Chicago Kid

Saturday, February 22, 2020


     My uncle passed away this week.  He was 82 years old, and he fought Parkinsons for over a decade.  Today his wife of 50+ years is laying him to rest, and I am unable to be there.  A few years ago, I was there for their 50th anniversary in the land surrounding their home in Door County, WI.  It was a day filled with celebration of love and life, and today will be a remembrance of that life and love.  Sadly, I will only be there is spirit, and in reflection.  This post is for you, Uncle Hugh.

     I remember 20 years ago, when I first became a teacher, having conversations with Uncle Hugh at family parties in Spanish.  He was a principal at a bilingual school in Chicago at the time, and I was a new 2nd grade teacher with bilingual students and families.  His Spanish was better than mine, and I was still very timid about speaking in Spanish, but we would have brief conversations that no one else at the party could understand.  It was our little special bond.

     Here I am, 20 years later, and I am so sad that he has now passed.  I remembered that he had written a memoir a few years back, but at the time I didn't really have my current love for memoirs, and I had no idea where I could even purchase it.  This week, I went to Amazon.  Everything is on Amazon these days.  So, I searched Chicago Kid: From Whence I Came and there it was!  I put it in the cart, purchased it, and 2 days later it was on my doorstep.

     He is no longer here, but his story is.

     I opened up the package, and his memoir was in my hands.  He was my uncle, but everyone in the world can also read his story of growing up in the streets of Chicago because he wrote it down. He is gone, but he is still here.  I realized that this is the gift that he gave his family when he wrote.  We have the the ability to write our stories down, and they are there when people need to read them.

     Over the last few days, I have been finding time in the quiet space of my days to read my uncle's memoir.  I have learned about the history of our city, with a distinct baseball lens, through his eyes.  I have chuckled at moments where he learned lessons in the street with his friends, and I wondered what happened to the football given to him by George Halas.  I pictured him delivering papers in the snow, and thought about all the heroes he found along the way to guide him.  I thought about his mom and her immigration to the US from Ireland, and it made me think of my ancestry.  It saddens me that I now know so much about his life, but I can't have a conversation with him about parts of it.

     This weekend, as my family celebrates his life, I will continue to turn those pages and learn about the lessons he learned along the way, and the lessons he will teach me.  I am grateful that these words are there, waiting for me to read.

     I am also grateful for the photographs that he included in his memoir.  Photos always tug at my heart, and seeing his face and pictures of Chicago in the 40's and 50's has been the perfect way to bring the past to life.  It also made me search for a photo from his 50th Anniversary of my aunts singing them The Irish Blessing.  It's that sweet song that I now hear playing in my memory, as we say goodbye.  My heart is with you, Aunt Lee, Michele, Nicole, and John.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

     For those of us who are teachers/students who have done Slice of Life, we are using the gift of writing to capture stories that someday could be read by others.  It doesn't matter if just one person reads our story, or a million people do, but we all are writers.  The arrival of my uncle's memoir was a powerful reminder that the process of collecting our moments and getting them down, whether for ourselves or for others, matters.

       Find that writer hiding inside of you, and share your stories.  In a journal, on a blog, in a memoir,  through photographs, even through conversations.  Tell your story, because your story matters.