On the John
Give my best to Steve Goodman
Originally written on March 26, 2008
Published on readjack.com on April 3, 2008
My grandmother died today. She was 85.
There is a lot to think about when a close relative dies. Sometimes the death is horribly sad; other times it is a sad relief. Priorities get shuffled. You have to contact work and school, and figure a way to keep both moving forward while you schedule the funeral, update The Outer Circle, file paperwork. But then there are the other thoughts that spring to mind, the ones that seem inappropriate, and maybe they are. But they are hard to help.
Nana was a Chicago sports fan. She knew the lyrics to every Big Ten fight song, excluding Penn State and including the University of Chicago. And of course she knew Bear Down, and sang it with us after touchdowns. Because she called my cell after touchdowns. And after bad first halves, big home runs, pre-game shows, post-game shows, and any time the Bulls were leading or trailing by 20.
And oh how she loved her Cubs! When the Cubs were winning, in ’69 or 2003 or even a year ago, Nana was thrilled. But she did not hate the White Sox, not one bit, and when it was their turn, she was dedicated. Geoff Blum’s homer in Game 3? I was sleeping, having made the mistake of leaving my TV room after the 13th to watch the game in bed. Not Nana. I spoke with her the next morning:
“You were up for the whole thing?”
“Of course,” she said, dragging out the ‘or’ in ‘course’ the way she does at her house when you ask if you can have a cookie. “I wouldn’t have missed it.”
That was Nana: always loyal. My guess is that as she got older, the CHICAGO meant more to her than did the WHITE SOX. She was 85 years old, an old Cubs fan just like her late husband, and that’s when it hit me: here is yet another Northsider who lived a lifetime and never saw a championship.
Trivial? Perhaps. When you are preparing to bury your grandmother, everything else is dimmed. But there it was, and less than a week before the Cubs began their 100 year anniversary season. 99 years without a title. That theme will surely be exhausted by June, but there is no denying that there is something very real here.
I am reminded of a quotation from Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince. The Fox is talking to the Little Prince about the latter’s rose, which the Little Prince misses very much. And the Fox tells him: “It is the time you have wasted on your rose that makes your rose so important.” That word, wasted, has always stood out to me. Is the time we spend on the ephemeral a waste? The time we spend on a sports team?
As any Cubs fan will tell you, what makes this club so important is the time we have all wasted on them. The trips to Wrigley, the afternoons watching WGN, the Old Styles and hot dogs, the El runs and cab rides. The Cubs are Ernie and Billy, Santo and Sandberg, Brickhouse and Harry and Santo again. But for me they are also Tapani and Walton and Glenallen Hill. I am sure that you have your own. These are the everyday Cubs, the ones only you and I will remember, the Monday through Fridays.
But then comes the weekend: a chance to celebrate! And then comes a wedding, a child birth, a birthday (we get those once a year, no exceptions). And though the majority of our time is spent on 355 normal days, it is the other ten that hold so many of our favorite memories, the other ten that give us cause to embrace our loved, to hug and kiss and clap and dance and sing, to tell stories, to make stories. We loved our Cubs in 1945, 1969, 2003, and we loved our Cubs in 1915, 1951, 1980. But oh! How we must have loved them in 1908!
It is time for another celebration. It is long since time. And though I am a man who celebrates each day simply for coming, I am also a man who knows the value of those ten days, and now I think back on last October 28th when I got a call from a Boston friend of mine. It was Game 4 of the World Series, and my friend was at Nic and Dino’s Trapoli Tap, a Boston bar in our city, and he asked me to join him and his Red Sox buddies for a celebration.
And when the final pitch struck the catcher’s glove, my friend and his stood and cheered. They hugged and kissed and clapped and sang—Oh I love that dirty water…—and they told stories, and they made stories. This, a group that until three years prior was our spitting image in sadness.
And now two titles in four years, and as the champagne flowed and the high fives flew, I sat there, watching, and thought: “Yes, yes, I think I could enjoy this.”
Copyright 2008, jm silverstein
Sing it with me…