I have lived in many cities in my life—Beirut, Rome, and the suburbs of Washington, D.C. among others—and each has been interesting and stimulating in its own way. But I call Chicago home for so many reasons. I went to college and graduate school here, I married and raised my children here and in retirement I have moved back here from a lavender farm I operated in Michigan with my husband until his death and then for a few years after.
I live just a few short blocks from Lake Michigan and love nothing better than to drive alongside it on Lake Shore Drive. I love the compactness of the Loop where there is so much culture concentrated in an easily walkable area—the Art Institute, the Chicago Symphony, the Chicago Cultural Center and much more. And I love the parks so generously spread along the lake, particularly Grant Park, which thanks to Montgomery Ward and his bulldog tenacity to keep it a public people’s park. I have spent many a morning doing research on him at the Chicago History Museum for an up-coming biography.
For all its faults and failures, Chicago has a “can do” environment. As an artist I was able to have a modest career with no sense of being looked down upon as not academically trained. The theater scene is vital and innovative as the costs of production are so much less than in New York. Steppenwolf Theater would never have gotten started there.
But Chicago also has special meaning for me because of my mother, who spent what must have been the best days of her life working in and enjoying the city to its fullest. We share a kindred spirit there although I have hardly spent as many long evenings going from club to club as she did with her many swains or ridden down Rush Street in a stolen baby carriage (which was, however, taken back). And the area of the city she lived in, around Rush and Chicago, was and is much swankier than the neighbor where I have lived. She thought her life there “glamourous” and “fun.” As I write about in my memoir Examined Lives, this was a mother I had never known as a child as the lobotomy given her by Walter Freeman took away her “sparkle.”
Of course, the Chicago my mother enjoyed is not the same Chicago today. But I somehow take comfort in the number of her haunts which still exist and which intersect with my life: the Auditorium Theater where she heard the famous violinist Mischa Elman; the Blackstone Theater, now the Merle Reskin Theater, where she saw Lillian Gish; the Aragon Ballroom, where she attended dances and where my husband played a gig when he was a blues musician; and of course The Drake Hotel, where she worked as a hostess in the famous Camellia House serving celebrities of the day and where I held the book launch for Examined Lives.