Thanksgiving in Chicago

Chicago is the birthplace of the steel-frame skyscraper, and they just keep building them downtown. At left, along the now-cleaned-up Chicago River; right, the Reliance Building (1895), an early example of the form.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Linda and I flew to Chicago to spend the holiday with Cousin Jim and his family (after my brother’s death, they are my closest kin).  O’Hare was, as you might expect, a total mess, but we managed to find our Lyft driver (my second ride with them), snake through airport traffic, and out to Michaela’s and Jim’s house in Arlington Heights.  All four of us immediately got into a long yak with some beer, then a light dinner.  As we had done years earlier, Jim, neighbor Rolf, and I motored into downtown AH for a couple more beers.  Cousin Mike (three of Jim’s five siblings still live nearby) joined us.  Lots of laughs, and some commiserating on the sorry state of the republic (“Stupid is everywhere,” was a memorable quote from Rolf).

On Thanksgiving morning, Jim and I motored east to Wilmette and a high-school hockey game.  It had been years since I saw “schoolboy hockey” (as they call it in Canada), and it was a lot of fun.  Drove home to watch the Chicago Bears win their football game, then out on Michaela’s bike for a quick ride before dinner.  The repast was spectacular; Michaela is an accomplished cook, and everything was wonderful.  Their oldest child, Jack, is a freshman at Villanova, but Charlie and Katie, high school senior and junior, were at the table for color commentary on suburban adolescence.  Cleaned up the kitchen, went for a walk, had dessert, and went to sleep well before ten.

Was up at dawn Friday, out on Michaela’s bike again, around Arlington Heights.  At 9:30, Linda and I hopped the suburban train, called Metra, into downtown Chicago.  We ambled to a German-style Christmas market, which was nice but totally packed, then east to the Art Institute.  By my reckoning, it had been 43 years since I last visited, and I was totally wowed.  Whew.  What a collection, and even more, a wonderful visitor experience: clearly marked, wonderful interpretive panels for each work and larger genres, a fine place for lunch, just a wonderful few hours.  Need to get back soon!

Christmas Market in Daley Plaza; note the Picasso sculpture (1975) looming over the huts.

The famous lions, wreathed for the holidays, in front of the Art Institute.

Just a tiny sample from the collections.  From top left, a model of Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo” (the full-size version is in a Federal complex nearby); a small part of a stained-glass work, “America Windows,” by Marc Chagall; Monet’s “Gare St. Lazare” (the Transport Geek loves his flowers, but a train station, wow!); Thomas Hart Benton’s “Cotton Pickers”; Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Gaspé”; terracotta ornamentation from the Wrigley Building, one of the city’s landmarks (as an aside, my great-grandfather worked in a plant that made architectural terracotta, and it was fun to muse about whether he or his co-workers made that piece); and more ornamentation from the famed Chicago designer Louis Sullivan:

We hopped a taxi back to the train station, then back out.  Michaela the tireless host had organized a party that night for the three nearby cousins, plus Cousin Bob who lives across town, their spouses/partners, and a couple of their kids.  It was a lot of fun.  Linda had not seen these folks for nine years.  And when the Fredians get together, there are bound to be stories from their youth: my Uncle Joe was disabled after a bad stroke when he was just over 40, and my Aunt Sally worked hard as a school principal, so there was room for some pretty wild stuff.  My fave story from that night was when the boys rolled a keg into a nearby movie theater the afternoon after a large party at their house (“Hey, it wasn’t empty,” said one)!

With the cousins in the kitchen

Up early, Cuz and Michaela delivered us to O’Hare, and we flew home.  So nice to connect with family.

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