One of the best things about the holiday season is its music.
Everybody has his favorite tune. Mine is the "Halleluiah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah." Now you don't hear it on the radio very often or on Muzak in elevators, but it's probably one of the most wonderful choral pieces ever written. It's grand, it's moving, it's thrilling to hear and even better to sing.
My relationship with "Messiah" began 52 years ago. I had been taking piano lessons from Dorothy Greig in Woodmar. She told me about a group that was doing "Messiah" and she thought I would enjoy it. How right she was.
I remember sitting in some church where there was a small orchestra with real violin players and a small chorus of singers. And then they began "Messiah." I sat there truly in awe throughout the concert.
When I thought I couldn't take any more inner joy, they began the "Halleluiah Chorus." That music was all that I could think about until my next lesson. I had so many questions about it and my teacher explained that I could actually buy the vocal selection from Lyon and Healy.
As a kid, you have access to these things. She ordered me the book and soon I had my own record of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "Messiah." I still have it.
I would sit for hours in my bedroom, following along the alto line until I could sing right along with the Mormons. Later, we sang the "Hallelujah Chorus" in high school. By that time I knew the alto part forward and backwards, but since we had so few boys, I got to learn the tenor part, too, for performances.
In college, during a USO tour up at Great Lakes Naval Base, a group of us sang the "Halleluiah Chorus" in one of the hospital wards.
That was when a young sailor joined in from his bed. I went and stood next to him, since we were both singing tenor. I can't describe the delight on his face as he and I blasted out that last "Alleluiah."
For 25 years we would sing with the "Do It Yourself Messiah" in Chicago, where thousands of people sang all the chorus sections accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. One of my favorite memories is when both of my daughters came and sang with me.
One cannot sing this piece without getting a lump in one's throat. I always thought the beauty of "Messiah" was shown in the attending audience. There were people of every age, every race, and every walk of life, each clutching their well-worn vocal selection book.
And here we all were in Chicago, strangers brought together by our love for this piece of music written back in 1741 by an English composer which was performed for the first time in Dublin.
After writing it, Handel said he saw the face of God. Perhaps God is what we all feel when we hear it.
One of the inspiring things about Whiting history is that many of our families have been important in local businesses for generations.
When Joseph Chrustowski came to Whiting from Poland in around 1900, he opened up a tailor shop. In the 1930's, Joseph's son, John, took over the Whiting News Store, Whiting's premiere stationery store.
John's son, Jay, took over the business the in the 1970's and there's not a person in the community who doesn't remember going there to buy penny candy after school.
When Abe Winsberg arrived in Whiting in the late 1800's, he opened one of the community's first clothing establishments. His son, Hershel, joined Abe in the business and Winsberg's exclusive men's store was a staple of downtown Whiting until the early 1980's.
Abe's granddaughter and artist Kathy Winsberg opened her first art shop in Whiting more than 30 years ago. Her lovely art and antique store, Full Circle Art, unfortunately was lost this year during the January fire.
Today we see another family owned business going into its third generation. Memory Makers Inc. began three generations ago in 1949 when John A. Lovasko established Lovasko Studio in a New York Avenue storefront.
As a kid, I remember how neat it was to look at their showcase windows full of the huge professional photo portraits on display. By the 1990's, the exterior of the store had been revamped with wonderful colors and gingerbread trim making it one of the prettiest and unusual looking buildings in town.
In 1989, John A. Lovasko's son, John, inherited the family business and took it in a new and different direction. While his dad did portrait work, John went "on the road," photographing schools, proms, dance studios and Little League teams, many of which he's still doing 30 years later.
With his creative entrepreneurial talents, John's Memory Makers now goes all over the country shooting photos.
All through high school, John gained his experience by working with his dad. His own son, Jon, by the time he was a sixth-grader, worked right alongside his dad and his granddad at the studio and Jon remembers these times as his own fondest memory making moments.
Even back then, Jon brought something new to the business. . .the world of the computer. Today, Memory Makers is technically on the cutting edge thanks to Jon, now a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in sales and marketing management. His branding skills and business acumen have helped the family business move forward.
Because the business expanded so much, the Lovaskos built a new and larger studio on 119th Street four years ago and since that move, have added another entire new huge space to accommodate their growing business.
The owners of Memory Makers are and have been smart and innovative, successfully changing with the times.
"I loved growing up with the whole generation thing and that's what makes me so passionate about the business," said Jon Lovasko. Looking around the beautiful new studio, he added, "I wish Grandpa could be here to see this."
There's Christmas music on the radio already and I found Christmas items on display when I went out to find Halloween decorations.
Let's face it, poor old Thanksgiving is given short shrift these days. Thanksgiving is becoming the meal we eat right before running out to begin Christmas shopping because Black Friday has now become Black Thursday. Pretty soon we'll be reduced to just having Thanksgiving breakfast, because some stores are opening at 8 a.m. Thursday.
FDR would be pleased, for you see, in 1939, he decreed Thanksgiving always be held on the fourth Thursday of November, instead of the last Thursday of the month, which is what Abe Lincoln had declared in 1863. Lincoln obviously hadn't been asked by the National Retail Dry Goods Association for any favors.
But Roosevelt made the change to add that extra week of Christmas shopping to the calendar in order to help the economy. In this day and age, perhaps our President will have to move Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in May so we can really help boost the economy.
Little did the Pilgrims and their helpful Indian neighbors foresee any of this happening as they were busy preparing a meal for a feast that actually lasted three days. Many of the foods they made were introduced to them by the Massasoit.
What we consider a typical Thanksgiving menu today is not actually what was served that first holiday. While we refer to today as "Turkey Day," in those days it would more likely have been dubbed "Duck Day," which conjures visions of dozens of Pilgrims and Indians running around with their arms over their heads. Duck, or some waterfowl, was the main course.
They didn't have mashed potatoes either or green bean casserole with Duke onions. Nor was there pumpkin pie for dessert. Historically, this was either because they used pumpkins as a roasted vegetable or because they had no access to a Sara Lee outlet. Either way, since Cool Whip wasn't invented until 1967, it would have been a moot point.
They did serve all kinds of seafood, such as lobster and clams, so perhaps the meal wasn't as savage as it seemed.
When the Massoits came to visit, they didn't come empty handed. They brought along five slain deer as a hostess gift. Perhaps that's where the tradition of spending a few "bucks" on an obligatory holiday present originated.
Interestingly enough, after dinner the Pilgrims and the Indians spent the rest of the day playing games. It is said that in addition to singing and dancing, all the men would go off with their bows for hours of leisurely target practice.
One historian of the period wrote, "The men would exercise their arms." We carry on this fine tradition still today. . .as men hand the remote back and forth to switch between different football games.
So I say to you, as John Wayne might have put it, "Happy Thanksgiving, Pilgrim!"
We went shopping for a new chair yesterday. My beloved recliner is declining quickly, probably due to the fact that due to bad knees, I have a tendency to plop into it. I'm waiting for the moment that I sit in the chair and poof, find myself actually sitting on the floor.
It got me thinking about the importance of chairs. I'm sure in your household, everybody has his personal favorite chair. I often share mine with my cat, because she doesn't have one of her own.
One's chair is usually found in your favorite room. How many great movies have you watched, great books have you read, and serious family discussions have you had while sitting in it. So when one has to give up one's chair, it's like losing an old and comfortable friend.
Many of our chairs have a memorable history of their own. We have a high back chair with big wooden arms that came from my grandmother. Although my mom suffers from Alzheimer's, if we talk about that chair, she'll talk about childhood memories. She remembers playing on it and pretending that it was a giant throne, and she's always delighted that it has become a family heirloom.
We have a lovely, strange round back accent chair that belonged to my Aunt Florence. It's not particularly comfortable, but it is certainly unique. Whenever I pass it, I think of my Aunt and my Uncle and can still visualize their house in East Chicago back in the early 1950's, with the chartreuse Chinese lamps (which I wish I had today!).
I know two friends who have lusted after this chair and still think I'm kidding when I told them that its future home will be theirs because it's listed as such in my will.
When our daughter, Holly, was born, Chuck bought the two of us a lovely mother and daughter bonding rocking chair. Later, we bought a miniature one just for her. Hopefully, someday, both will go to my grandchildren, along with baby memories.
Certain chairs have historical significance. President John F. Kennedy had tons of photographs taken in his rocking chair in the Oval Office. President Abraham Lincoln's rocking chair is in a Detroit museum. In television's "Fraser," his father's hideous avocado green recliner was always a hilarious bone of contention. Archie Bunker's chair became such an icon of American pop culture that it now is on display at The Smithsonian Institute.
Years ago, Arts Alive! in Whiting had a great project where folks took their old kitchen and dining room chairs out of basements and attics and had them painted into objets de art.
I had my favorite 75-cent wooden chair from college, bought at a junk store in Dubuque in the 1960's, painted by a local artist here to reflect downtown Whiting. It was the greatest chair in the world and now sits by our front door.
So here's hoping you're sitting pretty in your own favorite chair this morning as you're reading the paper, and enjoying both.
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