My Brooklyn-born dad Samuel Weiss was a New Yorker at heart, but he loved Lincolnwood and the Windy City. My dad marched to his own drummer and was a complex, incredibly interesting man with tastes that ran the gamut from high-brow to humble, intellectually superior to silly. When I was little, my dad owned a red 356 Porsche convertible, followed by a white 356. At age 97, he was mentoring an analyst in training, still treating a handful of longtime patients, and was a guest teacher for a class at the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute – truly an amazing man!
My dad had his nose rebuilt after a particularly bad episode of basal cell cancer in 1981, survived colon cancer in 1988, and more recently lost his eyesight due to age-related macular degeneration. Nevertheless, he was a vital lover of life until the very end when COVID-19 cruelly struck him down, despite taking extra precautions. His indomitable spirit is a lesson I need to heed as I deal with my own health issues. He survived 95% of his friends and his longevity superseded every other member of his family by decades. My dad was unbelievably generous to friends and family and supported countless charitable causes. But he wasn’t a saint – he had a hair-trigger temper that made me fear him when I was a child and was outspoken to the point of being caustic, at times. Thankfully, he mellowed a great deal with age, just like the wine he loved!
I’m the family historian and am dedicated to telling his stories through words and photographs. As my 33-year-old daughter and his namesake Samantha said, “It’s unbelievably amazing how many important events my grandma and grandpa lived through and it’s important to tell their story.” During the pandemic when my parents were sheltering in place, he told me many childhood tales about growing up in Brooklyn that I’ll be sharing in the near future. In this blog, I’m remembering a few of the favorite places, activities, and pursuits we enjoyed together in the Windy City, going back to my childhood. Part one is devoted to eateries and recreational pursuits, while the second blog will focus on artistic and cultural interests.
Normie’s Delicatessan: I think my dad loved this place because it reminded him of his beloved NYC delis. What I remember most are the delicious corned beef sandwiches, the little hotel-size boxes of cereal sitting behind the counter, and the old-school atmosphere.
Leonard’s and Levinson’s Bakeries: Although he went to Levinson’s in more recent years and it is blessedly still in business, my dad reminisced about Leonard’s. In the 1940s, Marc Becker’s parents moved the South Side bakery to Devon Avenue and in 1987, he opened the Northbrook location. Oddly, even though my dad’s longtime accountant was close to the Northbrook location, he never went there. The last time he went to Levinson’s was with my sister, shortly before the pandemic.
The Bagel: We went once to the original Bagel on Kedzie and a few times to the one in Old Orchard, but it was the location on Devon that my parents truly adored. They loved the Matzo Ball soup and had a favorite waitress with a bouffant that looked like her name should be Flo, whose name escapes me at the moment.
Mister Ricky’s: I have very vague memories of Mister Ricky’s at 9300 Skokie Blvd, however, I know it was my parents’ favorite Chicago-area deli. Before the Chicago-Main Newsstand in Evanston carried The New York Times, my dad picked up his Sunday copy at Mister Ricky’s. The young, dark-haired guy working the cash register was none other than Rich Melman. His dad Maurie decided on the name Mister Ricky’s, even though Melman claims he hated that nickname. Melman cut his teeth at his dad’s deli before launching his incredibly successful Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. He wanted to be promoted to partner at Mister Ricky’s, but when his dad declined, Melman quit and opened R.J. Grunts with Jerry Orzoff. Of course, the rest is history!
Hackney’s on Harms: This was by far our favorite family restaurant. The original Hackney’s on Harms is near several forest preserves and a horse stable that we would pass on route. While we were waiting for our table, we’d sit at the lovely outdoor patio, weather permitting. We always ordered the burgers medium rare on dark rye and I loved the way the juice soaked the bread. Sometimes my mom would order grilled cheese because she wasn’t a huge burger fan. Now and then, my dad would allow us to split a shrimp cocktail and every other time we would order the onion loaf. My dad always got raw onions with his burger, much to my mom’s chagrin. We loved getting a free Tootsie Pop after we were finished. Other memories include a colorful bar light that fascinated me and the gross ladies room that was in sorry need of renovation back then with a dirty, endless cloth roll to wipe your hands on. If we didn’t order a hot fudge sundae to split, we would stop at Harms Woods, where a Good Humor truck was parked during the summer and my dad would buy us a chocolate eclair or toasted almond bar. None of the other Hackney’s are as good and a visit to the Lake location on Mother’s Day 2017 was disappointing.
Wine and Food Connoisseur…and Chocoholic
Long before any gourmet cheese was available in Chicago, my dad would trek down to the South Side of Chicago to an importer named Irv Padnos to buy Double Gloucester. I remember riding in the back seat of his white 356 Porsche and sniffing the cheese on the way home. He liked going to Stop & Shop at 16 W. Washington in the Loop and much later, Fox & Obel at 401 E. Illinois. Before he discovered Schaefer’s in Skokie, he would buy wine from retailer Craig Goldwyn, an obscure liquor store in Sauganash, Foremost Liquors next to the old Jewel/Osco on Touhy in Skokie, and at auction.
My dad was a longtime member of a wine tasting group and my sister Janet would accompany and drive him after she moved back to Chicago. The last one he attended was before the pandemic. In the 1980s-1990s, I would often meet my parents at the Saturday wine and food tasting at Schaefer’s. I wasn’t much of a wine drinker and had to give it up completely in recent years, much to his disappointment. Even worse, I had to give up chocolate and cheese when I found out they also triggered migraines.
The Milk Pail
I enjoyed going to the Milk Pail with my dad. He loved their pickled lox and smoked trout. I made him pickled salmon twice in the last couple of years. Steve Brin and his father Wally owned Wally’s Deli inside the Milk Pail. Wally owned it from 1970-1986 and when he passed away in 1988, Steve purchased the Milk Pail and renamed it Wally’s Milk Pail and Deli until 1999. With partner Harry Friedman, Steve turned the establishment into a strictly-kosher deli and grocery store.
Russ and Daughters
My parents would go to an annual psychoanalytic meeting in NYC that was held at the Waldorf-Astoria. During the visit, my dad would stop by Russ & Daughters at 179 E. Houston Street and order mega amounts of chocolate. Parcels would arrive upon their return with tan cardboard boxes filled with chocolate-covered coffee beans and what he called chocolate lentils, which were small, pastel-colored candy coated dark chocolates about the size and shape of M&Ms.
My dad primarily liked gourmet dark chocolate, however, he also adored Junior Mints, York Peppermint Patties, Tootsie Rolls, and chocolate Twizzlers. He loved an old-fashioned candy store called Martha’s at 3257 N. Broadway in Chicago, and especially their dark chocolate-coated marshmallow sticks featuring unique flavors. After they went out of business, he discovered Bissinger’s when he went to St. Louis on business trips and ordered from them for many years. His favorite candy store by far in the last decade or so was Li-Lac Chocolates in NYC, from which he ordered almond bark, salted caramels, chocolate drops, marshmallow bars, and nonpareils.
Recreation and Entertainment
When I was a freshman in high school, my dad started taking us for tennis lessons with a wonderful man named Venda (Jim) Tulacka, who became a personal friend. The only one who didn’t take lessons was my older sister, because she was already in college. Jim was one of the Czech tennis coaches during the 1960 Rome Olympics and defected to the U.S. with his family after the Games. My dad took lessons with him at Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago, prior to all of us doing so. On Sundays during the summer, we would play tennis at Morton West High School and Proksa Park in Berwyn. I never was good enough to make the high school team, primarily because Jim didn’t teach us how to serve, but enjoyed playing and loved this family activity. On the way home, my dad would take us to Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street for Italian ices.
My mom told me after my dad died that his father bought them tennis rackets after they expressed an interest in playing in 1952. And I found this 1944 photo of him on a tennis court when he was still a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, so his love of tennis dated back to young adulthood.
Hit the Penny
My dad learned this game when he was a kid and we played it with him well into adulthood until his eyesight and health prohibited him from doing so. Instead of a penny, we used a quarter because the penny too easily fell into the sidewalk crack. You play this simple game with a Pinky rubber ball, place the quarter over the center of the sidewalk line, and each player stands behind a full sidewalk square on either side. Whoever hits the coin gets one point, while flipping it scores two points. The idea is to move the coin closer to you to make it increasingly difficult for your opponent to hit it. We typically played to 21 points.
When my sister Janet and I played on Lincolnwood Girls Softball teams, my dad was so enthusiastic. He played catch with us in our front yard and also took us down to the little park on Kilbourn (now called Arthur M. Goebelt Park) to practice batting and pitching. And of course, both my parents attended a few of our games.
Creative Dinner and Kiddie Parties
When we were kids, my parents threw incredibly creative dinner parties. One year they showed the 1920 silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and another year, the 1936 Yiddish film Yidl mitn fidl starring Molly Picon on 35mm film projectors they rented. At another party, they invited guests to dress in Japanese attire and my mom wore a kimono and served Japanese food. And last, I remember the folk singer Valucha deCastro performing at one of their parties. Valucha was married to my dad’s colleague Jack Buffington at the time.
Our birthday parties were a little unusual. My parents would hang a long roll of wide white paper along the length of the wall in our dining room and ask all the children to draw portraits of themselves. At my 8th birthday, my parents hired a professional clown to entertain us. Although my last official party was when I was 10, my younger sister had a Sweet 16 party at a Gold Coast disco I didn’t attend because I was away at college. And of course, my dad took professional photos at our birthday parties, even using one of his Hasselblad cameras on a tripod, as I recall. Then he would develop the film and print enlargements himself. He was always the designated photographer at other peoples’ parties as well – something he greatly enjoyed.
Ox Roast in Downtown Skokie
For many years, there was a carnival/festival in downtown Skokie called the Ox Roast (they didn’t roast oxen!). It was in a vacant lot on the west side of Lincoln Avenue about two blocks north of Oakton. My dad took me there when I was about age 6 and I have two vivid memories associated with this event. One of the carnies had a booth with a magical display of dolls. This raffle game involved picking a random little piece of paper with numbers out of a jar. I pulled a number that allowed me to get any doll from the booth! I was painfully shy and pointed out a huge princess doll with a crown and several gorgeous outfits. The guy thought I wanted a lousy naked rubber baby doll with a pink blanket that was next to it. I tried telling my dad that wasn’t what I wanted but he was impatient and yelled at me to take the other doll. This may explain my passion for collecting vintage dolls when I was a little older – something I passed on to my daughter when she was a little girl.
The other memory is of a spinning ride that was a crude version of the spinning teacups at Disneyland. I was the only child on the ride and started turning green. The sadistic operator saw what was happening and ramped up the speed to full throttle. I started crying and nearly threw up. To this day, I detest and can’t tolerate this type of ride.
Gone, But Never Forgotten
It has been nearly four months since my dad passed away. I still feel his presence in my life every day and find it hard to believe that he lost his life to COVID-19, less than a month before my mother and all the residents in her retirement building received their first vaccine. Our hearts are broken and will never be the same again, but keeping these memories alive helps ease the pain a little.
Photo credits: Google, Pinterest, Samuel Weiss, Yelp