Growing up with a Chicago Police Sergeant for a dad was the most normal thing in the world for me. In my South Side neighborhood, it seemed everyone’s dad was either Police, Fire, or Streets and San. As kids, we all understood the need to keep quiet in the house because Dad was sleeping, whether it was our own dad or our friend’s down the block. Oh sure, there were kids I knew whose fathers had other jobs. Business kind of jobs. Insurance or something. I never really knew what they did, but they wore dressy kind of clothes. Not uniforms.
But no one’s dad had a better detail with the CPD than mine. He was in the Task Force, later named Special Operations. And for my siblings and me, it was our way of life. My dad worked all the ball games and special events in Chicago – the White Sox (yeah, that’s right – I listed the Sox first because we were South Siders through and through and in MY blog, they get listed before the Cubs), Bulls, Blackhawks, Fire (that was soccer, for anyone who cares) and, yes, the Cubs, along with the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Ice Capades, and all manner of concerts, theater and parades.
Oh, and riots too. The scary kind. He was injured working the 1968 Democratic Convention. I remember seeing my mom crying as she watched the news coverage that night. I was just a little kid back then, but I still remember that.
Without question, the best part of my dad’s job was going to all the ball games he worked, often when my mom was at work so he was kind of babysitting. And he was a great babysitter. He’d bring my brother Paul and me into the stadium and sit us down in random seats. As people arrived with tickets for said seats, we’d just bop around the park and find somewhere else to sit. We knew if we needed our dad for anything, we could just approach any police officer and ask for him. But that rarely, if ever happened, mainly because most of my older siblings also worked at the games. My brothers John, Dan, and Tom were vendors at the games and my sister, Mary Beth, worked at Cubs Park (Cubs Park, never Wrigley Field. Sorry, Purists) in the disgusting bowels of the park known as the Coke room (which had about a 2 inch layer of sticky Coke on the floor) and the Beef room (which was about a billion degrees). As far as I know, my oldest brother, Kevin, managed to escape those coveted jobs. But I could be wrong… I just know that Paul and I were the beneficiaries of everyone else’s hard work.
One of the coolest things, though, was after the games, my dad would bring us to the door where the players would exit the park so we could get autographs and pictures with them. And they were always happy to do that. Well except for one time when my sister called out “Hey Peppy” to Joe Pepitone and he did not like that. We’ll just leave it at that. Maybe he’d had a bad game… It was a different era, that’s for sure. Professional athletes back then were approachable and happy to put a smile on a kid’s face.
I can also remember cold winter nights my poor mom would get a call to bring the kids to the Chicago Ampitheater so we could see the circus. She’d have instructions to meet him at such and such intersection to make the drop. On one occasion, we were parked at the predetermined corner only to find my dad involved in a “scuffle” with some thugs. My mom was like, “Are you kidding me?” but we thought it was pretty cool.
My parents are no longer with us but, man I’ve got great memories. What sparked this post was the announcement of the passing of Chicago Blackhawks great, Stan Mikita. Pictured at the top is my brother, Paul, circa mid-late 1970’s with the legend at an annual Blackhawk dinner that my dad treated the boys to. Yeah, life was pretty sweet for the kids of a Chicago Copper. Never a cop. Always a copper.
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The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. -Eleanor Roosevelt
There are those who scoff at the notion of “having a dream;” at the idea of following your passion. They say it is a foolish waste of time. They are the ones who follow the safe path. And I am very sorry for those people; because a life worth living is so much more than taking the cautious route and steering clear of daring choices. It is challenging yourself to try new things and when people smirk and ask, “What makes you think you can do these things?” you simply answer, “What makes you think I can’t?”
My son, Brian, has had a dream since he was a kid to become a filmmaker. He made movies on a $25 Digital Blue video camera we bought him for Christmas one year. He and his younger brother, Peter, and their friend, Alex, would post signs around the neighborhood announcing casting auditions for their upcoming projects. These signs also promised concessions which Alex’s mother learned while driving down the street one day, catching sight of one of the signs. We laughed when she informed me about the concessions and wondered if they were just planning on raiding our pantries for half-empty boxes of stale crackers and a few rogue pieces of old Easter candy hidden behind cans of tomato sauce. There was never a real need to worry, though, because no one ever showed up for their auditions. Ever. That didn’t deter them, though. The boys just ended up playing several parts. Or twins – that option was always on the table. And I believe that someday, those kids from long ago who laughed at ours for thinking they could be anything special will regret not having been a part of those early dreams.
Brian did pursue his dream. He is a filmmaker. And an award-winning one at that. He is now in the process of shooting his thesis film for his MFA degree and this short film will blow you away. It is a story of perseverance. It is a story of overcoming adversity. And it is a story of choosing to see the beauty in our world when only darkness surrounds you. It is the story of a young music prodigy who must come to terms with a devastating loss suffered following a brutal assault. It is a story of the power of the human spirit to rise and conquer.
I have included a link to Brian’s site for the film and would ask you to check it out and please share it with your friends.
A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work. -Colin Powell
Yesterday I attended the funeral mass for my cousin, Pat Ward. Many friends and family gathered at the magnificent St. Vincent DePaul Church in Chicago to pay our final respects to a guy whose mere presence could lift even the lowest of spirits. Pat’s family mirrored my own, with five boys and two girls and because he and I matched up in age, we became close cousin friends. That is, as best of friends as we could be, considering the distance that separated us. While my family lived in Chicago, the Wards lived in our state capital of Springfield, IL. Our mothers were sisters and they had still another sister and brother, whose families lived in Chicago, as well. Growing up, we were fortunate to have shared close bonds with our local cousins, but it was a special treat indeed when we’d all travel to Springfield or the Ward clan would take a road trip to see us.
Within the four families of cousins, age divisions were drawn to determine who matched up with whom. The agreed upon alliances looked something like this:
OLDER BOYS: John L, John W, Kevin T
OLDER GIRLS: Marcia L, Pat L, Nancy L, Peggy W, Denise W, Mary Beth T
MIDDLE KIDS: Mike W, John T, Tom W, Chuck L, Kathy Q, Dan T, Tom T
BRINGING UP THE REAR: Pat W, Dave W, Donna L, Tom Q, Paul T, Me…T 🙂
And for those of you counting, that’s 22 cousins. I know this because I had to count it out about five times to make sure I didn’t miss anyone. And yes, a lot of Toms and Johns. These delineated groupings were pretty fluid, however, as cousins freely drifted in and out, depending on who was doing the coolest thing at the moment, probably.
The excitement felt when we all got together – WITH THE WARDS!!!! – was palpable. And as much fun as the entire Ward family was, including parents Uncle John and Aunt Roe, who were absolutely hilarious and always willing to share a good laugh, I always felt like I got pretty lucky landing in the same cousin group as Pat.
As kids, and even into college, he and I would write letters to each other – long letters sharing the goings on in our lives. Yes, we wrote hand-written letters! And OH! the excitement when a letter arrived in the mailbox. For you readers of a certain age, you may remember the old commercials on TV featuring Euell Gibbons touting the health benefits of Grape Nuts Cereal (which bore a most unappetizing resemblance to gravel). One of his lines absolutely cracked Pat and me up: “You ever eat a pine tree? Some parts ARE edible.” Every time we’d see each other, we’d say that line and laugh until our bellies hurt. And every letter ended with a PS: You ever eat a pine tree? Some parts ARE edible!! But my favorite part of his letters were the drawings he would always include. Pat LOVED the city of Chicago and was an amazing artist. Even as a kid, his drawings of the Chicago skyline were insanely impressive.
So after college, he followed several of his siblings to the big city and happily immersed himself in everything Chicago. He and his brother Tom lived life large as roommates on the city’s north side. In 2011, Pat suffered inconsolable heartbreak when his beloved brother, best friend and partner in crime, Tom, passed away unexpectedly. I don’t know if he ever really recovered from that devastating loss. Three years later in 2014, another blow hit the Wards when brother Mike, the gentle, soft-spoken sweetheart of the family, passed away. No one could believe it.
And now Pat. The news of his passing was beyond comprehension. As I try to wrap my mind around this most recent loss, I turn to the only thing that can offer any kind of consolation and hope that death is not the end: my faith. And though Pat will be missed, knowing that he is once again united with his brothers and parents, gives me peace. These beautiful words are ours by which to remember Pat:
I’d like the memory of me
To Be a happy one
I’d like to leave an afterglow
Of smiles when life is done.
I’d like to leave an echo
Whispering softly down the ways,
Of happy times and laughing times
And bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve,
To dry before the sun
Of happy memories that I leave behind
When life is done.
You have Pat. You have. Well done. Until we meet again, slan* dear Pat. ☘️💔☘️
I wanted to share Pat’s artwork and humor.
Besides his drawings, he was loved also for the silly “gift certificates” he’d present to family members on special occasions and I found this one particularly funny. Please be sure to read all of the restrictions placed on the “gift”!!! That was Pat all over.
I’ve heard this question or some variation of it more times than I can count on my fingers (and toes). And every time I hear it, I just think of Benjamin trying to answer questions about his future. Because when someone asks me a question like that, they’re not just curious – they want an explanation, dammit! Explain yourself! And the truth is that I can’t really explain it. My goals in life aren’t confined to a paycheck. A few weeks ago, an older fella (and by older, I mean forty-something) was asking me about my major. And, word for word, this is what he said:
“Well yeah I know you’re studying music, but, are you actually gonna DO something? I mean, you can’t make a living by playing music.”
In his mind, playing music isn’t actually doing something. It’s not a contribution to society. And he’s not alone. There are a whole lot of people who think the same thing. If I don’t have a business model or some smarty-pants math equation to back it up, I might as well just be a bum. I shook it off because I’ve heard that reaction countless times, but it actually is pretty insulting to me. You wanna know what I’m gonna do with my degree? Here, I’ll tell you:
I’m going to be happy for the rest of my life.
Music isn’t just something that I’m interested in. It’s not just something that I’m really good at. It’s not just something that makes me happy. It’s not even just something that I care deeply about. Simply put, music is a calling. Believe me, there have been times when I wanted to do anything but music. There have been times when I’ve flubbed rehearsals or auditions. My audition at Indiana University was a colossal flub. If music was something I was only interested in, I would’ve quit back in high school. I’ve never been able to get away from music because I’ve always been called back. Music is a calling.
I was in the Hawkeye Marching Band my sophomore year. The Hawkeye Drumline (HDL is what the cool people call it) does a 10-15 minute show of its own before the game. One time after an HDL show, some lady who was probably like 105 years old came up to me and said, “I just love watching the drums. It makes me so happy!” And that’s why this all makes sense to me.
I don’t just play music for myself. As much as I truly enjoy playing for myself, that’s not what I’ve been called to do. I play music because it makes people happy. I do what I do because this world would be a sad, sad place without music. I play music because my parents told me that I have a gift I can share. I play music because I would be tremendously miserable doing anything else. As Paul Simon puts it, “Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” I love music with all my heart and soul. So the next time someone sarcastically asks me, “What are you gonna do with THAT degree?” I’ll just say, “I’m gonna be happy for the rest of my life.”
Are you into podcasts?? Check out my latest episode of Where Are My Glasses Podcast – it’s kind of an extension of my Box Wine Budget blog. I’m having a blast hosting this show and finding fun things to rant about. It’s so easy to listen to – the episodes are short and independent of each other so you can scroll through and choose an episode topic. Simply click on the link below to listen on the website or tap on the Podcast App on your smartphone, type in Where Are My Glasses in the search bar and listen from your phone! It just don’t get no easier n dat 😉
On today’s episode, Marilyn is joined by her daughter, Mary Kate, and they talk about the show “My Strange Addiction.” You won’t believe the crazy things some people are addicted to. It’s some wild stuff…eating rocks, snorting baby powder, and a woman in love with a rollercoaster. This is honestly one of our best episodes. Be sure to rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes. Don’t forget to tell your friends!!!