Day 19 – Cantigny Park

Our day of sightseeing near Chicago began with meeting the rest of the family at Cantigny Park. One of our nephew’s in-laws joined us as well and we set out to see the grounds. The park is 500 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, lakes, golf course and the original house built in the late 1890’s. The entire spread once belonged to Colonel Robert McCormick, the owner of the Chicago Tribune. The 95 degree heat was unseasonably warm, but we enjoyed the grounds nonetheless.

Colonel McCormick had been in France in WWI with the First Division and he and his men helped to liberate the tiny town of Cantigny. When he returned to Chicago and inherited the house and grounds, he expanded the house into a mansion and named his home Cantigny in remembrance of his experience in France.

The kids had fun climbing all over the collection of tanks that the First Division had used through the years. The museum to the history of the First Division was intricately appointed and quite realistic. I love dioramas that are so life-like it’s difficult to remember one is in a museum. Unfortunately, some of our party also wanted to tour the McCormick house, so we had to leave the museum when we had only traveled half way through time.

Since I had opted to visit the house, I set off with the others to cross the expanse in order to be there at our appointed time. Tours were hourly, but one had to reserve a spot in advance. Thankfully, we had secured tickets when we first arrived at the park, so now we were ready to see this mansion that McCormick expanded in the 1930’s.

We were guided through about a third of the house. It was appointed with all the most advanced appliances and technology of the day. There was one of the first home televisions; a GE gas powered ice maker; a GE dishwasher; a Kitchen Aid mixer (that looked very much like the Kitchen Aid mixer of today looks, only with a larger motor!); an enclosed shower; and one of the first intercoms used to communicate with people in various rooms of the house. McCormick was not only a newspaper man, but also an inventor. He loved the latest technology and had his house constructed with the most modern elements of his day – perhaps before these inventions were even widely recognized as helpful conveniences.

Since it was 95 degrees outside, we were very grateful that McCormick had built air conditioning into the house when he remodeled in the 1930’s. It functioned nicely today! Once we admired the rooms, the artwork, the first editions on the bookshelves, the inventions, and some of the family heirlooms, we joined the rest of the family where the kids were cooling off in the spraying fountains.

Groups and groups of tuxedoed men and formal-clad women walked past us. There must have been at least five groups who were using the grounds for weddings or receptions. I don’t know who I felt more for . . . the men in their suits, or the women in their fancy hairdos and high heels. Walking through the heat and over the carpet of grass could not have been easy.

Since it was late afternoon, some nourishment was in order. Our hosts recommended Portillo’s, assuring us that no trip to Chicago was complete without a stop at this establishment. And, they were not wrong! My goodness – it was fabulously delicious. The beef sandwich with thin, thin, thin sliced meat, juicy and delicious, on a squishy bun and a chop salad with chicken, veggies and tiny macaroni with a tangy dressing were what my driver and I decided to share. They were both OVER the TOP good! Seriously! Others in the family had hot dogs; hamburgers; cheesy fries; or salads and there was ONE piece of chocolate cake that we all shared like good compatible family members.

Feeling like we needed to get some errands done to be ready for the road in the morning, we parted company with the family and found the nearest Costco. We filled the gas tank, had my driver’s new sunglasses fixed, and picked up some Starbucks bottled frappuccinos which are as essential for my driver as gas is for the car. Good thing we found the Costco.

Later in the evening, we returned to the home of our niece to say good bye and offer our sincere gratitude for their gracious hospitality. Once again, the whole family (save two of the kids) greeted us and we were enveloped in a blanket of love and acceptance. There was more laughing, sharing, stories and pictures. Slowly we began to feel a creeping sadness that we would soon be leaving this new extended family we had so recently met.

Yet we knew if we didn’t leave, there would never be another reunion. We invited everyone to Seattle and expressed our love and gratitude as best we could. Words seemed to fail, but we hope our hugs spoke loudly. Just as we approached the door, our niece gave Randy a small bag to open when we got back to the motel. We drove into the darkness, marveling all over again, how incredible this whole experience has been.

What was in the mystery package brought us both to tears. It will hang in an honored place in our home, reminding us of God’s grace and the precious gift of family.