Listen to your instincts and stay alert

My mom told her own mother not to pick her up that night.

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By Christina Pippin

Local Shopping & Fashion Blogger

On Wednesdays here at the Shopping Blog, I usually interview a local entrepreneur and share the journey of how they came to spearhead their own business.

But today I thought I’d share something personal. With news of a fourth attack perpetrated on a woman in Oak Park, I haven’t been overly enthusiastic about traveling on foot (which is my primary mode of transportation).

I felt it was important to digress in order to share a bit on following our instincts (just a friendly and important reminder) and being as proactive as possible in keeping ourselves and our families safe.


When I was still in grade school I joined the chorus. Wonderful, said my mother. I also played tennis. Lovely, cooed my mom. Then I joined the track team. Good, so you can run away as fast as you can if a stranger should chase you, she announced without even looking up. Wait, what?

Let me back up. At the tender age of 16 my mother acquired her first job. She relates this fact with much pride. At Woolworth’s Department Store in Chicago! That’s the part of the story that makes her smile.

This story is not a happy one. This following gets a little hairy.

She was walking home one summer evening when suddenly a man grabbed her from behind and said severely, “Don’t make a sound and you won’t get hurt.” He never asked for money. My mother surveyed his shadow cast before her on the sidewalk and in his right hand she saw something long and cylindrical.

I really like the next part.

My mom, the petite, soft-spoken, almost reticent young girl screamed. She screamed and she screamed and she screamed some more.

I’ve heard her scream; it is a piercing, deafening sound (As a child, I once came rushing to her aid, ready to combat all varieties of evil for the one who birthed me,  but I found her atop a chair in our kitchen where a mouse sat frozen, I’m sure it was confused as to how this situation had gotten so out of hand. To this day, I swear that mouse looked befuddled.).  

I know for a fact my mother’s scream can be heard for blocks. I’ll explain how I know this.

The man then raised what she soon found out was a metal pipe and with all of his might inflicted a blow to her head, splitting her scalp and cracking her skull. He then fled, leaving her there lying on the sidewalk, her purse still on her arm.  She remembers the pool of blood that formed around her head, a crimson liquid halo growing. Neighbors peeked through blinds and shut them. No one came to her aid.

(“He didn’t get what he wanted,” my mother would declare resolutely. A woman of great faith, my mother at the time had lofty dreams of becoming a nun. I’m sure glad she didn’t.)  

Well, one person did come out to help her.

That person was my grandmother. My grandmother, blocks away, heard a scream and recognized the sound of her daughter’s voice, distorted and high-pitched. She came running, and she was the one who found my mother still spread across the concrete. She was the one that took her to the hospital to be sewn back together.

To this day, if her hair falls a certain way, I can see the seven inch scar, an unwelcome aquiline reminder to be aware of our surroundings. Always. And to follow our instincts.

“Follow your instincts and be aware of your surroundings!” my mother would bellow often and vehemently as I was growing up.

“Have fun at the concert. Be aware of your surroundings and follow your instincts!”

“Where are you and your friends going tonight? Be aware of your surroundings!”

While being alert doesn’t equate to an impenetrable shield, it is a proactive approach to staying safe.

Having worked in an economically depressed area of Chicago with at-risk youth for over ten years, I know I put many a gray hair on her head.

Luckily, my mother has a great sense of humor and loads of resilience, so she has made her way through life splendidly.

She was also adamant about imparting some simple rules that I carry with me.

“Don’t go through alleys by yourself. Avoid them completely, actually. Stay in groups when you go out with friends. Don’t carry all of your belongings in one place. Be aware of your surroundings. If someone asks you for your money, for the love of all things good, just give it to them. We can replace material possessions; we can’t replace you,” she’d say.

This weekend, I did something despite the fact that my instinct rejected the idea. I stepped into an alley (the same alley used by Fenwick students on weekdays) in broad daylight. It was noon, the sky was bright. Everything in me told me not to be there at that moment, but it was a shortcut, and unfortunately I did not listen to that voice.

Within moments, a man entered from the opposite direction and headed straight for me. He reeked of alcohol. His eyes were glassy. He asked for money. I stared in amazement as I realized he matched the sketch of the thief (provided here on this site) perfectly.  Luckily, my male neighbor came out right at that moment. I called the police, but he seemed to disappear as quickly as he had come.

I hope we all continue to pay close attention to our surroundings, and even after this thief is apprehended, it’s important to stay alert and help each other out whenever possible. I promise to listen to my own advice.

Through this blog I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many wonderful people around town and in the shops. And I hope everyone stays as safe as possible.

Safety tips from the Oak Park Police Department can be found here.

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