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February 4, 2007 [ More archived home pages here ]

Chicago's Won Kow Experience

Today's song is Chinatown, by Percy Faith, released in 1976.

For those of you that have visited Chicago's Chinatown area, you will most likely know of the famous Won Kow Restaurant. It is a wonderful place to take someone to for a special treat.

I first went to Chinatown about 1962. I had a Chinese friend in those years and we often went there from the South Chicago neighborhood where we lived, to look at the shops and eat lunch. I could never afford eating at the Won Kow as a youth, that opportunity would first arrive some years later as an older teenager.

I took a date to Won Kow once after a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was a great chance to talk to her and find out what she liked about Chinese culture and the food. She didn't get a chance to eat that cuisine very often so it was a special treat for her to dine at Won Kow's. I realized by taking dates there, those dates would always be special occasions for the both of us.

I took my wife and daughter to Chinatown in the late 1970's. We always ate at Won Kow's and we have our own special memories of those times.

Today, as the Super Bowl expectations rise for Chicago Bears fans wherever they are, I woke up thinking about Won Kow and the times I've been to Chinatown. I hope to visit that place on my next trip to Chicago. There are so many memories of that place and I realize I've been away too long.

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My friend, Mark, sent me several Chicago map links. I publish a few of them below for those of my many readers who will appreciate this information.

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Last Friday I went to see the movie, Pursuit of Happyness. It is a heart-warming story of a man confronting obstacles and overcoming difficult life experiences. I recommend this movie to those of you who aren't afraid of feeling strong emotions that dwell within you.

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Today I received a story from one of my readers. She indicated I could publish it with her permission. She is originally from Chicago, a bit older than I am, but nonetheless unafraid to unveil her thoughts and feelings in a public place. Ginny's story is shown next.

Two Thousand Miles Away and Fifty Years Ago

September 2003 by Ginny Gasparre

Once upon a time, two thousand miles away and fifty years ago, in the city of Chicago, a little five-year-old girl moved into an apartment with her mommy and daddy. Oh, what a lovely place it was! A considerable improvement from where they had come. Instead of just a small one-room apartment, with a bathroom shared by two other families on the same floor, they now had a real apartment, complete with living room, dining room, kitchen, one bedroom and a private bathroom just for their family. What a luxury, in comparison. (And, what a dump, compared to where her life had taken her fifty years later. Perception is quite surreal.)

For the next ten years many happy memories were shared in their home on 73rd Street, in the community of South Shore, as well as two miles away at Rainbow Beach.

One of the most enjoyable and entertaining occasions in that apartment was a surprise going away party especially for the guest of honor, that little girl who had grown up into a fifteen-year-old young teenager. In addition to being one of the most pleasurable evenings, sadly it was quite a poignant and heartbreaking celebration as well.

This young lady was about to leave the safety and security of the dear childhood friendships, which created a most remarkable nurturing from little girl to young lady. It was truly bittersweet. About to embark on a new adventure by moving two thousand miles away to California seemed exciting. However, it was frightening at the same time, as the unknown often is. Nothing could have prepared her for the depression she was about to experience in the West.

Being the new student in a Southern California high school was not quite as welcoming as it was in the Midwest. This was in the early nineteen sixties, when half the students in Western schools were new, having just migrated to California, along with so many other families during that time period. Making new friends was difficult. California teens seemed synthetic and insincere, unlike the genuine authentic faithful friends from South Shore. Everyone was in competition to try to be the best, and falsified their lives in order to appear better than anyone else. And, making the situation even worse was the fact that she missed her South Shore friends terribly. Her number one goal was to get through eleventh grade as quickly as possible, and return to Rainbow Beach the following summer.

The summer of 1964 couldn't begin soon enough. Anxiously boarding the plane destined for O'Hare International, after nine long months of agony, finally she would be reunited with her real friends. Finally, she was returning "home".

It was a fantastic summer, filled with friendship and love. Unfortunately, those three months seemed to elapse way too quickly. And, soon it was time to board a plane heading west to LAX.

The next thirteen years left something to be desired, and were filled with depression, tears and unhappiness. The longing to return "home" to South Shore only became stronger. And, so, finally in 1977, she returned, a woman, a wife and a mother, but in her heart, still that same little girl from Chicago.

Life went on and continued as another twenty-four years passed. Now, after becoming somewhat California-ized, but still longing for the memories of her childhood in Chicago. Often wondering what her life would have been like, if she had remained in South Shore all those years. Chicago was still in her heart, along with the friendships she left behind years ago.

Possibly moving away helped her to appreciate and be very grateful for her upbringing in Chicago.

With the wonders of the internet, shortening the miles between California and Illinois, she began to investigate and search for the friends, with whom she had lost contact over the years. Her heart belonged with her real true friends, and she longed to find them again, hoping that they were all still doing well.

Stretching her imagination, she created a website, entitled Rainbow Beach. Her intention was to attempt to entice others from South Shore and Rainbow Beach to her website, with dreams of reuniting those special people once again. If everyone signed the guest book, and passed the word on to others, eventually we would all be together again. If only online, that would be sufficient; at least we'd be together somehow.

Seeming like only a pipedream, she felt that it could not hurt anything to simply try. And, try she did. And, succeed she did. Even without much effort to expose her site, South Shore-ites seemed to gravitate toward it like a magnet. It was shocking, but wonderful at the same time. So, with the Rainbow Beach website, along with researching Classmates.com she discovered that the impossible could be transformed into the achievable with only a little persistence combined with a whole lot of faith.

Before long, one thing led to another. Upon viewing her website, a very dear childhood friend recommended an online group, dedicated especially to South Shore - "A place to talk and contact old friends from the Southeast side of Chicago. If you grew up there in the '50's and '60's you know what the Overflow was. Everyone is welcome so come on in" is the greeting on the home page. Reading the posts and adding messages of her own, she became temporarily addicted to this warm and kind group of others who had also grown up in South Shore. Exchanging memories, which triggered awesome recollections of the past, was intoxicating and euphoric.

After getting a little taste of reminiscing into the past, she wanted more. Added to her list of goals and projects was hanging on to those warm feelings of her past as a young teen girl in the nineteen sixties. And then, it stretched even farther, with studying genealogy, researching her ancestors and creating a family tree. This also led to renewing relationships with cousins and other relatives. What a stimulating feeling.

But, now that she had found that missing piece of her heart from her past, she was determined to not allow it to disappear ever again. Although her childhood friends and acquaintances no longer lived in South Shore, this was unimportant. Almost every person had moved on to his or her own place in the sun. California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Indiana, Wisconsin, New York, Louisiana, Montana, Wyoming, and many other locations throughout the world, attracted the South Shore-ites. But, each one left a piece of their heart in Chicago. Regardless of where each was now residing, there was a shared mutual euphoric feeling of the old 'hood.

Life is so very short. It may have taken twenty-six years, but amazingly a small reunion just fell into place without much effort. Again, it was the belief and faith of the possibility that successfully accomplished it.

Anxiously awaiting the arrival of the planes, which were carrying very special passengers, very special friends, one, traveling from Illinois and the other traveling from Florida. How very exhilarating to knock on the hotel door and hug that friend, not seen for the past twenty-six years. Informing each other of their lives and families, catching up on the lost years, they awaited the arrival of their other dear friend. Suddenly there she was, more hugs were exchanged, and it finally felt like "home". We may have been in California, but we knew our hearts were "home". We were together, sharing good times, like we had done so many years ago.

And yet, another friend from forty years ago, out of our past, joined us two days later. It truly was our mini-reunion. Only three days to re-connect and once again intertwine our lives.

To know that you've found a sincere friendship is when you can be apart for twenty-six years, and then pick up where you left off again, as if you were never separated. True honest camaraderie has no boundaries, for nothing can come between the unity and harmony of genuine friendship.

To grow up as a baby-boomer (born 1946 to 1964), especially in the 1950's is special enough. However, to have encountered such a very extraordinary time in history, while also growing up in the best neighborhood ever in South Shore, was a most amazing experience. Unless you've personally lived it, it's impossible to know how unique it was.

I consider myself to be extremely fortunate and filled with wealth, for being allowed to experience South Shore, as a teenager; as that little girl.

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As the time this page is published, the Super Bowl will start many hours from now. I'll be supporting the Bears from here in San Diego and thinking about my memories of my Won Kow experiences.

Don


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