Janet's Jargon

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Christmas came early this year

Surprises! I love surprises! I hate surprises! Actually, I love the surprise. I just hate not being able to figure out what it is. So, it was with a bit of apprehension that I approached the “great adventure” my youngest son, Kevin, had planned for me.
Kevin lives in Chicago, about 500 miles south of Amberg, WI, where I live. He let me know a few weeks ago that I was to keep the weekend of Dec. 3rd open, as he was coming up to “kidnap” me for the weekend. I mean, how can you kidnap your own mother? Something seemed amiss, but I do trust him, so it was with great anticipation that I waited. He said it was my Christmas present, early, because he knew he would be very busy with his catering business closer to Christmas.
To make matters worse, he let several of my friends here in Amberg know what was planned, but none of them would spill a word. I should have known it would be a miraculous time. In the 3+ years since I moved to Amberg, I have never known the whole town to keep a secret. But, they were sworn to secrecy, and no amount of begging, pleading, or bribing would move them to divulge the secret.
Kevin finally did drop a hint. He said, “It is something you have wanted to do for a long time, but you have wanted to do it more in the last few years, but you have never gotten to do it and I am pretty sure you will never get to do it in Amberg.” Well, that narrowed it down to about a gazillion things.
My first instinct was to think that perhaps he had gotten tickets for an opera. I have always enjoyed opera music, but until I got acquainted with Brad Garvin, thanks to his mom Martha, that I really started to understand it and fully appreciate it. Brad is a bass/baritone opera singer at the New York Metropolitan Opera and has been my radio guest a couple of years on my “Marketing for Fun and Profit” program. His mom introduced us because he had a book he had written and wasn’t quite sure how to proceed with trying to get it published. (The book is With the Voice of Angels, a wonderful mystery set in the opera world in Chicago, where Brad got his start.) So the opera was something I have been trying to educate myself in. Kevin had seen several operas, including some in Italy when he was there. When he stayed with me for a couple of months last summer we watched several of the Met performances on PBS TV.
So, with that as my clue, I went to Google and sought operas at the places in Chicago for the weekend of Dec. 3. I came up empty handed. I guess I would just have to wait and see.
As the day approached when Kevin would arrive to whisk me away to the Windy City, I was all packed and rarin’ to go. As we headed south, he told me what the big event was. He had indeed gotten two tickets to a very special opera. It was La Boheme, but it was not in an opera house, but in the United Methodist Church in downtown Chicago.
Kevin had several other things planned too, but that was to be the high point. So our excursion began on Friday morning, when we left for Chicago. The weather was perfect for traveling. We decided to not stop to eat on the way, but to wait until we got to the city. When we arrived, Kevin drove around Lake Shore Drive. The Chicago skyline has to be one of the most beautiful in the world. It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, so the lights were just beginning to turn on.
The last time I was in Chicago was 1965! How could that be possible? Was I really that old? No, it had to be a mistake. I felt like a little kid in a candy shop. While many things had changed over the years, there were still many things I recognized and that felt like I was, in a way, going home.
We proceeded to the Loop downtown. I had forgotten how loud the El was when it rumbled overhead. I wanted to see Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, where I had taken a summer literature workshop back in 1963. Kevin wasn’t sure where it was, but he said he would figure it out. Before we could say “Jack Rabbit,” Kevin said, “I think I turned left when I should have turned right.” No, his wrong turn was exactly the right turn, as there on our left was Moody Church. It looked exactly as I remembered it, with the exception of the addition of a Shell gas station in its back yard. So, Wrong Way Smith turned out to be Just Exactly Right Smith.
We went to a used bookstore, and I found a companion guide to La Boehme. I bought it, and had a chance to read it before the opera. I strongly recommend this, as it makes it so much easier to understand what is going on. The acoustics in the church weren’t the greatest for such a performance, and it was so much easier to follow when you couldn’t make out all the words, even though it was performed in English.
Some friends of Kevin’s were having an art gallery opening Friday night and they had invited me to bring some of my books along to set up at the opening. Have books, will travel! It was perfect. We visited with the artists and quite a few of the patrons who came to do the artwork. I was not selling any books, but I was meeting new friends, handing out promo materials, and just having fun. I honestly didn’t care if I sold a single book or not.
After a while, a man, I’d guess about 60, came in and talked to the artists. They introduced him to me as simply “Peter, the man in the studio upstairs.” He came over to look at my books. I asked him, as I usually do, what he likes to read. His reply was “The Bible and Mein Kompf.” I said that was a sort of a different choice. He said, “I read the Bible because I think it is true, and Mein Kompf because I think it probably isn’t true.” And did that man know the Bible! He could quote verse after verse. He said he especially liked the Psalms because David was so full of iniquity (sin) and so was he. Then he said, “Religiosity is really hard for me to understand.” I told him that is because religiosity is man messing with God, but that the Gospel is really easy to understand. Then I gave him the two basic verses that lead a person to God. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The second one is “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” He asked, “And then what?” I said, “And then nothing! That is the entire Gospel in a nutshell. The tears started to roll down his cheeks and he asked me to pray for him to find his way to God, right then and there in the art gallery. I did, and he smiled and said, “I never knew I could feel like that. What just happened here?” Yes, there’s a new name written down in heaven, and it’s Peter! It was perhaps the best 20 minutes of the whole trip!
On Saturday, Kevin asked me what kind of food I wanted before the opera. One of my very favorite things is fried oysters, but you can’t find them in any restaurants up here. He did some hunting online and found a place that advertised all sorts of seafood, including fried oysters, so that’s where we headed. It wasn’t a fancy place, but the food was incredible. They don’t sell things by the meal, but by the pound, half pound, etc. Kevin got us ½ pound each of fried scallops, mini-crab cakes and the best fried oysters I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was right on the Mississippi River, so the scenery was just beautiful.
We drove around in the Loop to see the Christmas decorations. I guess the only sort of let-down of the entire trip was that I had fond memories of the beautiful window displays back when what is now Macy’s was Marshall Field’s. The windows were pretty blah compared to the way they used to be. However, that was such a minor part of it that it really was unimportant.
Then we headed to the opera. Kevin wasn’t sure exactly where it was, but he had a general idea. Soon he spotted three extremely tall steeples, and he quipped, “You think that might be it?” We went there and since it was a bit early, we waited in the lobby for the main doors to open. A family, consisting of a mother and father and their daughter, probably about 30 or so, came in and they were talking to each other. They had a very beautiful accent, so I finally asked them if they would mind if I asked them where they were from, telling them that I enjoyed listening to their accent. The man smiled from ear to ear. “We are Lebanese,” he said proudly. “Lebanese Christians.” He sighed deeply, then said, “You have no idea how good that feels. My brother was killed in Lebanon because he said that. Here in America I can say that I am a Christian and I do not have to be afraid of someone killing me or my family.” We talked a bit more, and I told him I was an “American Christian.” He and his wife both hugged me warmly and said, “Then you are our sister.” It was a precious moment. Soon the doors opened and we went inside, but during the intermission he came back to talk to us some more.
And the opera! Ah, it was a wonder! My very first ever live opera, and it lived up to all of my expectations—and more. It was the American Chamber Opera from New York. They didn’t have any props, but they didn’t need them. They didn’t have an orchestra, but they didn’t need one. They were accompanied by Jonathan Cambry, a pianist like none I’ve ever heard. I play the piano; he was a pianist. The entire opera was beyond description. If you get a chance, go to YouTube and listen to some of Mr. Cambry’s playing.
Kevin had told me that he wanted to take me to a jazz worship service on Sunday, but he got a call to cater a birthday party for a 90-year old man, so I told him to go ahead and do that. I stayed at the apartment, and it gave me a chance to get to know his four roommates better, so that was good. On his way home from delivering the food, he stopped and got a traditional Chicago pizza, which was wonderful.

He had a meeting that came up for Wednesday, so we decided to go home on Monday as we had originally planned, instead of waiting until Tuesday. We had good weather on the way home, except for about half an hour of rain and snow around Kenosha, Wisconsin. We stopped at Green Bay and ate dinner (some of you city slickers call it “lunch”) at Applebee’s. We splurged and split a piece of triple chocolate cake that was “to die for.”
Oh, one other thing, I walked more than I have probably walked in years, and climbed countless steps. I have had trouble with my knees for several years, but they are much better than they used to be. After Ivan died, the doctor told me I had basically just worn them out with all the lifting I did helping Ivan move from one place to another. He gave me an exercise routine that I do most mornings except on the weekend. I felt that they were getting much better, but this weekend proved just how much they had improved. It was truly an answer to prayer to be able to do what I did. Kevin said he was proud of me, but he was so good to slow down so we could walk together. He usually walks like he’s on his way to a fire, but he pulled back for his ma. It was much appreciated.
I slept on the sofa at the apartment, as Kevin’s bed is so low I knew I’d never get up if I got down on it. The sofa was pretty short. I kidded them, telling them that it was so short that it was the first time I’d ever felt like I must be really tall. It was good to be able to stretch out in my own bed last night.
So, I am home and Kevin is back in Chicago. It was perhaps the best weekend I’ve ever had, and one I will remember for the rest of my life. Brad (my opera singing friend in New York) told me to make sure Kevin treated me like a queen. He didn’t need to worry. There used to be an old TV program on, “Queen for a Day.” I felt like I was queen for the whole weekend.
I do have some pictures coming that Kevin took, and I will post them on my website in the next few days.

May you all have as wonderful a Christmas as I’ve had—and it isn’t even here yet!

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