If her magic didn't work, Mom wasn't above resorting to such time-tested guilt-inducers as, "There are people starving in India." But she was so much better than that. Mom convinced my sister Ally and me the neck was the most delectable part of the chicken and I remember feeling like The Winner every time I ended up with it. Then one night as I was gnawing my way around all those tiny sharp bones, I looked up to see Ally biting into a nice, meaty chicken thigh.
Mom didn't let lack of money keep her from showing us the world, or showing us off, for that matter. As the holidays approached, she'd dress us in matching outfits and we'd board the bus for a magical downtown adventure. We'd get our hair washed and set at Phagan's School of Beauty, then head to Meier & Frank's to ride the monorail at Santaland and pose on Santa's lap. After eating our sack lunch, we'd "ooh" and "ahh" over the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' display windows before heading home. The fact we came home empty handed didn't faze us. That was the magic of window shopping.
But Mom was the master of free entertainment. A self-taught pianist, she'd pump the keys with such gusto my sisters and I'd race to jockey for position around our old upright piano. A couple of us would harmonize, and though we probably had more enthusiasm than talent, we'd crank out Christmas carols, show tunes, and Disney songs by the hour. In the summer she'd pack a picnic dinner and we'd head to Washington Park for free concerts where we'd burn off excess energy somersaulting and cartwheeling while Mom and Dad got some much deserved relaxation.
What's the secret to creating magic? I wish I knew, because as a parent, I've never come close to making magic out of things like Jell-O or window shopping (let alone chicken necks). When our son was young, I tried every trick I knew to get him to join me in some housework. I remember channeling my mom with what I thought was a convincingly upbeat, "You know, work can be fun!" His reply, "No, Mom. That's why they call it WORK." Or I'd use my most spellbinding voice with a, "Wow, look at this sticker you could earn!" which would be greeted with, "OK, and I want that sticker because... ?"
Yes, it's pretty clear I didn't inherit the magic. Because Mom did make work fun. And she would have made me feel like I was the luckiest girl in the world to earn that sticker. So thanks, Mom, and Ms. Cheney, and everyone else out there who has the ability to create magic. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us.