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.
Since the holidays will soon be upon us (even though mentally, I'm still in August) it's time to announce all the wonderful events in my home town of Whiting for the Christmas season.
The first one that I'm really excited about takes place at our Whiting-Robertsdale Historical Society meeting at noon Nov. 21 at the Whiting Public Library. Our guest speaker will be Tanya Lesinsky Carey, the daughter of musician and conductor Adam Lesinsky, who guided Whiting High School musicians to many national contest wins in the 1950's and early 1960's.
Tanya is working on a book based on diaries from the Rev. John Lach and her own mother, who traveled with the famous European tour taken by the Whiting children's band in the early 1930's.
Tanya tells me she's heard from a 91-year-old gentleman in Florida who was a musician with the group when they traveled through Europe.
And oddly enough, a friend of mine just brought over a scrapbook that he had picked up at some random garage sale that is a scrapbook of one of the musicians who was also part of the orchestra. He had just recently come across it and asked if I would like it for the museum. Talk about perfect timing!
But this historical society meeting quickly leads us to the the Whiting Christmas season, which begins with our Illuminated Christmas Parade at 7 p.m. Dec. 6, followed by the lighting of the city's Christmas tree by the mayor.
You can even start your holiday shopping while downtown, then wander into Studio 659 for the opening night reception for its "Love" exhibit. This event is family-friendly and free.
The next morning, come to the Arts Alive! Cookie Bake from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 7 at Chrislove Collectibles, 1452 119th St. you'll find dozens and dozens of different homemade cookies, including many from ethnic family recipes. Spend the day shopping for the unusual and unique, then have dinner at one of our restaurants whose fare ranges from a 1950's diner to Caribbean food.
Finish off your day on a musical note at the annual Holiday Pops Concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 featuring the Whiting Festival Orchestra. The concert takes place at the Marian Memorial Auditorium, 119th Street and Lincoln Avenue.
Call (219) 473-7555 for tickets.
Come back Dec. 8 for the Christmas Home Tour. Call the chamber for tickets at (219) 659-0292.
A new event will take place Dec. 14 when the Michiana Ice Sculpting Team will create ice sculptures right before your eyes as Whiting celebrates "Small Town Christmas" and the 119th Street Carolers in their Dickensian garb sing inside and outside of stores until 2 p.m.
And evening approaches, if it should happen to snow, by the light of the Hoosier Theatre marquee you'll swear you're in that scene where George Bailey runs through the town in "It's a Wonderful Life," which it is during the holiday season in Whiting.
More tales from our Vienna Woods trip last month. . .
When you're on a cruise, half the experience is getting to know your "fellow travelers". . .probably not the greatest phrase to use in former Eastern Bloc countries.
There were only 137 of us on the ship, so we really had the chance to get to know each other. There were many visitors from England and Australia, so their accents, along with those of our Hungarian guides, creaed the lilting sounds of language all around.
A woman from Essex asked which floor we were on. When I told her the second tier, she laughed and said, "Oh, you two are posh," referring to the fact that second-floor rooms had French balconies.
I loved her sense of humor, but what I loved even more is that we'd met somebody who not only had the word "posh" in her vocabulary, but used it in everyday conversation.
We hooked up quickly with a couple from Washington D.C. Dennis and David were our companions as we played "identify the Amuse Bouche" at dinner and "streudeled" away an afternoon in Cesky Krumlov.
In the evening, a group would gather at the back of the ship, swapping stories and watching the amazing scenery float by. These new friends will always be special to us because we shared such an exciting experience together.
One thing that amazed us were the many Roman ruins in Budapest, as well as ruins newly discovered right in front of Vienna's Schonbrunn Imperial Palace. It certainly brought home the realization that the Roman Empire was all over Europe in the 1st century, even before the Huns arrived.
But the most moving piece of history was the Shoe Monument in Budapest. In 1944-45, Jews (men, women and children) were taken to the banks of the Danube River and shot, their bodies disappearing into the river.
But first the victims were ordered to take off their shoes and leave them on the embankment. In a Nazi world, shoes had value, while Jewish lives had none.
Today, along the river bank, are 60 pairs of iron shoes of that period in all different sizes as a memorial to those killed there. People place flowers and candles in the shoes in tribute to their memory.
History is everywhere, but the most memorable stories were the personal stories told by our guides, telling us what it was like to live under the Nazis and later, the Soviets.
Our middle-aged guide said she didn't have a phone until 1996 because all phone calls were recorded by the government. Not having a phone gave you a little more privacy.
She remembers five students in her high school class who were spies, and that three people could never stand together in public without the authorities breaking up the group. Two was a conversation; three was a conspiracy, she said.
While living in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, these people also lived through brutal dictatorships that filled their daily lives with fear and horror. It certainly made one appreciate living in "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Before I continue reporting on my European exploits earlier this month, I suggest that you travel to Whiting this weekend for the Northwest Indiana premiere of the outrageously funny "Spamalot" musical that opens Saturday at the Marian Theatre Guild, 1849 Lincoln Ave.
This is one of my favorite musicals and it's based on the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." It's the story of King Arthur and his gathering of knights as they're off to find the Holy Grail, with lots of catchy songs in the score.
It originally had its pre-Broadway run in Chicago and I was lucky enough to see it then, with David Hyde Pierce (from "Frasier"), Tim Curry (from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show") and Hank Azaria (from "The Simpsons" and "The Birdcage").
During intermission, a friend bought me a pair of coconuts which play an integral part in this absurd musical, and I'm very pleased that they are being used in the Guild's production.
On Broadway, "Spamalot" was honored as Best Musical of the Year along with receiving 13 other Tony Awards. So, as a theater maven, I'm very impressed that our hometown theater is doing the first sanctioned community production in the Calumet Region.
St. John the Baptist Church has had a long theatrical history. A drama group was organized in 1926 when plays were actually performed by parishioners in their native Slovak language at the Slovak Dom. In 1928, they officially named themselves the St. John Drama Club.
By 1936, productions were performed "on the boards" of the Whiting Community Center's 800-seat auditorium.
Even during the war years, when there was a lack of male actors, the group continued to perform, choosing shows with all-female casts. According to their written history, they used cardboard boxes and wrapping paper to build sets to conserve on materials needed for the war effort.
The Guild holds a special place in my heart, since it's where my husband of 40 years and I first met. Many who are involved are second- and third-generation Whiting thespians. As a child, my parents would take me to shows and, with its big proscenium stage, it was as good as Broadway for me.
As for "Monty Python," the TV show first appeared on Chicago's Channel 11 around 1973. Since these were the days before VCR's, Chuck and I would always make sure we were home by 10 p.m. Sunday so we wouldn't miss it. It was fresh, funny, completely bizarre and very, very British. Who knew back then that Python would gain such international popularity, adding movies and a Broadway musical?
"Spamalot" runs at 8:15 p.m. Saturdays, Nov. 2, 9, and 16, with 3 p.m. matinees Sundays, Nov. 3, 10 and 17. Dinner/theater packages are available for Saturday performances. Call the box office at (219) 473-7555 for reservations. Tickets are $12 for students/senior citizens and $15 for adults.
I can guarantee "Spamalot" will be a hilarious "knight" of entertainment.
It all started out with a friendly frisk from the TSA at O'Hare International Airport. While I knew my titanium knee would set the screening machine off, that wasn't what they were looking for. Once the older TSA frisked me, realizing that the bulgy area in my upper arm was not a terrorist substance, merely a bulgy upper arm, she smiled knowingly and sent me on my way to enjoy our very first riverboat cruise down the Danube River.
Like everyone else who watches PBS, the commercials for Viking Cruises had grabbed my attention. And when my husband suggested we do this to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, I had our passports out and was headed to our favorite travel agency, Pack Your Bags in Hegewisch, before he could reconsider.
There are about a half dozen companies that do these cruises, and we went with Avalon Cruises to get the itinerary we wanted. When you're going down the Danube, there are just so many places a riverboat can stop.
Trying to explain what we were about to do, it was just easier to say we were going on a Viking cruise since people understood what that meant. . . or so I thought. When I told that to someone on the phone, he said, "Oh, you're going biking through Europe." I told him, "Well, it's obvious you haven't met me yet. That's Viking with a 'V'."
The trip began in Budapest, Hungary, where we had dinner at a tiny Hungarian restaurant and were serenaded by an incredible violinist while we sat in a booth that came complete with a huge fuzzy sheepskin as part of the décor. We couldn't help but stop to take a photo of their local Burger King, as this is where our daughter Jonna had her purse stolen more than 15 years ago when she was there studying the Hapsburg empire.
When I sent her the crime scene photo, she replied "Ah, and look. That woman in the picture has my camera, my passport and is carrying my purse." I love overseas sarcasm.
There are so many wonderful squares and fountains all over Budapest with magnificent statues on buildings that were not destroyed by WWII. After having been under communist rule for so many years, when they achieved their freedom in 1989, they did not destroy the many statues from the Russian regime as so many other countries did after the fall of communism.
The Hungarians have a wonderful sense of irony. Instead, they put them all together in one park on the outskirts of town. This way, those who lived under the regime will never forget; those who did not will have a reminder of those days of terror.
There is still a statue of a communist soldier downtown that Budapest agreed to leave standing. Near it is a beautiful Hungarian statue. At night, the only one lit is the Hungarian statue.
"We agreed to keep it, not to light it up," laughed our Hungarian guide.
More tales from the Vienna woods later.
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