Friday, my Aunts came to pick me up from the Wit Hotel to spend the day with them.  I always look forward to seeing them, and we always have a blast together.  They’re my dad’s sisters (Aunt Linda & Aunt Allene) and his Aunt (my great-Aunt Roberta) and though we were close before he died, I feel much closer to them now. They arrived at the Wit at around 10:00.  It was a sunny day that had been predicted to be a hot one, but the morning was pleasant.  We took the (Death Race 2000) Dan Ryan expressway out to Aunt Roberta’s house.  I don’t know why people drive the way they do on that road, but it’s “crazy town.”  When I used to drive out south, I’d take Lake Shore Drive if at all possible.  The Drive, with its views of Lake Michigan, and the lakeside parks is lovely, and the drivers tend to be less reckless.

We headed to a breakfast place Aunt Linda knew about that wasn’t too far from her church. As it turned out, Aunt Roberta had already eaten so just the three of us would eat, and then go to see her. You really have to know where Ms. Biscuit is because it’s tucked away on Wabash Avenue off of 55th Street (Garfield Park). Having said that, apparently lots of folks knew about it because the place was packed and we had to park way down the block.

When we got inside, it felt like home.  Everyone there was laughing and talking and were all shades, shapes and sizes of brown folk.  It brought a smile to my face.  I dipped into the conversations of the tables around us and heard political debates, church updates, and lovelife problems. Before our server came to take our order, Aunt Linda warned us that the portions were generous (Are you noticing a theme running through this blog?), and that they were known for the biscuits.  I didn’t have a taste for those, so I ordered a waffle and sausage. Aunt Linda had egg, grits, bacon and biscuit and Aunt Allene had the same thing, except for her meat was a steak.

I am really glad I didn’t have to do the driving after that.  I was free to sit in the back seat and sightsee. It’s always surprising how much the neighborhoods have changed between the times I get back to visit.  Chicago is home for me and at times I barely recognize a neighborhood because of all the gentrification.  That is one of the things that causes me to miss my Dad.  He and I would drive around looking at all the changings and mourning the effects of the “urban removal” projects on the lives of folks who had lived in those neighborhoods for years. 

We arrived at Aunt Roberta’s house unscathed, after dodging a few close calls that elicited running commentary from the three of us. Fortunately, there was a parking spot right in front of the building. Aunt Roberta lives in Fort Knox, or so you’d think given the security of her senior building.  First you have to stop at the desk and sign in with a guard, by showing your driver’s license.  As you might imagine, there aren’t too many Arkansas licenses that come through so I received a little extra scrutiny. After you get past that step, the guard takes your picture and prints a pass with your face on it.  That’s all well and good, but Aunt Allene’s picture came out so dark that there was just a black blob on her name tag. We cracked up and gave the guard a hard time about that because she could be

anyone with that picture.  My face came out elongated as though I’d been copied onto Silly Putty and my head stretched. Hilarious, and not much for safety, I don’t think.

Aunt Roberta was in good spirits and happy to see us. She’s 93 and still sharp as a tack and getting around like a pro.  She asked about my new role, how it felt and told me she was proud of me. As you might imagine, that’s a big deal coming from my great Aunt, but Aunty Roberta isn’t one for a bunch of idle flattery, so if she said it she meant it—and that meant a lot to me.  After we’d debated the political goings on of the day, Aunt Allene suggested we go for some ice cream.  Now, this was no short trip to the corner Baskin Robbins, this was a journey to the far South Side.  Rather than get back on the Dan Ryan, which we did initially until we saw all the traffic, we took Garfield west, and then headed out south on Western Avenue, which gave me an additional opportunity to observe the various neighborhoods, and the changes to them, on the way there.

Shawn Michelle’s is located at 119th and Western.  The ice cream is home made with all natural ingredients, and they have unusual flavors like bean pie and banana pudding. It’s a small place, but the traffic was steady during the time we were there.  The ice cream is super rich and very creamy. Wow, just what I needed after a big breakfast.  This trip was turning out to be a typical visit with the Aunties– loved a lot with food. I teased them that I had to get home, or Bea wouldn’t move when I sat on her. Because we all know that having a super rich TUB of ice cream is not enough for a hot summer day, Shawn Michelle’s will also add homemade pound (and I do mean pound, buttery, moist) cake, banana pudding or peach cobbler to your ice cream. Sigh.  It was hopeless, might as well give in and write the day off (calorically speaking). After we’d enjoyed our treats, we headed back to Aunt Roberta’s with a couple of stops to get some hardware she needed to hang her curtains.

It was pretty hot by then, so it was good that our parking space was still there when we returned.  I was hoping that since we entered with Aunt Roberta we wouldn’t have to go through the security gauntlet, but I was wrong.  At least these pictures, though still hideous, could identify us with a little imagination. We watched the news, and picked up right where we left of in term of our lively political discussions.  After a while I remembered the curtains and the committee of three directed me as I stuck the hooks to the wall. By then it was getting late so we said goodbye to Aunt Roberta (it always makes me sad to leave her) and headed back to the Wit.  Aunt Linda headed home and Aunt Allene stayed with me.  Needless to say we had a great time.

She found the amenities of the room as interesting as I had and after totally perusing the premises we headed out for a walk.  When we got onto the street the sidewalks were full of tourists out taking advantage of the pleasant weather and beautiful sights.  We stopped at the Chicago River and took in the reflections of the buildings, the large bright moon, and the couples strolling along the riverwalk.  We ended up at Fulton’s On the River where we had a glass of wine, and yep, gnoshed again—me on calamari and a caprese salad and Aunt Allene on shrimp bisque and a chicken salad.  One unusual thing about Fulton’s is that it was very bright inside.  But, in retrospect that seems appropriate because it was also very lively, with dozens of noisy conversations and wait staff scurrying about.  The food was yummy and the service great. After that very full day (pun intended) we headed back to get some rest before Aunt Linda arrived the next morning to take me to the airport.