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 A mosaic by Sol Reese of him and his wife, Eve — my dad's parents 

A mosaic by Sol Reese of him and his wife, Eve — my dad's parents 

It’s not nostalgia but my grandparents are on my mind a week before my film premieres in Chicago. Their workaday and artistic lives are rooted here.

 Sol (Rachkowsky) Reese

Sol (Rachkowsky) Reese

My dad’s dad, Sol, was a first-generation Ashkenazi American, a gifted mosaic artisan who made his living on Clark Street (near Chicago Avenue) as a pawn broker. He took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and his wife, Eve, worked at I. Magnin.

My mom’s dad, Robert, was an actor who studied and performed at the Goodman Theatre School of Drama at the Art Institute before he uprooted to Florida with his wife, Lois, who also studied and performed at the Goodman, and their six-week-old daughter (my mom). The young couple started a community theater in Florida, then Robert moved to Manhattan where he became a Tony-nominated director and producer on Broadway.

I told my mom yesterday that I’m considering looking for an agent. She laughed, then explained that’s what her 86-year-old dad keeps telling her: He needs an agent. Clearly they’re in my blood if not always on my mind.

 Robert Cooper

Robert Cooper

My film will premiere a few blocks away from where my grandparents lived and worked. The film tells the story of a young woman becoming a cloistered nun. When a woman joins a cloistered monastery, her family dynamics shift entirely: Her religious sisters become her family. Meanwhile, her family of origin can feel her absence “like a death”, one nun told me. This nun's mom set her place at the table for years after she joined a cloistered religious order.

Maybe I’m thinking of family because I’m contemplating the sacrifices of these women.

If not for my grandparents’ risks in pursuit of their dreams, I might not have pursued a vocation in the arts. I might not have considered it possible. Perhaps as important as their actual work are the stories that my parents have told me about their parents. My mom adores her performative parents. She still talks about her roles in their plays “whenever they needed a kid” — in Alice in Wonderland and Miracle Worker; as a random, impoverished orphan offered a gift by a stranger (her real life father) in a two-person play.

If not for my parents’ stories of their parents, I might not have seen this path as viable.

Chosen (Custody of the Eyes) will premiere on May 25 (and screen May 26, 27 & 31) at the Gene Siskel Film Center at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tickets are available at www.siskelfilmcenter.org/chosen.

 Lois Wahl Cooper Cartwright and Robert Cooper — my mom's parents

Lois Wahl Cooper Cartwright and Robert Cooper — my mom's parents

Abbie ReeseComment