When I finally progressed past The Bernstein Bears and Curious George, when I finally was able to scoop spoonfuls of sugar into my own bowl of Rice Krispies and pretend to know how to butter my own bread, I started reading the headlines of sports pages.
In a time before the internet, blogs and twelve-hour marathons of Sportcenter, the only way someone could get their sports news was the newspaper. Luckily, my grandpa had home delivery of both the Sun-Times and the Tribune. At the age of six, I didn’t realize how lucky I was.
While he read the front page of the Tribune, I took my time with a glass of milk, my Rice Krispies and the bold headlines of the Chicago Sun-Times. It would take me a few more years before I would be able to master the intricate folding patterns of the Tribune, but it was about that same time that I graduated from reading headlines to reading the entire article.
As time progressed and I got older and my clothes changed from Osh Kosh B’Gosh to Girbaud Jeans and t-shirts that changed colors when you blew on them, I still sat across from my grandpa and read the sports page.
When I made my way to high school on Chicago’s North Shore, a sharp departure from the Northwest Side I was used to, I started buying my own newspapers. Instead of his kitchen table, I read the sports page while I wasn’t sleeping on the way to school on the CTA.
With long hair and a Grateful Dead patch on my backpack before I left for Denver and a first foray into my college career (a long and illustrious career – I was on the 14 year plan), I went over to my Grandpa’s house on the weekends.
I looked up as he dozed in his Lazy-Boy and absent mindedly listened to the rhythmic switch of my grandma’s slippers as she made tomato soup and grilled cheese. Each time he fell asleep during a Cubs game, I could lean over and still pull from under the large pile of papers on the table next to him: the loyal, the steadfast, the sports page.
During those years in the summer I listened to Cubs games on WGN, watched the Sox if they were the only thing on, watched Bears games on Sundays (and occasionally Mondays) and watched the Bulls and the Hawks (when they were on the road) as winter turned back into spring.
A day before my grandpa died, as he lay on a home hospice bed, his Parkinson’s disease causing a serious shake in his hands, I reached out and touched him, holding back the tears and said hello.
His body, beaten down by a cocktail of drugs and about nineteen kinds of cancer (Diagnosed with cancer when he was in his late sixties, he outlived three doctors that diagnosed him), he lay there and quietly shook. On the table in the room behind him, next to various machines making beeps and whirs, was the sports page. As he slept and the rest of my family milled about, the only thing I could possibly do to take my mind off of the impending loss of someone I loved so much, was the sports page.
When the Cubs were five outs from the World Series, I honestly couldn’t realize how I was going to see something my grandpa had never seen in his 87 years of life, and how if the Cubs pulled it off (and it looked like it was a foregone conclusion), I probably wouldn’t be able to help but cry my Cub-loving eyes out because I wouldn’t be able to share that moment with him.
We all know what happened after that, so I won’t go into discussing the particulars, but he also never saw the White Sox win a World Series (he died in 2001), didn’t see Kane and Toews hoist the Cup and never saw D Rose dunk over everyone in his way.
Yet despite all the years of ineptitude (the Cubs for nearly 80% of every decade after the first decade of the Century, the White Sox sans The Go-Go Sox and those almost awesome years when Frank was in his prime, the late 90’s for the Blackhawks and most of the 70’s and the 80’s, until they drafted MIchael Jeffrey Jordan, for the Bulls), he still read that damn sports page everyday.
He still followed the moves that countless GM’s made that were both awesome and awful, called every team that lost, “A group of bums,” and smiled quietly after he turned the tv off when they won.
As I write this blog, about mostly sports, but also family, Chicago, and everything else that comes in to my mind, I realize that Chicago sports transcends something as trivial as what side of Madison you were born on. It transcends petty and lukewarm rivalries. It bonds a city in ways that only sports can. It’s strong enough to bond a grandpa and his grandson.
And even though my grandpa isn’t here to see this, I know he’s watching, smiling quietly before he closes his laptop in heaven.
Coming Next: Five teams to root for the rest of the baseball season, because ya gotta root for somebody.
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