Return to Chi-town

Following a visit to Grandma and Papa’s farm in Illinois, the girls and I headed to Chicago for a couple of days. I lived in Chicago during a few gap years between high school and college, so I told the girls Chi-town was a bit like home, too.

Like a lot of places we revisit, Chicago was both the same as I remember it and very different than my memories from more than three decades ago. The streets were the same–same busses I used to take to work (with steeper fares these days) and familiar landmarks to remind me to watch for my stop. But much had also changed. The big department stores like Marshall Fields and Carson Pirie Scott that I used to visit at Christmastime to window shop no longer grace State Street, and my old neighborhood on Dearborn has a whole new look.

And while I fell right back into the pace of Chicago, scurrying across streets filled with traffic while dodging oncoming crowds, the girls were a bit stunned. Helena couldn’t get over how many shoves she received making her way down Michigan Avenue and Celia was floored by a conversation two women on the bus had about where she was sitting (within earshot of Celia!).

I told the girls that they were noticing these things because they’d grown up in the South.

I also told them that when I moved to Chicago at 17, I learned a lot about how to stand up for myself. Chicago made me street smart, teaching me how to adapt to new places–a lesson in survival that I’ve relied on many times in places and circumstances around the globe. Both of my daughters were amazed that I made it in such a tough terrain where, “obviously,” Helena noted, “people do and say just about anything they want!”

At one bus stop en route back to our hotel, a woman boarded and began a dialogue with the driver about getting dropped off at a certain street typically not on the route. After much back and forth between the two, the driver raised her voice to the woman: “Just get on the bus, lady!”

Helena quickly tapped me on the shoulder, whispering “Mommy, she didn’t even say ‘please’ or ‘ma’am’ to that lady!”

Nope, she sure didn’t.

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