Under Chicago’s Hawaiian Skies

Anyone who watches old movies even occasionally has witnessed a scene set in a restaurant or nightclub where a fetching young women approaches a table occupied by the leading man and lady and asks if they would like a souvenir photograph.

After our mother’s passing in 2010, we spent hours going through dozens of old photographs we’d never seen before (many of which we’ve shared with you here), and one that especially sparked our interest was enclosed in a folder labeled “Louie’s Club 29,” a long-gone nightspot in our home town (Oklahoma City, don’t you know). The picture inside the folder depicts Mom and Dad Cladrite as young marrieds, out for an evening of fun with friends (their backfence neighbors) and Dad’s youngest sister and her beau. You can learn more about that souvenir photograph here.

The cover of the Honolulu Harry's Waikiki photo folder Eddie, Lois, Mom and Dad at Honolulu Harry's Waikiki

Last year, sad to say, we lost our father, which led to another deep dive into the photograph bin, and we were very excited by another souvenir photograph, this one from—wait for it—Honolulu Harry’s Waikiki, a tiki bar and restaurant in Chicago. In this picture, Mom and Dad (that’s them on the right) are accompanied by Mom’s lifelong friend, Lois, and her husband, Eddie. Lois and Eddie resided in Atlanta, so the two couples must have met up in the Windy City (we don’t know for certain what the occasion might have been). This picture was taken in the early to mid-’50s—we know this because Honolulu Harry’s opened in 1952 and by the late ’50s, Mom had gone blond. In this picture, Mom still sports the medium brown locks she was born with, so the picture has to date to the few years in between.

Honolulu Harry's WaikikiWe were amused to see that the photographer at Honolulu Harry’s seems to have been quicker on the draw than the waiter. As you can see, the table is spotless, the ashtray empty, the four cocktail napkins still fresh and unsullied by condensation or spilled Mai Tai. We imagine the plastic (or were they paper in those days?) leis were placed around the foursome’s necks as soon as they entered and before menus were even placed on the table, and that the Johnny (or Jill)-on-the-spot photog hurried over and snapped this picture.

Honolulu Harry's WaikikiWe wonder if the two couples were initially seated facing each other (note the arrangement of the napkins) but for the sake of the photograph, with an empty table beside them, perhaps Lois and Eddie slipped around and slid in next to Mom and Dad, only to move back to the other side of the table afterward (yes, yes, it’s a minor detail, but we’re suckers for such minutiae.)

Honolulu Harry's WaikikiHonolulu Harry’s Waikiki was in operation for a decade, from 1952-62. It offered that odd combination of Asian and Pacific/Polynesian influences so often seen in tiki joints of the era—the establishment’s advertising touted “American, Cantonese, Japanese and Hawaiian foods with dancing under the Hawaiian skies” and that same awkward but fun cultural blend can be seen in the club’s decor and even the design of its exterior.

Fun fact: The previous occupant of this space was the Barrel o’ Fun Tavern, a favorite hangout of Mr. Fun himself, John Dillinger.

If only Mom and Dad Cladrite (and Honolulu Harry’s Waikiki) were still with us—we’d join them in a heartbeat for a Waikiki Zombie and a Pupu Platter.

Bohemians in the Attic: In Search of Ruth Larson Hatcher

Ruth, age 12, as seen in the 1924-25 Clinton (Oklahoma) High School yearbook

Our mom used to mention an Aunt Ruth, her mother’s sister, who lived in Taos, New Mexico, and was an artist. We’d met Ruth on a couple of occasions, she assured us, but we had been so young at the time, we had (and still have) no recollection of those encounters.

But as we grew into adulthood and came to more greatly appreciate creative types—bohemians, as they are sometimes called—we began to wonder about Aunt Ruth and to fervently wish we could at the very least see some of her artwork, which Mom had led us to understand would be paintings.

We did an internet search every few years but never turned anything up, in large part because didn’t know her last name (we assumed she’d been married at some point).

We even included a heavily fictionalized version of Aunt Ruth in one entry in Men My Mother Dated and Other Mostly True Tales, the collection of humorous essays and stories we published some years back. In this particular tale, Ruth and her husband lived not in Taos, but in Amarillo, Texas, where they operated a roadside eatery. The story had it that Mom, feeling restless as her senior year in high school approached, was given permission to spend the summer with Aunt Ruth and work as a waitress in the diner.

As the story progresses, Mom meets Jack Kerouac, who is traveling south from Denver with Neal Cassady to visit William S. Burroughs in Mexico City. A mildly fictionalized account of that trip is found in Kerouac’s novel On the Road, but Mom’s encounter with Kerouac isn’t, of course, mentioned there, since it never happened (except in the pages of our book).

In recent years, we’ve become an avid (if entirely amateur) genealogist, digging gleefully into the various branches of our family tree via ancestry.com and other similar sites. But only very recently did we make any serious progress in learning more about Aunt Ruth, who was, it turns out, a citizen of some prominence in Taos, so much so that one Mary Alden penned a 1,000-word profile of her for The Taos News that was published on March 4, 1999, nearly a month after Ruth passed away.

From that profile, we learned much more than we’d ever known about Ruth (which was admittedly next to nothing).
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Wish you were here

Hi-res view

Our mom, Karen Oakes Leveridge, would have been 79 years old today, if it were not for Alzheimer’s disease, that rat bastard. She beat cancer twice, but there’s no winning with Alzheimer’s.

We miss her dearly—even desperately, sometimes. She was a remarkable woman, and everything we are that’s worthwhile, we owe to her and my wonderful father.

This picture of them was taken around 1960 — no later, certainly, than 1964.

What a couple they were, and how grateful we are that Dad’s still going strong.

The Karen Files, revisited

Today marks a year since the passing of our mom. She was a grand gal and we miss her terribly, especially, as you might expect, over the past day or so.

Mom suffered from Alzheimer’s, so in a very real sense, we lost her before she finally left us. And as so many of you have no doubt experienced, it’s easy, when seeing a loved one through a debilitating illness, to nearly forget what they were like when they were healthy.

It’s that vibrant, vital woman we remember now, though; memories of her years of of suffering, while not erased, have given way to much sweeter recollections.

In the weeks following Mom’s passing, as longtime readers of this site may remember, we posted a weekly reminiscence of Mom in a series we called the Karen Files. We shared photographs from throughout her life and mused upon the woman we recall so dearly.

We thought, on this occasion, we’d provide links to the entire series in one post, for those who may have missed these small tributes the first time around. If you knew Karen, we trust they’ll be bring back warm memories; if you didn’t, well, they just might make you wish you had.

The Karen Files, Pt. 1 The Karen Files, Pt. 8
The Karen Files, Pt. 2 The Karen Files, Pt. 9
The Karen Files, Pt. 3 The Karen Files, Pt. 10
The Karen Files, Pt. 4 The Karen Files, Pt. 11
The Karen Files, Pt. 5 The Karen Files, Pt. 12
The Karen Files, Pt. 6 The Karen Files, Pt. 13
The Karen Files, Pt. 7 The Karen Files, Pt. 14

The Karen Files, pt. 14

Another in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the life of our mother:

This photo of Karen and her two siblings, Cecil Jr. and Linda, is from November 1952. Mom was 19 years old, Cecil was 22, and Linda was 12.

Hi-res view

We suspect this was taken over the Thanksgiving break of Mom’s sophomore year at Oklahoma A&M. She and her siblings seem happy and content together.

But it’s odd the turns that even happy families can take. I remember my uncle Cecil fondly from my early childood. He was fun and kind of goofy, but mostly he was a tickler. Man, did he love to tickle us kids.

Now we know that tickling is viewed as marginal behavior today. A little tickling of a child is fine, perhaps, but one must really be careful not to cross a line. Otherwise, it’s viewed as sadistic by many, and not unreasonably, we think.

But we have no bad memories of Cecil from those years, so if he crossed the line—if he overdid it with the tickling—we don’t recall it.

But Cecil and Mom had a falling out when we were five or six years old, and he’s been a shadowy presence in our life ever since. We don’t think we’ve seen him in person more than once or twice in the past forty years. There have been very occasional reports of his doings, but basically, he’s just a distant memory to us.

Aunt Linda and Mom remained close and in contact over the years. Linda lived in Kansas near their parents, and was the sibling who played the largest role in watching over them in their declining years, and we know that Karen appreciated that.

We’d not seen Linda in some years, but that it is one of the few high points of losing a loved one: You reconnect with friends and famliy you’ve not seen in some years. As sad as it was to lose Mom, it was a treat to get to spend some time with Linda, of whom we’ve always been very fond.

So we were happy to come across this photograph, which was in a small folder of photographs that Mom’s father, Cecil, Sr., carried with him. It’s heartening to recall there were happier times for Cecil, Linda, and Karen.