A story worth retelling

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Christmas is a time for traditions that we’ve held close to our hearts since we were children. Often our celebrations include practices our parents and grandparents passed on to us.

Gone are the days of tall, wide evergreens buried in tinsel. Of course, that era was followed by aluminum trees with rotating color wheels. Some of the more daring families would set the wheel to the blue filter and have the only blue tree in their neighborhood. That’s not to say that some folks didn’t go for the green or red filter instead!

Many of us inherited the ornaments and special Christmas tree topper that served our family for generations. I recall that Christmastime was about the only season when we ventured into the attic. We’d pull down the ladder and climb up, carefully avoiding all fiberglass insulation. Those were the days when fiberglass was everywhere. Invariably one of the kids in our family would be dealing with fiberglass fragments in their hands for the next couple of days.

We had a couple of boxes of colored lights that were about two inches tall and on long brown cords. Stringing lights was always an adventure, especially when they got modernized, where if one died, the entire cord didn’t light up at all. Breaking ornaments was another problem we dealt with often. I remember one particular time getting the boxes down from the attic. When I went to step off the ladder, my brother had left a box of ornaments on the floor. I didn’t realize it until I stepped on it! Luckily, I only stepped on part of the box and broke three ornaments—giving my brother a good laugh.

One tradition I embrace is the Christmas story told by Mario Avignone, the founder of this column. Fr. Pierini asked him decades ago to start writing Petals as a way of keeping Roseland alive in our hearts. In my 12 years as the author of this column I have tried to maintain the tradition of a sense of belonging to the larger community of those who grew up in Roseland, Pullman, and Kensington. Enjoy! Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Mario’s Christmas tale

Years ago, when Fr. Joseph Chiminello was pastor of St. Anthony, he had a beautiful manger scene set up in front of the old church altar. It cost a lot of money to import from Italy, and it was his pride and joy.

On Christmas morning, Fr. Joe went into the church between masses to pray in front of the imported crib. He was shocked to see the Baby Jesus had disappeared! He looked everywhere in the church, but couldn’t find the beautiful little statue.

He phoned the Kensington Police Station, then located at 115th Street and Indiana Avenue, and talked to Commander Tom O’Brien and reported the Baby Jesus was missing and someone had stolen it.

Commander O’Brien and his best detectives rushed to the church. Judge Alexander Napoli, who lived in the neighborhood, heard about the Baby Jesus being missing from the Nativity crib and rushed to help find it.

Someone phoned Alderman Dominic Lupo and reported that the Baby Jesus had been stolen from St. Anthony Church. He too, joined in the search but to no avail.

Fr. Chiminello, Commander O’Brien, Judge Napoli and Alderman Lupo stood at the front of the church in front of the Nativity discussing who might have stolen the beautiful statue and why. They had no clue and were at a loss as to why anyone would commit such a sacrilege.

Just then there was a sound in the back of the church of a door opening. As they watched in disbelief, a 6-year-old boy walked into the church and up the main aisle pulling a little red wagon with a blanket in it. As the wagon drew close to the group of men at the front of the Nativity, the boy stopped and opened the blanket to reveal the beautiful imported statue of the Baby Jesus.

The men were dumbstruck. Finally, Fr. Joe timidly asked: “Why did you steal the statue?”

The boy looked at the men with a smile on his face as his eyes lit up in innocent wonder and he said: “I didn’t steal Baby Jesus. I prayed to Jesus last night for a red wagon for my Christmas present. When I woke up this morning — it was there — my little red wagon was under the tree. I was so happy, I wanted to give Baby Jesus the first ride in my red wagon to say thank you for answering my prayers.”

A grand Pullman tradition

Every year when the seasons change, Pullman is abuzz with activity. This year, we Pullman residents held the 50th annual Pullman House Tour. With eight residences and three civic buildings on display, along with Mother Nature’s cooperation and an overflowing Sunday Classic Car Show, Pullman became the place to be. Visitors could be seen walking throughout Pullman from one end to the other and always deeply involved in conversation about Pullman’s beauty and history.

When autumn comes to Pullman and the leaves begin to fall from the trees, the architecture of Pullman appears. The beautiful red brick Queen Anne-style houses become visible as the trees become barren. This is just one of the many wonderful results of the preservation of Pullman. The weather was so pleasing that the crowds of people showed up early and lingered until the last possible minute. The crowds are always congenial and never seem to mind waiting in the short lines to get into the residences.

Being a preservation community, the one major restriction Pullman has is that the front of the houses must resemble the original structures as much as possible. However, the insides of many Pullman houses have achieved a level that could easily get them a display in a beautiful home decorating magazine. Walls have been totally or partially removed, recessed accent lighting and first-floor powder rooms have been added, kitchens boast exposed brick and new cabinets, and the layout of the appliances has been adjusted to allow for brighter more open spaces.

Columbus Day Parade

In recent years, we’ve had one heck of a time honoring Christopher Columbus, a hero to our community, and for that reasons, this year’s turnout was superb! There were more than 95 floats and marching groups — a record number! The ABC 7 emcee had their hands identifying each group as they came into range of the TV cameras along State Street.

The day ended with an Italian feast sponsored by many vendors and managed by an indispensible and faithful team of volunteers and workers. I know many of them and humbly thank them, The crowds dined, drank and laughed for hours as they enjoyed the camaraderie of their fellow Italian Americans in honor of their heritage.

My book

My book “Petals from Roseland: Fond Memories of Chicago’s Roseland, Pullman and Kensington Neighborhoods” has sold more than 900 copies since it became available a year ago. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have provided so many fond memories of the Roseland we all grew up in. I have some copies of the book available if anyone is interested in sharing or revisiting their life in Roseland. Contact me at petalsfromroseland@gmail.com or 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756.


About C.J. Martello

CJ Martello has returned to his roots as the author of “Petals from Roseland.” After five years of writing his column as a resident of Chicago's North Side, CJ put his money where his heart is and moved to Pullman, near the Roseland area in which he grew up. Having joined the Spaghetti-Os, Veneti nel Mondo and St. Anthony of Padua Parish and being one of the founders of the Roseland Roundtable Facebook page, CJ has become reacquainted with countless friends and acquaintances from his youth. CJ is looking forward to retirement and completing the books he has put on hold, including one that will encompass as much of Roseland's rich, beloved history as possible.

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