How Construction Paper Kept Out the Cold of Chicago

From the heart...
How construction paper kept out the cold of Chicago...

“I miss everything about Chicago, except January and February!” ~Gary Cole

I’ve said for years that Chicago is the coldest place on earth. Well, I’ve never been to Antarctica, but I would bet the farm that I’m fairly accurate. 

This week, our Let’s Go and Let’s Eat blogs focused on two of the greatest cities I know of in Illinois, Geneva and of course, Chicago. Well, now it’s my turn to share a story (or two) about how I warmed up this frozen tundra part of the nation. 

A brief timeline for context

When I first met Pete (the man of my dreams, or, MOD), we were in California and he was still playing football with the Raiders. He only had three games left in the season, which turned out to be the last three professional games of his life. After the season he retired and moved to Chicago where he started working for his eldest brother, Jon. 

During that time, I was smack dab in the middle of getting my teaching credential and master’s degree, so I had to stay in California for another year so I could finish. Finally in September of 1993, pregnant with our daughter Lex, I moved to Chicago to be with the MOD. 

Meteorology 101

I truly did not understand how cold Chicago could be. (Remember, I’m a California girl. Cold to me meant the low 50s.) Here’s the deal with Chicago: it’s windy. So when the wind blows off Lake Michigan, it’s c-c-c-c-cold. The temperature can be below freezing, but it’s the wind that slices right through your skin. Chicagoans learn to pay attention to the windchill factor rather than the temperature. (You’re welcome for this meteorology lesson. ;) )

How I kept out the cold

Well, what I found in the 14 years that I lived there is that the temperature and the windchill factor may be cold, but the friendships are warm. Some of my best friends are in that city. Solid, have-your-back-in-war type women. 

We lived in Chicago until Kole, our son, was born, then we moved 25 minutes west of the city to a cute suburb called Western Springs. It’s a quaint, Mayberry-type town with grid streets, sidewalks everywhere, an ice cream shop, a fruit store, a meat market, and an Ace Hardware—all in the downtown that parallelled the train tracks. 

We lived in an old yellow farmhouse that was built in 1892. It had a wrap-around front porch complete with a white wooden swing, and a large, leaded glass front door. (That thing must've weighed 500 pounds!) That beautiful, old antique of a home sat prominently on the corner, across from the neighborhood church, and on the path to the elementary school. Many people knew our home and we made sure they knew us too. 

When I say “we made sure they knew us too”, I meant that as a family, we talked to everyone. I grew up an only child because my half-brother and half-sister left the house by the time I was five. So I have always been friendly; I always tried to make friends while growing up. I taught my family to do the same. 

And finally, how construction paper kept out the cold 

One way I made friends in Western Springs was simply by taking advantage of where our house was located, using our 500 pound, leaded glass door as an integral element.  

Every Thursday during the school year, as soon as I got up, I would tape either a green or a red piece of construction paper to the glass. Red meant “do not come in today”. Green meant “stop by from 9-10 AM with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy good conversation”. Some days I would get three women to come in to say hi. Some days I would get as many as 10. It was a weekly  hour of judgement-free conversation to make all of us moms feel like we still had a life. 

I did stuff like this all the time. I had my girlfriends over frequently,  and the resounding comment I hear even now, all these years later, is that I was the glue that kept everyone together. Women in Western Springs didn’t necessarily know each other until they came to my home. I used green construction paper and made myself the glue. I love that image. You can call me Elmer’s, wood, epoxy, or whatever other word can be used to describe glue. (I think I prefer “super”. Ha!)

Chicago and the surrounding areas are great places to live and visit, windchill or not. The warmth of my girlfriendships kept me there for years. I miss those days of putting out the green construction paper and sharing a cup of love on a Thursday morning (in every month besides January and February). 

I love that you were with me today. See you next week (when I put out the green piece of construction paper!




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