Let’s begin with a hearty gong xi (gong shee); it’s the Year of the Dragon. Hope it’s a good one for you.

Last week was a sad one for many of us. On Monday, the funeral Mass for Mary Jane Caserio was held at St. Bernardine. Mary Jane and her husband, Freddie, were legends around town many years ago. Freddie was a boxing trainer who got Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, started.

In her day, Mary Jane was unforgettable, bright red hair, a body like Dolly Parton, glittering in diamonds and not afraid of anybody. She had a heart as big as her other assets and was one of the outstanding cooks in town besides. When Freddie’s Old Towne West had a restaurant, she and Inez Krieger were the cooks.

Along with the food and drinks, Freddie was a really great magician. He mostly did his tricks for strangers while the regular barflies begged for a show. Mary Jane and her sister, Rosemary Besich, were great cat lovers. They became inseparable after Freddie died. The two redheads could be seen at Mass daily, either at St. B or the Dominican Priory. After Rosemary died last year, Mary Jane was never the same. Two smiling redheads, now gone from our midst.

Then we had Roberta Marunde’s funeral service at St. John. Roberta and Fred did so much for Forest Park. They lived a full life, full of accomplishments, full of happiness, plus their share of sadness. Members of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department were on hand to show support for their fellow policeman, Kristin Marunde, daughter of Fred and Roberta. Paul Lindblad’s creative arrangements of familiar hymns were impressive. His old professor, the late Victor Hildner, would have been proud of Paul.

Attention, sons and daughters of Norway. Elvesund Sons of Norway Lodge #5593 will present Lynn Maxon on Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. Ms. Maxon will give a program on “bunads,” i.e. Norwegian folk dress. Lynn has five different bunads and is an expert on the subject. Each bunad tells a unique story. Refreshments will be served and, of course, Norwegian coffee. Come, learn and enjoy.

On Jan. 28 and 29, the 107th Memorial Ski Jump of the Norge Ski Club will be held in Fox River Grove. Contact www.norgeskiclub.com for more information. Did you know Norway has the second highest per capita income in the world? The first is Luxembourg. Where’s the U.S.? Fourteenth or fifteenth, just above or below Ireland.

The Elvesund sent along an article explaining how the reindeer cooling system works. It seems they have a unique system of panting. When their brains reach a critical 39 degrees Centigrade, they have the ability to divert cooled blood from their nose to their brain. So far, the only other animal known to use “selective brain cooling” is the sheep.

Patrick Dorneker, a freshman College of Business student at Creighton University in Omaha was named to the fall Dean’s List for the 2011-2012 academic year. Congratulations Patrick and parents!

Don’t miss two exciting upcoming events at Centuries and Sleuths, 7419 W. Madison St. On Saturday, Jan. 28, David Walker will discuss and sign copies of The Towman’s Daughters, which includes scenes of Madison Street, Forest Park, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore and even mentions owner Augie Aleksy himself. Author D.C. Brod (no relation to Chuck) will also discuss her mystery Getting Lucky. This all happens at 2 p.m.

Then on Feb. 3 at 7 p.m., author Kenneth K. Koskodan will discuss No Greater Ally, the untold story of Poland’s forces in WWII.

Happy Birthday wishes this week go to Gladys Gulla, Connor Bafetti, Ken Oliver, Natalie Frank, Kelly Rosen, Catherine Marquart Nickels, Esther Huebner, Tracy Doss, Orion Jaavier, Leela Itzel, Marlene Quandt, Matthew Walsh, Sharon Andrews, Lia Pardun, Rickie Beam, Susan Ainley and Kolton Smentek.

Did we miss your birthday? Let me know.

Jackie is a former Chicago and Elmwood Park schoolteacher with an undying love for music, friendly pets and a host of life’s other treasures too numerous to list. She was born on the far southwest side of Chicago in a great neighborhood when it was a great time to be young.