My grandparents met in Chicago in the 1930s, introduced by mutual friends at a social dance. At that time dancing was an entertainment that rivaled the popularity of theater, musicals and movies. Dressed in Michigan Avenue fashions, meeting friends in magnificent ballrooms, my grandparents danced the waltz, foxtrot and swing to the most well known big bands of the times. They were married in Chicago in 1940.
Grandma was a self-titled “domestic engineer”. She managed household operations, the children, pets and social activities, without many of the modern conveniences we now take for granted. An accomplished seamstress, she fashioned couture quality clothes for herself and her family, as well as housewares, textiles and decor for the home and her church. Described as ‘down to earth’ and ‘fun to talk with’ by friends and my grandpa’s colleagues, my grandma endeared herself to many.
Grandpa graduated from the University of Illinois in 1938 with a BS in Civil Engineering. His early career was spent working on dams and bridges in Knoxville and Chicago. In 1944, Grandpa joined BF Goodrich and Company, in Akron, Ohio and began a long and illustrious career in the automotive rubber manufacturing industry. Finally settling his family in Fort Wayne, Indiana, my Grandpa went on to start his own manufacturing company.
My Grandma died in 2009, living to be 93. My Grandpa died on January 28th, 2015. Although not quite 100, he lived to his 100th year. They lived through the Great Depression, experienced and contributed to the war effort, and propelled the post war boom with their entrepreneurial spirit. Of Swedish, German and French decent, they built enduring relationships with an extended European family. Respected and loved by his community and business associates, my Grandpa was known as an honest businessman of the highest integrity.
Leaving Fort Wayne, the day after my grandpa’s funeral, I flew home to Boston via Chicago. The plane flew north and over lake Michigan. From my seat on the left side of the airplane I could see Chicago grow larger out my window. Snow blanketed the city and surrounding landscape, and it appeared as a black and white city of towers. Like an engraved image from an old book, it stood solemn and stark against a white backdrop.
The plane then turned and flew across the north end of Chicago. As the sun shown down from the left and hit the wet and ice covered roadways, rainbows suddenly illuminated the streets, shimmering with colors from one end of Chicago to the other. It was so incredibly beautiful, street after street of rainbows. The angle of the sun, my dirty airplane window and my polarized sunglasses converged to create an amazing sight.
In that magical moment I could not help but imagine Chicago as it had seemed to my grandparents in the prime of their life, so filled with hope and opportunity, with love and exuberance; so it was again. Perhaps I was witnessing my Grandparents returning to Chicago one last time, dancing together in the sparkling light.
And the streets were made of rainbows.