My father remains in Intensive Care in the transitional hospital and today February 4th is his 75th birthday. He was never big on birthdays. When I was younger all he wanted was a whipped cream cake. We’d go out to dinner and my mother would get a cake from the bakery at 118th & Western on the edge of Beverly and dad would be happy.
I mentioned before about quality of care and quality of life and though he has good medical professionals working on him, still seeing him like this is so difficult because it’s not how he wanted to live.
But I try to think of him more positively and what he taught me and what we had in common.
I consider myself really knowledgeable about the city of Chicago, born and raised on the southside, I went to high school (Brother Rice), in Mount Greenwood, went to college at DePaul in Lincoln Park (and the Loop), and have been to all parts in between.
My father was a southside master, born in Woodlawn and until his retirement lived exclusively on the southside, even his work area for CTA was southside, there wasn’t a corner, shortcut, good hot stand or bad neighborhood that he didn’t know.
I inherited his love of this city and to know how to get from one place to another quickly because he taught me about these streets, how mean they can be, historical facts on landmarks and most importantly where to get good food. From Greektown, through Chinatown to Hyde Park and my native West Pullman, you could tell my dad where you were and he’d direct you to a good meal.
Though he retired from CTA 20 years ago and moved downstate 15 years ago, his love for the 773 never wavered; he religiously watched the Channel 9 news on satellite TV. He’d hear about stories up here and would ask me more about it.
And they way he cooked from BBQ to fried chicken to bologna sandwiches was all southside. His kitchen reflected his time growing up on Wabash and later stops on Dobson, 79th and where he raised me on 123rd Street. Depending on the day his house might smell like Lem’s, Leon’s, Harold’s, Izola’s or Army & Lou’s.
It’s true what they say that you can take the guy out the southside but not the southside out of the guy. I left Cook County over five years ago but still got 123rt Street written all over me.
I miss having that old school southside encyclopedia to call on, he could tell you about the Chicago American Giants, the Negro League baseball team that played on Sundays at Sox park in the 40s & 50’s. What 47th Street was like back in the day or even something more recent when the Museum of Science & Industry brought in the 727 airplane down Lake Shore Drive 20 years ago.
He could tell you what “used to be” at a certain place, whether it was movie theaters, restaurants, or clubs.
And being a 30 year CTA veteran you could tell you about bus routes, where to park and areas to avoid. He always used to say “he lived on the Dan Ryan”, I was driving back on it from visiting him last week and was sad thinking of his legacy. He took such pride in his job, he always told me “a man’s job is his life”, not meaning to be a workaholic but to take your work seriously. Think about it, when we meet someone what do we ask? What do you do? It defines us and even in this day and age of “work/life balance”, still work takes up a lot of our time and can take a lot of out of us.
Dad understood that but he had work/life balance down to a science, he loved his work so from people who didn’t know they thought he didn’t do much. So much so, some friends of the family nicknamed him “Easy Money” but his CTA mechanic role was much like a NASCAR pit crew, one minute quiet, next moment, serious business that required on the spot, quick and accurate work . His job often included technical work that affected a bus driver, supervisor and sometimes passengers.
Dad understood people and he really understood life, what was important and what didn’t matter and now that he is reaching the end of his days, I’m trying to grasp at his vast knowledge and yet understand life as well.
Happy Birthday Dad and thanks for everything.
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