By David Hammond
My wife and I were seated in the Walnut Room beneath the big tree. While we waited for lunch—the signature Mrs. Hering’s Chicken Pot Pie—we watched wide-eyed children gazing in awe at the holiday spectacle. A winsome young woman in a gold-laced dress seemed to float over to us, offering to grant a Christmas wish. We took her up on that. Then we got her backstory. Her name is Suzee Belles.
What does it mean to be a fairy princess?
To me, being a fairy princess is a huge deal, bigger than Santa. True, many people are lured into the store by Santa, but the real driving factor is the Walnut Room. When I was a kid, we didn’t come to Marshall Field’s to go shopping. We went to see the windows. The thing that got us INSIDE the store was the Walnut Room, and what makes it so special is the great tree and the fairy princesses. Being a fairy princess means that you are the ultimate role model. You’re always happy, kind and witty, and you never break character. Little girls want to be just like you when they grow up, but it isn’t your place to imply that they should be anything but themselves. It’s your job to let them see what they see in you and let that reflection resonate inside them as an example to live up to. What makes the fairies at the Walnut Room really special is that we are not a particular famous princess: we’re ourselves. We’re not flawless, but we are the best version of ourselves inside and outside of that building, and if a kid comes in and sees that not every princess is perfect, then they know that they don’t have to be perfect, either.
As a fairy princess, what are your responsibilities?
I’m in charge of the reindeer. Not just Santa’s but all the reindeer at the North Pole. I have connections in Scandinavia that provide me with task-appropriate reindeer that I then take back to the North Pole and train to fly.
What kind of wishes have you granted?
Typically, wishes are believed to not come true if you tell someone. However, I do recall my very first year at the Walnut Room, one of the kitchen supervisors came up to me and told me I had a call in the office. I was completely puzzled because I didn’t understand who would be calling me at work. I was really worried and thought it was going to be some family emergency. I picked up the phone and it was a complete stranger! They called to tell me that they had wished for their son to get into a specific college; when they got home, the letter was in the mailbox. They were so excited and really believed that my magic did the trick. They called to thank me.
Another time, parents came to talk to me beforehand. They had a special gift for their daughter: a snow globe with Tinkerbell inside and a note: “You are going to Disney World.” They had me give it to the girl and when the little girl read it, she hardly even smiled but just started downright bawling! She was just overwhelmed that her wish had come true in such a theatrical way.
You have two purses, one strung around your shoulder and the other on your arm. What’s in them? Something magical?
One bag is my college fund collection. The other bag is for wishing stones. I give them to kids so they can make a wish whenever they need one. I also have a little silver dish that I keep the fairy dust in. Traditional visitors to the Walnut Room have told me that the specific dish I use was what they used to serve the ice cream snowman in.
When it’s not Christmastime, do you ever use fairy powers?
I always tell people that it’s important for them to believe in their wish for it to come true, and it’s a part of my wish-granting process for the person to visualize their wish happening. I think that no matter where you come from, what religion you may or may not practice, that believing is vital to personal success and the life you want. I also work in a preschool, and I try to remember these things myself while I am working with the kids. The toddler age is when children are developing their personalities, and if I can help mold at least one of them to be a caring loving person, then I’ve done something worthwhile. I think it’s so important for kids to understand that there is something greater—something magical—in all of us, and that something is love. Being a fairy princess really is just a way of sharing that magic of love. I share love by granting wishes. When it’s not Christmas, I share love with my students by caring for them, teaching them to care for others and by showing them new things. In the ballet studio I am teaching kids how to move beautifully, appreciate and love the beautiful lines their bodies make and to love and care for their physical body. So the short answer is, yes: I use my “fairy power” of love every day.
Dining and Drinking Editor for Newcity, David also writes a weekly food column for Wednesday Journal in Oak Park and is a frequent contributor of food/drink and travel pieces to the Chicago Tribune, Plate Magazine and other publications. David has also contributed chapters to several books, including Street Food Around the World, Street Food, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org