Tuesday, June 29, 2010


When I was five, we moved to a new house in Evanston on Hinman Avenue. It was larger than our house on Maple, but not large on the scale of houses in Evanston. It was in the same block as Miller School, a grade school, where older brother, Norm, started his educational endeavors, and I followed the following fall.

I had already taught myself how to read, so was started in the second grade. Reading was one of my passions. I had discovered that in a book I could go anywhere in the world and learn about other people, how they lived, and what they did. It was a way to escape from the painful aspects of my growing up years. Norm dubbed me, “Bookie,” only one among many other unflattering names he constantly dreamed up.

Some unique things happened on Hinman Avenue that happened at no other place we ever lived. There was a balloon man who came by every so often carrying a fistful of gas balloons in many colors. As he came down the street, he blew a shrill whistle to attract attention. Bobby, who was four when we moved there, would almost go berserk when he heard that whistle. He would race around the house, upstairs and down, calling out to anyone who would listen, “B’loon man! B’loon man! B’loon man!” He would keep it up until finally he got the attention of my mother, or some other adult, and got his “b’loon.” Sometimes the rest of us would get one too, but nobody cared about “b’loons” the way Bobby did.

One year the balloon man came by on Memorial Day. We were just starting out to go to the Memorial Day Parade, so my mother bought us all balloons. We must have looked quite festive as we walked along toward downtown Evanston, holding all our balloons. But soon, Bobby, in his excitement, lost hold of his balloon and began to cry as it floated slowly and inexorably upward. Frannie, who was the generous one of the family, said “Here, Bobby, you can have my balloon.” Bobby accepted it with a big smile, and his tears stopped.

But after another block or two, he lost that balloon too. Norm, who was not generous, but was bored with hanging on to his balloon, grumbled “Here, take mine, I don’t want it anyway.” Once again, Bobby was enthralled, but as we were nearing downtown, that balloon got away from him too. I wasn’t generous either, but I felt sorry for Bobby and gave him my balloon. “Hold on tight,” I cautioned, but before we had gone another block, that balloon followed all the others.

Bobby stopped still, and, for a moment, looked as if he might cry again as he watched his last balloon float away into the sky. Apparently he was pondering the loss of all his balloons and trying to make sense of it. My mother was impatient and said “Come on, Bobby, we’ll miss the parade.” Bobby, with his eyes on his balloon, still visible far above, gave a huge sigh, and stated firmly, “God wants all my b’loons.”

Another wonder of our life on Hinman Avenue was a hurdy-gurdy man who would come by once in a while with his music box, and a little monkey that sat on top of it. He wore a red felt vest with gold trim, and a cute little pillbox hat that he would doff whenever anyone gave him a coin. I loved that monkey, and used to save every penny that came my way in preparation for the day that the hurdy-gurdy man would come by.

A soon as the hurdy-gurdy man established his position on the corner near our house, I would grab my pennies, and rush out to where he was. When I held out my hand, palm up, with a penny in it, the monkey would reach out his little hand and take it. As he picked it up, I could feel his little fingers brush against my skin and felt a shiver of delight. His little hands were so human, with perfect little nails.

I always wished I could have spent more time with him, but as soon as my pennies were all gone, the hurdy-gurdy man would pack everything up, pull on the leash so the monkey would jump up on the box, and away they went.

Years later, at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, I saw another hurdy-gurdy man with another monkey, in the same kind of little suit and hat. When I gave him pennies, and felt him take them out of my hand, I was transported back to Hinman Avenue, and once again flooded with joy at the touch of those little fingers on my hand.

Another thing unique to Hinman Avenue, didn’t interest me, but it fascinated Norm. Until they finally put in a stop sign, there were frequent collisions at the corner near Miller School. We could hear them from our house, as the metal on metal sound of the crash was loud and distinctive on our quiet street. Norm would rush out to see what had happened, to find out if anyone was hurt, and to watch all the activity of the police and the ambulances, if any. He became quite a connoisseur of auto accidents.

While at Hinman Avenue, it was decided that I had to have my tonsils out. When my mother told me about it, she referred to the operation as “tonsils and adenoids.” I had a vague idea of what and where tonsils were, because Norm had had his tonsils out a year or so before, but was vague on just where or what adenoids might be.

When Norm had had his tonsillectomy, my parents decided to have him circumcised at the same time, since it hadn’t been done at birth. When he heard I was going to have my “tonsils and adenoids” out, he said darkly, “Boy, will you be surprised when you find out where your adenoids are!”

The most exciting thing that happened when we lived at Hinman Avenue was that we acquired a car. It was a 4-door Franklin, and was convertible. They were called “touring cars. It had no permanent windows. The ones it had were made of ising glass, and snapped in when they were needed—not a quick process.

My father often took us for rides in the Franklin, usually out in the country somewhere, often for a picnic. We loved it. I remember one particularly exciting day when my father thrilled us all by reaching the terrifying speed of 37 miles per hour—the fastest we had ever gone!

The part of the house that I loved the best was the library. It had a fireplace at one end, windows at the other, and a beautiful Persian rug on the floor. The walls were lined with books. It was my haven. I spent many hours there lying on the rug, looking at, or reading books. I was sad when in the summer I was seven, we moved out to Geneva, Illinois, in the Fox River Valley.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


The day following Sunday, December 7, 1941, Fran, along with several of his friends in Geneva, Illinois, where we lived then, went down to the draft board and enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He became a night-fighter pilot, and in 1943 was sent to the South Pacific. Fortunately, he later came back safely from that seemingly endless war.

In the years after the war, he and his wife, Barb, had several children—six, and he was just as wonderful a father to them as he was a brother to us. He had a light touch, and knew how to get across principles of behavior to his kids without anger or cruel words. He loved each of his children for their own individuality, and encouraged them to be who they wanted to be. I admired him for being able to do, so wisely, what I didn’t naturally know how to do. I learned from him, as I always had, by watching how he handled situations and people.

In time, he became an engineering test pilot, and was stationed at Alamogordo, New Mexico. One day, he was flying an F-106 jet plane, testing a device intended to hold a sophisticated new missile—the Cruise Missile, I believe. Unfortunately, the device holding the missile was not sufficiently strong, and broke apart from the plane. Part of it cut through the fuselage, severing the hydraulic systems that enabled the pilot to control the plane.

Now, there was no way to change the plane’s speed or direction. He tried to use the ejection seat, but it jammed. (Later, there was an investigation which found that all the F-106s at Alamagordo at that time had their ejection seats improperly installed. Any pilot who tried to eject would have had the same experience Fran had.)

Somehow Fran got the canopy open and used his chute to lift himself out of the cockpit, but the F-106 had an unusually high tail. His head struck it, and he was killed instantly.

It was an especially terrible experience for Barb and the six children, and changed their lives irrevocably from then on.

It was also a devastating blow to all the rest of the family. How could I even begin to describe such a loss! All of us knew he was, in some unusual way, different from the rest of us—better, bigger, kinder, fairer than any of us were able to be. There was never any indication that he knew this. I don’t believe he ever thought of such a thing. He didn’t know it. We knew it.

Many years later, I fell into conversation with a business acquaintance in Tucson, Arizona, and found that he was part of the ground crew at Alamogordo the day Fran was killed. As he recalled that day, his face was sad. “He was the greatest guy—just the greatest guy—the best of all the pilots there.” He paused for a moment, his eyes moist. “Everybody loved Fran Parker,” he said, “everybody.” He told me how that day everyone on the ground was shocked when the accident happened, and how bad they all felt because it happened to Fran.

I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to hear about that fateful day from a person who was actually there, and who knew my brother. I was not surprised to hear of the love and respect the people on the ground at Alamogordo had for him--my kind, funny, loving brother, Fran.


When I was born, I had a brother, Norm, who was about a year and a half older than I. My brother, Bob, was born about a year and a half after me, but I have no memory of it.

I was four when my brother, Fran, was born, and I remember it very clearly. My mother came home from the hospital after what seemed like a long absence. She was brought in and carried upstairs on a stretcher, and it seemed strange to see my energetic mother carried in that way, covered in sheets, except for her head, and looking so lifeless.

“Where’s the little baby?” I asked, as they were puffing carefully upward, “Didn’t it come home too?” Before they could answer, a nurse in a white uniform and a stiff little cap came in the front door carrying the baby. I couldn’t really see him. He seemed to be just a bunch of blankets all wrapped around each other. I bounced over to get a better look, but the nurse said, “Shh! He’s asleep. You can see him later.”

When we were finally taken into the bedroom to see Fran for the first time, my older brother, Norm, just looked at him for a minute, and then said, “Hmph!” My younger brother, Bob, looked at him for a few moments, making his assessment. “He’s too little to play with!” he said in disgust. “Well, he’s going to grow bigger,” I assured him.

I didn’t see anything wrong with that new and exciting person, and looked at him in fascination, especially at those little miniature hands. I reached out a finger tentatively to touch one, and Fran’s tiny fingers closed around one of mine so sweetly and deliberately, I felt a surge of love and joy. There began a connection that was never broken as long as he lived.

Fran was the happy one and the generous one of the family. His heart was big, uncritical, kind, and giving from the start. I was selfish, Norm was selfish, Bob was selfish, but Fran was always willing to share whatever he had. Our mother was always telling us to share our playthings, to be fair, and to be kind to other children, but no one had to tell Fran anything. He seemed to have been born knowing these things.

When we lived in Geneva, Illinois, where we moved when I was seven, we used to go on picnics to the Camden Woods, a lovely hilly area west of town. We used to have to lug everything quite a distance over the fields from the car, with everyone carrying something, and Norm always grumbling as he carried the large thermos of lemonade. My mother would spread out a tablecloth on the ground, and we would picnic under a huge oak tree. After that, we would all scramble up our favorite hill, which had a wonderful flat top and wasn’t hard to climb.

One day, as the grown-ups talked and we played on that hill, Fran found some loose change in the grass--an exciting event! Bob looked jealous, disappointed that he hadn’t found it first. Bob would have kept it, Norm would have kept it, I would have kept it, but not Fran. He counted the change, and without a moment’s hesitation handed some of the coins to Bob, saying, “Here, Bob, here’s your share.” Bob was ecstatic. I was amazed. I wouldn’t have even thought of doing such a thing, but couldn’t help but admire him for doing it, and loved him for being the way he was.

Not only was Fran generous and kind, but he was funny. He could always make us laugh, even when we were mad at each other, and many of our childish battles and rivalries would just melt away because his humor would make it seem so silly.

Later, we moved back to the “North Shore,” the suburbs north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. His imagination and humor were fun for us all. When we lived in Glencoe, and he was in high school, he had all sorts of inventive schemes in his room to make things easy to do. He rigged up a string to a light chain so he could put out the light after he was already in bed. At night he arranged his clothes on a chair by his bed so that in the morning he could get dressed in less than a minute.

He was creative about everything—always looking for a better way to do anything he had to do—and also was imaginative about getting a laugh. He put up a sign on the wall by his door, saying, “Only good-looking people may pull this string.” A little red string hung enticingly from the lower part of the sign. Of course, no one could resist pulling it. When they did, it opened downward, revealing a message that said, “My, but you’re conceited!” Everyone had to laugh.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


My very first memory is of being in my crib in the dark, crying because I was wet and cold. I was standing up, holding on to the railing, wondering where my mother was. Whenever I cried, she always came to see what was wrong, and then would take care of me and provide whatever was needed. This time nothing happened. Nobody came.

After a while, I stopped crying. I remember the wrought iron railing--how cold it felt to my hands--and the little decorative bulges where the bars met the top rail. I stood there realizing that this was something new and not at all right. I had to do something. I remember feeling that I must get out and find my mother, and put all my energy into trying to get out of my crib to go find my mother.

I could see light from the hall through the partially open door. I had never gotten out of my crib before, but was determined to do it now. I remember struggling over and over to get over the side, and just falling back into the crib, but I kept trying. In the end I made it, and found myself triumphantly on the cold wooden floor.

I tottered toward the light from the hall, and just as I pushed the door open and went through, I saw my father coming toward me. He looked so surprised to see me there, out of my bed and in the hall.

He gathered me up in his arms, carried me back into my bedroom, and took care of everything just as my mother would have done. He changed my diapers and the crib sheets, and soon I was back in a dry, warm bed and fell asleep.

To have my father fulfill my mother’s role made a great change in how I viewed my small world. Since my mother had always been the one to come when I cried, she seemed like an extension of myself. Now, for the first time, I was aware that she was separate from me, and that I was separate from her. I knew I could decide to do something on my own, and then do it.

Much later, when I was older, I found out that on that night, my mother was very sick with the flu, and my father had to get up and take her place. When he did that, I became aware of him in a new way. Now he was more than a pleasant, smiling entity in the background. He was someone who could take care of me as my mother did, and who wanted me to be comfortable and safe.

It was the beginning of a close bond with my father that lasted until he died a few months before his 100th birthday. The night that this all took place, and that the bond began, was shortly before my first birthday, in January 1920.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Earlier in my life, I made many mistakes because of the fear of rejection or the expectation of emotional pain. Unfortunately, this was what I learned as I was growing up.

My mother was emotional and spontaneous, sometimes extravagantly loving, and sometimes harshly critical. The alternation between love and criticism kept me forever off balance. I never knew what was coming next, and had no confidence that I was O.K., or ever could be. In fact, being O.K. actually meant, in the end, pleasing my mother, or at least managing to escape her wrath.

My father was not spontaneously affectionate. I can’t remember ever hearing him say he loved me, but I knew he did, and was always comfortable being around him. He made me feel loved by spending time with me, teaching me things, encouraging me in art, taking me to the Art Institute in nearby Chicago, getting me into classes there as a teenager.

His lack of spontaneity in the realm of affection was made up for by a wonderful sense of humor. He was always funny and often had me and my brothers in stitches at the dining room table, while my mother, who needed to be the center of attention, would say, “Oh, Norman!”

My father was brilliant and intellectual, a walking encyclopedia. I remember once when I was traveling with him on a long train trip—probably going out to the Black Hills in South Dakota--he got into a long discussion about deep sea fishing with a man sitting nearby. I had never heard him mention the subject ever, and yet he seemed to know all about it.

He had a photographic mind and remembered everything, so I was often surprised at how much he knew about almost anything anyone ever brought up. Although he had a Ph.D. in history, he had found that he hated teaching unresponsive undergraduate students, and in desperation decided to become a patent attorney, like his father and brothers, and join the family firm. He taught himself the law by studying for a year or so, and passed the bar exam the first time.

It is fun to have a funny parent, and one that enjoys teaching you things. He made learning a pleasant adventure, and thinking and figuring things out a lifelong pastime.

My mother was musical and played the violin very well. She was spontaneous and witty, and charmed everyone with whom she came in contact. People either loved her extravagantly or hated her guts.

Looking back on my formative years, I can see how I was shaped by the pain and the inconsistency of my spontaneous parent as opposed to the steadiness and comfort that came from the more diffident one. To me, spontaneity was not to be trusted; intellect and humor were. Emotions were apt to bring pain; thinking was safe.

Emotional pain cut deeper than ideas. Emotions could leave lasting wounds. No matter how much my father tried to help me to believe in myself, it could all be destroyed in an instant by my mother.

As an adult, I had no idea who I was. I felt like an anchorless, rudderless boat adrift in a huge sea. Where did I belong? Who did I want to be? What direction would I take if I could find my rudder? I never knew.

I got married, had children, and got divorced. I did the best I could, but not having any clear concept of how to find emotional stability, I had no idea how to teach my children to be stable and self confident people. You can’t teach something you don’t know.

Now, with the perspective of 91 years of life, I can look back on my first few years and realize that I was the victim of a parent who was herself a victim. My children were in turn the victims of my lack of belief in myself. I feel sorry that I was unable to give them any sense of direction or feeling of security, sorry that I got to know myself and believe in myself long after they were grown. I don’t feel guilty because I was doing the best I could with what I knew and had to work with at the time, but I am regretful because I think they missed a lot.