Monday morning, and I was in that twilight zone. Awake enough though to hear the “click” and then the annoying buzz of the old GE AM clock radio. Turning the knob ended the noise as the familiar jingle, which heralded each new day, jolted me out of my comfy, cozy bed! ”WLS (double U, e-e-e-l, S), in Chicago, and I’m Clark Weber getting you going on this cold 16th of January with “I’m a Believer”, by the Monkees!”
Younger sister Julie, refusing to leave the warmth of our vintage, four-poster brass bed, cushy with a thick floral comforter, wiggled onto my warm side, taking ownership. She would be turning 14 on Saturday and tonight both of us planned to be at Arie Crown Theater with our Aunt Eileen to see Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Julie and our special Aunt, ten years older, shared the same birthday. I, who just turned 15, got to tag along for their big celebration.
“Come on,” I scolded her, “we have a big day, how can you just lay in bed? You better be up and going when I get back”, I declared as the Monkees sang in the background, “when I needed sunshine I got rain.” “This day promises to be full of sunshine” I thought to myself as I headed for the warmth of a nice hot shower.
“Let’s see”, I considered, while enjoying my daily ritual of shampooing. “It’s going to be pretty cold tonight, I’d better wear something warm…my wool skirt and sweater would be nice, dressy enough for dinner in Chicago, yet nice enough for the theater at McCormick Place.” Young ladies didn’t wear pants to the theater in 1967, or most places, not even school.
“Donna, Donna,” Julie shrieked as she bolted through the bathroom door. As the water pelted my head, muffling her voice, all I heard were the words, “fire”, and “McCormick.” The rest was excited gibberish! Then, as fast as she entered, she was gone. Donna headed out of the room to tell the rest of the family.
Hurrying to dry and dress, I could hear radios and the television blaring throughout the house. Joining the family, we all stood frozen, gazing at the sight of steel beams left standing. Resembling leafless winter trees, the smoldering building revealed their resistance to fire.
Jim Ruddle was reporting on WGN television news, which had just begun broadcasting in color. He reported, most tragically, of one security guard who was locked in the building. Thankfully, no fire fighters or support people were harmed. As picture after picture flashed, showing McCormick Place burned down to the ground he told of the losses, the damages, the history of the building and the National Housewares Manufacturers Association convention, which was to open that day.
Listening until the bus arrived, disappointment overwhelmed us as we departed for school not knowing if we would be going to Chicago that night or not.
Had this been a Thursday or Friday, predictable quiz days, I would have failed for sure. My mind wandered as I sat through my classes watching the clock as it trudged round and round. The final bell rang and I was the first student on the bus…I would know soon!
Aunt Eileen, waiting expectantly at our house, exclaimed as we scampered off the bus. “We’re going, we’re going!” Squealing in excitement as our books were tossed aside, we grabbed each other, starting our dance of twirling around and jumping up and down. We were going!
Driving south, down the Eden’s expressway in Aunt Eileen’s ’63 maroon Corvair, she revealed our new plans. Ticket seating couldn’t be reserved since the show was moved to the Chicago Theater. “First come, first served”, was what she heard on the radio that day, and we determined to be first in line.
Dinner could wait until after the concert, we had a mission, a birthday celebration mission. The tall theater doors opened and we took off, as politely as possible, up to the front. We were blessed with a great view of the orchestra pit and seats right next to Mrs. Herb Alpert. Our special night in Chicago with Aunt Eileen was a story repeated many times through the years at family gatherings. We didn’t realize then how this incident would cause us to praise God in the years ahead. It’s become our Tijuana Brass birthday praise!
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet…Psalm 150:3 NIV
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