Monday, May 18, was far and away the most delightful day that Chicago citizens had seen in a barrel of Sundays. At just past seven in the morning, the temperature dilly dallyed around 70 degrees, a glowing warm morning sun gave the early risers a sense of new birth and an aura of joy without end. All the while, a docile Southern breeze waltzed along the sandy shores of an azure Lake Michigan.
I scrambled out of bed an hour or so before the proverbial cock could crow, fumbled my way into my humble kitchen, put a pot of coffee on, a serving of grits, prepared a breakfast of sausages and eggs. After my morning meal, I made my way by bus to our point of departure. I disembarked at Lawrence and Damen and – to my nonplus – I was one of the very first ones at the Levy Center that was going on the safari.
The Joseph and Sarah Levy Center was so named by a grateful city Department on Aging in appreciation for their humanitarian generosity. Ever since it opened in 1980, the Levy Center has been a source of hope and a guiding light for Chicago’s weary, wayward and ailing senior citizens.
The Levy Center has been a Mecca of care and comfort for an untold number of elderly people searching for a place to meet and greet folks who in all probability have had a similar kismet in life.
At noon every day in the center’s huge dinning room, the staff rolls out the welcome mat and serves its guests well-rounded, nutritious meals for $1. The food is given freely if a person cannot pay.
Once the midday meal is over, the dinning room often becomes a theater. A play is presented or there are card games of many flavors or chess games and/or checkers.
The Levy Center also affords the seniors with four pool tables and a large room called the 1,2,3 room, where one can sit back and board a magic carpet to the land of nod. Last but not least, one can visit the exercise room, and place that flagging body in the capable hands of my man Larry Haliburton, the Levy Center’s fitness connoisseur.
At 9 a.m., Brookie Harcrow, the mother hen for our trip, directed bus driver Kenneth “Smokey” Rahn to the Copernicus Senior Center, 3160 N. Milwaukee Ave., where we picked up a group of 15 additional seniors.
After Rahn was sure that everyone was seated safely and securely, he guided the huge brown and yellow vehicle onto the Eden Expressway.
The first 15 miles outside the city limits was ice cream and cake! But then, our picnic was foiled and spoiled by what seemed to be an unending stretch of highway that was under construction. That decelerated our expeditious velocity down to a tortoise promenade.
However, with a bit of patience and fortitude, Smokey made it to Lake Forest Oasis, our first rest stop. Our stay was a short one; we had just enough time to run to the bathroom, grab a sandwich at Wendy’s and then saddle up for a ride into the Western horizon.
It was near high noon when Smokey veered off I-94 onto Illinois 173 and went rolling merrily along through a dreamlike scenario of hills, dales and rabbit trails. I had been in this neck of the woods many times, not merely because it is my favorite fishing sector but because this portion of Illinois is the most picturesque in the magnificent “Land of Lincoln.” For my two cents, the area has an August splendor that rivals the hue and cry of Wisconsin, the beautiful, awesome and beloved land of dreams and streams.
The Chain O’ Lakes State Park is located in Lake County. Lake County, by the way, lies on the extreme Northeast corner of Northwestern Illinois, bounded on the north by Wisconsin, on the east by Lake Michigan, on the south by Cook County and on the west by McHenry County. Lake County boasts 40 inland lakes as well as an array of rivers and lesser waterways. The county is 23 ½ miles long and encompasses 475 square miles.
It was just a tad past noon when we turned off Wilmont Road and into the State Park. I was surprised to see so many other seniors that had arrived ahead of us lined up at the office window filling out papers. I saw Arlene Mudrack, a fellow resident of my building and one of the most active, nicest persons in this or any other city. The supervisor of the riding stable was a Lilliputian woman of advanced age with a tendency for giving orders named Carol Adams.
The Chain O’ Lakes State Park is open year round. It has 220 capsites, some with electric hookups, showers, boat rental, fishing and playgrounds. One can go hunting from November to mid-December and horseback riding from May to October. Winter-sports minded folks can go snow-mobiling and cross county skiing during the winter months.
Each of the seniors received a number and the name of the horse they were going to ride. When the name of their dobbin (workhorse), mare (female) or gelding (castrated) was called, the senior entered into a diminutive corral, climbed on a table and was hoisted, sometimes after several tries, onto the horse’s back by two buxom young women. You would have laughed till you cried tears watching those big girls get the seniors onto the horse’s backs.
Once a group of 8 or 10 was assembled, the party hit the trail. The third group – the one that Arlene Mudrack went out with, met with misfortune. An 84-year-old great grandmother was thrown off the back of the horse she was riding.
When the news of the calamity reached the rest of us, it permeated our hearts and minds of every man and woman with lament and called into question the judgment of those who prescribed this tightrope itinerary for people of such namby pamby viability. I’ve been told that there is a time and a place for everything under the roof of heaven. With that in mind, common sense dictated, even to a fool like me, that the back of a horse is no place for 84-year- old great grandmother to sit at any time.
God Bless You!
by John “Popcorn” Sampson
What a sublime, and a most divine, feeling of gratitude,
Accompanied by a profound sense of humility, comes from
Deep within the heart, and the very soul of me, whenever
I take a backward look at the days, and the times, when
Lived them old black grandparents of mine.
How proud I am, so very proud I am, to be the great grandson
Of an old kitchen maid, a cotton field hand, and an old black slave,
A slave who never once forgot that often times great
rivers are born of a tiny stream, and monuments are fashioned
from the seams of dreams.
Then, all around, and all about, the whole world can clearly
see what a grand, and glorious reality faith wroughted from
The shreds of a humble fantasy in creating a plot of land
widely known as the promised land.
And the glory of this land fashioned by the labor strong
black hands shall forever, and ever, stand as a monument to
stalwart black hands. So long as the ageless old oak tree
hovers over a grassy leaf, just as long a drop of water
remains in the deep blue sea, so long as heavenly angels
stroll along the hallowed halls of eternity.