direct our attention to the large, colorful, wall poster that depicted a rotund baker stooping over to offer a little fellow a doughnut. The baker also offered the urchin this piece of advice: “As you ramble on through life, brother, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the doughnut, not upon the hole.” Dad engaged us in conversation. “What do you think that means?” Through involving us in a discussion he was able to capture our interest and make us think.

Here he emphasized finding the good rather than the fault in other people and in life’s situations. To quote Benjamin Franklin, “I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good I know of everybody.” Don't take this to mean that Dad overlooked or didn't see the bad in some people. He just didn't talk about it, harp on it, or, in general, discuss it.

Now you may wonder, did my dad live up to these ideals? I would say he did. In fact, I would say he did so more than the average person. And I wish my track record were as good as his.

Don't you think the world would be a better place if all of us held our tongue and tried to bring out what is good in others?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Remembering Dad #11: Dad Took Us Places

We did lots of fun things with our dad. The majority of those things had to do with going places. So, I will just list as many of the places I can recall with a few tidbits that I remember, links where possible, and some apropos photos. We went so many places that I will have to subdivide these memories

The Playdium: This was a roller-skating rink and an indoor swimming pool that belonged to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Glenview, IL. Dad took us there often, either to skate or to swim. Fun, fun, fun! After searching the web I’ve concluded the place has closed. I’m sure it was too expensive for a parish to run in this day and age.

The Museum of Science and Industry: We went there VERY often. This was an educational place to visit, and even in my childhood there was some “hands on,” although I wouldn’t call it interactive by today’s standards. Exhibits I remember well and never tired of were a miniature railroad on the main floor, a real coal mine, Yesterday’s Main Street, The Spirit of St. Louis airplane suspended from the ceiling, a human heart large enough to walk through and listen to the sound of the beating, an exhibit of human embryos that depicted uterine development throughout the 9 months of gestation, the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle, and a pendulum that hung from ceiling to floor in one of the stairways. I also liked the basement exhibit of photos of famous people. There was a machine that stamped a quarter (I think) into a museum souvenir.

The Field Museum of Natural History: We went to the “Field” museum often. I loved seeing the dinosaur exhibit in the great hall. Next I enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit, especially the mummies. There was also a display of miniature rooms fully furnished.

The Chicago Historical Society: This is the year of the Lincoln Bicentennial. Did you know that? For me this museum, near Lincoln Park, was not as exciting as the others. However, as I grew older I came to appreciate it more. In the main lobby there was a very large bust of Abraham Lincoln. People rubbed its nose, which, as a result, was very shiny. This is where I learned about the Columbian Exposition and the Great Chicago Fire.

Grotto in Dickeyville, WI: This was a fascinating Catholic shrine that was made out of rocks and pieces of glass. It’s still there apparently. This website has some photos of parts of the shrine. I remember there being more to it. If you’re looking for a very unique place to visit, this is it!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Remembering Dad #10: A Simple, Memorable Lesson about Racism

In the light of what has been happening lately concerning race relations in our country, I thought I'd repost this story, which I wrote about 7 years ago.  This, I think, is how parents can teach their children about any aspect of right and wrong.  It was a teachable moment.

This happened long ago, and it keeps coming to mind when I think about the social aspect of sin. During the hot, muggy summer days of my childhood in Chicago, my dad often would drive us out of the city to one of the lakes for a day of fun. This was before the days of air-conditioned cars and interstate highways. After an hour or so of driving on two lane highways we would invariably ask: "How much longer? Are we almost there?"

One time, when I was about nine years of age, dad said he would take us to a different lake. My brother, sister, and I were overjoyed when we arrived, and couldn't wait to race to the beach and jump into the refreshing water. Then suddenly Dad braked the car and said, "We can't swim here."

"Why not?" I complained.

"There's a sign that says this beach is restricted, Dad replied.

"What does that mean?" I continued.

"It means that Negro people aren't allowed to swim here."

"Well, we're not Negroes!!" I argued.

Dad insisted, "I won't support any place that puts restrictions on people because of their skin color." And off he drove with three wailing children in the back seat.

Happily, Dad did drive us to a different lake.  One that was open to all.

All of this happened in the early 1950s, well before the Civil Rights era of the 60s. In that simple way, my father took a stand and ultimately positively influenced my thinking, even though I was temporarily more than annoyed. He wasn't an activist, but he used his power for good.

Note:  I use the word "Negro" in a historical context in this post.  At the time of this incident, the term "Negro" was considered polite.  Martin Luther King, Jr. used the term to refer to his race in his "I Have a Dream" speech.  Nowadays it's more common to hear "Black," "African-american."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Remembering Dad #9: Dad the Milkman

Dad was a milkman for the Borden Dairy Company. On his route he delivered milk and other products to people's homes.

The way this was done back in the 1950s is that Dad would leave the house early in the morning before anyone else was awake. When his milk truck was ready, he delivered the milk to the customers on his route. Milk was usually left at the customer's back door, and it was up to the customer to bring his or her milk inside before it got too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. The milk was delivered in glass bottles with a round piece of cardboard capping the top.

Milk came whole or homogenized. Whole milk had about a quarter cream which rose to and floated on top. People poured that off and used it for coffee or for whipped cream, or shook the bottle to mix it and then poured themselves a glass. Mmm-mmm! No one worried about milk fat back then. Skimmed milk was available, though. At the dairy, the fat rose to the top of the vat and was skimmed off before bottling. Now one rarely hears it called skim milk. Instead we say non-fat. As far as 1% and 2% milk, I never heard of it in my childhood.

Sometimes, if Dad had finished his milk route by the time I was leaving for school, he would give me a ride in the truck. This was pretty exciting for a little first grader. When I stepped off the truck and onto the playground, my friends gathered round. "How did you get a ride in that milk truck?" "My Dad's a milk man!" That usually resulted in words of approval or envy.

On a hot summer day, if Dad came by, my friends, brother John, sister Joan and I would beg him for a big chunk of ice. The trucks were not refrigerated then. So the milk, cream and butter were chilled inside crates (not plastic) on top of huge ice blocks. I must admit that the ice wasn't necessarily sanitary. Embedded in the ice there could be little insect creatures or parts thereof. So we weren't supposed to put it in our mouths. Mainly we just wanted to cool off. When Dad was gone, though, well.... Let's just say, if you couldn't see a critter in there, it tasted pretty good.

Here's some trivia about Borden's Milk. Elsie, the cow, was Borden's original mascot. Later she married Elmer. Elmer and Elsie begat Beulah, Beauregaard, and twins, Larabee and Lobelia. All these bovines were used in advertising with Elsie being the most popular. In our home we had an Elsie creamer on our kitchen table.

Today Elmer is still well-known. He is the mascot for Elmer's Glue, which was orignally produced by the Borden Chemical Division.
At some point, and I'm not sure when, Dad changed dairies and drove for the Wanzer Milk Company, a popular brand of milk in Chicago. They has a classy jingle: "Wanzer on milk is like sterling on silver." But, as a child I never understood what that meant. But we did drink lots of Wanzer Milk!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Remembering Dad #8: Dad's First Job

To my knowledge Dad didn't work; that is, for a living, during high school or college. Although he may have worked during summer breaks. So, I'm saying his first job was in the military as a soldier during WWII.

When I was growing up I saw Dad's photo album from his Army days. It was a scrapbook with wooden covers that he or someone had inscribed using a wood burning tool of some sort. It was varnished. I don't have it. I hope John or Joan does.

Dad, like many WWII veterans, didn't talk a lot about his Army days, but he gave me some general information. I'm not sure about chronological order, but here are some things I know. He had the rank of lieutenant, so he was an officer. It's possible that he started as a warrant officer and moved up from there. He was stationed for his training on the East coast. For sure he spent some time at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. I've seen photos. It seems to me he also made mention of being at or maybe just near Fort Dix, also in New Jersey. Dad was also at Maxwell Field in Alabama.

There was also a point when he was at West Point for training. Dad was not a West Point cadet, but West Point was where some soldiers, like Dad, were sent for specialized training. This may have been where he received training as a radio operator and/or as a navigator. I remember being impressed with what Dad described as "square meals" at West Point. They literally had to sit at attention and eat by moving their utensils at right angles.

West Point is near New York City, and I think Dad went there a lot when he could go places off post. When he took us there for a vacation in 1960 he really knew his way around, and he hadn't been there since the 40s.

Dad was in the Air Corps division of the Army. The Air Corps was not a separate branch of the Armed Services until 1947, which was after WWII. I'm fairly sure he was a navigator, not a pilot. I remember him saying so. He may have had to use his radio training in that capacity.

One thing he never told me about is if he went overseas or was stationed only state side. If he was state side only, then he may have been involved in training others for overseas duty. I just don't know. As I mentioned earlier many WWII vets didn't talk about their experiences of war. It's in more recent years that some of the old vets are telling their stories. Dad didn't live to that ripe old age.

I never had the impression that Dad was a gung-ho military man. Rather, he looked on service to the country as a civic, patriotic duty, especially then, during WWII. I do recall also that he was of the opinion that all U.S. citizens should serve a minimum of two years, either in the military or doing something like The Peace Corps.

His attitude influenced me to join the military at a time when it wasn't such a popular choice. I, too, was never an enthusiastic military person, but I had the same attitude as Dad. I think it's a duty for everyone to serve this country in some way, but not necessarily in the military. I also served by teaching in the inner city of Chicago, a place where good teachers are sorely needed, and where children deserve better than they usually get. Those were some of the best kids I ever taught---so real---so grateful for small kindnesses. They were also tough, but so was I.

Sidebar: Both Mother and Dad discouraged any of us working when we were in school. Their attitude was that school was our work. When school was not in session during summer and at Christmas break, then they didn't mind if we worked.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Remembering Dad #7: A Conversation (One of Many)

Recently I read an article by the syndicated columnist, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, in the Catholic Herald of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. What he said reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad, which took place when I was in college, when Dad was driving me somewhere in Chicago.

I was telling Dad about my plans for the future, explaining how happy I would be to finish my courses and graduate from De Paul. It seemed as though school was lasting forever…. Not that I didn’t like it, but it was costly, and I wanted a job---the kind that would support me.

I rattled off my plans: First the college degree in elementary education. Then the teaching job in a Catholic school. Then a car. Then a place to live on my own. Independence. Then, maybe down the road, a graduate degree. Then…. Then….

When Dad finally got a word in edgewise, he asked, “Do you think all of that will really make you happy?” I should have sensed from his tone of voice, there would be a philosophy or theology lesson coming my way. We had had similar discourses since I was old enough to ask questions. I kid you not. My glib response was “of course I’ll be happy.” After all, those were the goals toward which I had been working for years.

Well, no, according to Dad all those external achievements would not make me happy. I would not be satisfied and I would always want more---more---and more. And even if I got all the “mores” it would never be enough. “Oh, c’mon, Dad! Must we philosophize now?” Actually, I always enjoyed these kinds of conversations with my Dad, but this particular one was spoiling my enthusiasm. Dad was concerned with The Absolute; I with contingents.

Getting back to Rolheiser’s column, he calls what Dad was alluding to, “attaining purity of heart…the ultimate spiritual task.” He calls this a “restless energy” and explains that in classic Christian spirituality what we yearn for is “to see God face to face.” Rolheiser gives some Biblical citations to support his thesis:

  • Exodus 33: Moses desires to see God’s glory but is told he may not see the face of God and live.
  • Psalm 42: As the deer yearns for flowing streams, so I yearn to see the face of God. I thirst for the living God; when shall I see the face of God?
  • Matthew 5: Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see the face of God.

He also alludes to the Desert Fathers, Christian mystics, and later schools of spirituality that generally focus on “attaining purity of heart so as to see the face of God.”

So, the lesson Dad was pointing out to me back then, and which Rolheiser also teaches now, is that human happiness lies in removing within us what blocks our relationship with God, “the author of all the persons, places, beauty, love, color, and energies for which we ache”---the task of a lifetime! I'm still working on it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Remembering Dad #6: Thoughtfulness

Dad was a thoughtful person. He considered the needs of others and often took action. Some may remember a time when men used to open doors for ladies. Dad did this always. I especially remember that he opened the door for me when getting in or out of the car. He did that for others as well. I don't think he ever expressed annoyance about that. Maybe it's not politically correct, but I'd love it if that tradition were revived.

When it snowed in the winter, Dad would, of course, shovel the sidewalk in front of our house. But, he would also shovel the sidewalk for neighbors, especially the elderly neighbors who would have trouble doing it themselves. He didn't ask, he just did it. Then they were surprised and so grateful.

For his parents, my Gramma and Grampa Keller, he put up storm windows in the winter and screens in the summer. He did that for Aunt Lois sometimes, too, after Uncle John died. And I would not be surprised if he did it for others in need.

Dad worked in Sauganash, an upscale Chicago neighborhood, at Queen of All Saints Parish. There, among other things, he drove the school bus. Doing so, he became familiar with the neighborhoods of both Sauganash and Lincolnwood, in which the children lived. At Christmastime Dad drove John, Joan and me after dark to see all the beautiful homes and the Christmas decorations and lights that studded block after block of homes. It was so exciting!

Dad also invited the Springfield Dominican Sisters, who taught at St. Edward, our parish, to go with him for a tour. That was very enjoyable for them as most of them didn't drive in those times. Once there was room for me on one of those trips. I was speechless, but I enjoyed it. Again, I would not be surprised that he escorted many others to enjoy the Christmas lights.

Whenever I was away from home for extended periods, for example, when I went to boarding high school in Springfield, Illinois, Dad would write me letters weekly. Yes! Weekly! He wrote two or more pages that kept me up to date on my brother, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins. He talked about the common everyday doings of life. The other students were in awe, because their Dads rarely wrote. They usually received letters from their mothers. There was no email then, and long distance telephone calls were prohibitively pricey. Thus, the letters. And, I might add, that I wrote home to both of my parents every week. Yes! Every week!

Dad also never forgot special occasions, like birthdays, even when I was away. I could count on getting a box of Fannie Mae candy.

Once, when I was just out of college, I worked in a very depressed area on the West Side of Chicago at a poor Catholic School. Dad, concerned about my safety, would drive me to work and home again. I would tell him of my experiences. Once, I mentioned how cold the children's bathroom was because of broken windows that no one repaired. Dad came inside with me once to take a look. He said he could patch the broken window panes with cardboard to cut down on the cold. For some reason the school principal wouldn't allow it. I think she was embarrassed.

When Dad died in 1979 many people who I did not even know stopped to tell me all the kind things my Dad did for them. He did all these things without fanfare. He was self-effacing.

Note: The above photo was taken in 1958. It shows my father with my sister Joan at my Keller grandparents' house.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Remembering Dad #5: The Dictionary Guy

When my mother once commented, "Your dad is the only person I know who reads the dictionary for fun," she was simply stating a fact. Dad liked studying the words in the dictionary. He used a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, fifth edition.

I remember seeing him sitting at the dining room table paging through the book and finding words of interest to him. He liked knowing not only the word meanings, but also their parts of speech, pronunciation, and etymology. He really did!!!

The edges of the dictionary pages were gilded with gold leaf, which is now well-worn. There are thumb indentations for finding the alphabetical sections from A to Z easily. The few illustrations are are black and white line drawings.

On the inside of the back cover dad inscribed the following information: "Book Shop - Kimball S of Lawrence, Chgo; 7/15/44; $5.50"

The back of the dictionary has several appendices. One of them, "Pronouncing Vocabulary of Common English Christian Names," stirred my interest several months ago, when I discovered that Dad had carefully placed an X next to about twenty names of women. It was exciting to think that my dad may have consulted these pages to find a name for me. In fact, the name Ruth did have an X next to it. Some of the others that were under consideration, I presume, were Alice, Amanda, Angela, Anita, Antoinette, Carmen, Caroline, Christabel, Clara, Estella, Frances, Hester, Hildegarde, Isabel, Leslie, Madeline, Monica, Patricia,Rita, Ursula, Veronica, and Yvonne. There are some lovely names in this list, but honestly, I'm glad my name isn't Christabel, Hester or Hildegarde----yikes!

Dad wanted to instill in me a love for words, and I think both he and my mother did that. I felt like I had come of age when I received a dictionary instead of a toy for my 7th birthday. It was the biggest book I had ever had up to then. The cover was red and the title was Thorndike-Barnhart Junior Dictionary, written in white and yellow letters. The first word I found was "embarrassment," a word totally unfamiliar to me. So that was a good beginning to following in my dad's footsteps of taking an interest in words, what they mean, and even how to spell them. I did go around challenging my second-grade friends to see if they knew my new word and could spell it.

I have Dad's dictionary on the shelf above my computer along with other reference books. I use it often. I consider it a relic of my dad.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Remembering Dad #4: Dad, Me, and the CTA

Eventually I was old enough to go to Day Camp in the summer. I was seven years of age. Portage Park, at Irving Park Road and Central Avenue, was the place my parents decided to send me for my first Day Camp experience. It was a great place to have a camp. There was the size. It was way bigger than Gompers Park, which was closer to home. There were a pool, a softball/baseball field, playground equipment, benches and picnic tables, a field house, and more. I was eager for this summertime adventure.

But the park was too far from home to walk. I would have to learn to ride the bus---by myself. Why? Because in those days in Chicago parents did not chauffeur their children anywhere. A child either walked, rode his or her bicycle, or took public transportation. So Dad set out to teach me how to ride the CTA bus.

The closest bus stop for the purpose of going to Portage Park was a few blocks from my house at the intersection of Kostner and Foster. My first bus lesson consisted of Dad walking me to the bus stop and actually riding with me all the way to Portage Park. As we went he explained everything to me. I'd walk north on Kolmar past our little neighborhood park to Carmen. Then, turn right and walk east to Kostner. Then take Kostner north to Foster.

Now the challenge was to safely cross Foster, a busy street. But Dad explained carefully how to do it. There was not a traffic light at that corner then. But there were traffic lights further down the way on both ends, so it was a matter of crossing when the traffic at those other corners had stopped. Hard to explain, but doable.

Then Dad stood with me and we waited for a bus. This is when I began the habit of looking way down the street to see if the bus was coming. When the bus was close Dad showed me to raise my hand to let the driver know I wanted to ride.

When the bus stopped we boarded. Dad showed me where and how to deposit the coin. It was a dime for me. There was a slot for the coin. He also instructed me to ask for a transfer. Transfers were free in those days, but they were stamped with an expiration time of about an hour, so one couldn't reuse it after the time expired.

Then we went to find an empty seat. Dad made sure I was at the window. He pointed out the landmarks along the way. He explained which street would be right before my stop. It was Milwaukee. He showed me how to signal the driver that I wanted to get off. In those years there was a cord that ran along the side of the bus above the windows. You pulled it and it buzzed to alert the driver to stop. You could get off at the front or the back door of the bus. I preferred the front. So we got off at Central Avenue and used the transfer there.

On Central Dad showed me on which side of the street to stand and wait. Then, when the bus came, I had to give the driver my transfer before finding a seat. I took this bus to Berteau. The street right before Berteau was Hutchinson. Berteau and Central was my destination. I was at Portage Park.

Dad and I walked through the park for awhile, then we went home, reversing the process.

So that was lesson one.

Lesson two was more advanced. Dad reviewed everything from lesson one. Then I was to ride the bus alone. But Dad would follow the bus in the car in case something went wrong. He would be there. That gave me confidence. So, seven-year-old me boarded the Foster bus and headed for Portage Park. I made the whole trip without a hitch. There was a great sense of accomplishment. That was my last lesson. From then on I was on my own.

I started summer Day Camp and I loved it. I had my T-shirt, my baseball cap, and my ditty bag packed with my bathing suit, towel, and lunch. Fun, fun fun!

Dad was a great teacher in this way. And I think accomplishing these little goals with careful guidance really did instill a sense of pride.

[FYI: Now all of this was happening before there was an Interstate System in Chicago. Believe it or not I watched the Interstate being built. There was a section of it going in just a couple of blocks from our house. I still remember how, in the years and months preceding the project, the grown-ups, especially my Gramma Lucas, would talk about eminent domain and how some people's homes were to be purchased by the federal government and torn down to make way for the Interstate. So many neighbors were worried about this. Some of my friends had to move because their homes were slated for demolition. Our block survived.]

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Remembering Dad #3: The Queen, Dad, and Me

One summer day in 1953 Dad took me to a movie theatre in Downtown Chicago to see the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on the silver screen. I was very excited to see this royal event. I especially loved seeing the little Prince Charles, and the little Princess Anne. It was like a fairytale.

At one point Dad told me he had to leave, but he would be back for me. So I should just stay seated and wait for him. I was so enchanted with the movie of the Coronation that Dad's absence didn't bother me. But, then the movie ended. Dad hadn't returned. I felt anxious. All the grown-ups were leaving. I feared being all alone in the dark theatre.

So I got up and followed the crowd out. In the lobby I looked around for Dad. He wasn't there. I didn't know what to do. I began to cry big time.

Two girls behind the candy concession noticed me and called me over. They asked why I was crying. I told them my story. They said they were sure my dad would come soon. They gave me a chocolate covered vanilla ice cream bar to assuage me. In the meantime they asked my name. Upon learning my name was Ruth, they found a huge BABY RUTH candy bar. I'd never seen such a big piece of candy. I smiled.

After devouring the ice cream I prepared to do the same with the candy bar, when Dad appeared. It was a happy reunion and a big relief for me. Dad offered to pay for all the goodies, but the girls wouldn't hear of it.

I was safe and happy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Remembering Dad #2: Our Childhood Bedtime Ritual

We lived a well-ordered life, as did most children of the 1950s. There was a time for everything. When it was time for bed, it was time for bed. Whining would get you nowhere. The ritual began after supper, which would have been about 6 o’clock.

At the appointed time we had our baths. Mother took charge of that. Once bathed, dried, and “pajamaed,” Dad took over. Perhaps he had the easy part. For me it was the fun part. One-by-one we joined Dad in our living room. Dad sat in a large stuffed armchair. John and I sat on one or the other of the arms of the chair while little Joan sat on Dad’s lap. We sang songs together. Some were crazy little ditties, like “K-k-k-Katy.” This is the refrain, which I still remember:

K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy,
You're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore;
When the m-m-m-moon shines,
Over the cowshed,
I'll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.

But the really fun part was when we sang the parody of it which Dad learned in the Army. It was called “B-B-B Bedbug.” Here’s that version:

B-B-B bedbug, horrible bedbug
You’re the only b-b-b-bug that I abhor;
When the m-m-m-moon shines,
Over the barracks,
I’ll be scratching at my b-b-b-back until it’s sore.

Another favorite was “Swingin’ on a Star.” This was a song that Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby had popularized. As a child I took the little lessons to heart.

Would you like to swing on a star,
Carry moonbeams home in a jar,
And be better off than you are,
Or would you rather be a mule?

You can hear the whole song on UTube by using the above link. It's very enjoyable.

We also sang Catholic religious hymns, like “Bridegroom of My Soul,” “Soul of My Savior,” and “Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest,” to name a few.

Dad couldn’t carry a tune, but that didn’t matter. He sang anyway and he put up with my laughter when he really messed up the melody.

Then, after our songfest, Dad settled us down by reading aloud from a book. One of them was the original Pinocchio story by Carlo Collodi. It was about a puppet that wanted to be a real boy. Dad would read only one chapter each evening, which was good child psychology. This kept us wanting more. It also gave us time to apply our imaginations to the story and to digest the truths about life and its challenges. I must have been the perfect age for this story, because I really worried about my nose growing long if I told lies.

Once the chapter was finished, Dad escorted us to our bedroom. John, Joan and I shared the same little bedroom when we were young. We had one twin bed and a bunk bed, which mother and dad had purchased at the Merchandise Mart with the help of Uncle George, who worked there. Each of us got into our respective bed. Dad brought a kitchen chair into our room and sat with us for awhile. We talked. Then it was time for our prayers. We didn’t kneel at our bedsides. We just stayed in bed. Dad didn’t baby us. We learned short as well as long prayers. So we were just as adept at the “Act of Contrition” and “Memorare” as the “Hail Mary” or “The Lord's Prayer.” I was eight when he taught us the “The Lord's Prayer,” in Latin.

There were no issues about understanding the words to the prayers. I was a questioner. “Dad, what does ‘mourning and weeping in this valley of tears’ mean? Dad, what does ‘advocate’ mean? Dad, why do we say ‘thee,’ ‘thou,’ and ‘thy’? He always knew and I took his explanations to heart.
When we were finished with our prayers it was time to sleep. Dad left the room, closing the door behind him. Now it was dark. The three of us talked and joked. I liked to play tricks on them. But soon we dozed off.

Final thought: We had no T.V. in our home. This was our entertainment.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Pray for the Living and the Dead

My mother, Mary Alice, in 1996
Today is the 19th anniversary of my mother's death. This anniversary happens to coincide this year with the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis has asked Catholics to contemplate mercy, as well as to put mercy into action by doing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. So, I am reminded today of the 7th Spiritual Work of Mercy: Pray for the living and the dead.

Christians, living and deceased, are united with one another in the Communion of Saints. When we pray on behalf of or in memory of others, we are expressing our bond of unity with the Church on Earth, with the dead who are being purified, and with Jesus and the saints in heaven. 

Although today is my mother's anniversary, I actually pray for her and for all my deceased relatives, everyday, morning and evening. 

Here is the prayer that I usually use to pray for the deceased. The pronoun can be adjusted for singular, plural, male or female. My example is for my mother, Mary Alice.
Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord, and let the Perpetual Light shine upon her. May her soul, and all the souls of the Faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
There are other prayers that can be said for the deceased, including making up one's own prayer.

Note: for more on praying for the dead, here is an essay that explains some misconceptions about praying for the release of souls in Purgatory.

Remembering Dad: Robert A. Keller, #1

If he were living today, my father would be 96 years old.

While enjoying my niece Tiffany's wonderful wedding celebration, I had an unexpected experience while talking with several of my cousins. We were seated comfortably in an area adjacent to the dancing, when Bill, my Aunt Lois' youngest son, commented to me and all who were there, how much he liked Uncle Bob and remembered him with affection. I perked up and said, I too had fond memories of my dad and thought he was certainly someone worth knowing. My cousins Bill, Maureen, Chuck, Mary Ellen and I began trading little stories about Dad.

Reminiscing about Dad, Bill recalled that when he was little my dad used to let Bill stand on top of his feet while Dad walked around the room. It was a lot of fun. I remembered the same thing. Dad also had a way of letting us face him, hold his hands tightly, and "climb" up his legs to almost his shoulders and then do a back flip to land on the floor. That was super fun.

Bill also told how Dad helped him with an astronomy science project when he was in middle school. This stood out for him because it was the last time he saw dad or did anything with him. The next week Dad died. It was a shock.

I also remember how shocked I was when I received the message of Dad's death thirty-six years ago, September 27th of 1979, just three months after I was married. Dad died before any of his grandchildren were born; both Sara and Catherine were on the way by then.

One thing I remember about my dad's funeral, which was at the Lauterburg & Oehler Funeral Home in Arlington Heights, is that many, many people came to pay their respects and give their condolences. I was surprised by how many of them there were and how many I did not know. These were people who worked with Dad, Keeler Avenue neighbors, Buffalo Grove neighbors, and more. Many of them came to me to tell a story about Dad's kindness or an incident where he helped someone or went the extra mile.

Since that encounter I have been thinking about Dad and how unique he was. I'm going to write a series of vignette's about my dad, which I will post from time to time.