EDITORIAL: Mayoral hopefuls show their human side with holiday memories
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This editorial was updated to include the response of state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford. It had been omitted in error.
For Bob Fioretti, it was a handmade gift from his father. For Bill Daley, it was his mom’s homemade bread.
For Dorothy Brown, it was a brown bag of candy and fruit beneath the Christmas tree. For Lori Lightfoot, it was the joy of a new book.
For Willie Wilson, it was the satisfaction of giving his parents a big gift, for all they had done for him.
We asked 19 of the candidates for mayor to share a holiday memory, and 14 of them did. We thought their stories might reveal to you something about them as people, not as politicians, and for the most part they do.
Here are their holiday memories, presented in the order we received them.
‘The coolest thing’
I still recall the excitement I felt on the Christmas Day when I was five or six and my dad gave me the simple gift of a wooden maze with rolling marbles. Every kid on my block thought it was the coolest thing — maybe because no one else had one. We, the kids in the neighborhood, would get together and just watch the marbles slide back and forth.
It was years later that I learned my dad had made it for me by hand, which made it all the more special.
I still have it to this day. Another gift I still have is a telescope that I received as a Christmas gift when I was 10. I set it up in the snow in my backyard in Roseland to look at the stars and the moon. It was so cold outside that the area around my eye almost stuck to the lens.
But it instilled in me a love for exploration and curiosity about the world. I think that excitement for Christmas as a child is what has inspired me to host my annual children’s luncheon with Santa.
— Bob Fioretti
‘We were the most blessed children’
My favorite memory is very simple. My parents, David and Dinkie Rabb, who did not have a lot, would put treats in large brown paper bags for each of their eight children. They would put our names on the bags and have them under the Christmas tree when we woke up. This, for us, was like a Christmas stocking. My parents would fill the bags with apples, oranges and raisins (tossed in separately, not boxed), coconut candy (my favorite), candy orange slices, walnuts, pecans, and other nuts, peppermint and many other kinds of candies.
We thought we were the most blessed children in the world.
My parents were so special; they did everything to make their children happy. This still brings a smile to my face.
— Dorothy Brown
‘I was able to give back’
After a hard life and finally getting to the point of being financially sound, I was able to send for my mother and father, who still lived in our hometown of Gilbert, Louisiana, and move them up here to Chicago.
It was a proud and loving moment for me to be able to give back to them for all the hard work and sacrifices they had made for me and my 10 siblings. It was a Christmas to remember when I was able to give back to them by buying them a home (free and clear of a mortgage) and making things a bit better for them in their twilight years.
— Willie Wilson
‘I sold Christmas trees … and learned so much’
For several years in middle school and junior high, I sold Christmas trees from a parking lot on 55th Street in Hyde Park. The money went toward the Circle Pines Scholarships fund, which a classmate’s parent had organized. From the Friday after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, I would sell hundreds of trees to neighbors and friends.
I learned so much in doing that job, such as how to think quickly on my feet, how to read people for their preferred trees, and how to make the experience extra special. I even sold Toni Preckwinkle a Christmas tree and helped her tie it to her car! Each tree was sold by the foot, and there were a variety of trees with different prices, so I had to do a lot of mental math. This convinced my mom that the long hours of work after school were worth it.
That first year when I had a little extra pocket money to buy my family Christmas gifts was unforgettable.
— Neal Sales-Griffin
‘I stepped into a new world’
When I was young, my family didn’t have much money for presents or a bountiful dinner. What I cherish most was the time spent with my family at home, because it was a day that my father didn’t have to work.
Because of our limited resources, I always asked for books for Christmas. After our holiday dinner, I would sneak out, crack open my new mystery book, and step into a new world that allowed me to dream.
— Lori Lightfoot
‘My brother and I built an igloo’
I remember being very young and sledding throughout Chicago. It was always a thrill to find the tallest hill to slide down, and I enjoyed not being out of breath when running constantly back to the top of the hill.
Another favorite memory dates to the blizzard of 1999. My brother and I built an igloo on our street corner. It was magnificent!
— John Kenneth Kozlar
‘He put up hundreds of lights’
When I was a young boy, all my Christmases were days of great anticipation and excitement. But perhaps my fondest Christmas memory is of my dad’s determination to outdo everyone when it came to decorations for our home at 113th Street, across from Palmer Park in Roseland. He put up hundreds of lights, a lighted life-size Santa Claus, and a second Christmas tree on the front porch.
Chevy Chase must have modeled his Clark Griswold, in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, after my father.
— Paul Vallas
‘My mother beat cancer’
My best Christmas ever was when we learned that my mother beat her ovarian cancer. I thank God every day that the family can look forward to many more holidays with her.
— La Shawn K. Ford
‘Gifts from the Three Kings … were in our shoes’
Every Jan. 5 when we were young, my brothers and I would sit with our parents and write letters to the Three Kings to tell them how grateful we were for the arrival of Christmas, and to ask them to visit our home on the way back from delivering gifts to Baby Jesus. We would put our notes inside shoes outside our door and go to bed. The next morning, our shoes would be gone, but gifts from the Three Kings would be in their place.
It was such a fun thing to do, and it’s a tradition celebrated in the Hispanic culture. Now, my husband and I very much enjoy continuing this tradition with our own six-year-old son.
— Susana Mendoza
My mother’s homemade bread.
— Bill Daley
‘Getting a tree on Christmas Eve’
Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, my father would take us to get a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t until years later that I realized we were getting a tree on Christmas Eve because they were discounted or being given away for free, but it was my favorite tradition because it meant getting to spend time with my dad.
That memory taught me that quality time with the family is the most important thing around the holidays. I’ve kept my favorite memory alive every year by taking my kids and grandkids to get a tree — specifically a Fraser fir — and cooking from scratch for my family.
— Toni Preckwinkle
‘A traditional Cuban meal’
On Christmas Eve, my family gets together and enjoys a traditional Cuban meal of pork, beans and rice, and then we exchange gifts.
After that, we all — and it’s mandatory — watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” in a cozy room. I usually make it five minutes into the movie, take a nap and wake up just in time for George to realize that his is a beautiful life.
The next morning, we sit around our Christmas tree and exchange more gifts. There is absolutely nothing that beats the sheer joy of watching our five children — and especially our grandchildren — open presents and scream when they get that one gift they’ve been waiting for all year. Those two days are the happiest of my year, hands down.
— Gery Chico
‘A bootlegged Santa Claus’
My favorite holiday memory is every Christmas from childhood. I come from a large family of eight, with six kids all fairly close in age. Christmas always started with mischief as my siblings and I (usually me and my twin) would sneak under the tree the night before to shake boxes trying to find out what was in them. Many times we accidentally ripped wrapping paper (my dad is not the best gift wrapper).
The Christmas morning tradition involved my dad dressing up as a bootlegged Santa Claus. One time he had to use a paper towel as his fake Santa beard. He and my mother then would dole out our gifts one by one. Christmas morning was always a mess of paper, boxes, candy canes and noise.
These days, since my parents have now resorted to our annual scarf, hat and gloves as gifts (creativity waned as we aged!), my siblings and I relive past Christmases through the grandkids, nieces and nephews.
Now they get to see my dad dress up as a bootlegged Santa Claus and, with my mom, dole out gifts to everyone.
— Amara Enyia
‘The phone rang … we had a son’
It was December 2000. My wife, Jannine, and I were newly married and we had just completed the mountains of paperwork to adopt our first child and start our family. We were anxious and checked email minute-upon-minute. We kept every phone call short so the line was free. It was Christmas Eve morning at our townhouse and the phone rang — the best present we could have asked for. News that we had a son and he was coming home.
— Jerry Joyce
Mayoral candidate Jerry Joyce | File photo
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