Saturday, June 8, 2013

Walking in My Parents' Footsteps

My father must have been a little disappointed that none of us children became lawyers, although he never said so. In fact, he always made a point of telling my siblings and me how proud he was of us, no matter what we did. Although I never followed in his footsteps figuratively, this past Memorial Day weekend, almost exactly a year after his death, I found myself literally following in his footsteps in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

We were visiting our niece, a graduate student in the chemistry department at the University of Michigan. After she showed us around the building where she worked, I asked if she could take us to the University's law school, where my father obtained his law degree in 1950.

The University of Michigan is a beautiful campus, with exactly the sort of ivy-covered Gothic architecture you would expect to find in a university (and always see in movies about universities). The law library is especially impressive. The stained glass windows, vaulted ceiling, chandeliers, and solemn silence gives you the feeling of being inside a cathedral. I felt a powerful sense of awe, with just a hint of déjà vu—possibly because Dad brought us here when I was a child, possibly because the room looks a lot like the Hogwarts dining hall in the Harry Potter movies.

I wanted to call my father. There were questions I wanted to ask him. How much time had he spent studying here? How had the place changed since then? Did he ever have a professor like Snape?

I really miss being able to talk to my parents.

Last weekend, in Chicago, I wanted to call my mother and talk to her about Marshall Field's. My sister and I were following in her (and our own) footsteps, reminiscing about family shopping trips to Mom's favorite store.

Of course, we always had to visit the toy department. As I recall, it was amazing. There was an entire section devoted to magic tricks, another for science toys. There were dolls of every size and description, electric trains in every scale, and a large glass display case filled with beautiful, precision-made Corgi toy cars from England. But my favorite part of the store was the book department, larger by far than any book store I had ever seen. On each trip, I was allowed to pick out one book—when I was very young, a beautifully-illustrated Oz book; when I grew older, a Hardy Boys mystery or Tom Swift adventure.

Sometimes, on special occasions, Mom would treat us to lunch in the elegant Walnut Room, with its starched white table cloths, sparkling silver and crystal, and rich wood paneling.

Like just about every other department store in the country, Marshall Field's has been swallowed up by Macy's, and it now looks pretty much like every other Macy's store. Everything that made it a unique and wonderful place is gone—except for the Walnut Room, which still looks exactly the way I remember it.

And the Frangos.

Marshall Field's was the only place you could buy the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mints that my mother loved. No trip to Chicago was complete without purchasing a box or two to take home to Indiana.

Macy's still sells them. Mom would have been so pleased to know that.

I wish I could have sent her a box.

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