Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Last Rose of Summer

For as long as I can remember an image of 'Our Lady' sat on the mantlepiece at my grandparents' house, a single-bud vase at its side. Throughout the summer, my Grandma would pick the best rose from my Granda's garden for Our Lady's vase. As September approached, she would start to declare that each bloom she picked was probably the last rose of summer. Granda's roses always managed to present her with another month of flowers.

Depending on the knowledge of the questioner, there are many ways for me to answer "where are you from?" - from a simple "the UK" to "I was brought up in South Shields" or maybe even "Chicago". On the other hand, were anyone to ask me "Where is home?" the image that would always spring to mind would be my grandparent's dining room, overlooking a garden full of roses and generally just a little too full of long-legged relations.

Grandma and Granda Williamson lived in Summerhill Road for their whole married lives and their five children and one of my cousins grew up there. Whenever I stepped off a plane or a train, we always went first to Grandma's; if my sister and I went clothes shopping, we had to swing by on the way home to show Grandma and Granda what we'd bought; if you wanted to catch up with family you just popped by for coffee on a Sunday morning and aunts, uncles and cousins would always appear.

My Grandma was the chatty one, generally bustling about feeding everyone who came within reach. She always had a freshly baked cake lying around, maybe chocolate, nusskuchen or a victoria sponge, and visitors were always plied with a cup of tea and a pile of biscuits, often with a sandwich or two thrown in for good luck. Granda was a quiet man, although with a delightfully droll sense of humour. As a young man he'd thought of joining the police force but, in line to enroll, an army recruiter approached him and he decided to enlist in the army instead. His first year was spent as a Coldstream Guard, guarding the palace in a smart red uniform and the traditional bearskin hat. For the rest of his life, his walk was unmistakably that of a soldier. Decades later, my Aunty Eileen's new neighbour saw him walking his regular five mile route to visit her for a cup of tea and asked if he had been a Coldstream Guard.

He was then posted in Palestine and Egypt but his four year term of service was extended when war broke out and eventually became nine. Captured in Italy, he initially escaped from a prisoner of war camp but was recaptured and transported to Munich. When I told him I was moving to Germany for a time he said that I'd like the Germans - of all the European nations they were the most like the British. He showed me the German books he'd brought back after the war. He'd been put to work mending the roof of the Rathaus and still bore a deep groove in his middle fingernail where it had been crushed by a rolling beam. That was the most I'd ever heard him talk about himself. As a rule, he simply led by example. He never ever raised his voice, or lost his temper. If he disapproved of our behaviour it was enough for him to simply raise his index finger, or softly wave his hand up and down to tell us to settle down.

After the war he joined the fire brigade and was one of the longest-serving members in the area. Over thirty years after his retirement, he still received a 90th birthday card from the fire service.

He and my Grandma were married for 64 years. With family at the heart of their life together, they always referred to each other as "mam" and "dad". When we were children, my Grandma would go shopping in Newcastle every Thursday with my Aunty Eileen or mam. Granda would check that she had her purse, her keys, her glasses and a handkerchief and, after seeing her out the door, enjoy a couple of minutes of quiet. Then he would watch the clock until her return. Grandma rarely used her key to get back in, Granda was always at the front door as soon as the car pulled up outside.

While Grandma fed us and chatted to us, Granda nursed us. The inside of his trouser legs would wear away from children sliding up and down into his lap. Whenever I hold a baby the first rhymes that I sing are always those I remember him singing to his grandchildren.

Granda Williamson with his first great-grandchild

We lost my Grandma on April 30th, just two weeks before I was due to arrive home for a long overdue visit. I was unable to change my travel plans and had to miss the funeral by a few short days but my mam asked me to make a recording of "Going Home", the one song that my grandma had specifically requested for her funeral. Every single member of the Wicker Park Choral Singers stayed late after rehearsal a few days later to record this with me and through the kindness of these relatively new friends I was able to be with my far-away family in some way.

My Grandma was a devout catholic and for many years attended mass almost every day, walking down to St Gregory's. Granda rarely stepped inside a church. At one point in their marriage Grandma asked the parish priest what she should do.

"Does he support you in raising your children as Catholic?"
"Well, yes he does"
"Is he a good husband?"
"Yes, he is"
"Then leave him in peace!"

For many years she did just that but as they both grew ill my Grandma worried about his lack of faith. "I know there's a better place and that I'm going there, but what about you?" "Don't worry," my Granda answered, "You know where you're going, I'll just come with you."

My grandfather passed away on Wednesday, 21st September. He was lost without his wife, it was time for him to go home. At his funeral tomorrow the British flag on his coffin will commemorate his service to his country; local firefighters have asked to attend in a fire engine to mark his many years as a fireman; 5 children, 11 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren mourn his loss.

And, for the last time, this morning we gathered the roses from his garden to place in the church for Our Lady.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Flower does the world

World Music Festival 2011 has hit Chicago! 8 days, 22 venues, 52 shows and music from over 30 countries. That's a whole lot of fun to fit in to a week and although most of it is strictly human-only, Flower is broadening her horizons with a little culture too.

She started off with Kutumba, a folk instrumental ensemble from Nepal, at Navy Pier yesterday afternoon.

The weather was absolutely perfect and it was a wonderful spot to take in the city skyline

And watch the boats on the lake

After the show I picked up some greasy snackfood (yum) and we had a leisurely stroll back along the pier, checking out the amusements.

She met lots of new friends along the way and checked out the sculptures in the park.

Our stroll back to the El Station took us past the rather ugly giant Marilyn Monroe statue that is currently flashing her knickers at passers-by opposite the Wrigley Building.

This afternoon we're off to the Vintage Bazaar before resuming her world travels at the closing night of SummerDance, featuring World Music Fest Artist Sergent Garcia.

The festival continues through Thursday night so don't forget to check it out, all events are low-cost or free and definitely worth trying! If you're short on time, you can experience multiple groups in one big FREE blowout at the Chicago Cultural Center on Thursday for the One World Under One Roof finale.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sociabulls, Scabby Dog and Food Trucks

It's been a busy week for the pooches, starting with our first "Sociabulls" walk last Sunday morning. I've been excited to take Bilbo along on one of these training walks organized by Two Pitties in the City so when they announced they'd be in Humboldt Park, just a few blocks from me, I signed up straight away.

We met up in the formal gardens and set off for a walk round the park. Buster was a perfect little angel but Billy, of course, threw some seriously impressive tantrums and dogdad took him out of the pack for a 20 minute run to blow off a bit of steam. He managed to almost cool down by the end of the walk and posed happily for a few pictures.

Buster had a good roll around in the grass to wear out the last of his energy and the two did some serious snoring when we got back home.

As the rules of the club specify one dog per person, Miss Flower couldn't join in, so she got her own outing afterwards and joined us for brunch on the patio of a local restaurant. I wouldn't swap my Bilbo for the world but it's definitely been fun having a come-with pooch around, especially as I can take her on public transport. I'm astonished that the lady is still with me (and, if truth be told, more than a little tempted to make it permanent) as she's such an adorable, snuggly little nugget. One family has fallen in love with her but we're still working on whether their dog is willing to come around to their point of view! If anyone you know is looking for a 10lb dancing snugglebug who can live with dogs, cats and kids, please share her profile.

By the time the weekend was over, scabby dog Bilbo was becoming a seriously scratchy mess and I'd resorted to the dreaded cone of shame in order to protect his itchy eyes. At the vet we discovered that he has a skin infection and received a barrage of antibiotics, antihistamines and special shampoo. Luckily it can't be passed on to the other pooches so there's just the one miserable hound to deal with.

Wednesday was outing time for Flower-power again and we started the evening at Waggin' Wednesday hosted by Chicago Party Animals and Fido to Go. She was more interested in snuggling up to the people than running around with the big pooches in the off-leash area but she made sure everyone knew how adorable she is and modeled her new "adoption jacket" - my first shot at creating a pattern for the foster dogs.

After munching on some yummy food from the food trucks we headed off to a people party - the start of the season get-together for Wicker Park Choral Singers. After working the crowd for a while, she clambered up to snooze on my lap by the fire pit while I imbibed plenty of rather delicious sangria.

We closed out the week the way we started, with another Sociabulls walk! This time we just took Billy along and after a hefty tantrum when we first arrived he did beautifully for almost the whole walk.

We can't make it to next week's walk but I'm looking forward to joining in again when the club is back in our area (or when I finally learn how to drive?!)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Playdate x5

There's no itch-relief in sight for Billy yet. His vet has been away for a couple of weeks so she doesn't have an opening until after the weekend. However, I taped baby socks to his back paws this morning so he's doing a lot less damage with the scratching.

In the meantime, keeping him tired out is pretty helpful too so we had a hot and sunny five-dog playdate yesterday! I wish I could take credit for the huge overnight improvement in photo quality but the great pictures are courtesy of Bruce and Alfred's mom who just got a spiffy new camera.

Bruce Wayne, the host with the most

I might be scabby but I'm still cute

Even old man Buster had fun

Treats please

Time out
Billy and Alfred aren't quite up to off-leash playtime together though they definitely made some progress in hanging out on-leash in the yard. As Buster is the embodiment of chill, he had a run-around with the big guy.

After all the fun and sunshine I had two very sleepy dogs on my hands - and one ever-ready dancing-Chihuahua.

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