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They Do Grow Up and Turn 30 One Day

3 Nov

On November 1, the oldest of my four nephews and nieces, Nicholas Michael Johnson, turned 30. Can that be true? It makes me sad for me, happy for him, but where did the time go? When he was born I was living in Chicago and I was so sad that I wasn’t home to see him that very day about 30 years ago. But I came home for Thanksgiving that year and boy did he capture my heart when I held him and looked into his big blue eyes. One of my very first posts on this blog was about coming home thereafter about every six weeks so I could see my nephew. As he started to grow up and began talking, he thought my name was Chicago, because people around him would say, “Sheree’s coming home from Chicago,” or when “Sheree gets here from Chicago…”

So when he saw me, he would run into my arms saying, “Chicago! My Chicago’s home!” It was. Absolutely. Precious.

My oldest nephew Nick turns 30.

Nick turns 30!

There are so many memories of wonderful times with Nick, going to restaurants, doing fun things around Kansas City, Thanksgivings, Christmas Eve’s, other birthdays, a few trips we took together and so much more (you can read about many of them here). Now he’s all grown up and working in a job where he travels to London several times a year. Yes, he’s been grown up for awhile, but something about him turning 30 sort of made it official for me.

He’s become very successful, a “continental traveler” and he’s now a wonderful Uncle himself (with my new great niece Laura, now six months, but that’s another blog post in the making!). I love discussing business with him, he’s like a professional confidant. He’s smart. He’s good looking. He’s sweet. He’s funny.

Last night everyone came over to the house to celebrate his 30th Birthday. Here’s a picture of his cake I had made. On it is a picture of him and my Mom, and a few iconic symbols of some of the things I love about Nick, places he’s been, things he does, places we’ve been together. He’s off again this coming weekend for a couple of weeks to London, with a possible side trip to Dublin or Paris.

They do grow up so fast, time does fly, so do treasure them all you can. Happy 30th Nick, I love you and am so proud of you!

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“Do” Think Big When It Comes to Easter Bunnies!

23 Apr

Nick was in high school the last time we captured a picture of him with his namesake Nicholas on the Plaza.

While Easter is one of the holiest of all holidays, it’s also has been another reason to spoil my nephews and nieces with new clothes, stuffed rabbits, chicks and ducks, chocolate bunnies, jelly beans, yellow Peeps and lots more!  It’s always been fun to dye eggs for them (I still do it!) and hide them along with some other surprises around the yard or in the house.

Being the first grandchild and first nephew, Nick hit pay dirt the first Easter that he was mobile (walking!).  My mom and sister had found this jumbo sized rabbit in a children’s clothing boutique.

The rabbit was quite elegant looking, stood almost 5 ft. tall, had on a dapper vest and had the softest, plushest fur.  His name was Pierre Bunny (pronounced with a French twist, “Boo-nee”).  He was more than twice the height of Nick, but Nick delighted in trying to carry him which was impossible, so he reverted to dragging poor Pierre around by the arm.  Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a picture of Pierre Bunny, but we all remember the big rabbit well.

Now 27, we were delighted when Nick called to get us all together for lunch the Saturday prior to this Easter.  When Nick and Katie were growing up, we would often take them to the Plaza to have lunch on that day and to tour the streets looking for the Plaza Easter bunnies.

Nick at lunch the Saturday before Easter, 2011

The Country Club Plaza transforms itself to an Easter Wonderland every year. The tradition brings out colorful, larger-than-life bunnies to the Plaza’s courtyards and street corners each spring.  They each have names, and of course there’s a Peter, but they also have a rabbit named Nicholas.

We would drive around until we spotted Nicholas, the biggest, tallest and coolest of all the Plaza bunnies and  Nick’s namesake.  We then would park the car and get out so Nick could go stand by him.   Nicholas the bunny was usually in the primo location of the beautiful courtyard outside the former, very elegant Swanson’s department store, (it later became a Mark Shale’s, and now it’s XXI Forever),  across from the tennis courts on J.C. Nichols Parkway, just down from the J.C. Nichols Fountain.  The Giralda Tower is on the corner of the building.

Nick about a year old, in a cute little duck jumper

We didn’t make it to the Plaza this Saturday for lunch, but Nick, Katie, my Mom, my sister Debbie and I all had a nice lunch at Town Center Plaza (sort of the Plaza South!).  And while Nick and Katie are all grown up and drinking Bellini’s and wine for lunch, we couldn’t help but bring them a  big chocolate fudge egg for Easter, something that we would always put in their Easter baskets when they were little.

So this Easter, no more big bunnies, no more pictures with Nicholas and the other big Plaza bunnies, but we continue to have a “big” time talking about Easters of the past, and the big chocolate fudge eggs are always good.  I loved Easters when they were all little, but it’s just as much fun now that they are all grown up.

Happy Easter!

P.S.  Check out an earlier blog/story about Easter called “Don’t Hunt for Eggs in the Rain”

A few other Easter pictures of not only Nick and Katie, but also of Ian and Elyse:

Katie also had a namesake Plaza Bunny called Kate!

The tradition continued of big jumbo animals on Easter - Elyse and her "big" duck

Ian on the Plaza with another one of the Plaza bunnies.

Elyse, Katie, Ian and Nick

“Don’t” Bargain Roger Rabbit for Sushi

6 Oct

In 1988 two movies were released that I will always associate fondly with my nephew Nick.  He was five at the time, and we had been taking him and his sister Katie, 17 months  younger, to the show for about a year or so and he loved going to the movies (primarily Disney films)!    

The first 1988 movie was “Beetlejuice” which he really liked and ended up going twice to see it.  It was funny and entertaining, and despite being about dead people and ghosts,  Nick was quite enamored with this movie.  For Christmas that year, we gave him several Beetlejuice toys – there are still a few in a box in my basement to this day.  I just don’t have the heart to throw them out.    

The second one was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”   It was pretty radical at the time as it combined live actors with animated characters.  It’s about this toon hating detective named Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins) who ends up being a cartoon rabbit’s only hope to prove his innocence when he is accused of murder.  You see Roger Rabbit had suspected his wife Jessica, had been two-timing (playing patty cakes) on him, so he had hired Eddie to snoop around to see if it was true.  But then the owner of Toon Town (Marvin Acme played by Stubby Kaye) ends up dead, and Roger Rabbit is accused of the murder since Marvin Acme was the man playing patty cakes with Jessica.    

It had many plot twists, colorful characters, memorable lines (Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way…”) and more.  The movie won four Oscars and had been nominated for seven, and it was visually stunning to watch all the special effects – at the time, they were truly amazing.    

So imagine how much a five-year-old boy with a big imagination would enjoy the movie.  And enjoy it Nick did.  Over, and over, and over again.  In fact, in the span of eight months, he saw that movie six times!  I saw it with him three of those times.  I believe my poor Mother saw it with him on five occasions.      

One of the last times I saw it with him was in 1989 right after the Academy Awards, and it had moved to the dollar theatres.  Nick was insistent on going again, and got quite stubborn about not wanting to see anything else.  So I bargained with him.  He was somewhat of a picky eater at the time and wouldn’t try anything too different, so the places I could take them out to eat were somewhat limited at that age (that would change in another year or two!).  So I said, if you go to the Japanese restaurant with us so I could have Sushi, we would go see Roger Rabbitt one more time.   

He readily, yet reluctantly agreed.  We went to our favorite Japanese neighborhood restaurant and thought that the kids would get a kick out of sitting in the private room with the traditional low-style Japanese table and seating mats.    It was about six o’clock and my Mom and I decided to take Nick and Katie to the eight o’clock show on a Saturday night since the kids would be spending the night.  So we had enough time to eat and get to the show a couple of blocks away.    

Once in the restaurant, the Japanese hostess escorted us to a private dining area, and motioned for us to take off our shoes.  Mom, Katie and I slipped out of ours readily but as I was moving to sit down in the low table, Nick was still standing, with his arms crossed tightly around him, and a big (but cute) pout on his face.  He didn’t want to take off his shoes – he wouldn’t take off his shoes.    

I tried to coax him gently, but he refused; my Mom tried to reason with him and he crossed his arms even tighter around him and backed up.  “I don’t want to do that, you’re not supposed to take your shoes off in a restaurant, it’s not proper manners, and I’m not going to eat here either” he said politely.

   

The Japanese hostess tried to tell him that it was alright to take off his shoes, but he just got more bull-headed.  He wasn’t about to take his shoes off.  Unfortunately there were no regular tables and chairs available as the restaurant was very crowded.  So we asked for a chair that he could sit down in, and we sat him in it just inside the corner of our private  room.  Mom told Nick to sit there that we were going to eat at this restaurant, that was the bargain he made with us for being able to see Roger Rabbit one more time.  So Mom, Katie and I all sat in the low table (shoes off) and had Sushi, Tempura and we ordered Yakitori, thinking the kids would like the grilled skewered chicken.  Nick sat quietly in his chair (shoes on) watching us eat (but never unfolding his arms).    

“This chicken is really good Nick, don’t you want a bite?” I asked.    

“No thank you,” he said ever the polite, but stubborn boy.  “I’m not hungry.”   

Grandma said sweetly, “don’t you want to come sit down by us?  You can leave your shoes on.”   

“That’s okay Grandma, I’ll just wait , I’m fine, I’ll just sit right here.”   

The Japanese restaurant was very dark and mysterious to Nick

We hurried through our meal and left the restaurant.  Nick happily jumped in the car, once again excited about seeing the movie.  While we thought this was a lesson about respecting other people’s preferences, he saw it as an exercise in exhibiting polite patience while avoiding something he didn’t want to do.  He wasn’t throwing a tantrum or anything, as this wasn’t Nick’s style as he was always, always very well-mannered, polite and sweet.     

So we went off to see “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” one last time on the big screen (it would be released later that year on video).  As we were driving to the theater about a half a block ahead the Golden Arches were within sight.  “I’m hungry,” Nick said.  “Can I please have a Happy Meal?” 

Well we couldn’t let him not have any dinner (I had planned on getting him something at the show), so we drove thru and picked up a Happy Meal and small soda and he ate it in the parking lot of the show.  As we were walking into the theater he hugged both Mom (Grandma) and me, and said “thank you so much for taking me to see Roger Rabbit one more time, it’s the best movie ever!”   

And he then said, “by the way, I’m glad you got to eat your Sushi, but that was a really strange place, I don’t ever want to go there again, it was spooky!”   

The truth came out – he had been frightened to sit down in the “pit table” as he had called it.  It was very dark in that Japanese restaurant, and he didn’t know what was “down there” under the table.  And since he didn’t know, he didn’t want to put his feet “down there” without shoes on.   He wasn’t afraid of the ghosts, dead people and the eerie stuff in “Beetlejuice,” nor was he afraid of the murder, mayhem and evil antics from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”  But unknown food, in a dark place, with unusual seating arrangements, with a lady in a kimono asking for his shoes, all that was a little too dark and mysterious for Nick’s 5-year-old imagination!

“Do” Come Together with the Beatles!

18 Sep

A week ago on Friday night I was sitting drenched in the drizzling rain between my two nephews Nick and Ian.  We were at KC’s Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor theatre) watching the last Broadway Show of the summer, the national tour of “RAIN – A Tribute to the Beatles.”  And we were having a blast!  

My two “boys” have been going to Starlight with me since both of them were about six years old, as have my two “girls,” my nieces Katie and Elyse.  Earlier in the summer, all four of my nieces and nephews had called “dibs” on going to RAIN out of the five shows scheduled for the season. Each of them usually goes with my Mom and myself to at least one or two of the shows, but all four wanted to see this show because of the Beatles.   

RAIN print advertisement that ran in the KC Star

 

Katie wanted to bring her husband because he likes the Beatles, but he had to work.  So they went the previous Tuesday night.  Elyse had also wanted to go, but she’s now a freshman in high school, and it was football night, there was an “away game” for her school, and she wanted to ride the “spirit bus.”  So it ended up being Nick, Ian, Ian’s Mom (my sister-in-law) and myself going to the show.  

I’ve always had a special connection with my nephews and music.  Whenever Nick or Ian were with me in the car (or for that matter with my sister) we would find common ground listening to either the Beatles or the Beach Boys on the radio or a CD.  Both of them are good singers, having performed in choirs and/or musicals during school, and despite their respective ages, both have a sincere appreciation of music going back to the 60’s.  

The forecast for the night we went to RAIN was not promising.  It had rained on and off all day, and about 5:30PM it seemed  to have cleared up a bit.  We decided to eat dinner at Starlight and after an enjoyable meal and conversation headed to our seats about 15 minutes before showtime.  

The show was just awesome!  The tribute group performed five sets of live music:  from the early days of The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, through Shea Stadium, the Sgt. Pepper era and on to the Abbey Road years.  RAIN is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience…it includes historical footage and really funny  television commercials (a special treat!) from the 1960’s on video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups and occasional shots of the audience.  

However, about three songs into the first set, it started raining.  At first it was just a drizzle.  Then it became a little stronger, then the wind started up.  Miles away, but rapidly approaching, we could see lightning beneath the clouds.  It looked very ominous.  But we weren’t about to leave and as far as I could tell, most everyone at the almost packed show were sticking to their seats as well.  We were just having too much fun singing along to our favorites and watching the fun video clips (including a Flintstones commercial showing Fred and Barney smoking Winston’s!)  

So sometime during the beginning of the third set, the President & Executive Producer of Starlight came out and announced a 30-minute weather delay due to the lightning rapidly approaching the area.  I asked Nick and Ian if they wanted to leave, but no way, everyone wanted to stick it out.  We quickly made our way back to the area where we had dinner, and found a table under cover to sit out the rain.   

Incidentally, Starlight is a client of the ad agency where I work, and I’m very much involved with the account.  I knew that my client/friend was probably upstairs in her office, so I started to send her an e-mail to see if she wanted to come down and visit with us.  At the same time she was calling me and was worried about where we were during the rain delay and told us to come on upstairs to their office.  They had food, wine, etc., and it was fun to visit with all the Starlight marketing team during the break.  Nick and Ian thought having access  behind the scenes (and in all the bad weather) was especially cool.  What a great client!!  

The show started again so Ian and his Mom headed back to our seats, and Nick and I decided to stop at the Starlight store and buy some rain ponchos as none of us had any rain gear (I had brought an umbrella, but you couldn’t use it).  And by that time everyone was soaked and the temperature had dropped so we bought sweatshirts as well.   

The rest of the show started in earnest.  The lightning had stopped, as had the rain, but after just one song, the rain started again, but this time we were prepared!  The show had more of a concert feel to it versus a Broadway Show.  (RAIN is headed to Broadway and opening on October 19!)  The band was very touched and in awe that so many people were still there, standing and singing Beatles’ songs in the rain.  At one point Ian was on his feet and enthusiastically cheering the performance when the band member who is “Paul” (Joey Curatolo) pointed to Ian and yelled out “you’re the man!” (Our season tickets are dead center, about 10 rows back from the stage.)  

The show had started with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and ended with “Let It Be” followed by an encore featuring “Hey Jude.”   They sang many of my favorites including “Happy Just to Dance With You,” “Yesterday” and “Revolution” (which brought back memories of my 8th grade CYO dance mixers!).  However, the best performance of the night was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which I hadn’t heard in a long, long time.  It’s an amazing song, and the performance enthralled us all.  I could tell Nick and Ian were especially moved.  

That night, this Baby Boomer sang-along with my Millennial nephews (and my Gen-X sister-in-law!) to more than two hours of songs that crossed our generations and brought us together for an evening filled with fun and love.  We weren’t about to let a little rain destroy what RAIN gave us that night.

“Don’t” Forget to Teach Them the Fine Art of Dining!

22 Aug

Nick eagerly eyes the ham on his plate (Katie is behind him).

 

Nick loves to dine.  Primarily he loves to dine out.  Now that he’s an adult, I love it that we can go out for a leisurely dinner or late lunch on a Saturday together and have cocktails, appetizers, dinner, wine and dessert.  It’s not necessarily that he loves to eat, he simply loves the art of dining.  He likes to chat with the maître d’, converse with the waiters, hear about the specials and engage in discussions about work, school, friends, family, travel or whatever.   

Nick also loves “to dine” during holidays.  On Thanksgiving, he always looks forward to coming over and smelling the aroma in the house, taking a look in the oven at the beautiful browned turkey or the clove-pricked ham, taking a bite of the water chestnut dressing, eyeing the plethora of pies and desserts while putting a finger in the fresh whipped cream.   

He likes to try new restaurants and while there are certain foods Nick doesn’t like (pork chops), he’s fairly adventurous about trying new foods.  I’d like to think that this comes from when he and Katie would spend Saturdays with us.  We would make the day an adventure and if we didn’t have anything particular in mind, my Mom and I would take Nick and Katie out to lunch.  Sometimes my sister would go as well depending on our planned dining destination.  And unlike most kids their age at the time, we wouldn’t go to McDonald’s or Applebee’s, as Nick and Katie’s palettes were far more refined, at least when they were with me.   

Nick loved food, dining and eating so much, my brother Tim gave him a chef's hat for Christmas one year.

 

One Saturday when he was about 9, my sister-in-law dropped them both off, and we made plans to head to the Plaza.  It was a crisp October day, and Mom and I were hungry for the Bookbinder Soup at Harry Starker’s.  It was one of their featured items, a classic soup with steamed fish in a rich sherry broth, served with homemade crisp sourdough bread.  (The original Harry Starker’s is no longer around, but it evolved to Starker’s Restaurant on top of Restoration Hardware at the corner of 47th and Wyandotte and they still serve this classic soup.)     

We sat down in one of the booths, and after the waiter brought over the water and bread, he went over the specials.  Nick asked him what was the “Soup du Jour.”  The waiter was taken aback for a moment, smiled and proceeded to share with Nick that the Soup du Jour was a Steak Soup, and of course, they always were serving the Bookbinder Soup.  Mom and I were surprised as well as we didn’t know he even knew the expression “Soup du Jour” – guess our Saturday dining experiences were starting to take hold.   

But that was just our first surprise.  After the waiter left to get the soups, Nick took out a little pocket-size spiral notebook.  On the cover, in a purple crayon marker he had written “Nick’s Restaurant Reviews.”   He told us he had decided that from now on when he eats out with us, he was going to do a review.  He had decided that by doing a review he would remember which restaurants he liked the best, plus it would just be fun and it would keep waiters or waitresses on “their toes” giving us the best service.    

He had made a rough spreadsheet (by the way, he’s now an accountant!) with restaurant names as columns, and twelve criteria listed as rows.  The criteria included 1) food looks, 2) menu look, 3) food taste, 4) type of food available, 5) waiter attitude, 6) soups 7) appetizers, 8) desserts, 9) comfortable chairs, 10) kids’ menu option, 11) looks/decorations (his version of ambience) and 12)condiments?!  Then there was a 13th row that said “bonus points.”  He planned on giving each criteria a score of 1 through 5, with 5 being the best.  He said he would give bonus points if something was truly awesome.   

As we waited for our soup, we all got into the spirit of Nick’s review and offered a few initial opinions of Harry Starker’s as he wrote their name into the first column of his notebook.  As the soup arrived Mom ordered trout, I had a Caesar salad with chicken, Katie had chicken fingers and Nick ordered a hamburger and fries.  We had to try the desserts, and while I don’t remember what I had, I know that Nick ordered Tiramisu.  He always ordered that or something chocolate like a torte, cake or brownie sundae.    

Lunch at Fedoras

Nick (about 11 years), my Mom, Katie (about 10 years) and Ian (3-4 years) at Fedora's for one of our Saturday lunches.

 

Harry Starker’s received 50 out of 60 points and did very well in Nick’s first review!  Several categories received a “5” including soups, desserts, waiter service, waiter attitude (to Nick there was a difference!) and condiments (he liked that the ketchup was served in a little white bowl).  He also rewarded them a few bonus points for the Tiramisu.    

That year and a year or two after that Nick loaded his little book up with reviews of other restaurants where we would go and have Saturday lunch.  At the time, they typically included restaurants on the Plaza, in Brookside or Crown Center  (about 1992-93).  We went everyplace from Annie’s Santa Fe (now closed) to Fred P. Ott’s; from Winstead’s to Fedora’s (also now closed, but it was a favorite!); from Houlihan’s to the Classic Cup.  We would also venture out and go to places he wanted to try like “V’s” Italian Restaurant  where he would order their really yummy French Fries with spaghetti and meatballs.  They also had a Tiramisu that he loved.  He had seen an ad for it claiming the best Italian food and that it was right next to “Cool Crest” a fun miniature golf course that we went to after lunch.    

Another favorite was Jasper’s Trattoria or the Marco Polo Market on Wornall (before they moved to their current location).  We’d get sausage sandwiches or pasta, and then of course the Tiramisu for Nick!  They always got 5 points in every category in Nick’s  book.  Jasper’s was also a dinner destination for us on the nights we would take the kids to Starlight Theatre and it still is.  JJ serves such wonderful food, the atmosphere is great and it is a family all-time favorite, including Nick, to this day.    

Trezo Vino Lunch

My Mom and Nick, after one of our recent Saturday lunches, in front of Trezo Vino in Park Place (in Leawood)

 

While Nick’s restaurant review notebook has long disappeared, the memories have not, and Nick, Mom and I still try to go to lunch on Saturdays a couple of times a year.  And sometimes Nick and I meet for lunch during the week, usually at Lidia’s (yes another Italian restaurant with a fantastic Tiramisu!) where we order the pasta tasting trio or the Frico.  The Frico is a specialty of the Friuli region of Italy – it is an envelope of golden-brown, crisp Montasio cheese with potato, leek and the filling of your choice – typically either crab, shrimp or sausage are the options available.     

Some of my favorite dining experiences have been with Nick – no matter his age, 10 or 25.  He has impeccable manners, we have wonderful conversations and we have great food at special places.  I’ll always fondly remember the time we went to Starker’s when he brought his review book and ordered the Soup du Jour.  But I especially enjoy the times we have lunch or dinner now, as eating with Nick is not just about dining, but about the time we spend together.

“Do” Have a “Super Summer Saturday!”

17 Jul

The Kazoo and Bubble blowing competition (Nick has the hat on, second from left; Katie is fourth from the left).

 

Nick loves thrill rides, roller coasters, theme parks, Worlds of Fun and Disney World.  As far back as I can remember, he has loved these, and his goal when he grew up was to own a theme park.  He wrote a business plan for it when he was about 8 years old!  He was going to employ everyone in his family in his operation to optimize revenue(!) and told me I would be his Director of Marketing and could handle the advertising.   He designed his featured roller coaster on paper incorporating vertical loops, corkscrews, roll backs and more that would have made any thrill seeker hesitate before getting on the ride.   

He also loved carnivals back then and when he and Katie would come over on Saturday, if there was a carnival in town someplace, he would know about it and want to go.  So one summer he brought together his big dreams of owning a theme park, with the essence of a carnival, but with the best engineering plan an 8-year old could develop and created an event he called “Super Summer Saturday.”  

Katie wins the apple bobbing contest while Nick intently judges!

 

His idea was to turn his backyard into a carnival.  But because he and Katie were usually with my Mom, sister or myself on Saturdays, he turned our backyard into one instead.  In June, he started planning each week that he came over, creating tickets, making signage and formulating his various “rides” or old-fashioned carnival contests.  We went to the toy store and bought primarily water toys like Super Soaker water guns (smaller versions), those dive and wet slide toys (which ended up representing the roller coaster), silly sprinklers and more.    

The big day came and he we got the yard set up with different areas that were the “rides.”  His imagination had no boundaries and the simplest little things took on the essence and charm of his vision.  We had invited some other kids to come over, including my Mom’s friend Pauline and some of her grandchildren.  Everyone had a blast!  It was so much fun for the kids and Nick was so excited and proud of his creation.  They played all Saturday afternoon and delighted in everything Nick had developed.    

Ian and Elyse as water monsters ready to go to the pool on a "Super Summer Saturday"

 

While we never did a backyard carnival/theme park again (Nick moved on to going to the real theme parks), “Super Summer Saturday” became part of our family vocabulary.  After Nick and Katie grew up, Ian and Elyse picked it up.  It reflected the days of summer when the kids would come over and we would do something simple or special.  Someone would say “Let’s have a ‘Super Summer Saturday’ and go to the park!” Or, “let’s have a ‘Super Summer Saturday’ at the pool!”  What made it super is that we would do something silly or fun as part of it.   

“Super Summer Saturday” still exists symbolically for me when I get together with Nick.  In fact last week we had  a super Saturday – we went out to eat at a relatively new restaurant/bistro (Trezo Vino), had wonderful summer food with a white sangria (with the fruit infused in vodka) and did a little window shopping.    

Regardless of age or activity, any Saturday I spend with Nick  in the summer will always be super!

“Don’t” Just Shop for Them

4 Jul

Nick about 2 years old looking very dapper!

In 1979, I had moved to Chicago to work at one of the world’s largest ad agencies, and I loved my work, my friends, my life there immensely.  While I traveled back to Kansas City for holidays, more often than not, I urged my family to come visit me as Chicago had so much to offer.  

But something very profound happened to me in the latter part of 1983.  On November 1, 1983 I became an Aunt for the first time.   Unfortunately, I was not there when Nicholas Michael arrived in this world.  I had to hear about the news on the phone from my Mom, and I was so disappointed that I couldn’t be there to share in my Mother’s joy about being a grandmother for the first time, or my brother’s and sister-in-law’s elation at becoming parents.   

I held my first nephew for the first time over the Thanksgiving holiday when he was one month old.  I came home loaded with presents from Marshall Field’s – blankets, little outfits, cute bibs, stuffed animals and more.  I brought a whole second suitcase just to carry everything.  He was absolutely, totally adorable.  He had big blue eyes that melted your heart and was a wonderful baby in every way.  

Once Nick arrived, I started coming back to Kansas City more often, about every six weeks.  I would hear about how he was growing, talking, walking and missing it all, so I would come home as often as I could.  And with Nick’s arrival, I found out about the pure pleasure and fun in shopping as an Aunt.   

The Harrod's Bear

I had gone to London in  October of 1984 for business, and shopped at Harrod’s in Knightsbridge buying him a baby blue cotton romper with a matching hat and other cute things and toys for his first birthday.  I also visited Selfridges on Oxford Street and picked up a pair of grey plaid knickers with a matching sweater at a children’s boutique on Piccadilly Street.    

For his second birthday, again at Marshall Field’s, I bought him a camel’s wool double-breasted coat, with the collar, pocket flaps and buttons in brown leather.  It had a matching cap, with the bill in brown leather, and came with leggings made of brown leather as well.   

I don’t know if I started my Aunt shopping frenzy just because that’s what aunts are supposed to do (?) or because I felt guilty, jealous or something else for not being around him as much as my Mom and sister.  I guess I worried that Nick wouldn’t get to know me.   

Many of my friends at the time (also single working women not remotely concerned about getting married or having kids, after all, this was the 80’s) were Aunts and saw their nieces and nephews often because they lived in the same town.  Gone was the old cliché of aunts as old maids – the new aunt was hip, had a good salary to afford spoiling, and would take her “weekend kids” anywhere.  They were fun to be around and good company.    

Nick about 14, always looking good!

Being an aunt is all about giving – not just your credit card, but giving your time, your wisdom, your love.  Aunting is also a special honor and privilege in terms of receiving.  They love you not because your family or the gifts that you do spoil them with because you can, but because of that special bond that they have with you.   

So one of the happiest days of being an Aunt out of the hundreds and hundreds that I’ve had, was the day I was home for another holiday.  I walked into my brother’s house and Nick (a little over 2 years old) comes running out of his room into my arms yelling “Chicago, Chicago!  My Chicago is home!”   

He did know me!  He just didn’t know my right name.  He thought my name was Chicago!  The family deduced that he called me that because when people would talk about me when I wasn’t around it would be with Chicago attached to it.  Thus my name to Nick for a year or two was Chicago. It was fine with me.  

Katie, my Mom and Nick in front of the Chicago Art Institute

Nick grew up to be a great dresser, with an eye for classic clothing from fine department stores – dress shirts from Brooks Brothers, suits from Halls.  He always look impeccably neat and pulled together.  I’d like to think I had a bit to do with it from those first outfits from Marshall Fields and Harrod’s.   

A couple of years ago Nick, Katie, my Mom and I went to Chicago for the weekend to go Christmas shopping.  We had the best time.   We didn’t just shop – we went to the top of the 95th of the Hancock Building, to the Chicago Art Institute, had Chicago pizza at Uno’s, martinis (by that time they were 22 and 21) at the Grand Lux Cafe and brunch at the Ritz-Carlton.  And we went to Marshall Fields.   

I came full circle as an Aunt with Nick on our trip to Chicago.  Beyond being able to have the means and the desire to shop for them, Nick taught me over the years how much fun it was to just be with them, to love them, especially the day he yelled “Chicago, Chicago, my Chicago is home.”