My American Dream, My Chicago

This post is part of The Heart of Chicago Series that will be running on South of I-80 for the month of March. This post is brought to you by fellow ChicagoNow writer, Mary Tyler Mom,  Sheila Quirke. 

My American Dream, My Chicago by Sheila Quirke

I am the granddaughter of four immigrants.  My mom’s parents were both born in Croatia, but met and married in Chicago.  My father’s parents were both born in Ireland, but they, too, met and married in Chicago.  My Croatian Mom met my Irish Dad at the Holiday Ballroom dance hall in the 1950s, yes, in Chicago.

When I think about the idea of leaving your home, the only place you have ever known, to seek a better life in the great vast unknown with a funny name like Chicago, well, honestly, I can’t imagine.  I can think about it, and I do, often, but I can’t imagine it for myself.

I was born and raised right here and have never had any compelling reason to leave.  Everything I need is here in Chicago, including my history.  My grandparents were Catholic domestics to wealthy families of Jewish faith on Lake Shore Drive, and candy wholesalers who lost everything in this new land during the Depression, and steel mill workers who had to shower off the dirt of their work before walking upstairs to their bungalow and homemakers who worked hard to care for their children and only speak to them in English because they wanted them to be American children with American opportunities.

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Sheila's mother, Donna, with her Croatian parents, known to their grandchildren as Baba and Dida, outside their East Side bungalow.

And the only confirmation I need that I am right where I belong is that typing these few words has me welling up.  Chicago is it for me.

I am so proud to raise my children here.  As they grow up, I will do as my Dad did for me as a child.  We will drive through south side neighborhoods then through the privileged hamlets of the North Shore.  I will explain the concept of having more and having less and having just enough.

We will visit the abandoned steel mills on the East Side, the improbably named East Side because everyone knows the east side of Chicago is Lake Michigan, unless you’re from the East Side, and then you know all about steel mills and sided bungalows and heavy soot in the air that turned the contents of your nose jet black.

We will talk about childhood family celebrations at banquet halls filled with nuns and priests and belly dancers and stuffed bears being saluted by Navy captains, spiffy in their dress blues.  We will talk about Dida’s funeral procession that drove past his home and halted, paying a final tribute to an immigrant’s original American Dream, simple as it was.  We will point to the Mies van der Roe steel and glass tower where their Baba, my mother died, her last year lived on Lake Shore Drive, the very same street where her mother-in-law had once cleaned someone else’s toilets and dishes.

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Sheila's Da and son on a weekday stroll along Columbus Drive near Buckingham Fountain.

This is Chicago, my Chicago, and my sons’ Chicago.

It is imperfect, to be sure.  Its politicians, those charged with its caretaking, are reckless and surely corrupt.  That’s the “Chicago way,” isn’t it?  But still.  It is beautiful, strong, worthy of poetry.  Those politicians, bureaucrats, backroom deal makers are no friend to this place that sings.  They work to sell our city and our schools in pieces to the highest bidder.  But still, but still.  It is home.

My sons are named after a Chicago architect and a Chicago mayor – two of the archetypes most responsible for why Chicago is the place it is.  This was intentional, a gift from my New England husband who indulged my roots and my requests.  I so wanted my boys to know, both of them, that no matter where they find themselves in this world, this great big world, that Chicago is always home to them, their history.

Chicago Prairie

All photos courtesy of Sheila Quirke.


Sheila Quirke is a reformed clinical social worker and current freelance writer and non-profit administrator at Donna's Good Things.  She has called Chicago home since 1969 and doesn't think she will ever leave.  Aside from the whole Polar Vortex nonsense, Chicago is a beautiful jewel of a city that she is honored to call home.



If you liked this post, check out other posts in #TheHeartofChicago series such as: Chicago Trivia, Sweet Home Chicago as Told by a Southern Californian, or The Bonds of Chicago are Unbreakable


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