A scene from a Hollywood classic? No, it’s only Mom and Dad.
On September 27, 1952, a young couple from Lima, Ohio boarded a Pennsylvania Railroad Company train bound for Chicago to celebrate their honeymoon. Mature enough to marry yet still literal teenagers, the 19-year-old newlyweds must have felt very grown up as they sped toward the big city. They had reservations for seven nights at the upscale Conrad Hilton on Michigan Avenue, from where they would be free to set forth and explore any Windy City attractions that caught their fancy.
Back then, they were just Frank and Jackie, she an only child and he the youngest of six. In less than four years, they would be the parents of two toddler girls and two newborn twin boys. Their productivity would decrease with the birth of just one more son at the end of a further four years. Then, like a surprising afterthought, they would add yet another boy eight years later. Little did they know in 1952 how short-lived and unique was the whirlwind freedom they were to experience on honeymoon in Chicago. Soon they would no longer be just Frank and Jackie; they would adopt the permanent monikers of Mom and Dad, and as those are the names by which I have always known them, that is how I shall refer to them here.
Mom and Dad were married at St. Gerard Catholic Church early on a Saturday morning, rising at six and exchanging vows in a nine o’clock mass. A wedding breakfast followed, and a reception was held in the afternoon. Around five, the wedding party accompanied the newlyweds to the train station. While the train was boarding, one of the revelers, a second cousin who hailed from Pittsburgh, was surprised to spot some friends aboard. He hailed them through their seat window and told them about the young married couple who were travelling on the same train. After the train was well on its way, Mom and Dad were startled to receive a note of congratulations from the benevolent strangers.
The train was delayed a few miles outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Mom and Dad watched the minutes tick away as their coach sat idle on a railroad trestle. When at last they checked in at the Conrad Hilton, their wedding day was nearly over; it was eleven o’clock. Ever the dutiful Catholics, they rose early the next morning to attend Sunday mass, knowing that their ceremony a mere 24 hours earlier did not officially satisfy their weekly obligation.
“Take us to the nearest Catholic church,” they instructed a cabbie, who embarked on a meandering route that seemed to be taking them a great distance across the city. When they ultimately arrived at Old St. Mary’s Church, Dad was too young and green to know that it is customary to add a tip to the fare. “What’s the matter with him?” wondered Dad as the surly driver departed with a hostile stare.
St. Mary’s was exhibiting a rare Gutenberg bible, and a local news photographer asked the photogenic young couple to pose with the display after Mass. For the remainder of the week, Mom and Dad kept buying copies of the two daily papers, yet they never came across their picture. It would eventually come into their hands in a circuitous way after the item was spotted by a Chicago priest, who mailed the item to his Lima brother, who happened to know Mom and Dad.
As the newlyweds wandered about the city after leaving St. Mary’s, they were momentarily nonplussed upon discovering their hotel only a few blocks away. Soon they realized that the cityslicker cabbie had taken them for a ride in more ways than one. One day they would appreciate the great poetic justice that was served when Dad unwittingly yet appropriately stiffed the deceitful driver.
They lunched that afternoon at a little Mom-and-Pop restaurant near the hotel, saving the elegance for that evening, when they dined in the Hilton’s famous Boulevard Room. There the tables were arranged around the perimeter of an ice rink. As skaters whirled about the ice and dinner was served, a hotel photographer captured cameo portraits of the honeymooners as a souvineer of their big night. To top it all off, they enjoyed mint juleps in the sophisticated surroundings of the hotel’s Plantation Room.
It had been quite a day in That Toddlin’ Town, and there were six more to enjoy before Mom and Dad would catch the train back to Lima. Kids in the big city, they made their plans impulsively and rode the El, once roaming a nearly deserted section of town without concern for their safety. “We were too dumb to be scared,” explains Mom now. In a playful moment that only underscores their youth, my future parents tossed grapes from their 14th-floor hotel room onto the Michigan Avenue pedestrian traffic. “I doubt if we hit anybody,” recalls Dad sheepishly.
One day they walked through Grant Park and went wherever their whims took them, pausing to admire Buckingham Fountain. They saw the stars in Adler Planetarium, observed the stuffed gorilla at the Museum of Natural History, toured the coal mine in the Museum of Science and Industry, surveyed the merchandise at Marshall Field’s, and contemplated famous paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Dinner time offered an array of choices that far outnumbered the eateries back home, from the German cuisine of The Berghoff to the choice steaks of The Stockyard Inn, where Harry Truman himself had dined the previous summer. At the latter establishment, diners would be asked to specify their preferred cooking thoroughness, which was then branded on their personally selected steak. Faced with such a choice for the very first time, Mom and Dad ordered their steaks “well done.” Their waiter, aware that he was serving unseasoned diners, suggested, “At least have it done medium.” As they enjoyed their flavorful steaks, the youngsters knew they were eating in a ritzy establishment, for a crew of highly attentive servers ensured that their water glasses were constantly refilled.
Nights out featured memorable live entertainment. They sat in the balcony of the Aragon Ballroom and enjoyed big band music. When they went out onto the floor to dance, they felt overwhelmed by the “professionals” who showed off their expertise. At the Blackstone Theater, they caught Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in The Four Poster. Obtaining their tickets “on the spur of the moment” on a Friday night, they witnessed the almost indistinct action from the top of the third balcony. They also visited the Shubert Theater, where Harry Houdini had once performed, to see Alan Jones and Pamela Britton in Guys and Dolls, which also featured Stubby Kaye (who had played the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson on Broadway and would reprise the part three years later in the film version) and “Danny Thomas Show” regulars Sid Melton and Sheldon Leonard.
When they weren’t enjoying the theater, Mom and Dad managed to catch several current movies. They saw Ann Blyth in Sally and Saint Anne, a comedy in which a young Irish girl is convinced that she has experienced a miracle when she successfully prays for the recovery of her lunch box. As if that were not enough, Mom and Dad also attended a double-feature of Just For You (a Bing Crosby/Jane Wyman musical) and Here Comes the Groom (the previous autumn’s Crosby/Wyman musical!).
All too soon, their fantastic week in Chicago was over, and the responsibilities of daily life resumed and multiplied. It would be a long time before Mom and Dad were able to relive their honeymoon. For their 25th anniversary in 1977, they returned to Chicago in celebration of their marriage, but true to their generous nature, they actually took me along because they wanted me to see the city. We ate at the Berghoff, where a good-natured accordion player encouraged me to squeeze out a few notes.
Finally, in 2002, Mom and Dad did it right, honoring their 50th anniversary by returning not only to Chicago but also to the Hilton. We “children” made reservations for them at the Berghoff as a little anniversary present, but we had ulterior motives. When the reminiscing second-honeymooners arrived at the scheduled time, they were absolutely stunned to be seated as the guests of honor at a long table with thirteen of their children, children-in-law, and grandchildren. Again, in accordance with their love of family, they were not in the least upset about our intrusion. In fact, they were thrilled to make the rest of their time in Chicago an extended family vacation.
Now, they’re not only Frank and Jackie, Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa, they are also Great Grandma and Great Grandpa. Ask them about this legacy and the fact that they raised six children of their own, and you might be surprised by their response. They don’t complain about the leaner years. They don’t mention the sacrifices they made. You’ll only be able to squeeze one regret out of them. They will actually tell you, “We wish we had had more children.”
Happy 58th Anniversary, Mom and Dad!