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Mid-century modern in Tulsa, Ok.

Mid-century modern in Tulsa, Ok.

And for my next move….

I’ve rented apartments and bought a condo. I never owned a house. Before I packed it up I wanted to buy a small midcentury modern ranch house. It was in my DNA. I grew up in ranch houses in Naperville, Ill. (built 1966) and Columbus, Ohio (1959?). My brother owns a midcentury modern ranch house in Nashville, Tn.

It was all a return to forever.

I’ve read the magazine “Atomic Ranch” for years, although I will never have the money to trick out a house like the dreamsicles in Palm Springs, Ca., St. Paul, Mn. and Los Angeles. I wanted to unplug from the noise, grow flowers and sit in the back yard and smoke cigars. I’ve had a rough few years. These ranch houses were part of the emerging American Dream. I wanted to see if such a thing even still exists. It feels like it is slipping away.

The midcentury modern experience speaks to a leaner time. Rooms were smaller and one-car garages were often attached to the ranch. Sputnik type light fixtures blended with lots of natural light. The Greatest Generation was emerging from World War II and the excitement of space age possiblitly collided with frugal ethics. Futurism bequeathed optimism.

A midcentury ranch house had been on my radar for a few years. My Tiki friends Dave Vasta and Dave Krys live in the near western suburbs. I was born in Berwyn and knew that was the bungalow belt. The Daves steered me to La Grange and Westchester for the strong midcentury stock.

Living alone,  I wasn’t looking for a lot of space. I zeroed in on affordable tiny homes in La Grange Park and finally Westchester. I also timed the commute from Chicago—17 minutes one way in rare non-traffic situations. I live in Ukranian Village where I have become an old dude. Presto! In Westchester I’m one of the youngest guys in the neighborhood.

Bob Dylan's Shangri-La Ranch in Malibu, Ca., featured in "The Last Waltz".

Bob Dylan’s Shangri-La Ranch in Malibu, Ca., featured in “The Last Waltz”.

The fine 2006 book “House As A Mirror of Self (Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home)”  by Clare Cooper Marcus mentions a gentleman who grew up in a small town, lived in the city for a long time and was contemplating a move to Arizona.

Each setting represented a different stage of his life. He reflected on who he was in each house and he became  comfortable in the “here and now.” I’m guessing there will be a lot of “now” in Westchester because there’s not a lot as much exciting “here” there as there is in Ukranian Village.

The ranch style was born in California in the 1930s and hit its peak from the 1940s to the early 1970s. America’s emerging dependence on the automobile led to the popularity of streamlined ranch houses on big lots. Streetcar suburbs of the early 20th Century featured smaller houses on narrow lots because people walked to streetcar lines. Westchester  even had a streetcar line and was a CTA (Chicago Transist Authority) connector from 1926 to 1951.

Westchester (pop. 17,000) blossomed through  rows and rows of midcentury ranch houses consisting of symmetrical one-story forms with low-pitched roofs. I adored the modest detailing of the houses that pay homage to  Colonial and English influences. After more than a dozen trips to Westchester talking to neighbors, owners of Greek diners and the folks at Christopher’s Speakeasy, I discovered humility that is important to me. I went to the monthly Friday night fish-chicken fry at the Westchester Community Church. The old timers told me the village is so boring they call it “Deadchester.”

Westchester was founded in 1925 to recreate an English village. I found a red brick house with original decorative iron porch supports and matching shutters of the mid-1950s. The house was nestled back off the street to fit into modest landscaping.

Westchester, Ill. mid-century. They're everywhere there.

Westchester, Ill. mid-century. They’re everywhere there.

I stumbled into a time capsule. I began researching the house. It was built in 1952. It was within walking distance of a grocery store, a neighborhood diner and a small bar, which is all I really need. The house’s street had an odd name. I mentioned to my brother that during the mid-1950s our parents lived on a similar odd sounding street in Westchester. They died in 2015 but our mom kept a meticulous typewritten diary of her life. I checked it out.

It was the same house.
It was hard to believe.
I had to re-read her passage. I have no memories of the house. Our dad worked for Swift & Company and was transferred out of Chicago to New Jersey around 1958. I was born in 1955. My brother pointed out, “You were probably conceived in that house.”

I haven’t shared this story with too many people. I  still don’t know what to think. Emotion did not lead me into buying the house. I am not a fixer-upper and the house was in excellent shape. The modest house had about an amazing  dozen closets which was a perfect fit for my books, files and bobbleheads. Midcentury style is framed by an organic spirit and minimalism. I can try to declutter. An open house leads to an open heart.

My excellent handyman Edmond Fernandez, Jr. was knocked out by the now and then coincidence. He’s repainted the rooms in bold mid century modern colors with Sherwin-Williams names I love. The living room was  “Restless Olive,” the kitchen was “Pink Flamingo” and my office became an earthy orange “Carnival.” Actually, maybe that’s how I should have painted the bedroom. I’ve had a blast visiting mid- century modern stores like Dial M for Modern in Chicago, Pre to Post Modern in Nashville (long before I took this plunge) and the awesome bc modern in Milwaukee.

IMG_8084 (1)

Edmond (L)  and crew member Travis.

Of course 1952 is not all that has been built up to be. The United States tested the first hydrogen bomb at the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. More than 3,000 Americans died from Polio. And midcentury modern was not a better design  in a black and white America. There is no Cinerama nostalgia for minorities and women.

My block is ethnically diverse. My neighbors are African-American, Hispanic and Italian. I recently moved a file from my book “The People’s Place (Soul Food Restaurants and Reminiscences From the Civil Rights Era to Today).” A plastic, typewritten file card tumbled out of a box. It was given to me by activist James Meredith at a restaurant in Jackson, Miss.

The card listed his ten commandments from the 1960s; “You shall not kill,” “You shall not steal,” but the last one was  timely for the communities we live in: “Every church should take responsibility for each child within 2 miles of the church under 5 years old.” That’s imperative advice no matter where you live.

Westchester is only two miles from the Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside.

Westchester is only two miles from the Chef Shangri-La in North Riverside.

The house will take time to make it okay to live in. I forgot about those pesky village codes and for me, moving has always been like transporting the old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Even though I haven’t settled in, a test vinyl run sounded great in a low ceiling basement with a Nashville RCA Studio B checkerboard floor.

But my work has been framed by a sense of fascination. Was Westchester a far-away place in 1955? Our father always installed a manual wall pencil sharpener in the basement of every house we lived in. Did he install the vintage wall pencil sharpener I found in the basement of this house?  Energy needs time to become focused, measured matter. In days past I retreated to the only chair in the living room.

Dusk became darkness with a turn of the page. I looked out the picture window at old trees on a quiet street.  There were no shadows and I wondered if I was truly alone.







Our Naperville house, April, 2016

Our Naperville house, April, 2016

Rarely do I tear up at the theater.

Frankly, rarely do I even go to the theater.

But “Naperville,” which opened Sept. 6 at Theater Wit, and runs through Oct. 16 at 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago, hit home. And home is the centerpiece of the splendid work from Naperville born playwright Mat Smart. 

“Naperville” is framed by nuance and empathy, characteristics that are key to getting by in urban and suburban living. 

“Naperville” premiered off-Broadway in  2o14 at New York’s Slant Theatre Project and New York Theater Review called “Naperville” a “valentine to the heart and soul of the American suburbs.”

I grew up in Naperville.

Smart’s play is set in a Naperville I never knew, a since-closed Caribou Coffee shop on 95th Street on the far, far south side of town. Naperville’s population was about 25,000 when we moved there in 1967.Today, Naperville is home to more than 140,000 people.


Naperville playwright Mat Smart

“Naperville” tells the story of Howard, a young man who is conflicted about relocating from Seattle to his home town to take care of his mother, who was blinded in a home accident.

While planning a new future under cloudy skies the mother and son cross paths with Anne, Howard’s former classmate at Waubonsie Valley High School (where Smart is a ’97 grad) who is working on a podcast about city founder Capt. Joe Naper.

The script’s connector is Roy, a highly caffeinated spiritual soul who sees people without prejudice and asks, “What is the opposite of faith?”

“Naperville” is merely the setting for universal, provocative questions from Smart, but seeing this work at this time in my life was very personal. Smart even references the same church where we had our parents funerals in the spring of 2015. And yes, my parents still get mail from that church asking for financial donations.

We sold my parents Naperville ranch house last week. Closing is set for the end of September. Last Friday night I spent my final night in the house.  The empty rooms were full of thoughts. Echoes were everywhere. Like a series of magic carpets, my deepest dreams floated out of long shadows.

One small bed remains in my brother’s old bedroom. The brown bedroom door was half way open and from the bed I could see swirls of people coming and going: My brother, my nephew, ex-wives, Mom smiling and walking to her piano, neighbors with apple pies, Mom and Dad in their wheelchairs, girl friends, hospice nurses, my dear Naperville friend Steve Lord bringing flowers to my Mom, Dad fetching home movies, Ibach disposing of beer from the Thanksgiving ’75 party and gentle people like Roy. Rings of distant circles.

When I was young I was in a hurry to leave all of this and Naperville.

And now I didn’t want to go.

The world changed around that small mid-century house on Page Court. 


In the Chicago area it has become  popular to take cultural shots at Naperville, often from people who haven’t spent much time in Naperville. It is a well-to-do suburb, not unlike Barrington or Northbrook or dozens of others, but maybe Naperville is a better target because it has a funny sounding name. Like Smallville. Or Raunerville. But for better and worse, it has been my Naperville and I have my own set of stories. “Naperville” helped me reconnect with those memories.

I know sincere Naperville doctors, teachers and neighbors and in recent years the ER staff at Edward Hospital. I was stopped by the cops in high school for being a long haired pedestrian and a few years later, lectured by Mayor Chester Rybicki for civil disobedience in having a group of teenagers paint a hippie mural on an old Naperville house to accent the youth center we started. My parents liked to point out that these days there are murals all over downtown Naperville.

Coffee shop scene from "Naperville" (L to R) Candice (Laura T. FIsher), Roy (Charlie Strater), Howard (Mike Tepeli) and Anne (Abby Pierce). Photo by Charles Osgood

Benovelent coffee shop scene from “Naperville” (L to R) Mother Candice (Laura T. Fisher), Roy (Charlie Strater), Howard (Mike Tepeli) and Anne (Abby Pierce). Photo by Charles Osgood

Naperville’s transient population of professionals and tech workers that frequent places like Caribou Coffee also make it unique. I used to get a kick out of  “Officer Friendly” George Pradel getting elected as Naperville mayor for 20 years. Although Naperville is run on City Manager government, it was the old timers who always put the since-retired Pradel in office because the transient population rarely voted. The beloved folksy figurehead did an excellent job of deflecting the problems of any American city of 140,000 people.

In late July the Tribune (a popular Naperville newspaper name dropped in Smart’s script) ran several stories about the viral Facebook post from Brian Crooks, who grew up as one of the minority African Americans in Naperville. His feelings of isolation and injustice are sincere. Yet, none of the stories, including his post, balanced to mention the groundbreaking accomplishments of African American Olympian Candace Parker, a WNBA all-star who graduated from my alma mater, Naperville Central High School. I’m proud to say she’s from Naperville.

My friend David Holt's portrait of Candace Parker, Class of 2004 Naperville Central (From the author's collection)

My friend David Holt’s portrait of Candace Parker, Class of 2004 Naperville Central High School.

This is where Smart’s “Naperville” excels.

Forward motion must be nurtured. Negativity can become a brush fire.

In “Naperville,” Anne’s marriage has broken up because her Detroit-bred husband scoffs at all things Naperville. He diminishes her hometown dreams and her passion for volunteering at Naper Settlement  (where I got married and a couple blocks away from where my parents are buried.)

Anne’s (Abby Pierce) meltdown in the coffee shop bathroom is sterling: anyone can tear down, but what is it like to build something?

That’s what my parents did. Like Napervillians of all colors and religions, they attempted to create a better life for their families. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people tell me “I hate Naperville.” You know what you should hate? Violence. Sexism. Racism. Traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway.

As I prepare to leave behind a carousel of memories in our modest cul-de-sac home, Mat Smart’s  “Naperville” helped me recognize the kindness and individuality that is forgotten when you look at suburbia through a narrow lens.

Look for a discussion with Mat Smart on an upcoming edition of my Nocturnal Journal on WGN AM-720 in Chicago.

RAF Chicago Executive Director Joanie Bayhack delivering smiles. (Courtesy of RAF)

RAF Chicago Executive Director Joanie Bayhack delivering smiles. (Courtesy of RAF)

Life isn’t so daunting if you break it down into a series of small gestures.

The non-profit Random Act of Flowers recycles flowers from weddings, parties, funerals and grocery stores. Volunteers then deliver floral bouquets to Chicago area hospitals and long term health care facilities.

Knoxville, Tn.-based Random Acts of Flowers (RAF) has only been in the Chicago area for a little more than a year. From January to December of 2015, RAF delivered bouquets to 16,142 people in the Chicago area.


Located in a 3,000-square foot space in the Nature’s Perspective Landscaping building at 2000 Greenleaf St. in Evanston, the Chicago  branch is the fastest growing operation of the four Random Acts of  Flowers  (Knoxville, Pinellas County, Fla. and Silicon Valley).

After White Sox legend Minnie Minoso died on March 1, 2015, the organization recycled flowers from his funeral. The flowers were made into bouquets with black and white ribbons (the White Sox colors) and delivered to 62 people at Senior Suites of Bridgeport.


My parents passed away in the spring of 2015 and the passage of time showed me to pay it forward. They loved flowers. Dad raised roses in the backyard when we lived in Columbus, Ohio and I always saw my Mom’s face light up even through the darkness of dementia when I brought flowers to visit them in Naperville.

She loved her tulip magnolia in the front yard of her home.The buds turn into blooms, blossoms float off the tree and it happens so very fast.

“We create new bouquets and bring them to people in health care facilities who might be struggling in a very vulnerable point of their life,” said Andrea Lutz, Director of Mission Fulfilment at Chicago’s RAF. “We use flowers as a way to bring joy, life, beauty and nature to them. But they are hand delivered by a community member that cares about them. It’s that simple.”

Volunteers rescue flowers from grocery stores–9 Whole Foods, 2 Mariano’s and the Grand Food Center in Winnetka–wholesale businesses and wedding, funeral and special events. RAF also partners with FTD (Florists’ Transworld Delivery).

Flowers are brought to the Evanston location to be stored and deconstructed. Other volunteers meet at recipient facilities that range from Hines VA Hospital in Maywood to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Facility carts are pre-loaded with flowers. Hines, for example, serves 120 people in four carts. Volunteers visit recipients of all ages with staff members. Recipients are identified before the visit. Lutz said, “We don’t need to know or are not legally allowed to know who we will be serving.”

Periods of volunteer engagement can be longer in nursing homes. RAF serves nearly 100 assisted living facilities within a 45 minute radius of Evanston. Lutz explained, “In hospitals, many people have  been up all night, ‘Who are you, what?’ But in one nursing home a  gentleman told me in his older age he has learned to love flowers but he can’t afford them. Once a year he treats himself. And I walked in with calla lilies, part of this amazing bouquet. We deliver to new moms. Some hospitals are like, ‘These are new moms, they’re celebrating.’ We’ve gone into rooms and there’s nothing in there. The rooms are dark, they’re tired. We all have stories where people break down and start crying.”


More than  550 people from the Chicago area have volunteered for RAF in the past year. Joanie Bayhack,, Executive Director RAF Chicago  said, “The nice thing about our volunteer experience is that there is something for everyone. We have volunteers who like deconstructing, composting and others who like arranging. Then others like delivering and are comfortable in hospitals and hospice centers.”

That would be me.

Bayhack continued, “We have three volunteer cleaning queens who come in every Thursday. There’s no long  orientations and workshops. There’s music cranking, coffee brewing and snacks everywhere.”

“You hear laughter.”

Roses and chrysanthemums are the most common flowers that come through the Chicago RAF.  “But we never know what to expect,” Lutz  said with a smile. “We put together a volunteer guide that describes each flower we’ve ever received with helpful tips. There are 86 flowers in the guide, which we regularly update.”

Random Acts of Flowers was founded in 2008 by Adrian and Larsen Jay in Knoxville. Larsen Jay was an independent film and television producer who fell off his roof during a 2007 home repair. “Ironically in 2007, I climbed to the foot of Mount Everest and went helicopter skiing on another project,” Jay said in a mid-February interview. “I came back completely fine.  But on a DIY project, I stepped on the top of the ladder for the 15th or 16th time, the bottom kicked out and I fell face down on the concrete about a story and a half up.”

Jay, 41, broke his left arm, both wrists, right elbow, his nose and suffered 10 skull fractures. “My head hit the ladder, which is the only reason I’m talking to you,” he said. “It was a second lease on life. To be put back together orthopedically, physically and emotionally is pretty astounding.” Jay spent two days in ICU, ten days in a trauma floor recovery room and ten more days in a rehab facility. He has had more than 12 surgeries and is still being rearranged.

Larsen Jay on the way

Larsen Jay on the way

“One thing that changed my perspective was the generosity and support of the people around me,” Jay said.

“And that often came in the way of flowers. I had never been given a bouquet of flowers. Each day multiple deliveries started showing up. Our room was filled with 30 plus bouquets. It turned into this jungle of joy and happiness. It helped me focus on recovery, it changed the atmosphere of the room.

“When I got stir crazy and convinced my family and nurses to get me out in the hall I noticed how many rooms were barren. No flowers, no plants, no visitors. It was a jarring visual. We went back to my room, took the cards off my flowers and loaded them in my wheel chair. We didn’t ask for permission. We didn’t follow protocol. We just started giving them out down the hall and that was the genesis.”

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Jay later sold his documentary production company and now runs RAF full time. His wife Adrian is a former Knoxville ABC television reporter and Northwestern University grad who interviewed Jay on a story. They were engaged six months after they met. Larsen’s father-in-law is Barry MacLean of the MacLean-Fogg manufacturing company. He serves on RAF’s National Board of Directors. Jay’s vision is to make RAF a national operation.

Empowered by flowers.


We’re blown away at what has happened,” he said. “We can barely keep up. We’re almost up t0 115,000 deliveries to people nationwide. All of last year we did almost 50,000. Our success is half by design and half by dumb luck in figuring it out. You can explain Random Acts of Flowers in a few seconds: everybody has been to a wedding, funeral, a special event and they’ve looked at all the flowers  and thought ‘What a waste’. Thirty years ago food banks didn’t exist, but if I told you Panera threw away all their bread tonight you would be appalled.

“We’re trying to build a whole new industry to think about flowers the same way. Everybody understands what we do really fast. What’s cool is the number of volunteers who work tirelessly on behalf of people they’ll never meet is fascinating to me. They understand it makes a difference and its part of the American spirit.”

Hospitals have found that a patient’s mood improves after receiving flowers, which in turn, helps with dialogue and rapport. Lutz said, “We have a volunteer nurse who talked about how it has made a huge difference in the way they can engage their patients who are scared or real sick. We’re escorted by nurse floor managers who are walking around with charts and not (hospital) volunteers.”

The RAF work week is designed around recipient partners. Visits are at 1 p.m. Tuesdays. “On Monday everyone is getting back from the weekend and figuring out scheduling,” Lutz explained. “Wednesday is when they do their procedures. And they’re wrapping things up on Thursday and Friday. Tuesday afternoon was the perfect day for when people are most relaxed. We arrange the flowers Tuesday morning and have them prepped the previous afternoon.”

Mission of Compassion (L to R) Andrea Lutz, driver David Oquendo, Sydney Wert (Courtesy of RAF)

Mission of Compassion (L to R) Andrea Lutz, driver David Oquendo, Sydney Werd (Courtesy of RAF)

The initiative is growing so fast in Chicago, RAF is hitting the road in March to teach the 70 person claim staff from Zurich Insurance how to make arrangements and Lutz and program assistant Sydney Werd will lead a bouquet demonstration at the Macy’s Spring Flower Show.

Lutz previously worked at the Northern Illinois Food Bank and the Food Bank for New York City. She sees similarities between the two venues. Lutz explained, “Taking something that ordinarily gets thrown out, repurposing it and bring it to people who need it. Logisitcal puzzles and maximizing limited resources. But I love the ownership here, starting from scratch and seeing that ‘a-ha’ moment with flowers and plants. And, we’re all big flower nerds.” 

Werd knows of the days of wine and roses. She was a bartender before joining RAF. “I graduated from college, bartended (at Union Pizzeria in Evanston) and was a florist (at Bloom 3 in Evanston),” she said. “I fell into the florist job 100 per cent. Random Acts of Flowers would come to the shop to get extra flowers, they would go away and we knew they were going somewhere cool.”

Bayhack’s previous skill sets include a stint as publicity manager at Playboy magazine in Chicago and VP & Senior Vice-President of Communications and Corporate Sponsorship for WTTW-Channel 11 and WFMT-FM. “The fun starts with how good everybody feels from the beginning,” said Bayhack, who also was an extra in the fun film “Animal House.” “Donating flowers that would have gone into the dumpster, so that feels good. The group comes in and they have fun sorting through it. The next shift comes and they love doing the arranging. I sit and watch. I hear the joy. And the end result is the presentation of flowers to some unsuspecting, physically confused person and they light up. They might say, ‘Was it my birthday?’ Or, ‘I’ve never had flowers before.’

Flowers are a bonding mechanism for sure.

Jay said, “Giving flowers is a gesture that cuts across races, religions, disabilities, income levels. The result is the same response across the board. There’s few things where that happens. In  essence, we’re focused on basic kindness. We’re not trying to cure cancer, build a building or change homelessness. That’s sometimes hard in non-profits to quanitfy. We sell air, we sell smiles. But at the end of the day, I know our world is a better place because of Random Acts of Flowers and our volunteers.

 “Kindness and compassion have to have value in our society.”

That bears repeating during these times of rage and rants.

Kindness and compassion have to have value in our society.

To volunteer,  visit, or call (847) 430-4751.



Something was lost here.

Keep this coupon

Two herons on a pier

Redemption at every sunset


The winter circus comes through town

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Questions splatter on the windshield

The old mystic answers in her home on Hwy. 1


Wednesday Karaoke at the Caribbean Club

A prune-faced lady leans over to sing “Cabaret”

Songs are tickets to another time, old chum

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“We had it all, like Bogie & Bacall”Bertie Higgins


Bare feet dance on blades of grass

Touching perforated atonement in the dew

Turn it over, pick it up, keep this coupon.

It will mean something down the road.





Lock myself out, the first time in 20 years

Am I becoming my parents, losing my memory

Bit by bit like the drip from an unforgettable icicle

Outside of the house I grew up in.

I wait for the locksmith on the back steps.

A cardinal stops on along the driveway

I see my Mom who grew up near St. Louis

Until the man arrives with his box of magical tools


The man says it will not take long and begins to chip away

The cardinal, she flies way into a winter without snow

I complain about the wood that falls onto the floor

The man says those are the consequences

Suddenly I am in my house and nothing has changed

Christmas cards as futile as the newspapers I have yet to read

I find extra keys hanging from a Florida flamingo souvenir

Maybe they open the door to a new light.


In the early afternoons of late autumn days, the shadow of a fading  sun creates a path from the cemetery driveway to the plot where my parents are buried. A little less than six weeks separated the deaths of my parents this spring.

My Dad died first and in the time my Mom  had left I would take her to the cemetery.

Every chance she got.

I pushed her wheelchair through tall grass to the gravesite where  seeds were waiting to sprout. Mom never got to see the headstone she was so curious about, but she did fire off a zinger to the headstone salesperson as we picked out the marble bookmark.

Although she was battling dementia, Mom said, “The next time you see me I won’t be here.”

My Mom never said much when she got to the place of her gravesite. 

She never wanted to stay too long. Was she thinking of the 65 years of marriage she spent with my father. Die she wonder where she was going? Was she in a hurry?

Sense of place is an important component of books I have written; soul  food restaurants on the civil rights trail, supper clubs and even minor league baseball in small town America. But place has grabbed my attention in the five months since my mother’s death.

Place seems to be all over the place.

This week we are getting an appraisal for the house I grew up in. My parents are buried within walking distance of my high school and the chapel where I was once married. On Sunday I sat on the back porch and saw red-breasted robins I do not see in the city.

My Mom loved birds, for their place is everywhere.

Mom died peacefully in my old bedroom. Not long ago I was stuck behind an ambulance on Western Avenue in Chicago. Suddenly my  thoughts jumped to the April morning when we put my father into an ambulance to take him to hospice care in Barrington. He died three days after the ride up Route 59. He never returned to the place he  called home.

 I didn’t think I would be a cemetery guy, but every time I travel to the western suburbs I check in at the gravesite. When they were alive I didn’t know where my parents had picked out their plot. I did know Mom was happy that it was by the shade of oak and maple trees,  so beautiful in the autumn.

This 173-year-old cemetery is a new place for me.

I meditate there. I thank my parents. With the diversion of baseball  over, I look at th charcoal clouds and brace myself for my first holiday season without them. I think how fortunate I am that they lived so long. My Dad’s 95th birthday would have been Nov. 17; my Mom’s 94th birthday would have been Dec. 10. Damn, they did everything together. Why am I alone in this place?

Backyard of our childhood home, Oct. 25, 2015

Backyard of our childhood home, Oct. 25, 2015

Suddenly, I see my parents in all kinds of places; the cemetery, back at the house, in Section 242 of Wrigley Field and the LaQuinta  between the Cracker Barrel and Waffle House in Nashville, Tn., the  motel where they stayed to visit my brother and nephew. George Jones loved that Waffle House on Harding Place. My Dad loved Shirley Jones.

My brother and I told our folks how lucky they were. Some markers for their cemetery neighbors read:

A candle that glows twice as bright burns half as long.” Dead at 30 years old in 1992.

I will always be a dreamer,” 1949-1999

“Chatter & Tank” (Chatter 1946-2005; Tank 1944-2007)

“Our beautiful baby girl” (April 15, 2003-May 4, 2003)

Do not stand at my grave and weep/I am not here, I do not sleep/ God’s angels have carried me to heaven above/and now I watch over the ones I love.

I am not here, I do not sleep.

A tree by the side of the driveway was planted in honor of one of my high school classmates. His small marker says he left this earth at  age 37. A silver water pump sits not far from the tree. Last week an  older man parked his car near the pump.  He got out of his car, filled up a plastic jug with water and walked over to a gravesite. He emptied the jug in front of the headstone and stood there for less than two minutes. He then walked back to his car, got in and drove away. Leaves fell  in unison and they made a crackling, rhythmic sound that soon  will be stilled, only to return next year.

People count on defined places: church, the neighborhood diner, Wrigley Field, a  corner bar and a grandmother’s home.

But every place has a path that once was new.


NEW ORLEANS—This is a Big Easy encounter that does not involve alcohol.

Well, I did have one Swizzle with my tofu banh mi  at Latitude 29, a new tiki bar and restaurant tucked away near the Mississippi River. (The superb venue is named as a nod to New Orleans latitude on the map and has the same designer as Taboo Cove in Las Vegas and Le Tiki Lounge in Paris.)

After dinner I walked back to the Olivier House, my French Quarter stomping ground. A woman stood in the middle of Bourbon Street trying to hustle customers into an establishment. She wore a baseball cap that said “I Love Haters!” She had  it tilted on her head like Cubs relievers Fernando Rodney and Pedro Strop.

This made me smile.

I had to get this cap.

I found it on Amazon, but I had to have it immediately, I was afraid the idea of owning an “I Love Haters!” cap wouldn’t be so funny when I got back to Chicago.

After our Saturday afternoon “People’s Place” book signing at the wonderful Southern Food & Beverage Museum, book photographer Paul Natkin dropped me off on Canal Street. There’s dozens of mid-range clothing stores and cheeseball souvenir shops where I was told I would locate  the cap.

I found a silver and black “I Love Haters!” cap in the second store I entered. The Oakland Raiders color scheme made sense for such a fierce statement.

By the time I made it to the counter I was so fixated on the cap–which I still found funny—and the affordable price ($7.99)–I didn’t realize I was standing in line with a bunch of African American women buying blouses and lingerie.

The small woman behind me asked, “Do you have haters?”

Before I could answer, she continued, “We all have haters.”

I had to agree with that. Someone probably hates this post. I once had an editor who hated me for writing about “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.”

While holding her red undergarments, the customer lectured  me about how the “I Love Haters!” cap was a woman’s cap. I hated to disagree with her, seeing how the store was filled with women.

And men can’t love haters!?

Then she asked, “Are you a transsexual?”

This was when I thought I better not buy the cap after all. I may “Love Haters!” but I wasn’t sure of my stand on “Sassy Ladies!”

The next day I couldn’t get the “I Love Haters!” cap out of my head. On late night television I saw the flamboyant Joe Zee on a “Fab Life” television show talking about “trend adventurous.” I heard the clarion to man up. And why did I succumb to such playful pressure?  Perhaps the woman with the red underwear just hated the idea of me buying the haters cap.

I look like such a nice guy.

I marched back to the store the next morning and bought the cap. The same clerk was behind the counter. She smiled at me.

Loving all haters is a good way to start the day.




My parents back porch

Overlooking my parents back porch, June 2015

You set out on the road to get centered.

The loss of both parents within six weeks is hard to take, even when they were 93 and 94 years old. In their last weeks they asked for “one more day,” which is the gift given to all of you reading this.

On the day after my June 2 birthday I drove to see my brother in Nashville, Tn., I double shot over to listen to Beach Music in Myrtle Beach, S.C., watch the Pelicans lose a double-header and then headed back to Chicago through Asheville, N.C.

The birds chirped louder.

At night I walked alone in the Atlantic Ocean along North Myrtle Beach. The stars seemed closer. I drove and I swam. I tried to keep going.

But I stopped to pick wild flowers. My parents loved flowers. I’ve been looking at Kodachrome slides and discovered portraits of my father in fields of roses, tulips and marigolds. He was always smiling.

I teared up at seeing a Bob Evans restaurant sign and that came out of  nowhere. My folks were Bob Evans regulars before we had to take away the car keys. This road trip presented the conflict of memory and being in the moment.

That all James Taylor station on Sirius XM is not a good idea in this condition.

Cemeteries aren’t as foreboding as they used to be. The first thing I did when I returned to the Chicago area was visit the Naperville Cemetery. The grass has grown over my father’s side. The other night a friend at the Cubs game told me you aren’t fully grown up until a parent dies. I get that now.

I waited for two hours to hear Marsha Morgan singer her Beach Music hit This Girl Needs a Tune-Up” on a Sunday night at Duck’s Too in North Myrtle Beach.


I learned that my favorite newspaper writer Joseph Mitchell called depression “The Black Dog.” Joe was from North Carolina.

I brought along Van Morrison and remembered that “Enlightenment” is the end of suffering. I also thought of my Sun-Times editor and mentor Lon Grahnke and how Van’s “Full Force Gale” was played at the end of his memorial service.

I drove 1,900 miles but still have a long way to go.

In reality, the present is all you have.

North Myrtle Beach, S.C., June 2015

Under the Boardwalk, North Myrtle Beach, S.C., June 2015

Mom at an 80-something birthday at Hugo's Frog Bar in Naperville

Mom at her 80-something birthday at Hugo’s Frog Bar in Naperville

Like petals in a basket, I carry so many shades of life from my mother’s gallant journey. One of the most emotional snapshots of Irene Helen Brush Hoekstra came on April 9, the day after my father died. Although my mother battled dementia she managed to find her gold wedding ring. She slipped it on her finger without any of us knowing about it.

And the gold ring remained on my mother’s finger until the moment she passed over from heart failure Friday night in her Naperville home.

Mom was 93 years old.

All moms are amazing and so was ours. She was placed into home hospice twice and discharged once. Last August the hospitalists at Edward Hospital in Naperville told me she had “two to three weeks” to live because of her congestive heart failure.

Later, a hospice nurse told me she would never walk again. Up until a few days ago her head was down with determination as she walked slowly on her walker with the assistance of our caregiver.

Irene Helen Brush Hoekstra was was tough that way, a plainspoken coal miner’s daughter from Carlinvllle, Ill.

Only six weeks separated the deaths of our parents.

They stayed strong for each other.

In recent years as the sun set, my dad would hold my mom’s thin hand, colored purple by Coumadin. She would look ahead, blinking her eyes into the approaching darkness. And he would kiss her good night. Every night.

They lived a deep love I may never know.

Mom and dad got hitched late in life, at least for their generation.

They were married 65 years. Their wedding dinner  and honeymoon night was at the Edgewater Beach Hotel on the far north side of Chicago. The sunset pink colored hotel was pegged as the “Site of America’s Most Successful Meetings.” When my mom opened the door to her hotel room she found a surprise from my father–a bouquet of a dozen roses.

Our mom loved flowers and over the past six weeks we were bringing flowers to my dad’s gravesite. She sat in her wheelchair, gently twirled the ring around her finger and looked at the family plot. She always asked me when the headstone would be ready. It is not up yet, but it will be identified by a gold ring linking their names. Mom battled macular degeneration but that did not stop her from having me park the car in the driveway after our trip to the cemetery. She would blink repeatedly at the white magnolia in our front yard. It is an early and fast bloomer and you have to pay attention.

Mom often got a charge out of the short Zumba dancing sessions I’d throw down with our Ghanian caregiver. (I’d say we had about 30 caregivers over the past eight years.) Mom was lost in mid-stage dementia but when we started shaking our stuff she would smile, clap her hands and say, “Do it again. Do it again.” Who doesn’t want another dance? The power of music can cut through dementia.

Zumba shakedown (Photo by Jude Hoekstra)

Zumba shakedown (Photo by Jude Hoekstra)

Our mom secretly typed out her 26 page autobiography in 1989. I found it in the bedroom safe of their Naperville home. 

Of her wedding day she wrote in part, “The bride wore a rose-pink satin tea length gown and carried a dainty bouquet of white roses. The groom wore a brown suit and a rose and brown striped tie with a white carnation boutonniere….The bride commented it was the happiest day of her life. The day was perfect–sunny, bright and happy.”  The way my mom wrote in third person narrative illustrated her humility.

I also discovered a sidebar essay she wrote in 2000 after we celebrated our parents 50th wedding anniversary at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. Mom began, “Once upon a time there were these two introverts who met, fell in love and got married…Well these two are still around today and you guessed, it, celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on Feb. 11, 2000….After considerable time packing, as old folks are apt to do, they were off to the Drake Hotel. It was there that they planned to meet their two boys, one boy’s (my brother Doug) wife and the other’s (me) friend. You see, their sons had planned the celebration, and it was with their compliments. And of course, the parents were looking forward to “living it up” for the weekend.”

The weekend was full of surprises, including dinner at the old Jilly’s on Rush Street. “This is a well known night spot where Frank Sinatra and people of his ilk made famous,” my mom wrote. “It was fun to be in a place where the clientele was somewhat out of the ordinary.”

My mom was of very ordinary means.

Her Lithuanian parents came to America to work in the Union Stock Yards in Chicago and the Peabody Coal Mines in downstate Illinois. Mom was born on Dec. 10, 1921 in Carlinville, Ill. When the mines around Carlinville closed in 1925 the family moved 45 miles north to Taylorville, where my mom grew up.

She was a first chair clarinet player in the Taylorville High School Band and in her senior year was awarded first prize for an essay she wrote about her high school. This led to her interest in journalism, which she later studied in night school at Northwestern University in Chicago. During the day she worked as a stenographer at Gulbransen Pianos and as secretary at Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, which produced magazines like “Popular Photography” and “Modern Bride.”

In 1946 my mom met my dad at a dance at Northwestern. He was also attending night school at Northwestern. She wrote, “After all these years I can still recall that he was wearing a navy blue suit and that he made an impression on me because he was so witty and personable.”

Our Mom & Dad

Mom & Dad with flowers

Mom and Dad didn’t travel much when we were growing up. Dad was a purchasing agent for Swift & Company in Chicago and mom stayed at home. I’ve been listening to the oral history CDs Doug made in 1993, spending several hours interviewing my parents. I am forever grateful to him for doing that. My folks said they didn’t travel because they were saving money for a house. The first house they owned was a small ranch house which they purchased in 1952 in Westchester, Ill., just outside of Chicago.

In the early 1960s Swift transferred dad to Columbus, Ohio. I used to ponder the “Leave it to Beaver” dynamic of our household. We had two boys, no pets, a nattily dressed father heading off to work and a stay at home mother –who owned pearls but rarely wore them. Several  years ago I talked to the creators of “Leave it to Beaver” and they said the show was indeed based on their experiences in “Central Ohio.” After my brother and I finished high school my mom found secretarial work at Amoco Research Center in Naperville and it was a job she loved.

This modest pedigree leads me to one of my favorite stories about mom. In 1993 the Chicago Sun-Times assigned me to shadow Frank Sinatra during his appearance  at the Paramount Arts Centre in Aurora, Ill. I asked my mom to be my date. She was 72 years old. Frank was 77. We went to the concert where Frank told his fans he would do “nothing new because no one writes anything anymore.”

We followed Frank to a post-concert dinner across the street to the Cafe Harlow restaurant in the Hollywood Casino. Frank enjoyed sliced veal, onion rings and French Fries. He washed it down with Jack (Daniel’s) and ice water on the side. As he left the dinner table around midnight the casino security staff cleared a path by our table.

Although I was told not to bother Frank, I started to say hello. Frank ignored me.

Then he smiled and winked at my mom.

Now he did it.


Mom was not ready to go home. We all went to the casino’s Directors Lounge to hear the late great singer Frank D’Rone. The other Frank had another Jack. My mom was having a blast and my dad was getting worried.

I finally dropped mom off in her Naperville home in the wee, wee hours of 2 a.m. Every time I repeated this story over the years my mom  scolded me for “not letting me talk to Frank.” My mom radiated measured class and even Frank Sinatra saw that. We played Frank Sinatra CD’s by her hospice bed.

The best way to conclude this essay is to use the end of my mom’s autobiography: “My parents came to the United States for better opportunities and a better way of life. They strived and worked hard for everything. I, too, have worked hard and tried my best to do things right and to make a good life for my family. “Perhaps one might call these memoirs ordinary and not too exciting–but just think. If these two people had not come the many miles from Europe, if their paths had not crossed, then I would not have the privilege to be here and write the tale of my life for you to read.” Her privilege will continue.

My brother and I have spent our lives making a living with words and now my mother’s nurturing spirit will inform all the words that follow. She is here.

She is the gold ring around my heart.


The view from our mom’s favorite chair, 5/23/15

Deep thanks to all of you who have visited this website over recent years to help me navigate my parents journey. For more on music and dementia, listen to my WGN-AM Nocturnal Journal  show on the subject. Share it with someone who is traveling a similar path.

Services for Irene Hoekstra are at 10 a.m. May 27 at Grace United Methodist Church, 300 E. Gartner Rd.  in Naperville. Visitation is 9 a.m. at the church, services are followed by a luncheon at the church. Burial immediately after the luncheon at Naperville Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Caregiver art by Ted Crow, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Caregiver art by Ted Crow, Cleveland Plain Dealer

We are a quiet but intrepid tribe, those of us who are in the growing number of parent caregivers.

We are the I’m Coming Soon Platoon.

I’ve refrained from posting much about my summer journey: taking care of my 92-year-old mom with dementia and heart disease and a father with Parkinson’s Disease who turned 94 on Nov. 17. Perhaps their challenges are private. But I now know the pharmaceutical department at the Meier store in Aurora like the back of my hand. Nitrile exam gloves? Aisle 4. Personal cleaning wipes: Aisle 2. I know as much about hospice care as I know about the ’69 Cubs.

What has happened to me this year came from a higher place I cannot explain.

I left my job of 29 years in March.  I finished my book “The People’s Place (Soul Food Restaurants And Reminisces From The Civil Rights Era To Today),” due in October on Chicago Review Press. I handed the book in on Friday, Aug. 8.  On Aug. 10 I was wheeling my Mom into the emergency room.


She spent eight days in the hospital with assorted ailments. Three days before her discharge I was with her to watch radiologists stick a long needle in her spine. This procedure was necessary to drain the fluid that had gathered between her heart and her lung. After I was done squirming in my chair one man held up a clear bag which was about the size of a Neiman Marcus purse. The bag was filled with fluid. They told me the fluid would come back soon. “She’s got about two or three weeks,” the young hospitalist told me on the day of her discharge.

And we were off to home hospice.

And we’re all still here.

Things I see while shopping at Meier in Aurora.

Things I see while shopping at Meier in Aurora.

Hospice includes removing the patient from medication. My Mom was taking at least 15 pills. And she got better. I’ve tried to respect her wishes and her extraordinary will.

She will signal us when she wants to travel in another direction.

To have the summer off to take care of my parents evolved into one of the greatest gifts of my life. There were tears. There was a meeting with the minister. There was a trip to the funeral home.

But there have been laughs. Flowers. And music. My Mom remembers the words to Frank Sinatra’s  “Too Marvelous For Words,” although she did not take my bait on dressing up like Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga for Halloween.

We caught escaped moments without a net.

I could not have devoted so much time to each of my parents if I had a regular job.  I’m the only family member in the area. My brother made trips up from Nashville, Tn. when he could. And, although I get the idea of living in the moment, there’s a chance we can l be together for the holidays. The 24-hour caregivers are great and I gave one of them a DVD of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” one of my all time favorite movies

I now feel recharged enough to also turn around and move forward with my own life.

I burned through my buyout and book advance. I’m broke but fulfilled.


At 10 p.m. Dec. 6 I’ll begin a live Saturday night “Nocturnal Journal” variety show on WGN-AM (rebroadcast on podcast and iTunes). The two-hour show will revolve like a Lazy Susan around roots music, weird music, supper club music, backroads travel, tiki bars, world music, old diners, rhythm and blues and Merle Haggard; all kinds of the stuff I did at the Chicago Sun-Times. I’m not a big talker but expect lots of guests and in-studio musicians.

L.C. Cooke, the deeply soulful brother of gospel-soul-pop singer Sam Cooke will be our leadoff guest. His benevolent spirit will send us on our way.

We will talk about “The Complete SAR Records Recordings,” my favorite reissue of 2014. Between 1960 and 1964 L.C. cut 14 tracks under the supervision of Sam Cooke. We will be giving away a few copies of the 18-track CD to listeners, courtesy of ABKCO Records.

Rick Wojcik, owner of the Dusty Groove record store will be another in studio guest for opening night. I live within walking distance of Dusty Groove, 1120 N. Ashland and spend way too much time there. Dusty Groove is a gracious sponsor of “Nocturnal Journal” and I’m sure we will be discuss holiday shopping. One of my best finds of the year at Dusty Groove has been the 6-CD import box set “Calypso Craze (1956-57 and beyond)” with a DVD and 170-page hard cover book.


Other in studio December guests month include Gene “Daddy G” Barge (Dec. 13) Robbie Fulks (Dec. 20) and ChristmasCurators John Soss and Andy Cirzan spinning holiday music on Dec. 20. Any other segment ideas? Email me at Contact@davehoekstra. 

Gratitude to Jonathon Brandmeier, Todd Manley, Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano for the encouragement. Thanks to Robert Feder for the kind words. And thanks to all the social media support. I hope we can live up to it.


Away from radio, we’re working on our home grown documentary pilot on the atmosphere and community that informs the music of the Springfield, Missouri region. (Like Les Blank with no financial backing.) This idea was hatched through numerous interviews I did with Springfield bassist and studio owner Lou Whitney over the last 10, 15 years. (A couple of them are cataloged on this website.) Besides music over the years we talked about religion, Route 66, cashew chicken in Springfield and the challenges of being a Cubs fan in Missouri.

Lou’s death from kidney cancer in October inspired me to finish this book and documentary of atmosphere and community. Lou is with us every step of the way. Already I owe thanks to Lloyd Hicks (Springfield drummer and historian), Chris Ligon, Heather McAdams (our narrator) , Victor Sanders (film editor), Lance Tawzer (former Material Issue bassist who is book designer and editor), Rene’ Greblo (photographer-sound man) Tom Vlodek (cameraman) for believing that the confluence of weird spirits on the Ozarks may only be equaled by Memphis, Tn. and New Orleans.


Springfield music book design by Lance Tawzer

Before Lou’s Nov. 9 euphony service at the Savoy Ballroom in Springfield Eric Ambel, Scott Kempner, Andy Shernoff, Mary McBride, Vance Powell, Mark Bilyeu and Vicky Self were all gracious enough to sit down for on-camera interviews to accompany the July footage we shot of Lou, Lloyd, Joe Terry and Donnie Thompson.

I hate self-promotion. I only mention the cast to whet your appetite. We’re getting there.

And often times you can get somewhere when you allow higher places settle deep into your heart.

Lou's worldly bass, Nov. 9, 2014 (Photo by Rene' Greblo)

Lou’s worldly bass, Nov. 9, 2014 (Photo by Rene’ Greblo)