The Suburbs

Oh, this is going to be fun…

It was inevitable.  My then-husband, The Very Important Junior Executive, decided that what we really needed was a split-level home in the suburbs.  What 22-year-old woman doesn’t dream of leaving Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood for a home in the suburbs, surrounded by . . . nothing?

And not just any suburb.  We moved to unincorporated Downers Grove.  I learned a new word! “Unincorporated.”  That meant that we lived in an area that was really and truly, completely surrounded by nothing.  And at night, in 1972, it was very, very dark.  Today, it’s a very lively location, with lots of stores and better highways.  And street lights.  I still would not want to live there.

The short time spent in this house has mostly (and gratefully) been erased from my memory. I do remember that I had my own car, which was a good thing since I had to drive miles to reach civilization and shopping.  I got lost a lot.  Drop me off in any suburb today, and in two minutes, I will be lost.  Yes, even with GPS on my phone.

One of the first meals I cooked here was a small roast for Sunday dinner.  Just like Mother made.  Every Sunday.  I placed the meat in an enormous Dutch oven, put the cover on, and placed it in a 350° oven.  Two hours later, we had a lovely grey football that could not be chewed by human teeth.  So…not at all like Mother’s. I started to watch Julia Child’s The French Chef program religiously.

Which brings me to another memorable meal.  I decided to try my hand at a cheese soufflé.  Following Julia’s instructions to the letter, I produced a perfect, beautiful, cheese soufflé.  It took me 4 hours.  It was golden, and it did not fall.  I was proud and excited.  I served it with a salad on the side.  My charming then-husband surveyed the gourmet dinner I proudly presented, and asked, “Is this all we’re having?”  (I’m not at all bitter about this.)

I also remember going to a neighbor’s house for a welcome “coffee klatch.”  The mostly 30-Somethings talked only about their children and their forthcoming children, and grilled me about my then-husband’s job.  After that stimulating social event, I never actually saw any of them again.  I didn’t mind.

[Note:  I continue to refer to my “then-husband” so as not to confuse him with my current, Practically Perfect in Every Way Husband.  Which is to be read with great humor.]

Shortly after moving into the house, my then-husband had to leave on a business trip between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  I was alone in that house, on that very, very dark street, reading a new book that I had received for Christmas – The Exorcist.  I did not sleep while he was gone.  I decided I needed a dog.

On a lovely Spring day, I met two delightful neighbor children when I was in the yard with my new puppy.  They asked me where my Dad was.  Puzzled, I imagined that my father was working, so that’s what I told them.  In true Stepford fashion, they were content with that answer.  It was two days before I realized they were talking about my then-husband.  Which meant that I was the “Mom.” Yikes.

To the children, I was a mom.  On the opposite side of the coin, a Bible salesman came to our door one day and asked me if my mother was home.  When I told him that my mother was probably at home in her own house, he laughed.  Out loud.  I did not buy a bible.

After a few months of living with a puppy who refused to do her duty outside every time, not just once in a while, my husband, emulating The Grinch before his heart grew 3 sizes, decided we had to get rid of her.  I gave her to my darling Aunt Marge, who generously offered to house her, in spite of all her shortcomings.  The puppy’s shortcomings, not Aunt Marge’s.  Aunt Marge is perfect.

Shortly afterwards, I got rid of my then-husband.  Fairy tales can come true!

Here it is, 7616 Williams Street.  I did not spend much time sketching this house, because I didn’t want to.  Notice the approaching storm.  Pencil, pen and watercolor.


Next stop, independence in Brookfield.

Living on LSD

That would be Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, the sixth place I lived, from 1970 to 1972.  I arrived here when I was 19, a young bride (too young!), and I loved living in this neighborhood. We could walk to CBS, where we both worked.  Walking to work and shops (Saks Fifth Avenue!) was a new experience for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In 1970, this stone building was a very dark, charcoal grey color, a result of the combined years of neglect plus car exhaust.  It was divided into several apartments.  The wide, inside stairway to the second floor was a beautiful polished wood, and the steps were covered in that ubiquitous dark red, patterned, apartment building carpet. (Today, the building’s exterior is a much lighter color – presumably having been sandblasted – and is joined to the building to the south, with the whole thing divided into a few condominium apartments. Their monthly assessments are probably a little more than our $185 monthly rent.)

We had the second floor front, which included a huge living room (on the right), a small bathroom, and, next to an air shaft, the world’s tiniest kitchen.  Which was fine, since I did not know how to cook anything other than scrambled eggs and bacon.  The bedroom, on the left side, had a door leading out to the “balcony.”  I went out on the balcony once, never to return. Filthy!  I discovered that dirt was a real problem here – the windows were not very tight, and 20 minutes after cleaning them, the inside window sills would be covered with soot.  Which was fine, since I really didn’t want to clean anyway. [Update: I found an old photo, which shows that the door to the balcony was in the living room.]

lsdscurveWhile living here, I finally learned how to drive and, most importantly (for that neighborhood), how to parallel park.  On a beautiful Sunday morning, a driving instructor picked me up and immediately put me in the driver’s seat!  We proceeded to the Outer Drive, where he actually had me navigate the terrifying “S-curve.”  My first day!  We both survived, but I had severe doubts about his sanity.  For years, I remained terrified of those two 90 degree turns, regardless of who was behind the wheel. Thankfully, it is no longer with us!  And, I passed my driver’s test with flying colors.

I wanted to sketch this building properly, so much so that, when I was finished drawing, my shoulders ached, my hand hurt, and I had a headache!  I hadn’t realized how tense I was until it was finished.  (And this is why I can’t sketch buildings when I am out and about with the Urban Sketchers!)  A few tricks helped – lots of lines using a ruler, lots of measuring, lots of erasing.  Pencil first, then pen and watercolor (three colors – Payne’s grey, cerulean blue, and I-don’t-know-green).  I referred to old and new photographs, as well as Google maps and images.  I kept picturing it in my mind as a black and white image, but I couldn’t resist adding just a little color.  Here is 1254 N. Lake Shore Drive.


Next stop…The Suburbs.  Or as I like to call it, the Beginning of the End.

Kildare Avenue

It always seemed fitting that we lived on a street with an Irish name, given that the majority of the neighborhood had Irish names – Lanigan, Joyce, Gavin, Garvey, McGuire (times two), Durkin, McElroy, Doyle, McInerney, Tyrell, Fitzgerald, Dennehy, McGowan, Morley, Fahey, Hannigan, Finneran, and O’Ryan – to name just a few.  Some foreigners did manage to slip through, however, with names like Graff, Milano, Dedo, Severino, Wargo.  (Whoever heard of a name ending in “o?”)  But I’m glad they were there, especially since my best friend for life, Carla Milano, moved in next door. Our other best friend for life, Marie Joyce, lived just a half block away.  We were inseparable – and still are.  I believe our 60th Anniversary is this year!

And what would I have done without Mrs. Graff?  She was always there for me, and she is to this day.  I still call her Mrs. Graff – I wouldn’t dream of calling her Dolores!  It would be like calling your mother or an aunt or a grandmother by her first name.  It just can’t – and shouldn’t – be done!

This is the house in which my sister, brother, and I grew up.  I lived in this house from 1956 until 1970.  A lot of “firsts” happened while we lived in this house – First Communion (I had to start by mentioning this most important event, otherwise Father Griffin would haunt me – and yes, of course, our parish priests had Irish names, too), first grade (and first encounter with a nun), first ballet lesson, first (and only) baby brother was born, first pajama party, first dog (Kelly!), first Nancy Drew book, first date, first kiss, first time [attempting] driving a car (stick shift on the column, tears of laughter running down my dad’s face), first marriage (sorry, Father G!).

It was a wonderful neighborhood, overflowing with baby-boomers, who spent all summer outside, playing games, riding bikes, roller skating (guarding our skate keys!), playing ball in the street.  Our particular block was not a through-street, so there were hardly any annoying interruptions in the ball-playing activities.  We all walked to school.  When we had an important event – like Communion, Confirmation, or graduation – it was not unusual for one of the parish priests to make an appearance at your party.  I think they were just looking for free beer.

I could go on and on (as if I haven’t been doing just that), but I’ll stop here.  Thank you for traveling down memory lane with me!

Here is 8033 South Kildare Avenue in Chicago.


Navy Pier sketches

My husband and I celebrated his birthday last week by visiting Navy Pier. He was kind enough to wait while I did a little sketching. I sketched the prow (I think that is what it is called!) of the ship, “Windy.” The sky grew darker as I was sketching, and the boat was filling up with tourists. As I finished my sketch, the boat sailed away, and a soft rain started to fall.


We went up to the Crystal Garden, where I did the following sketch.  I am still debating if I will add watercolor to it.


EDM – Day 2

Day 2 – “draw a lamp.”  I drew my favorite antique lamp, a gift from a dear friend.  It has a solid base that is brass or brass-colored, but a tall column of white glass, topped by a white glass globe, and a clear glass chimney.  I am always terrified it will shatter into a million pieces.  I love it!

Sketched with 2H and 2B pencils, Conté black pencil, and watercolor.


Everyday Matters – Day 1

I have challenged myself to draw something every day.  Whether or not that happens, remains to be seen.  I will follow the suggestions  on the Facebook page for Everyday Matters.  The first assignment – draw a shoe.  I decided to draw my baby shoe, which I am assuming is the first shoe in which I walked, at the age of 9 months.  In keeping with the fashion of the day (the 1950s), my mother had my shoes bronzed for posterity.  The pair sits on our bookshelves, collecting dust.  But, they make good bookends!