Jeannie Always Came In Singing


I knew she’d be there. The church service had started. The congregation had risen, turned to the correct page in the hymnal, lifted their voices to sing and just then the doors to the sanctuary opened, Jeannie, smiling as always came in singing. Didn’t need a hymnal. She already knew the words and the music. Jeannie came in singing. Found her place in the pew. And the most ancient of hymns became new.

Being greeted by Jeannie was like having one’s own private symphony. My Dad was her big brother. Family stories describe Jeannie as being somewhat like her mother. A grandmother gone before I arrived. Grandmother Edith, my Dad would tell me, didn’t see very well. So when she’d walk down the street, she’d sing out a “Hello!” to everyone she encountered. Jeannie greeted the world with that same joyous hello. But with Jeannie, ‘hello’ was just a start.

In time compressed to fractions of seconds, Jeannie’s hellos would wash over you like an orchestra building up to burst into the chorus of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy.’ The music of her greeting in rainbow colors. A joy that left words far behind and spiraled up in harmony, in rhythm and song into places only music goes.

And this was just the part where she said hello.

When she greeted my Dad—they didn’t get to see each other all that often—they’d stop right in front of each other, toss back their heads, taking in the very full measure of each other, their smiles would unfold like golden summer mornings, and there’d be an almost primal humming of joy from Jeannie, exploding into a shared laughter from the both of them. This was a brother and a sister who could make the heavens sing with the sound of their greeting.

Jeannie, Uncle Don and Paul, Elinor and Blake, arrived in Chicago back around the same time I finished school and settled down to start growing up. Their screened in front porch became, through the years, a center of my world too.

Whatever the heartache, there was always that front porch. Living and dying. Becoming part of the fabric of the city. Love found, fumbled, lost then finally found for keeps. Across the golden summers, promising springs and orange and red splendored autumns; there was always that front porch. On that front porch, when Jeannie came in singing, everyone—and there are countless numbers of us who sat on that porch– everyone swirling in the Haider orbit had a touchstone to come home to, gather strength and go out and face the world again. Don’s laughter echoing down the shady street. Jeannie smiling, eyes bright, adding to whatever story was being told by anyone, making sure that the important parts would never be lost.

Don had worked for Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, served as Chicago’s Budget Director, then Professor at Northwestern, and became one of Chicago’s most respected voices. The go-to guy when you wanted integrity, intelligence and honesty.

Jeannie’s job was, in the words of the poet Mary Oliver, “loving the world.” And no one ever did it better.

When your job is loving the world, what you do, is of course important. But tasks, titles or labels pale in the face of who you are. When your job is loving the world, you can somehow connect your healing heart and soaring soul to that which is inevitable, that which is eternal. That eternal song that plays just when you need it the most.

Like just the other day. We had stopped by the house to check in with Don. A bunch of us on that front porch. Telling stories. Remembering.

And that’s when it happened.

Don was telling the story. There was a lot of laughter. He had just about arrived at the best part of the story; when a shaft of sunbeams opened up from behind the clouds, and straight on direct into Don’s face. All of us saw it. His face lit up as if warmed by the light of ten thousand suns. All of us there that day saw it. And if you had been on that porch any other day, you know that you’d see that sunlight, feel that warmth as well as we did. Jeannie still loving the world.

Anther hymn, another story, another memory. That pain of missing her alongside of the warmth of that sun on your face too. Listen hard. She’s singing.

Jeannie always came in singing

14 Responses to “Jeannie Always Came In Singing”

  1. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

  2. Tom Dickinson Says:

    Beautifully written Roger. I infer Jeannie is gone? Lucky you to have her as your aunt!

    Thanks for writing and sharing this!

    TD

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      TD–I’m thinking you must have been on that front porch on a visit to my place on Glenwood.
      Maybe after a hard day of selling balloons?

  3. hcgagel Says:

    This is beautiful, Roger. Wish I’d known her, but having read this piece, I feel as though I do.

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Thank you for prompting me to write this.I wasn’t sure that I could. But then you asked if I was gonna write about her. So I did.

  4. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Roger, thank you for writing this wonderful piece about my mom. This world won’t be the same place without her, but she will remain in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I will see you and Maria at the funeral today. Thanks. Paul

  5. Naomi de Plume Says:

    We need more like Jeannie. Beautiful, ChiGuy

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Thanks Naomi! Just got back from the service and I think 1/2 of Chicago was there!

  6. toritto Says:

    Beautiful Roger. Just beautiful. Regards from Florida.

  7. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Actually, I am pretty sure now that half of Chicago was at my mom’s service in that Catholic Church known as St. Gregory’s. They did a nice job with the funeral for a singular Presbyterian woman who the Catholics were lucky to have in their church. Thanks again. Paul

  8. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Yes they were lucky to have her in their church!

  9. boomerbob Says:

    What a front porch you had.

    I grew up in Oklahoma, my father grew up in Oklahoma, and my grandparents moved there from Texas and before them Mississippi.

    I’m not at all fond of the South, but one thing I remember with intense fondness is the family reunions they had every 5 or so years, sometimes more frequently.

    My father came from a family of 6 brothers and 1 sister and she was the queen of their lives.

    When the entire family came from all around the US, we literally had to rent a park in the small town my grandparents lived – EL Reno, OK to have the reunion as the family was massive, especially towards the ends of my grandparent’s lives.

    Like your front porch, that park became the center of the universe during those reunions. Nothing whatsoever existed beyond the boundaries of the park.

    I remember most the incessant laughter as the brothers and sister and some of us new generation all gathered around one of the park tables, reminiscing and playing their favorite game called “slap jack”.

    The sound of the game was always a repeating “bang” on the table as a jack showed up and everyone would try to beat the others to “slap the jack”. That bang inevitably bent someone’s finger back almost every time there were so many hands in the game, the owner of the hand recoiling and shaking his/her hand in temporary pain, but somehow, it always resulted in roaring laughter.

    The reunions were always in August, so the buzz of the cicadas were mixed among the laughter as was the oppressive heat and humidity.

    Though they are minuscule in comparison to the giants of Oklahoma, the constant buzz of the cicadas in August here in the desert southwest instantly turns my head upwards. As I close my eyes in remembrance, I swear I hear laughter somewhere in the background.

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Bob — you masterfully touch on what unites us all. What turns our heads upwards and the sound of the laughter. Thank you for that!

  10. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Mom selected that house on Lakewood Avenue because of the front porch that hosted so many gatherings of friends and family. She took one look at the front porch in July of 1979 and told the real estate agent that she would take it without ever seeing the inside of it. Of course, it would have merely been a house instead of a home without her presence. I suppose it is only a coincidence that my favorite song in the history of music begins with a lyric about Mary slamming the screen door and dancing across the porch as Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” plays in the background. Our final gathering as a family while Mom was still able to speak also took place on that front porch, as we looked and laughed at pictures from the family photo album on Saturday night, July 8, 2017.

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