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Remembering a life well lived

By Ray Hanania

June 26, 2020

In commemorating my late father this week for Father’s Day, I posted this on my Facebook page to share my feelings of what a fair and decent man my dad was.

I want to share it here because I know not everyone uses social media.

I wish I got to know my dad better. He died a few months after I turned 17. He had an exciting life, and I wish I could have interviewed him.

He left Palestine in 1926 on a Palestine passport (the Israelis say doesn’t exist, but that I have) after another older brother, Yousef, drowned at the Jerusalem quarry. Each religious group was separate–Jews, Christians, Muslims–and no one would help him because they all thought he was the “other” religion, according to the British mandate police report.

Sickened by the hatred on all sides, Dad left to live with his older brother, Moses, in Chicago on North Clybourn in Lincoln Park. Moses worked as a chef at Rolling Green Country Club–a long haul each day from Lincoln Park.Ê

He and Moses enlisted in the military right after Pearl Harbor.

I have letters my dad wrote during the war. He married right after the war, but his wife–Walbert Mueller–died on Christmas Eve giving birth to my older brother. Walbert was German-American; but she hated the Nazis and served during the war too, where she and my dad met.

Moses came to Chicago earlier, encouraged by my grandfather (Hanna Mousa) who, as a young person, traveled to Chicago during the 1893 World Columbian Exposition to sell Middle East trinkets. He traveled a lot as a salesman.

George John Hanania, born in 1901 in Jerusalem, was a good person. He worked at Sinclair Oil Company until they cut him loose, rather than give him a pension. Northern Trust was even worse, firing him when he turned 67. He spent two years unemployed, and Mom had to work at Solo Cup.Ê

Dad died in August 1970 at Christ Hospital.

Dad was always working. He always wore a grey fedora, grey camel hair coat, sharply pressed white shirts and a thin black tie. He brought a small bag of peanut brittle home on Fridays after taking the Jeffery Avenue bus to and from downtown. We’d wait for him at the corner of the block on 89th and Luella until we’d see him in the distance getting off the bus at Calumet Park (rebranded today as Jesse Owens Park, I think) at 89th and Jeffrey.

He worked on the weekends; but on Sunday after church, he’d relax, wearing a sleeveless white t-shirt. I don’t know what else to call it but a dago-T. That’s not an appropriate term today, but that’s what they were called back then.

Dad smoked Camel non-filter cigarettes.

I remember once when I was 5 or 6, the Good Humor truck came by, and he bought an ice cream bar for a dime Ñ probably a mercury dimeÑ and he used a knife to cut it into three parts for my brother, my sister and me.

Every Sunday we’d pick up his sister, Ellen, and drive to his brother’s house–Uncle Khamis–and we’d hang out as one big family. Sometimes we’d go by Ellen’s house and sit with her and my uncle, Joseph Shalabi (he was Muslim and she was Christian), causing a real scandal at the time.

Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, my dad often paid the immigration fees for friends he knew in Palestine who were escaping the problems Arabs faced in Israel. He’d help them settle in America and then help them find an apartment and a job. He loved his brothers and sisters.

It wasn’t easy being Arab in America. No one fought for us to fight the racism we faced from all sides.

But he loved this country no matter what and was proud to make English his first language. He wanted us to speak English and didn’t want us to speak Arabic, so we’d be Americans. He loved Arabic, but thought it should be spoken in Palestine and Arab countries.

He looked like Humphrey Bogart–always in a suit and tie. Always respectful of others. Always helping others. Always put out the American flag but always remembering his home that was destroyed in Palestine.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning syndicated columnist who covered Chicago City Hall for nearly two decades “from Daley to Daley.” Read more of his columns and download his podcasts by visiting Hanania.com. Email him at [email protected])

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