Friday, December 19, 2014

Nasal Septal Reconstruction - 1977 A Dave Crowley Memoir

Since I began my job in the Department of Otolaryngology at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, in 1969, I kept my ears open and picked up all sorts of medical information. Sometimes it came from the grand rounds I attended every week, where cases and scientific papers were discussed or simply from chatting with the residents that I taught in class or who worked in my lab.  After I had been there a few years, I had a question for one these physicians, a guy who had some expertise in respiratory dynamics.
“Irv,” I began, “I think I have a deviated septum and I have trouble breathing though my right nostril. Should I do anything about it?” “Well, you might think about it,” he said. “It can lead to trouble later in sleeping or even in your bronchial tubes or lungs.”  We both knew that surgery was the only option – something called a “submucosal resection” done under local anesthesia.  What Irv didn’t have to say was that smoking cigarettes, which I did at two packs a day, was a far greater risk to my respiration than any deviation of my nasal septum could be.   But Irv wasn’t my physician, and the residents knew not to give unsolicited medical advice to their colleagues and friends.
It took another year of stuffiness and obstruction to convince me to get it done. I wasn’t getting any air at all on the right side when I asked Irv to suggest a surgeon. “Don Sessions is pretty good with noses,” he replied. “You’ll be in and out in less than a half hour.”  A couple of days later in his office, Don took a look and said, “Yup. It sure is. Let’s get you scheduled.”
I checked into Barnes about a week later in the early fall of 1977, a couple of months short of my fortieth birthday. My girlfriend Nancy had driven me and stayed with me in the room for an hour or so.  When I admitted that I was frightened she reminded me how minor my upcoming surgery really was. I calmed down, and after she left, a resident came in to give me a pre-op physical. “Hey, chief, aren’t you the guy who taught us about cochlear microphonics and all that auditory stuff?  “Yeah, that was me,” I replied as he checked me over. When I woke up the next morning I wanted to reassure myself with my usual morning routine of shaving and showering and smoking a couple of cigarettes which was allowed then in hospital rooms.
After a gurney ride to the operating room, a nurse pinned me down to the table with a bed sheet and started an IV.  I was still scared, and it must have shown. “Would you like a little Valium to settle you down?” she asked. I nodded.  “Yeah,” she said, “here it comes.” 
Then Don Sessions came in along with a couple of residents whose voices I recognized from behind their surgical masks.  The nurse placed a drape over my eyes and a second one over my lower jaw. 
“OK, here goes,” Don said as he jabbed me with a long needle, right above my upper lip, directing it from left to right. It hurt like hell. “Scream, curse, do whatever you need to,” he said as he emptied half the syringe into me. Then another shot in the same place, this time from right to left, followed by two more directed upward along the outside of my nose. My face was starting to feel numb. After two more shots inside my nose, Don said, “Here’s a little nose candy,” and placed some powdered cocaine up inside each nostril.
After that there was a lot of scraping, crunching and chiseling. Maybe it was the valium and cocaine, but I didn’t mind. I’d had a lot of dental work done under local anesthesia, and this didn’t seem much worse.  But then from under the drape I saw a long chisel headed toward me. “Now just give it a hard tap,” Don told the resident who was holding small mallet.  My head shook with the impact. “No, you’ve got to belt it lot harder,” Don said . Now I was scared. Was this the resident’s first try? Would the chisel go too far this time and plunge into my eye or my brain?”  There was another sharp jolt and my head shook again.  “OK, there it is.” And he held up a piece of bone for me to see. 
“We’ll stitch you up now.  We’re supposed to go to lunch at Stan Musial and Biggie’s, and we have to get moving.”  I felt a twinge of disappointment; had I not been pinned down to the operating table, I could have been joining them at the restaurant.  He installed a plastic splint inside my nose on both sides and pinned it in place with a heavy suture that he drove through from one side to another with a straight needle. Then he stuffed what seemed like several yards of gauze packing into my nose.  Of course I will still very numb.
Back in my room, the nurse put an oxygen mask on my face since now I could breathe only through my mouth. I reached for the phone to call my parents in Marblehead and spoke with my father assuring him that I come through the operation OK. Then I dozed off until the resident came in to check up on me. After he left, I wondered if I could smoke with only my mouth to breathe through. I went in to the little bathroom and lit a cigarette. I took a puff inhaling the smoke. Then I blew it out—no problem.
I went home the next morning and stayed there for a week. I was sore and there was a little bruising around the bridge of my nose, but I could sleep OK. I got used to breathing though my mouth. Of course the packing was uncomfortable; it looked terrible and it dripped. At the end of the week I went back for my check up. Don was out of town, so another staff physician took out the splint and all packing and cleaned me up. I could breathe again.
Back at work I joined my usual lunch companion in the cafeteria: Roy Peterson, a professor of anatomy who supervised the laboratory where the medical students dissected their cadavers. I told him about the little piece of bone they had taken out. “Yeah, that’s the vomer,” Roy said. “If you like we can go upstairs and I show you on one of our cadaver skulls.”  I was curious and wanted to see what the bone looked like in its normal position.
We had to go through the dissection lab to get to the display cases with the skulls, and I was relieved that all the cadavers were covered with sheets. I may not seem squeamish, but partially dissected people are too much.  At the display case, he pointed out the bony parts of the nasal septum that remained in the skull.  “There’s the vomer right at the base of the nasal opening—see, that little triangular piece. You know that septal deviations are very common; you can even see it this skull. It’s usually not bad enough to obstruct breathing, though. They even found septal deviations in Egyptian mummies.”
I wondered if the ancient Egyptians had the same trouble breathing that I had before the surgery. Probably not, I had to admit. They didn’t smoke.

Copyright Dave Crowley. All Rights Reserved.

Punch at Christmas Party - 1970 A Dave Crowley Memoir

 The large punchbowl was so inviting as it sat on a table in the woman's apartment in December 1970 three months after I moved into the Town and Country Apartments in St. Louis when I was 31.  I had separated from my wife at the end of August and had chosen the Town and Country for its proximity to my work at Washington University Medical School just around the corner.  I had met a few of the other inhabitants, mostly med school employees and physicians around my age. One of them, a librarian who worked on the main campus, had invited me to a small Christmas party in her apartment.
I was planning to stop by briefly on my way a larger gathering that Saturday, to be held on the top floor of the Olin Residence, a dorm for medical students not far from my apartment.  The party in Olin was put on every year by the residents in the Department of Otolaryngology (Ear, Nose and Throat) in which I held a teaching appointment.   Everyone from the department was there – faculty, staff and, of course, the residents, who produced a video skit each year.
The punch at the little party in my apartment building had maraschino cherries, tangerine wedges and pineapple segments floating on the top, along with ice cubes. There were other refreshments, too: Christmas cookies and fudge. I hadn’t eaten supper because I knew there’d be lots of food at both parties.
I’m very nervous in social settings where I don’t know most of the people, and in those years I smoked cigarettes to cover my unease. Besides, I’m no good at small talk, and at parties I head to the food table when my conversational gambits fall flat.
I didn’t really know what was in the Christmas drink. If I had to guess, I’d say canned Hawaiian Punch with ginger ale, pineapple juice and a little sugar mixed in – nothing more.  After failing to start up sustainable conversations with the two people I knew at the party, I went back for a few more cups. I saw no harm; it just tasted sweet.  A little while later, I thanked the hostess and headed to the big party at Olin.
When I got off the elevator on the top floor, I needed the restroom—no surprise with all that fluid on board.  Inside I heard retching sounds from one of the stalls, and one of the residents I had taught staggered out, shaking his head. “Wow, that’s strong stuff in there,” he said, and bent over the sink to rinse his mouth.
I found the bar, and after what I had witnessed in the men’s room, decided on a gin and tonic. “Just a little gin,” I said. I took a sip and turned around. On my left was a row of chairs against the wall, and sitting in them were a few resident’s wives, and several faculty couples. Most of my colleagues were a decade or so older than I was, but one, Don Sessions, was about my age.  He and his wife Jan had recently moved to St. Louis from Alaska, where he had fulfilled his military obligation at an Air Force Hospital. They were a relaxed young couple, and before separating, my wife and I had enjoyed chatting with them.
To my right, opposite the chairs was the food table with a large punch bowl, but unlike the one at the party in my apartment building, this bowl didn’t contain punch. Instead it was filled with a special dipping sauce prepared by one of our residents, Dr. Frank Lucente, who had boasted of his culinary skills and had promised a special treat for the annual party.  Containing unique ingredients, the sauce was intended to complement various crackers, breads, celery sticks and other crudités that he supplied.  It was his pièce de résistance and with artful garnishing around the rim, it seemed so attractive that no one dared take the first scoop, lest an ugly divot mar the glistening surface.
I was debating whether to be first to sample Frank’s work of art when the room began to spin around me. I lurched back and forth a couple times and forced my feet with deliberate effort to convey me back to the men’s room where I dove into a stall. Like the resident before me, I staggered to the sink afterward to rinse my mouth and wash my face. Then I felt OK.
Back at the bar, I asked for a ginger ale and took a couple of wary sips. No one had yet sullied the surface of Lucente’s dipping sauce. As I walked past it, the room spun again, this time with greater violence than before. My feet gave way and I stuck out my hand to steady myself, plunging it nearly to the elbow in the bowl of Lucente’s culinary creation.  I looked with horror and lurched in the opposite direction, landing in Don Session’s lap. Thank God it was Don and not one of my more formal senior colleagues.
How I made it back to the men’s room I don’t remember, but when I got there, there was another one of the residents passed out on the floor. I jumped back into the stall and rinsed my mouth afterwards.   The guy on the floor was groaning.  Beside me at the next sink was a young Brazilian physician who worked in my lab. He grinned at me and laughed. I looked at him and said, “Erol, I think I’ve had enough. I’ll see you Monday.”
I stumbled back to my apartment, grateful that I hadn’t needed to drive.  When I next saw my hostess from the small party I didn’t have to ask her what else had been in her sweet-tasting Christmas punch.  I already knew.

Copyright Dave Crowley. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Going Home 114 South Seventh Avenue -"To Grandfathers House We Go"

This is the last of the Reminiscences triggered by attending my 60th LTHS Reunion in October. (Until the next one.)

During the weekend of my  60th LTHS Reunion in October I spent Saturday driving to my old family haunts. I met my niece at the Thomas Lot (Section 14) at Forest Home Cemetery on Des Plaines Road in Forest Park, visited our old home on Dover Street, and drove by my grandparents home at 114 Seventh Avenue. 
My grandfather, Robert Vaughan Thomas (1868-1949) had moved from his Warren Avenue home in Chicago with his wife, Rachel Lewis Thomas (1874-1956) to La Grange around 1902 where he built this house. They had six children. From the gravestones at the Thomas Family plot  we know "Our Baby" (1899) and "Baby John" (1912) apparently died at or right after childbirth. Robert Thomas (1896-1907) and Gwendolyn Thomas (1904-1907) both died of Scarlet Fever on the same week-end at home at ages 11 and 4. 
Their combined  gravestone reads, "He was a gentle boy" for Robert, and "Safe in the arms of Jesus" for Gwendolyn. Although my mother told me about this , my grandmother never spoke about this devastating tragedy. My brother told me recently that our grandmother Rachel kept many of Robert's and Gwendolyn's clothes and toys and papers but she never let anyone touch them because they might have "Scarlet Fever". My mother, Gladys Ann Thomas Sessions (1901-1995), and her younger brother, David Vaughan Thomas II (1908-1988)  grew up in this house. David, my Uncle 'D', married Gladys Schwartz from Ohio, had three children (Skip, Dave, and Jack), lived in Hinsdale, and was Plant Manager for the Hooker Paint and Glass Company.  My mother graduated from LTHS and then Wells College in Aurora, New York. She and my father, Arch D. Sessions (1899-1993) were married in 1927 and moved to La Grange to 29 Dover Street in 1930. Their four children were Robert Thomas Sessions (1930-), David Lee Sessions (1932-), me, Donald Gordon Sessions (1935-), and Melissa Jane Sessions English (1939-1982). As children we were always at our grandparents house. My memories of the house include: the front porch which had wicker furniture in the summer; the spider web stained glass window with its ruby red center in a small room just to the left of the door; the living room to the right with its massive pocket doors which could be closed off when someone was playing the grand piano, the oil portrait of Robert above the piano; the amazing library with bookshelves to the sky, the portrait of Ap Vychan, family patriarch (the painting of this imposing stern man in clerical dress looking down at us was spellbinding - it had been brought on a ship coming over from Whales and a box had been placed on it inadvertantly leaving a rectangular impression on the canvas), under it was a wooden straight back chair with Welsh writing carved into it; arising from the central entry room was the wonderful wooden stairway to the upstairs;to the left of the entry room was the formal dining room where we celebrated all holidays with gala afternoon family dinners;  off the dining room a bright windowed room which was where the children would  eat; behind the dining room was a hall into the kitchen area which was the domain of Ann Bernhart who was grandma and grandpa's housekeeper (there was a picture of Jesus on the hall wall - Ann was Catholic, Ann came from a farm in downstate Illinois and became one of the family), Ann cooked  fabulous meals - our favorite treat was when she made fresh doughnuts and doughnut balls, after they were cooked in hot grease she put them into a paper bag with granulated sugar and shook them up and down, and we ate them hot, after Grandma died Ann moved to a small apartment above Sanborn's Grocery Store (now DeVries) about a block from our house on Dover until her death; upstairs were bedrooms -my grandparents lived in the front room overlooking the street, I remember my grandfather sitting in his chair using a large brass spittoon which wreaked of tobacco, he died of cancer of the esophagus; there were many other bedrooms upstairs and Ann lived in the back on the right; on the next floor was the attic which had many cabinets holding family treasures; the basement was amazing because its floor was painted gray and was too clean to believe; the front sidewalk was made of bricks, one of my first jobs as a child was to pull out the grass that grew between the bricks for which my grandpa would pay me pennies; it was a great neighborhood - my pediatrician, Dr. Norman T. Welford lived behind my grandparents to the west and the Vials (relatives of the man who founded La Grange) lived south on Seventh Avenue in the middle of the block on the right; the garage housed my grandfather's 1940 Cadillac which both David and I used through our high school years and beyond, it was a black four door sedan with standard shift and full running boards and was one of the first cars in the country to have a button to raise the radio antenna automatically, I must admit that I used the parked car in the garage to make out with girlfriends during my senior year at LTHS after school (the garage was very private), no one was injured by this innocent exploration into young love. Later David used this car during his first two years in medical school.The house continues to have wonderful memories for me.

Here is a photograph of the Robert V.Thomas family in the side yard of their home in 1910. In the first row on the left is Margaret (Aunt Lil) Thomas who was my grandfather's sister and my mother's Aunt. Aunt Lil married a Gorham, who although he was from the silver family came with no silver. They had a daughter named Margaret who married Charles Edwards and produced our  cousin Charles Edwards who is a lawyer in Ridge Manor Florida. Next to Aunt Lil is my mother, Gladys Thomas Sessions (1901-1995) who looks about 8 or 9 years old. Between and behind Lil and Gladys is David Vaughan Thomas (1908-1988) who was Gladys's brother (my Uncle 'D") and who was about two at the time of the picture. To Gladys's right is her cousin Marguerite Thomas Mooney, who was the daughter of mother's Uncle John and his first wife Margaret (both shown in the last row). Uncle John lived in south La Grange and after Margaret died, married a  lovely lady named Aunt Edith whom I knew. Mother's cousin Marguerite married Thomas Mooney and they lived in Riverside and had a son named Tommy Mooney who we knew as our second cousin. 
The large man sitting in the second row to the left is my grandfather (Gladys' father) Robert Vaughan Thomas (1868-1948) who built this house at 114 Seventh Avenue in the early 1900's. He worked his way from stock boy to Vice President of the Hooker Paint and Glass Company of Chicago. Next to him are his parents, David Vaughan Thomas (1841-1929) and Ann Edwards Thomas (1840-1914) who were my great grandparents. In the back row on the left are Gladys' Uncle John Thomas and his wife Margaret Thomas. Next to them is my grandmother, Rachel Lewis Thomas (1874-1956). The remaining couple is unidentified. Grandpa and grandma were  quite proud of their flower garden shown behind the family.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going Home Congregational Church October 1 1914

When I was in La Grange for my reunion I went by to see my home church. I went inside and it was Saturday and they were having meals for the homeless. I met the Pastor, Reverend Carly Stucklen Sather who has presided over the exciting the new activities of the church. Because the number of members has decreased the church has changed its corporate structure to one that is more appropriately fiscally sound. She gave me a tour which included the freestanding Music School which is in the top floor of the Parish Building and provides private music lessons for people in the community. The church has always had a strong music program and its 
current music director appears to be very productive. We toured the chapel and chancel and saw the photos of previous ministers. When I was growing up the ministers included Paul Sylvester, Tom Crosby,  Franklyn Cole, and John Biggert was my folks pastor.
The First Congregational Church of La Grange was established in 1881 and the initial wooden structure was built in 1882. The stone church was dedicated in 1893. My grandfather, Robert V. Thomas, moved his family to La Grange from Chicago around 1902 and we were told that he was one of the leaders in the construction of the present sanctuary in 1907. My mother attended the church from the time her family moved to La Grange to the time she and my dad were moved to St Louis in 1983. We kids were active in the church from the time we were born until we left town for college. At that time there were two Sunday services (9:30 and 11:00) and the children went to the early service. I ushered at the 9:30 service for several years. We sang in the choir and when I was seven I sang a solo at a packed Christmas concert. It was scary and exciting. But by the time I was a young teenager we had a new Choir director, Russell Wing. He was really into the music and discipline. One afternoon at choir practice my arm got stuck between the slats of the back of my chair. Other people made a commotion and Mr. Wing asked me what was the problem. I replied , innocently , "Mr. Arm , my wing is caught in the chair." Mr. Wing failed to see the humor and I was permanently no longer in the choir. We all joined the church (after standard lessons which included a lot of memorization -Books of the Bible, the Beatitudes, the 23rd Psalm and more) on a Maundy Thursday evening. I still have my little King James Version on my closet shelf. The church was quite social and many of my folks friends were members. During the winter there were many church dinners downstairs in the assembly hall where they invariably served au gratin potatoes with ham.

The large sanctuary with its many rows of dark wooden pews is still breath taking. I spent much of my time in church counting the pieces of glass in the magnificent round stained glass window. The organ had the capacity to shake the walls .  Now there is a new
organ which partially obscures the stained glass window. We were all baptized here. I attended the funerals of both my grandparents here. Our children were baptized in the small chapel in the front left corner of the sanctuary which is now used for storage - change being the only constant ( Heraclitus). To the right was a stairway which had an electrical chair to help the disabled get into the sanctuary. To the right of the sanctuary is a large assembly room and as children we always tried to sneak up into the bell tower. Our parents memorial service was held the chapel in the Parish Building and was performed by John Biggert. The church continues to play an important part in my spiritual life.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Going Home 29 Dover Street - La Grange, Illinois - Part 2

This picture of the 'boys' room triggers many memories. During parties it was a place for people to put their coats and hats. Check out the hats my folks friends used to wear.The photo shows my Hinsdale cousins Jack, Dave, and Skip Thomas with my brother Bob in the center. Bob and Skip have passed away. Behind Jack and Dave on the left is the amazing bookcase that Bob made in Industrial Arts class at the Oak Avenue School in eighth grade in 1943.  I was so embarrassed by the little table that I made that it was long gone before high school. In the summer of 1947 I fell off a horse and broke my wrist. To keep me busy my folks bought our first television, an RCA black and white which is shown here. We all logged many hours watching sports and Sid Caesar and Milton Berle and Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, and Hoppalong Cassidy movies. 


During the college years when my folks had parties upstairs we came to no good in the basement. That's my brother David  holding up the bottle. Behind him is the clothes chute. From left to right are Chuck Brodie, Bill Toates, David, Martha Brooks, and Nancy Wood. My dad's work bench is behind Martha. About every ten years or so the basement would flood and cover all surfaces to about 6 inches of sewer water. I can still remember hosing it out. We always kept everything about a foot off the floor to keep it from being ruined.


My folks sent out pictures of the kids every year for Christmas cards. Here are Bob (1930), David (1932), Don (1935), and Melissa (1939). We all sang in the choir at the First Congregational Church at one time or another.


We used to climb on these garage roofs against all rules. It was just too inviting.


This is what 29 Dover looked like in October  of 2014 at the time of my 60th reunion for LTHS. If you look in the north door of the north campus you will find my Hall of Fame Plaque  on the wall. Jan and both my brothers and their wives came to the Induction Ceremony
which was fun. Like the other inductees I gave a brief talk. My folks and my sister would have loved it. 


This is Dr. Stacy McClure who lives in "our old" house now with her husband and three children. She was pleased to know that all three of us boys became doctors. Twenty-nine Dover was a great place to grow up and the house is certainly in good hands for the future. Thanks for your hospitality Stacy.


Going Home - 29 Dover Street - La Grange,Illinois -Part 1

On the occasion of my 60th Reunion from LTHS I paid an unannounced visit to our old family home at 29 Dover in La Grange. I was graciously give a full tour of the house by its current owners, and Stacy and Doug McClure. Although there were some changes on the inside, the outside of the house appeared largely unchanged. The house was built by Hinsdale architect R. Harold Zook (1889-1949) for the Bancroft family in about 1928. Zook was noted for  "Cotswold style cottages". Cotswold is an area in south central England just south of Stratford on Avon and Bath and was known for its Jurassic limestone built villages and stately homes and gardens. Zook designed homes included Tudor architectural details with timber framing, exposed beams, and intricate stonework. The classic "Zook Roof" utilized undulating wood shingles which gave the appearance of a thatched roof. Ornamental ironwork on some houses had a spiderweb pattern. Although most of Zook's houses were built in Hinsdale several were built in La Grange including one up the street on North Dover. To my knowledge our home always had wood shingles but without the undulations seen on the roof of the Zook house up the street. Much to our dismay our parents replaced the wood shingle roof with standard shingles in the 1970's after we had all flown the coop. Also our home did not have a spiderweb pattern.
My parents (Arch and Gladys Sessions) married in 1928 at the First Congregatinal Church in La Grange and lived for several years in Marietta Georgia. In 1930 they moved to La Grange when my dad got a job at the First National Bank of Chicago. They purchased our home from the Bancrofts who moved to the house next door to the North. We were always told that our Zook house was an "Irish Hut". At that time there were two small bedrooms. There was a knotty pine room off the central bedroom. The small bedroom on the north side was connected by stairway through its present closet to another small room above the kitchen just off the attic. Because they needed more room (my brother Bob was born that year) my parents commissioned Mr. Zook to design and build an addition. This included lengthening the entry hallway to the right and adding a bathroom and master bedroom over a two car garage. The completed home seemed large to us as we (three boys and a girl) were growing up. The most striking feature for me through the years is that the house seems so significantly smaller than I remember. 

The features of the house that still impress me through the years include the huge exposed beams in the living room, the limestone chimney and facade to the right of the entry, the sidewalls of the curved driveway which were always a challenge to young drivers; the"landing" which housed our clock with Westminster chimes; the secret hiding place where my mom put her silver when we went out of town for extended periods (just like the Southerners hid their silver from the Yankees in William Faulkner's 1943 short story,'My Grandmother Millard'; the massive front door with which I played the great game of trying to open it quietly when I came home late after a date so as not to awaken my mother (impossible), and out of which my dad would go out as  Air Raid Warden in his special hat and with his flashlight checking to make sure all lights were out in the neighborhood (incidentally I remember we had an air raid over La Grange during the war - it was held during the day and we all had to stay indoors between the cycles of warning sirens. After the clear signal we all went out to find the bombs which had been dropped from airplanes over the region. I found one in our front yard- it was made of 3" wide newspaper strips folded into the size of a 3x5 card and with an 8" streamer of red crepe paper. My 'bomb' has disappeared into the same nether world which holds my massive collection of 'trading cards' which have also vanished.); and on which the Red Contagion Signs were posted warning the neighbors that inside was someone with measles or mumps or chicken pox; the clothes chute to the basement; the dining room with its picture window and where one/fifth of the ceiling fell onto part of the dining room table one Sunday morning before church (there was a small but persistent leak in the roof valley above it); the screened in porch where I used to sleep on summer nights listening to the rain fall against the wooden blinds; the balcony off "the boys room" (our folks moved into the middle bed room as the three growing boys need for space increased); the pine room where I would lie after "bed time" as a young child and be able to hear my folks radio programs in the living room (interrupted occasionally and maddenly by the sound of the Burlington trains going by); lying in bed in the quiet of the night and hearing the comforting  sounds of the LTHS clock; the warmth from the radiators; the  small kitchen where my mom continually worked her magic; the opening in the wall behind the icebox where the iceman (complete with ice covered with sawdust, tongs, and leather shoulder pad) would place the blocks of ice into the box; the kitchen back door where Mr. Ward would bring my mom two tins filled with fresh cookies every two weeks; the back steps where we would eat potato chip sandwiches with ketchup; the  chute down which the coal was sent into the scary dark coal room from which my dad shoveled coal into the furnace for years; the main room in the basement where my folks would gather with friends and neighbors  to make chili sauce out of home grown tomatoes with a Foley food mill and where I learned how to play competitive ping pong, the side yard where my dad used to plant tulips, the back stoop where we used to save all metal cans for the war effort by removing both ends and stamping them flat; the back yard where one day my dad rung the head off a chicken (won at the American Legion Carnival) in preparation for removing the feathers in boiling water cooking it for dinner and eating it - I couldn't believe the chicken could run around so long without its head; the front parkway with its huge elm trees around which we used to play tackle football; the  garages in the back where we could climb the fence, get onto the Levering's (whose daughter, Dorothy, my age was in an iron lung because of the dread polio {a worse case than President Roosevelt} and ultimately fatal) garage extension and onto all three garage roofs including the death defying leap to the red roof on the right; the block itself which had been a park initially with its large stone fountain in the southwest corner of our neighbor Barney Grogan's (owner of the Floursheim shoe  store on La Grange Road where you could put your foot under his machine and see your toe bones move) yard before succumbing to housing pressure, with its sidewalk where we all learned to ride our bicycles weaving around businessmen walking home from the Stone Avenue Station after a day of work in the Loop.
I can see in this free association (you should understand that I just finished taking a course in "Humboldt's Gift" which helped Saul Bellow, a Chicago writer, win a Nobel Prize in Literature and this is my attempt to write like him) that we kids were raised in this extraordinary house to feel special through the love, energy, creativity, and enthusiasm of our parents and the enveloping connection of our family.

Interestingly I have few pictures of the house from the street. This one shows my VW Beatle which I picked up in Southampton, England after college and which after being driven around Europe for a summer was shipped from Antwerp across the Atlantic to Chicago via the St Laurence Seaway and the Great Lakes. I picked it up and drove it to St Louis for use during my med school years.
The photo was taken with my Minox B spy camera that I bought in Munich that summer. It was one of those treasures that I thought I needed to have to complete my life. My passion for the camera lasted for several months - a great lesson.


To the right of the door Mr. Zook designed a concrete crock which was large enough to hide a small child and always reminded me of the Arabian Nights. 


I loved the balcony with its cantileavered floor and pot of flowers. The driveway was made with a curve to save a mature birch tree
which lived for many years.


We had seasonal awnings on the balcony and the dining room window. This is mom and dad and Lee, Jan, and Gordon

celebrating a birthday - my folks loved celebrations.

Here is Jan with mom and dad in front of the fire. This was the social focal place in the winter. The Steuben vases on the bookcases were wedding presents to my parents. They are still in the family. The sign was one of Mr. Zook's ornamental metal works and Jan has put one like it above our current fireplace.


Here is my mom in the world's smallest kitchen. She cooked three meals a day for all six of us and a dog for many years. Nevr once do I remember hearing her complain about the kitchen. When I was growing up we had Sunday dinner at 1:00 and she rotated roasts between roast beef and leg of lamb and we ate sandwiches with leftovers for the next week for lunch. Curiously we were not allowed to attend the movies on Sunday. During the week we always ate dinner at 6:00 as a family. When we bought a dishwasher it was a great
help and time saver.


Christmas was magical and we always had tall trees that reached the ceiling. Trimming was a team event and we all had our favorite ornaments. We opened presents Christmas morning. One day we were opening gifts in front of the roaring fire and my job was to take wrappings and small boxes and put them into the fire. Much to my surprise one of the things I threw into the fire was my mom's new Belgian lace handkerchief, a gift from my brother. I learned that Belgian lace handkerchiefs flame up and disappear almost instantly.


Often at Christmas the folks had a party for friends, relatives and business associates. At one of these parties I was outside and someone came to the front door and through out a still burning cigarette onto the ground. I was about 5 years old and had seen other people (not my family) smoking and so I picked up the butt and did a full inhalation. I couldn't get any air in after that and I thought I was going to die. I can still remember thinking that that was not as much fun as it looked.
(To be continued)


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Going Home - La Grange Theater October 2014

During my visit to La Grange last fall I took this photo of the La Grange Theater from our church across La Grange Road at Cossitt Avenue. It had a balcony and hot buttery popcorn. We spent a lot of time there growing up. When we were younger we went to the Park Theater on the north side of the tracks on Hilgrove Avenue where we saw Westerns on Saturday afternoons. It was so loud that no one could hear the movies but no one cared. War news (WWII) was shown before the movies started. I do remember a war movie called "The Commandos Strike at Dawn" which included soldiers attacking with hand grenades with throwing handles. We could walk to and from the Park but usually got rides to the La Grange Theater.

We got kicked out of the La Grange Theater one time for making too much noise during a movie called 'Young Man with a Horn," I think with Kirk Douglas. We were guilty. I remember the usher coming at us with a bright flash light -kind of scary fun for a kid.
Also right down the street was the Masonic Hall where we did Fortnightly. We got all dressed up and wore white gloves - boys on one side and girls on the other. I still cringe thinking about it. But the Masons were great. My grandfather was a 32nd degree Mason and when my sister Melissa died they accepted all 3 children into the Masonic Orphans Home which was just a few blocks east of where my grandparents lived. The Masons sent all three to college and one to Grad School - amazing the power of our great-grandfather.

FFTD - St Louis Elk Herd

We recently returned from Estes Park where we routinely saw a herd of elk (40-60) brousing by our cabin in the mornings. After a few days at home we felt elk-homesickness ( a benign but bothersome affliction) so we drove about ten minutes west to Lone Elk Park
where we found a small herd of elk and felt much better. This is the "lone" buck.

This is one of his harem of about twenty. They were pretty scrawny but better than nothing.