It All Starts With Family...

It All Starts With Family...

I have a lot to share regarding my beloved Chicago. But before I embark on my sometimes-silly pontifications, I want to set the scene. The "How I Came to Love Chicago" scene.

My parents met and married in Chicago. My sister was born there. I was born there. My dad worked for the railroad (Burlington Northern and then Santa Fe) and it was just too darn cold to work outside in those sub-zero winters, so he moved us all west to Amtrak--and Los Angeles.  Somehow, Chicago had gotten under my skin. When I would return from L.A. for visits, I loved it a little bit more each time. Until I reached the point where I drove my L.A. friends c r a z y and I knew I had to actually l i v e in Chicago again. So about five of the last ten years, I've lived in Chicago. And I'm hoping to return soon.

So there it is. A fairly simple-sounding story. But the beginning of a Love Affair, all the same. And all due to the choice my grandparents made. Settling Chicago.

Here is a piece for my beloved Grandma Lucy. Who is, to me, "love" incarnate. As if my heart learned to love--because of her. Thank you, Grandma, for choosing Chicago. And thank you for loving me.

. . .
El Corazon Manda (The Heart Rules You)


Oh, Lucy. How you loved me.

"Lucina" to be exact. My grandmother. Hearty laugh. Chin mole. Brown
and more brown. Hair and eyes, that is, because your skin is white
white. Started in Chicago. Me knowing love. Mom. Pops. Big sis.
Abuelito. And you.

4111 North Damen Avenue: You.

4113 North Damen Avenue: Me.

Next-door neighbors.
Our Midwest porch displaying us to the world.
Saying, here is a Lucy and a Liz and their love is so great that they sit in full
view and eat their banana-flavored popsicles.

Street names with the thickest of Spanish sounds. La Lincoln. La
Damen. La Taylor. Walking these streets sometimes in sandals.
Sometimes in snow. Excursions downtown on a bus or two to a Sidewalk
Sale or two. Maybe Sears. Maybe Goldblatt's.

Sis and I sporting matching outfits made by you out of polyester or
cotton or something else that felt soft and new and full of you.

Some picked fruit in fields, I hear. You took two buses with your
pretend English, in the sub-zeroes, clocking your eight hours
assembling something or other and coming home to fix a meal for the
waiting faces. Could’ve stayed home and knit.  But you chose to knit
on the side. A boinita (cap), a bufanda (scarf), a chalequito (vest).
Weaving family in loops held together by magic. Something warm to go
with the matching outfits. You are super-human. Always have been.

I remember how you gave a damn about my "asco"--my upset stomach.
Trying to force a soothing broth on it but I would have none of it.
You, always offering. A bit of coffee. A bit of bread.  As if you
existed only to heal my tummy or to fill it. This is what it means to
be a Grandmother. To give a damn like no one's ever given a damn.

To me, caring smells like your Ponds cream or your powder puff or the
smell of your arms when I'd nuzzle my little face. Lizita, you would
call me. Basement trips to paint our nails because that’s where you
stored the polish. Caring is also the basement's musty odor.

Years later, and this city, Chicago, is my blood. The Family…now 2,000
miles away from Chicago. I wander like a gypsy.  Settling here,
settling there. Imagining my Abuelitos as a part of this city. You're
in the marrow. Maybe once you've breathed here, Chicago is more
Chicago because of you. It retains you. Like I retain you.

Today, you are 94 years past. Your sister Chonita lived to 110. I
thought you'd see 110, too. But Grandpa's passing has done a number on
you. Lucy and Alberto. 25 years Chicago before returning whence you
came. Small town Charcas. San Luis Potosi. Mexico.

I wonder what drew you. There is something intrinsically Tough about a
person who prefers Chicago to L.A. or El Paso. 1950's Chicago.
Architecture. Commerce. Growth. But who knows if this played a part. I
never asked Grandpa. And it's too late to ask you. Our enemy,
Dementia, is making her presence known.

On the surface, you are simple. Marginally-educated and all. But you
are in reality the most complex person I will ever meet. Yes, I am
part You and you are part Me. But I am Me, in part, because of You.
Now, you are here, though gone. For when a woman's mind escapes her,
what remains is the cruelest reminder of what Was.

I feel for you something that transcends expression. Have I loved you
deeply because you loved me? Do we love only because we're loved? I
love you though, today, you may not love back.

Through the years, you would listen like a girl/Woman to the tales of
my heart. Some happy endings. Often a tear. And you would say, in your
wisdom, "El corazon manda". The heart rules. I knew that you Knew.
Because there was Grandpa. And you loved him unlike any woman’s ever
loved a man. Except for on the novelas. 77 years. The final tally. You
were 15. He was 19. A lifetime together. Heck, a few lifetimes

Now, it's near the time for you and me to get off the ride. We've used
our share of tickets. And there is a limit, I've learned.

I crave arroz con platano (rice with bananas). Never did learn to make
it. Maybe I'll attempt it one day in your honor. And if it doesn't
taste the same, I'll sit on my porch. And eat banana-flavored

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  • Beautiful. What an amazing tribute, to both your grandmother and the city.

    An aside - I used to live just a block away at 4214 N. Damen and walked past those houses every single day. Sometimes Chicago really is small.

  • In reply to Shannan Younger:

    Shannan, thank you so much!

    And yes, what a small (beautiful) world this is! My time on Damen was back in the 70's/80's, but I imagine your time there was more recent?

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