What Princess Diana was to England, Clara Cerone was to the Chicago Outfit. I know it sounds tacky, but I am being sincere. Aunt Clara, as I called her, was like a second mother to me, a source of happiness and personal strength that buoyed me through many tough times. I write this article a month late of the one-year anniversary of Clara’s passing, God rest her beautiful soul.
Chicago has been home to a number of special people, from Jane Adams to Michael Jordan. Among this illustrious company you would surely find Clara Russo Cerone.
On February 13, 1917, toward the end of World War I, Chicago had one inch of snow on the ground, accumulation from a couple of modest snowfalls earlier that month. The temperature was in the average range with a high of 31 and a low 15. It was a wholly unremarkable day until the birth of Clara A. Russo would mark it in the hearts and minds of many.
At a young age, Clara’s persistency and determination emerged. Her halo of red, curly hair made her stand out from the other little girls at school. She decided she had to straighten her rosy curls, ironing her hair in order to address the supposed problem. Aunt Clara would be hands on with her destiny for her whole life. This creative energy and raw determination, exhibited from such a young age, colored her interactions with the world at large.
Clara grew up in a Jewish part of the City of Chicago, and she could speak Yiddish, along with several other languages, fluently. She was a stickler for proper etiquette and grammar. Along with her linguistic acumen Clara possessed a number of artistic talents, much like the other Russo children, particularly Clara’s now late brother Leo the Artist. She was a talented dancer and singer. Aunt Clara would eventually teach many young children how to dance (including me – although I was not a good student).
Not only could Clara sing and dance, her mastery of the culinary arts rivaled the talents of many professional chefs. Everything from small get-togethers to massive parties and formal family functions were expertly catered by Clara. No one ever went away hungry or unsatisfied.