Harriet’s Symphonette

My father-in-law, Howard Korengold, passed away last week. As Richard wrote in Howard’s obituary, “He was loved by many, and liked by all. A good, kind, and decent man.” He was also everything I could have hoped for in a father-in-law, and more. He was sweet, sincere, brilliant, and extremely creative.

We shared a geekiness when it came to words and writing, and called each other often with questions such as “Is the opposite of disgruntled gruntled?” It is.

Howard referred to me as his “literary agent” and entrusted me with countless spiral notebooks filled with his hand-written thoughts, ideas, musings, and memories. I’m not a very good agent because all of the notebooks are still sitting in my office.

To honor him, I’d like to share the book that he wrote and illustrated in honor of my late mother-in-law, Harriet. 


Confessions of a Middle-aged Mascot

I was in my 40’s when I started working at the park district as a pre-school art teacher. It was so much fun I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid. I had the greatest connection to my five-year-old students because they were creative, enthusiastic, and excited about everything we did. Plus, they laughed at all of my jokes.

Working at the park district gave me many opportunities to do things I’d never done before, such as tending to bee hives, searching for and finding salamanders at the nature center, and manning the docks during Smelt Fest. 

The Heller Honeybees

 I enjoyed it all, but, during a planning meeting for the upcoming Polar Express extravaganza, I heard the seven words that would change my life forever, “We need someone to be The Reindeer!”

My hand shot right up. I knew deep down inside that I had found my calling; My destiny. I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I looked around the room. No one else’s hand was raised, which I found surprising. I thought I’d have had to claw my way to the top. 

But then it occurred to me that one doesn’t know if one wants to be a Reindeer unless one really knows one wants to be a Reindeer. For most people it’s a personal decision that might take hours of self-reflection, and a therapist. It’s not right for everybody, but it was right for me.


After my very moving performance at the train station that first year, being the Reindeer for the Polar Express became my annual gig.


It also earned me the title of the park district’s “Mascot du Jour.” Over the years I suited up as “Smilie the Safety Dog” who, with the addition of a cape, moonlit as “Dracudog” for our Halloween Hayride. I was also “The Easter Chick” and the “Winter Fest Snowman”. I was well-received, for the most part. Some kids would burst into tears when they saw me, but that’s happened even when not in costume.

Smilie the Safety Dog to the rescue!
The Snowman was Richard’s favorite. In fact, when people ask to see a picture of his wife he shows them this one.
Or this one.

I took the wildly fun job of being a mascot very seriously. I decided that to truly become one with each mascot, and to keep my identity a secret, I’d never be seen without my head, and I wouldn’t speak. Not communicating verbally also gave me the opportunity to freely express myself through interpretive dance. I finally had the opportunity to engage in my true passion in public without anyone knowing who I was. When I do it at Target people look at me funny.

As the Reindeer I’d stand on the train station platform across from the kids so I could entertain them as they anxiously awaited the Polar Express. I’d put one of my front hooves up to my antler and look and listen for the train. I’d check my pretend watch and shrug my shoulders wondering where the train could be. I’d do the Moonwalk, and, because I really am a hoofer, I’d tap dance a little bit, too.

I remember deciding to mix it up one year and posed on the platform bench like a supermodel during a Vogue photoshoot. My supervisor actually came over and whispered in my antler to tone it down. I guess I wasn’t exhibiting proper reindeer decorum. I think the earrings had something to do with it.

Some years, when I was feeling particularly girly,  I’d attach earring to my antlers and powder my nose while waiting for the Polar Express.
Too much?
Definitely too much!

Sometimes I’d drive to an event and change into my alter ego at the venue. Other times I’d sit with my head in my hands while Richard gave me a ride. Because I never wanted to ruin the mystique, Richard would park where no one could see me (or him) and then he’d help me put my head on straight. But I never went into the crowd before asking myself, “What’s my motivation?”

Depending on the mascot, each head had a small mesh screen hidden in an eyeball, nostril, or beak, and allowed me a very narrow path of vision. I had to be careful not to step on a child, or trip and become an actual Flying Reindeer. 

The little screen also served as my only source of ventilation. When breathing became an issue I’d interpretively dance away from the crowd, pry the Velcro apart that kept my head from falling off, and take a good, long breath of fresh air with my human mouth and nose. It got pretty hot inside, too. Even on the coldest days, I’d easily lose five pounds.

I began reminiscing about my mascot days recently when I happened to see a commercial for Coors Light that I thought was hilarious. It features two mascots from opposing college football teams heading into the locker room after what must have been an exhausting game. (It’s called “Mascot Chill” and I highly recommend watching it on YouTube.)

Then last weekend I watched the NHL All Star Weekend. Look, I like hockey as much as the next guy, but I was in it for the mascots. I found videos of the mascots playing dodgeball, running around Vegas, checking out buffets, shooting craps, and even trying out for Thunder Down Under. Spoiler alert: Gnash got the job. (Look for “NHL Mascots live it up in Las Vegas” and “NHL All-Star Mascot Showdown Dodgeball” on YouTube, too.)

I just loved being a mascot. I let loose. I had fun with it. It was liberating. I was a middle-aged woman running around in a faux fur suit with a head that couldn’t fit through doorways having the time of my life. 

I envy you, Tommy Hawk, Gritty, Mick E. Moose, Sparky, and the rest. You have the best job in the world. I’m here for you if you ever need a sub.

When Little Veronica Met the New Neighbors (From The Chronicles of Veronica)

The day I took the kids over to meet the new neighbors was the day I learned never to assume anything when it comes to Veronica.

We had been living in our first house for a few months when we heard that a family with a four-year-old son named Sam was moving in across the street. Four-year-old Veronica was ecstatic. 

When she wasn’t in preschool three mornings a week, she and the cat could be found perched on the back of the sofa in the living room staring through the big picture window waiting for the moving van to arrive. 

I had told Veronica that we needed to give Sam’s family a few days to get settled before going over to welcome them to the neighborhood.

Just before they moved in Sam’s father passed away. Because she has always had an innocent, inquisitive nature, Richard and I talked about whether or not to tell Veronica about Sam’s dad.

We decided it wasn’t necessary. Since I’d planned to bring the kids over in the afternoon while Richard was working, we figured she’d think Sam’s father was at work, too. 

Boy, were we wrong…and oh, so stupid.

I held Veronica’s hand on one side while balancing 8-month-old Lucas and a tray of brownies on the other as we walked across the street.

I rang the bell and a woman with a big smile on her face came to the door. She invited us in and told us her name was Carol. I explained who we were and that Veronica was very excited to meet Sam.

Carol said that Sam was playing in his room, so we all went upstairs to meet him. I sat Lucas on the floor near Sam, and Veronica plopped down next to him. Sam told them all about his room and let them play with his toys. 

I took that opportunity to whisper my condolences to Carol who smiled sweetly at me and thanked me for coming over. She was especially happy that I’d brought my kids to play with Sam. 

I had a feeling that Carol and I would become good friends.

And that’s the moment Veronica looked up at Carol and asked, “Where’s Sam’s Dad?”

Maybe Carol and I weren’t going to become good friends after all.

Oh, the dread. Oh, the panic. Oh, the desire to be able to disappear or go back in time. I looked at Carol and mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry!” Carol mouthed back, “It’s ok,” and then turned to Veronica and said, “Sam’s father died.”

“Oh,” Veronica said. “Sorry.”

I was proud of Veronica for handling the situation so well. “Ok, good,” I thought to myself, “crisis averted.”

Not so much.

Veronica looked up at Carol again and asked, “Well, how did he die?”

“This is not happening,” I said to myself. Oh, but it was.

“He had a heart attack,” Carol said very matter of factly. Carol looked at me, smiled, and nodded her head as if to let me know she was okay with Veronica’s questions. She was obviously a very cool, calm, laid-back person.

Carol seemed to recognize that Veronica was just gathering information. She was trying to make sense of the world, which has always been a wonderful attribute. 

But, under the circumstances, I found it hard to stay calm because one never knew what might come out of little Veronica’s mouth. Once she got going she was like a 3-foot tall attorney with pigtails.

Veronica looked up at Carol again. 

Oh. Shit.

“Did the heart attack hurt?”


Our visit had officially gone down the crapper.

Even though Carol would have probably been able to comfortably handle Veronica’s question – – and all of its follow-ups – – and Sam seemed more interested in his toys than anything Veronica had asked, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that the kids and I should leave after having done enough damage for the rest of our lives or, at least, until one family or the other moved.

I told Veronica it was time for Lucas’s nap as I picked him up and gently took her hand. I thanked Carol for having us over and Sam for sharing his toys. Veronica said goodbye to Sam who got up and walked down the stairs with Carol and me.

“Okay,” I thought to myself when we reached the front door, “that could have gone much worse.”

And then it did.

My fingers were within an inch of the handle of the screen door. We were so close to making our escape. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Veronica turn around to look at Carol. I reached a little further and grasped the door handle, but I was too late. Before I could push the door open Veronica’s mouth was open.

As I stood there holding Lucas, Veronica said to Carol, “I bet Sam’s father didn’t take very good care of himself if he had a heart attack! Was he fat? Did he smoke? I bet he ate crap all the time and never exercised!”

I think I lost consciousness there for a second, but I was still upright and hadn’t dropped Lucas.

How did Veronica even know about this stuff? It wasn’t as if we sat around the dinner table with our young children discussing war and coronary artery disease.

I gripped Veronica’s hand a little tighter and apologized to Carol who had walked outside with us, probably making sure we were actually leaving. Somehow, she was still smiling. 

“Stay calm,” I told myself as we began walking, very quickly, across their lawn. “We’re almost home,” I told myself. “You can do this.”

Little did I know that little Veronica wasn’t finished.

“Well, ya know, Sam needs a father,” she said over her shoulder to Carol as she trotted to keep up with me. “I think all kids should have fathers. You should get married to someone else. Are you dating anyone? Maybe my parents know someone you could marry…”

I began sprinting to the best of my ability while holding a baby in one arm and dragging a toddler with the other. I shouted apologies to Carol over my shoulder as I looked both ways and then crossed the street.

Thankfully we made it home before Veronica could ask any more questions or offer up any more marriage advice.

I put Lucas down for a nap and placed Veronica in front of the TV so I could lie down for a few minutes before making dinner. 


A few years later Carol met a wonderful man and invited all four of us to their wedding which took place in her backyard. He adopted Sam and in time they had a baby girl. At the wedding Veronica had a very pleased look on her face. Everything had gone according to her plan.

The Tail of Wild Boomba

My mother, Lorraine Harriet Chase, née Fishman, sat happily in her hospital bed anxiously waiting for a nurse to bring me, her third child, into her room to meet her. She had recently awoken from the chemically induced coma obstetricians thought was the best way for most women to give birth in the 1950s and 60s.

She looked impeccable in her brand new size two pink peignoir from Bonwit Teller, a gift from my father, Norman Myron Chase, nee Chase. Then, as now, she had applied a full face of makeup and each curl on her head was perfectly placed. Of course she was also wearing earrings and her signature orange lipstick.

A nurse retrieved my father from the hazy open bar/waiting room/lounge. He was balancing a cigar between his lips and holding a scotch on the rocks with a twist in his hand as he followed her to see his wife and meet his newborn daughter.

By the time my father walked into the room, I had been placed in my mother’s arms. Thankfully she was wearing water-proof mascara because she took one look at me and burst into tears. She motioned for my father to come closer so she could whisper in his ear, “They gave us the wrong baby!”

My older sister and brother had been born with blond hair and fair skin. 


My sister, Beth.


My brother, Paul.

I looked like a monkey.


My mother and father looked at each other, back at me, and then each other. My father, an attorney, assured my mother that he would investigate my pedigree even if he had to pay a visit to the chief of staff. He vowed to find out beyond a reasonable doubt if I belonged to them, another family, or if a newborn chimp was missing from the Ape House at Lincoln Park Zoo.

After much sleuthing, it was determined that I did indeed belong to my parents. My father brought my siblings to visit me at the hospital. They took one look at me and called me “Wild Boomba.”

I was born on January 7, 1961, although my mother wrote January 9, 1961, on the notepad that served as my first baby book. After learning of a friend who said his parents used the back of his brother’s baby book to chronicle his childhood I felt a little better.

Back in the day, women stayed in the maternity ward for 10 days after giving birth even though they had no recollection of delivering their children. 

According to my mother, the nurses would bring babies to their mothers for feedings throughout the day, and the dads would come from work to dine on steak dinners and champagne with their wives. Add yoga and massages and you’ve got Canyon Ranch Spa.

By the time they left the hospital, some babies were already cutting teeth, crawling, eating solid foods, and a few even had their learner’s permits and were able to drive their parents home.

My parents were skeptical of my species until the day I pulled myself up to a standing position without attempting to climb up the furniture or scale the walls.

At least they kept me instead of dropping me off in a basket in front of the zoo. Besides, I don’t really like bananas.