Wistful for the warmth

Summer dress at Toni Patisserie, © 2014 Celia Her City
The other day, a long-lost photograph from my phone turned up.  I took this picture in June or July, when a close friend had taken me to eat at Toni Patisserie for the very first time.  This woman’s pink dress epitomized the spirit of that day.

Seeing it now, when daytime temperatures are below zero, made me wistful for summer’s warmth, its sights and pastimes.  It’s marvelous how photographs carry us back to happier times!

Remembering Charlotte

AICtreeThis is the year that Charlotte died.  Strange that in the end I should find her death so significant, so haunting, because, in fact, I hardly knew her.  Yes, over the years I had spoken with her on the phone a number of times and read the cards she sent to the house, but I had never met her in the flesh.  Charlotte was for me never more than a voice, a spirit, a hand-writing, vestiges embedded in memory, in the history of our home.

Charlotte was important to my husband, and hence to me, a crucial link in what can aptly be called a tale of two cities.  She was a de facto ambassador, an exceptional figure persistently shuttling back and forth to us, calling to us, and testifying to us, across a racial divide.

Her long personal connection with my husband, maintained variously through a complex blend of friendship and spiritual and financial generosity, stretched back several decades, connecting our white, affluent, north-side household to the realities of African-American life on Chicago’s tougher south side.

A matriarch as well as an experienced housekeeper and nanny, Charlotte came to work in Bob’s household when his only child (now twenty-something) was a small boy.  Charlotte was, in that long period, a powerful daily presence, providing practical care, encouragement, and spiritual inspiration to a family that, while materially fortunate, was ultimately riven by its own complex difficulties.  Regardless of the day’s proclivities, or those of history, Charlotte was invariably a full embodiment of Christian belief, frankly and enthusiastically spreading the gospel of God’s love.

She was long retired and gone from the scene by the time my husband and I met and married.  But Bob’s appreciation of Charlotte, now elderly, and the needs of her family, was enduring.  He sent her a fixed sum monthly to ease her retirement, a ritual occasioning their monthly exchange of notes and calls.  Charlotte always sent cards with a religious theme, her copious thanks scribbled in notes full of enthusiasm and affirmation, seasoned with scraps of apt Biblical quotation.

Besides several adult children, some of whom lived with her, Charlotte’s family included a woman a decade younger than herself named Muriel, a once-homeless friend whom Charlotte had adopted.  Bob sent food to Charlotte’s family every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Almost always it reached them, though the massive package of food was once stolen from their porch.

When Charlotte was ill, her daughter Felicia, an ordained minister who led a small church, would call with the news.  One day Felicia called to say her mother had fallen and broken her hip.  It proved to be an injury that would not heal.  Charlotte, suffering from some sort of infection, spent many months in a rehab facility; after that, she never returned home for very long.

The last time I spoke with her, she sounded composed, still fervently faithful but frail, filled with a hope that, no matter what came, God’s joy would come, too.  In the end, her heart gave out, a death sudden-seeming to those of us accustomed to thinking of her as only ill, perhaps even recovering.

Her affectionate soul, transcending the differences of a benighted urban society, is gone, leaving us only with abstractions, and the recollection of an unmatched example of confidence and faith.

2013 Zoo Lights souvenir

Cafe Brauer during the Zoo Lights, © 2013 Celia Her City
Welcome to Celia’s 2013 Zoo Lights souvenir!

A collection of night photographs
from a magical event
offering fresh views of our surroundings and one another.

Above, Café Brauer gleams amid festive lights and an icicle tree.

Mothers (Starry night, Chicago), © 2013 Celia Her CityMothers and their children begin an arduous night pilgrimage,
walking south toward the zoo from the conservatory.

2013 zoo lights souvenir, © 2013 Celia Her CityThe skyline, the zoo lights, even strangers’ faces, beam.

Chicago Zoo Lights scene, © 2013 Celia Her CityChicagoans relax together under a dreamlike canopy, on a night when the temperature is nearly 50.

portraitureRemember being with your father when you were ten?

Zoo lights crowd, © 2013 Celia Her CityEngage in silly or serious photography, please.

Father and daughters at the Zoo Lights (Chicago), © 2013 Celia Her CityA father attends to his daughter’s needs.

Light show, © 2013 Celia Her CityThe synchronized light show, though corny, is impressive, too.

Chicago Christmas skyline, © 2013 Celia Her CityCome away with a warm feeling for the beauty of Chicago.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy 2014!

Click on images to enlarge.

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