Part 3. from OH, CHICAGO,
White City Suite
River View, the amusement park, sat down the block
From my first high school, its Ferris Wheel dominated
That side of the North Branch of the Chicago River.
Readers, please, excuse the free thinking.
I go to the time,
The year my great grandfather, John,
Came the one hundred miles from La Salle, Illinois,
To Chicago, he wanted to see the lights, the World's Fair,
The white city, magic, and when he returned, home,
He told tales about the town on Lake Michigan,
How great and many its marvels twenty-years after the Fire.
He, my great grandfather, he returned home,
Home to the dark of the Illinois River valley,
To gas-lit streets, to a wife and children,
Who lit the wicks of single candles
Or kerosene, hurricane lamps to climb
The steps to their bedrooms at night.
When he told the family about alternating current,
Chicago ablaze in the middle of the night,
He ignited in my grandmother lust.
She wanted a part,
She sought the grandeur;
She was no longer happy at home,
What darkness, the narrow, a woman’s common lot,
The drudgery of hand laundry, the knowledge that,
As often she had openly lamented,
“Yes, I was born too soon.”
No easy task, ironing the household’s apparel
With an implement heated atop a wood-fired stove,
Early to bed, early to arise, the great bore,
Small town life, it was said she would bed the devil
-- And some claimed she had -- she wanted out, escape.
She married my grandfather, an itinerant painter,
Who went from town to town painting church murals.
And following the grand cliche,
Grandpa drank his liquor as others might milk from a jar.
And he added to his cocktail’s already heady mix,
The family’s romance says, he had bad habit,
He moistened the stylist between his lips;
And we know, the paint those days had lead for its base.
Her husband, my grandfather promised my grandmother
Life, incandescent, excitement, magic,
And the possibility of dreams come true,
Right there on the flat lands off the shore of the Lake.
Remember, the new town rose up from the old,
Up from the ashes, why, it was a resurrection!
Please! Do not tell me there was not real truth to the story,
Had not the Whites been rescued? Was it not a miracle?
They had escaped from the Indians,
The massacre at Fort Dearborn.
My grandmother sought energy, electric, the moment,
She wanted a big-time story, no small-town idyll.
She desired city burning, burning bright, resplendent.
Oh Chicago! It is from you that I have my life