Bronzeville with Ms. Catherine (November 3, 2009)

bronzeville

On leave today from our normal Monday-Thursday routine of hitting the streets to play tourist detective, Sam and I were sent out into the field with one of the volunteers from The Chicago Neighborhood Greeters’ Tour, operated by the Department of Cultural Affairs. It’s a pretty neat program actually. Visitors, new residents or simply people looking to learn something new can go out for 2-4 hours with a layman expert in their neighborhood of interest. That person will show you the insider’s guide to what’s what. Sam and I are assigned to research Bronzeville next week and the Powers that Be thought it might be a useful exercise to take one of these tours to assist us with our fact finding. And it was. But what Sammy and I found out was that Ms. Catherine, the formidable 70 year-old woman who showed us the sights today, was about to educate the two of us about a lot more than Bronzeville history. She was about to school us in the game of life.

Ms. Catherine Williams is a 19-year resident of Bronzeville, a retired employee of many years with the City Colleges. She has raised two sons succesfully, both Ivy League educated and living in New York doing fabulous things. Her eldest granddaughter, 21 years old, is about to graduate from Harvard. She interned with former Senator, now Secretary Clinton, and Ms. Catherine has a photo of this child in her living room casually posing with President Barack Obama. How do I know this? The first stop on the Bronzeville tour, Ms. Catherine-style, was her living room, a fantastic apartment on the 19th floor of a Lakefront building. She wanted to show us the breathtaking view she has of both downtown as well as Gary, Indiana. The latter is a mixed blessing, but you get the point. I felt like such an ambitionless underachiever after listening to Ms. Catherine recount her brood’s lengthy list of accomplishments. Did I mention that the superstar granddaughter is also a gorgeous classical ballerina? Come on!

Ms. Catherine is once divorced, once widowed. Her husband is gone and her family lives on the East Coast. Do you think Ms. Catherine is sitting around feeling old and sorry for herself? As Whitney Houston famously said on the television classic, Being Bobby Brown, hell to the naw! She is too busy. In addition to being involved with the Chicago Greeters’ Program, she is also a jetsetter. She just returned from a four-day trip with some girlfriends to Hilton Head Island, and she’s headed to South Beach with another galpal in March. Ms. Catherine is well groomed, chic and expensive looking without being dated or overtly gaudy. She is active in her Church.

Best of all, Ms. Catherine can’t turn off being a mother – not ever. Friends, I am 31 years old and I got sent to the bathroom before we took our trip, “just in case because there’s a lot of walking.” And I went. Such was the command of the 5’3″ granny. Apparently, Ms. Catherine is superhuman and never bothers with silly things like bodily needs or sustenance herself, though it was nice of her to think of us. She walked step for step with Sammy and I throughout the day – three miles easily, yet she never used the restroom, ate or drank, or appeared tired at all. In fact, after she dropped Sammy and I back at the Cultural Center, she was off to the Mag Mile for a little shopping. Meanwhile, come 2:00 PM I am nursing a hunger headache, and my bladder was heavier than the burden on Bears’ coach Lovie Smith to hold onto his job. Do you think I was saying anything? Whining about fatigue in front of a 70 year-old lady in high heels?

What a day. Oh and Bronzeville was pretty cool too. For all my intense fear of aging, if Ms. Catherine and her indefatiguable energy are what retirement look like, I want some of that.

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