Tag Archives: Sheree Johnson

“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.”  

“Do” Believe in a Little Magic

4 Jul

A picture of part of the courtyard (before the arrival of the toad house)

The townhome I lived in before my current home had a beautiful outdoor courtyard surrounded by a high brick wall to the west and then a wooden fence on the opposite wall.  I had planted all kinds of perennials in it, plus lots of annuals every summer.  It was a pleasant place to sit, read, cook out or entertain, and for Ian and Elyse, to play or just hang out and talk.     

I was reading an issue of Martha Stewart Living one Saturday afternoon in the courtyard – it was an article about toads and toad houses.  Basically it said that if you put a toad house in your garden, pest-eating toads would show up and find it – and then hang out in your garden.  So I bought a really cute toad house online (total price $35.00) and put it in a nice shady place under a tree in the courtyard.  However, after several days, no toads showed up.  

The next weekend Ian and Elyse were over and Ian said, “I know let’s go to the park and find some toads!  We can catch them, then bring them back to the toad house and they will have a really cool new home.”   He felt bad that no toads had showed up for my toad house and saw it as a big adventure/quest to go out and find at least one toad!

Ian was about 11 at the time and Elyse about 7.  Not having anything available to catch toads with, we went to the store and purchased a small net and a small plastic bucket with a lid (total price $16.50).  We grabbed some snacks (total price $20.00) and drove over to Antioch park, a very pretty and fun area near my townhome.  While we had a great time in the park as usual, we searched the pond area for several hours but found no toads.   

Ian reading Harry Potter in the courtyard patio; Elyse looking at a book on flowers

Ian was really disappointed that he couldn’t find me a toad for my toad house, so I said we’d go to a pet store and see if they had any.  Elyse had given up on the toad hunt and stayed home with Grandma, but Ian and I drove to the nearest pet store. 

The only person in the store was the cashier, who was a grumpy middle-aged guy with a scrappy beard.  I asked him if he had any toads and he responded, “why, what are you going to do with one?”  I thought this was a very curious question, and really none of his business.  Did he think we were going to use it to cast a spell on someone or something?  But he looked at me and said, “we’re all out of toads, go to Antioch park.”      

Once again, we were disappointed about not finding a toad, but Ian was still convinced that we could find one someplace.  Then he said, “I know the best place to go, it’s the  pet store by our house, they will have one!”  This store was about a half hour away, but I thought it was a brilliant idea, surely they would have toads as it was an exotic pet store and they had all sorts of fish and reptiles. So we rushed over there because it was going to close in an hour at 6PM (we had been toad hunting all day).   

Ian at Antioch Park, looking a little tired and disappointed after hunting for toads

Sure enough, they actually had a toad/frog section.  I asked the young clerk if they had any simple pond toads, and he said no, but they had all kinds of exotic toads from all over the world.  (I guess there are people who keep amphibians as pets.)  They were called everything from the Granulated Toad to the Great Plains Toad, from the Fire Belly Toad to the Egyptian Green Toad, ranging in price from $12.00 to $300 each!

Being an 11-year old boy (and at the time, reading the Harry Potter books), Ian was fascinated by all the toads and was so excited that we had found one, especially one that would be so special!  Instinctively, I knew these were probably not the kind of toads you throw out in your courtyard to live in the toad house, but I didn’t want to disappoint him.  So I rationalized that a toad is a toad, and that whichever one we would buy would stay put.  (But the prices of these toads did give me cause to pause!)    

So we walked out of the store with a Chilean Christmas Toad – he was sort of skinny for a toad, was blackish green and had red markings all over him (total price $29.99!).  He was the second least expensive toad but Ian knew we had found the most perfect toad.  He named him Trevor – after Neville’s toad (in Harry Potter) who was escaping all the time and made frequent attempts at freedom.     

We brought Trevor home and went out to the courtyard, with Ian peeking in Trevor’s box all the way home to see how he was doing.  Ian opened up Trevor’s box and gently scooted him towards the toad house.  Dutifully, Trevor jumped over to the toad house and sat in front of the door of it for several minutes.  He seemed to be looking at us, almost inspecting us, but didn’t look afraid.  He turned around and went inside the toad house, just like that!  Martha Stewart was right!      

Ian sat outside for several hours until sundown (by this time it was 9PM on a Saturday night), watching what Trevor would do.  Sometimes Trevor would pop out of his little toad house and roam around a bit, but Ian always coaxed him back over to the house.  Finally, Ian came inside, and he was confident that Trevor would be there in the morning.  

Unfortunately, he was not.  Ian had stayed the night and the first thing the next morning went out to check on Trevor.  Trevor was gone.  Ian was sad.  I felt foolish for spending by this time $81.49 on the toad house, the search for a toad and for Trevor, and the little thing just hopped away.  And now I had a sad little nephew.    

Trevor's toad house in its new location with its new toads

Ian convinced himself that Trevor escaped while he could (unlike in the book, Neville’s Trevor never managed to escape) and was on his way back to Chile.  Ian reasoned that Trevor would find a stream to follow and would just keep swimming and hopping South until he got to Valparaíso or someplace near there.  I secretly hoped Trevor would come back now and then and do his job at pest control.  But we never saw him again.     

So while I bought an expensive toad that was with us for less than 24 hours, the whole toad hunting adventure that day with Ian was priceless.  And like Harry Potter, and the lore around toads, perhaps Trevor was a very magical toad, and he was able somehow to make it home to Chile.      

In 2003, the toad house made the move to my new house, and it sits nestled among the hostas in the shade under the deck in the back.  I often see tiny little toads coming and going in and around it, and when I do, I’m reminded of Trevor and that magical day toad hunting with Ian.

“Do” Buy Your Niece a Hat

26 Jun

This was Katie's straw boater hat, except it had a pale blue ribbon instead.

 

 Starlight Theatre (Kansas City’s treasured outdoor performing arts venue) has been an important part of my life since I was 10.  I remember my Mother taking us at least once every summer, and although we sat way in the back, it was as fun and exciting as ever.  My favorites from those years were Bye Bye Birdie, Camelot, West Side Story and Brigadoon!      

Mom carried on the tradition with her grandchildren, my nieces and nephews, and we have taken all the kids to Starlight each summer since Nick was 9, Katie was 8, and later when Ian was 6, then when Elyse was 6.  And we now have great season tickets in the center orchestra section, row 4, aisle seats, which gave them a birds-eye view of the stage.     

All four of the kids have loved going with us year after year, and since we only have four seats, there’s friendly competition about who goes to what show.  But as they have gotten older, they’ve gotten more selective about what show they want to attend.  It was very bittersweet last night that I couldn’t get any of them to go to the season opener “Little House on the Prairie.”  They were either too busy or not interested, or saving their Starlight “attendance pass” for one of the other shows later in the season.     

Katie trying on a fur hat while we were Christmas shopping at Lord & Taylor in Chicago

Last night as Mom and I watched the show without any of the kids, the girl playing Laura Ingalls buys herself a new straw hat in the second half of the show.  It reminded me of the new straw boater hat we bought Katie (and matching dress) on the first occasion of her Starlight début (we saw Cats)!  She looked absolutely beautiful.  She had long straight blonde hair, and the hat’s straw pale color was almost the color of her hair.  It had a pale blue ribbon on it, the exact color of her eyes, and a small little daisy on it.  The sundress was also pale blue, with miniature daisies across the bodice.     

Everywhere she went she looked like a breath of fresh air, and people would do a double take because of how stunningly pretty she looked.  Most eight year olds would have kept the hat on for just a few minutes to humor their aunt or grandma, but Katie wore that hat with confidence!      

And while Katie doesn’t necessarily like to wear hats now, she does dress and wear clothes with confidence.  Proof in point:  she’s now very tall and loves wearing high heels!  And incidentally, when we go shopping, she loves to stop and try on hats (and shoes of course).     

I probably will be sharing more Starlight memories, as it has been a big part of the time I’ve spent with my nephews and nieces.  We’ve laughed  and cried together, have been hot and chilly together (sitting at the outside theatre), but mainly we’ve had so much fun and have made wonderful memories together.  And by the way, “Memories” from Cats was Katie’s and my favorite song that night she wore the straw hat.

“Don’t” Make Your Niece Look Like a Donkey

21 Jun

Elyse with my Mom, her Grandma

The other day I was in the car with my Mom and my niece Elyse, doing some “strategic strike” shopping as Elyse calls it, and we were talking about social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogging and more. I mentioned my idea for this blog, and they both got really excited about it. Elyse said, “Call it the Do’s and Don’ts of Aunting” – and tell about all of our trips, adventures and fun times!”  And then she started rattling off some “Do and Don’t” examples and we all started laughing and having fun with just the handful she named.  So I’m going to start this blog with a “Don’t” in honor of Elyse.      

Elyse is getting ready to start high school at the end of this summer having graduated from 8th grade this past May. It was the start of grade school as a kindergartener that this particular story happened. During her school Christmas pageant, it was tradition that the kindergarteners all marched in from the back of the church as animals. Having some moderate seamstress skills, her mom asked me to whip up a costume – and Elyse wanted to be a puppy. How hard would that be?   

I went and bought a really cute puppy pattern, two colors of furry material and some Velcro. The suit was a breeze to make, but the headpiece, which was basically a bonnet to carry the ears, was a bit more challenging.  I thought it looked cute, sort of like a basset hound (don’t think that was the puppy she had in mind nor even knew at the time what breed that was!) and excited to see what she would think of her finished costume when I dropped it off the night before.       

Donkey or Puppy?

Well take a look at the picture; the ears were a little too long and floppy. (The Velcro didn’t exactly get in alignment when she put on the costume.)  And when she walked down the aisle with the other kids, her puppy suit could have been mistaken by some as a donkey, but surely they would know she was a puppy, right?       

Elyse doesn’t let people get to her, and doesn’t take anything from anybody, so when she got a few “that’s a cute donkey suit,” or “wow Elyse, why did you want to be a donkey, I thought you were going to be a puppy” comments, she didn’t let it bother her.  But I’ve heard about it every year since then, as she had eight more Christmas pageants, where all the new kindergarteners would march in wearing their costumes reminding her of that donkey suit with the silly ears that she had to wear.     

But as always, she was one of a kind, and no one else – that year or the remaining eight years of grade school – was ever a donkey!  And what a cute donkey she was!