My Mother’s Pictures of Alexandra

It’s my daughter Alexandra’s 26th birthday.

I wonder what’s she up to.

At that age, I was McHenry County Treasurer.

Is she still in college, working on a graduate degree?

Is she in her first job?

Her second job?

Her mother, Robin Meridith Geist, and I got married in 1977 when she was 28.

I was 34.

I met her on Jim Thompson’s first campaign.

When I first saw her she was manning the phones right as one entered the headquarters’ door.

I made excuses to go back.

She invited me to a reception for Jim at her parents’ Lake Forest home. The General Assembly was in session, so I couldn’t go. I think she said that Jim spoke from the baloney (maybe, it was the top of the stairs to the sun room) facing Lake Michigan.

That same week Mike Royko wrote a flattering column, calling me “an honest young politician.” (When I used the quote in my 1992 comeback attempt, an opponent called Royko and we got a call asking about it. We faxed a copy of the column. His response? “Well, I guess I did.” Click to enlarge, if you want to read the entire column.)

One night we were at her Chicago apartment and Tom Wolfe dropped over. She had been corresponding with him since his first book. (Afterwards I learned that Alexandra Gabiella is named after his daughter. Originally, we had agreed on Abigail.)

Our daughter Alexandra Gabrielle Skinner was born on February 16, 1982 at Prentiss Woman’s Hospital.

Is Alexandra married?

Does she have a child?

I was down in the basement (the archives would be a better description) looking for a political button to use as a “Message of the Day” when Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary.

I found three appropriate buttons from 1940, but, then, she didn’t win the election so the search was in vain…except for the pictures I stumbled onto.

My mother had taken them, except for the ones she is in.

They appear at the top of this article, along with some sharper focused ones taken by Robin, definitely, the photographer in the family, and some I took.

I guess I should have known that my days with Alexandra were numbered when, after the first weekend after Robin filed for divorce, I was prohibited from seeing my daughter.

The 21 days until the first court date seemed like an eternity.

At the court date, my father-in-law Herb Geist of 955 Lake Avenue in Lake Forest came over and told me I could “have my career or my daughter.”

Without batting an eye, I said, “I’ll take my daughter.”

That clearly was not the answer he expected to hear.

Then began the attempts to destroy my political career, culminating in Herb’s and Millicent’s interview by the Northwest Herald’s Amy Mack in 1998, I assume. She told one of the inquisitive supporters of my Libertarian Party candidacy for governor against Rod Blagojevich and Jim Ryan that they “looked like deer in the headlights.”

In any event, the first weekend after the first court date, I went to see my daughter at 360 S. Madison Street in Woodstock. The house at “Madison and Vine,” as Robin had put it in a poem accompanying, was it a Valentine’s watercolor of our newly-painted red house with white trim.

I sat on the hall runner in front of the mirrored coat rack and called her name: “Alexandra.”

To my surprise, she said her name was the Russian equivalent, “Sasha.” Maybe that’s not how it’s spelled. There are variations.

“Your name is Alexandra,” I replied.

I guess I should have picked up more on that clue.

(By the time the divorce was over, I had. Regina Narusis, one of my attorneys, asked for Robin to turn in her passport because we thought she would leave the country. A newly appointed Judge Ward Arnold disagreed. After Robin and Alexandra disappeared and a letter came asking me to send child support to Herb’s Swiss Bank, one day in the judge’s complex, Arnold told Regina that he probably had made a mistake.)

Millicent had been adamant that Alexandra should have no nickname.

In Jewish tradition, Alexandra had been named after her grandfather Littman, whose name began with an “A.” “Ariel?” If so, it means “Lion of God.” A strange name, come to think of it, for a family of atheists. (I remember Herb reveling in having baiting the “I Found It” Christian who had called in that campaign in the late 1970’s. After Alexandra was born I said to Robin: “Come on. Look at her and tell me there’s not a God.” She said she’d be an agnostic.)

In any event, here they were trying to change her name less than a month after the divorce papers were filed.

Robin’s mother Millicent Littman’s family had come from Russia. They settled in New York City like many Russian Jews. Her mother was a seamstress. In Lake Forest, she lived in the same building as Sam Skinner’s mother and near both of her children, the other being Dr. David Littman of Highland Park. And, did she make good hard pastry! I kept telling her to put in more raisins.

About all I remember about the Russian stories was that the family was in contact Czar’s daughter and been rewarded with gold for a service performed. It was buried in the back yard of their home.

Did they flee in a pogrom?

I can’t remember, but they were discussed. While passing a Randall Road church in Elgin, Robin said was named after a saint that she said had something to do with a pogrom.

So, what does Alexandra look like now?

Here’s an age-enhanced photo that the Illinois State Police produced:

Last year’s birthday post is here.

I think it unlikely that Alexandra will remember me. I was excised from her life like Robin’s gall bladder was from hers.

Thinking about my earliest memories, one stands out. We were visiting a great uncle and aunt in northern New Jersey. I went to the bathroom and used a stool to climb up to wash my hands. I think this was the one who had been secretary to Thomas Edison…or maybe it was a father of one of the two.

I chipped a tooth. It was so painful!

Perhaps because of the pain, I remember more about that day than any other in my early life. I remember that my great uncle blew smoke out of his ear. He also pulled a coin out of my ear.

Alexandra did not have a similar painful experience that I observed, but twice she seemed quite concerned when I started crying in front of her. Once was in Lake Forest.

“Why Daddy cry?” she asked.

It must have disturbed her. I think Robin even asked me not to do it again.

But, I did when she spent a weekend in Crystal Lake. By then Robin had transferred the case to Crook County. A friend of her lawyer Charles Fleck, who had been a Chicago GOP state rep. while I was in the 1970’s, had gone on to head divorce court where our judge Alan Rosen worked. I could see the writing on the wall. The fix was in. (Rosen, by the way blew his brains out in a tanning parlor, supposedly the day before he was to be indicted for corruption.)

In any event, my emotions exposed themselves again and I started shedding tears on the couch by the front window.

“Why Daddy cry?” she asked again.

I probably came up with some answer about missing her when we weren’t together.

I still do.

= = = = =
All pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The top photo is of Robin and Cal Skinner and baby Alexandra sitting with backs to the front porch or 360 S. Madison Street, Woodstock, Illinois.

Second is a family shot of Cal and Eleanor Skinner, the grandparents of Elizabeth and Sarah on top, Kelly and Alexandra in their Mom-mom’s lap, and Heather and Lissa in the foreground, all left to right.

Mom-mom holding Alexandra at her Woodstock home is next.

A pregnant Robin and Cal in front of the 275 Meridian Street, Crystal Lake, fireplace at Christmas. Mike Gerry’s painting of Cal Skinner, Sr., can be seen above the mantle.

Robin holding Alexandra wearing one of her Lora Ashley (if memory serves me correctly) dresses. Note Robin’s pottery collection in the background. One was given to her by Alexandra’s Great-Gandmother Addie Watling-Skinner when Robin admired it in her Crumpton, Maryland, home. The picture you see is her.

And, yes, even though she was born in the late 1800’s, she was quite proud of being a Watling, ordering return addresses for her envelopes with the hyphen. I made sure it appeared on her tomb stone. That ought to confuse some future folks who come to the Crumpton cemetery, don’t you think? The Watlings won the London lottery around 1830 and immediately came to America. That was when 5,000 pounds was real money.

The next two photos were taken by Robin when she accompanied me to a DeKalb County Republican event in the fall of 1976, probably September. I took my Legislative Listening Post. We had pizza in Crystal Lake before she drove back to Chicago.
The button was one I printed up to promote Jim Thompson’s candidacy. I believe it was the first Thompson for Governor button. Later than fall, I went to northern Europe on an American Council of Young Political Leaders-sponsored trip to Belgium, Germany, Denmark and a night in Sweden. I’ve gained a lot of weight since then.

One of Robin’s favorite photos of Alexandra is next. Siting in her stroller, Alexandra kicks up her legs at the corner of Madison and Vine in the spring of 1983.

Mom-mom and Kelly visit Alexandra at 955 Lake Road in Lake Forest during the summer of 1983. They are having a tea party. This is where the reception part of the “Four Friends” movie was shot in which Robin and I have very bit role roles sitting at a table. Good movie, though.

When Alexandra was one year old, the photo of her drooling a bit was sent out with a birth announcement. The operable line, which Robin came up with, was, “Forsooth, a Tooth.”

Below, Desmond cousins Lissa and Heather observe Alexandra.

Next appear two rocking horses. The red and yellow one was a play thing in Woodstock. I gave her the bentwood one for her second birthday during a visit to Lake Forest. It had disappeared by the next time I went.

The almost Shirley Temple pose of Alexandra in a Mickey Mouse dress was taken in Woodstock.

Right below is one of the last two photos I have of my daughter. It was taken by my sister Ellen on April 18, 1985, at the Boca Raton Hotel (now Resort) and Club, where Crook County Judge Alan Rosen had allowed Robin to take her for a $35,000 at-home year “job” her father had arranged with an acquaintance. Ellen’s husband Denny Desmond had a convention there and they delivered a Care Bear for a 3rd birthday present.

The red house is our home at 360 S. Madison Street in Woodstock. In the 1978 water color above it is the second from the left and not painted red. The inscription reads, “Waiting for Cal to come home.”

Alexandra is handing me her Annie, a Raggedy Ann doll that Robin had made several of so that they could be washed without Alexandra’s missing it. When Alexandra was insecure she would rub its hand against her left check. Robin made three sizes. One was especially clever. It was the smallest and called “Punk Rock Annie.” Its hair was a bit wild.

Next comes one of Alexandra drinking what little was left of Daddy’s Tab. I have written on the photo’s back,

“9-30-84 Drinking what’s left of Daddy’s Tab with the straw meant for her breakfast cup of milk. A didn’t eat a bite of the breakfast R fixed her. A awoke when I told her, ‘Daddy’s here.’ When she saw me, she beamed and didn’t cry as R said she usually did when awoken.”

I can’t remember when the two moved to the Chestnut Street apartment next to the Latin Day School, but the first time I went there, Alexandra asked, “Where Daddy sleep?” When Robin explained that I would not bed staying at the apartment, Alexandra walked into her bedroom, pointed to the floor and said, “On floor by my bed.”

The portrait was taken on the first of only four weekend visitations Alexandra had at my parents’ home in Crystal Lake (where I was living and where we now live). It was October 15, 1985. My mother must have had a real premonition of things to come. We went to Sears in Spring Hill Mall and had this photo taken. Note what a pretty embroidered dress Alexandra was wearing.

I remember walking to Beach 7. On the way, I got a leg hug.

When we reached the beach, Alexandra asked, “Can I touch it?”

“Sure,” I replied.

Two weeks later she came dressed in pants.

Alexandra came up the walk from the driveway to the back sun porch, saying,

“Read the God book.”

The divorce proceedings had decided she would be raised Jewish (it’s apparently a Jewish custom that children are raised in the religion of their mothers), so I found some picture books about God that didn’t mention Jesus and read them to her two weeks before. Apparently, they made quite an impression.

They are probably in this trunk of toys and books.

That second weekend, I had to remind Alexandra to say, “Good bye,” to Robin, which she paused to do before hurrying into the house.

The next picture is of Alexandra playing with a shoe lace learning toy that her Great Aunt Louise Stevens gave her.

The photo of me and Alexandra was taken the last weekend I saw her, Thanksgiving, 1985.

The photo below is the companion that was taken in Boca Rotan by my sister Ellen.

And, the aged photo is last.

All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

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