A very Roseland Christmas

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A Roseland Christmas was always aimed at the kids — and still is everywhere. I recall some of the gifts I received, but honestly, I remember getting my dad a carton of cigarettes more. I remember it being an annual dilemma: What do I get mom and dad. With a family consisting of eight kids, there was no question of whether to give our siblings gifts. That wasn’t about to happen. Our parents, that was another story entirely.

I don’t remember at what age I started thinking in terms of better presents for my parents, but I know it came about gradually. I remember feeling proud when I bought my mom a clear plastic covered box of hankies with some kind of embroidered flowers and then later, earrings to go along with them. For my dad, I don’t think there was any pride involved, but I do remember my brother and me chipping in to buy a carton of Pall Malls. (Coincidentally, the brand my siblings and I all started with.) As I got older, I upped my game in my gift giving to my mom with flowers and eventually including some kind of inexpensive jewelry.

Whatever gifts I gave, shopping on the “Ave” (Michigan Avenue) played a major roll. The stores and the city light poles were always decorated just before Thanksgiving Day. The Ave was always festive and lit up beautifully for the holiday season. The Avenue stores were like a mini-downtown Christmas display of holiday spirit. It’s a fact that the Ave was second only to downtown Chicago and the choice for many was to visit Roseland’s Ave rather than head all the way downtown.

One year, my brother Augie and I shoveled snow and delivered papers to get up some money for Christmas gift giving. We laid out a plan to collect our money on a Saturday when the man of the house would be home after getting paid on Friday. We each ended up with about $14 for gifts. In 1960, that was a good amount of money. As a marker, remember that was when bread cost about 22 cents a loaf and a gallon of gas was 30 cents.

My brother and I headed down the Ave walking from 116th Street and Michigan. Of all the stores on the Ave that might have held our interest, we had spotted a seasonal store near the Union Bank at 111th. We walked past the three dime stores on the Ave and KarmelKorn. We walked past Stu De Jong Hobby Store and J.C. Penny and we walked past Gately’s People’s Store. Finally we reached our destination!

The little seasonal store was a veritable cornucopia of interesting, fun, eye-catching, and unusual gifts. I remember a few of the gifts I bought like a deck of magic cards and a miniature camera with film — just like the ones on the back of comic books. There was such a great variety of inexpensive small gifts that we were able to purchase a gift for each of our siblings and get better gifts for our parents at the other stores on the Ave.

Now that I’ve shared my Christmas childhood memory I’d like to rerun a previous column because it was so well received.

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.”

Pullman News

The 45th Annual Pullman House Tour took place over Columbus weekenf. It was overcast and drizzly but a couple of thousand people came through for the annual tour. The seven private residences and six civic buildings provided many sights for visitors to enjoy. One of the more interesting residences on the tour this year, according to visitors, was the Dunbar House, which is an executive house that has been refurnished with period pieces.

A special thanks goes to the musicians that provided entertainment in the inclement weather and to the Corvette and Model A and Classic Car clubs that braved the weather. Those who put their vehicles on display for the enjoyment of others, despite the weather, and spent a lot of their time wiping the rain off their vehicles, were a positive and very appreciate presence.

We all look forward to the 46th Annual Pullman House Tour taking place in beautiful weather with an increase in visitors and participants.

The Pullman Artspace Lofts project began with a removal of the weeds and trees on the empty lots. A major part of the project is now taking place as the two layers of lead paint are slowly being removed from the historic brick on the block buildings. The top layer of paint is cream, with a red layer of paint underneath. No sand blasting is allowed on historic brick, only gentle methods and eco-friendly chemicals can be used. Now that work has begun on this exciting addition to Pullman, you can expect monthly reports on its progress.

Contact me at 11403 S. St. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60628; 773-701-6756; or cjfranoi@yahoo.com.

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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