As the three or four of you know, my grandmother passed away on Saturday. She was 98 years old. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to grieve the loss or celebrate the full life. The answer, as with just about everything in life, lies somewhere in between.
I will miss my grandmother, for sure. I am the oldest of a whole bunch of grandkids. I was there when my grandmother was still really pretty. She outlived three husbands:
Carl Sokol is important to My Radio Life in that he is my blood grandfather. I don’t know the whole story of what happened to him. Every time I asked, I was told to shut up. I’m sure it’s a sad story. Maybe someone really old will tell it to me someday.
Howard Brown was, for all intents and purposes, my maternal grandfather when I was little. He served in World War II. One time when I was cleaning out a closet, I found this American flag folded up neatly. There was also a change purse filled with decorative jewelry.
“What are these trinkets?” I held up them up to my mom.
“Those aren’t trinkets. That’s your grandfather’s purple heart and other medals from the war.”
I took the medals to school for show and tell. The principal, who served in the Army, brought me down to the office and marveled at them. I held on to these trinkets of honor until we moved to a larger house. Then I lost them. Shame on me. And shame on the federal government. Evidently there was a huge fire at the war records depository in St. Louis a while ago. The military records of Howard Brown, war hero and resident White Sox fan, are lost forever.
It is because of my Grandpa Brown that I am confused Soxually. My entire family on both sides is Cubs fans. All the Germans, Dutch, Pollack (and even, now, my wife’s family full of Mexicans) is Cubs. Every baptism, graduation, birthday, family reunion that happened during baseball season had to include a television. Otherwise, nobody would come. Cubs games were like religion to the
Then along came Grandpa Brown. He was a diehard White Sox fan. As the oldest grandkid, he took me everywhere. We listened on the radio not to Jack Brickhouse and Lloyd Pettit, the Cubs announcers, but to Harry Caray, who announced Sox games in the 1960s.
And then grandpa Brown got cancer. He smoked a pack a day like most soldiers of the day and it caught up with his lungs. One of my fondest memories of baseball at any level – at least until my nephew got drafted by the Sox last year in the 9thround – was sitting in the VA hospital in Chicago on the end of the bed watching the White Sox with Grandpa.
“I’m gonna make you a Sox fan yet,” he said before he died. He was 54. I was five.
My grandmother, with her swaggering sexuality, was able to attract another eligible bachelor at the ripe age of 70. She married Einer Matson, the father of Fred, who owned Freddy’s Steak House for a long time. It was a beautiful and curious wedding. Einer could barely. He kept saying “I do” at the wrong time. If that’s not cute, nothing is.
Ultimately, Einer passed. After a couple whiskeys one day, my grandmother confided to Alexis and me –
“I just miss a man lying on top of me.”
That’s not my favorite visual, but I’m not gonna reject in entirely. Every time for the last 20 years that I visited my grandmother, I had to drink at least one whiskey. I wouldn’t share a cigarette with her, having grown up in an era when everyone smoked. To this day, I still hate that nasty habit. I would stick to whiskeys with grandma. She could, I’m not kidding, drink more whiskey in one sitting than anyone I ever drank with. And that’s a pretty large sample size.
My grandmother outlived six siblings, even though she was, I think, the oldest. This is where the grieving comes in. We will all get together tomorrow night at a funeral home. The air will be filled with the ghosts of people who couldn’t be there.
My grandmother was born to Casimir and Mary Podkul. Here’s the eight children:
Irene is the mother of the former mayor of Hammond, Duane Dedelow, Jr. If you’re a genealogist and can hold these kind of thoughts in your head, that makes Duane and me what Hammond councilman Anthony Higgs once told me is known as “double-kin” in the black community.
Still alive are Mary Dabrowski and my aunt Irene Dedelow. Mary goes to church every chance she gets at St. Stan’s in East Chicago, where they all went to grade school. My aunt Irene moved to Lake Dale, which is halfway to Renselltucky and around the bend from Lowellabama. That means my grandma outlived five of her younger siblings.
My grandmother also outlived three of her five children. The list of children is:
Jean was my mom. She died after a long battle with cancer in 1988. That is the seminal sad event of my life. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten over it completely, but as I write this and listen to a sad song on the radio, my eyes water. The same physical reaction will happen tomorrow when I see my mom’s twin sister, Joanie.
When my mom died, several of my fellow traders from the Chicago Board of Trade came down for the funeral. As they entered, they gathered in the entryway:
“Hey, JED, is this some kind of joke?” Jon Libert pointed to what looked very much like my mom in a black dress.
“There’s your mom right there.”
In all of the confusion and sadness, at least I got a good laugh out of it.
“No, Jon, that’s my mom’s twin sister, my aunt Joanie. They look the same.”
Dead are Jeanie, Carl (also known as “Charlie”), and Dennis. I could write whole volumes on these three people. Charlie drove a Corvette and loved to polish the gas tank of his Harley. My uncle Dennis turned out to be the project manager on big football stadiums and prisons. Dennis lived with us when he was younger. He used to take me to Purdue Cal, where he went to college. I still exhibit a general sense of awe when I see a woman in a shirt with no bra. That’s because uncle Dennis and his buddies and hippie girls from the early 70s would throw a Frisbee around with me and play tag. The guys all had beards. They handed this burning thing back and forth and laughed a lot and took me to McDonald’s.
The girls ran for the Frisbee with these beautiful masses of flesh bouncing in front of them. Just as I can remember quite clearly watching the White Sox with Grandpa Brown, I can remember just as clearly those water balloons bouncing back and forth. They were different sizes on all of the women. Then (as now) I had this overwhelming desire to stick my face in those circular mounds of flesh and groan, fall asleep forever.
By the way, I’ve been putting off communicating with the three or four of you for a few days. We have this unspoken agreement that I will at the very least try to be authentic with you, genuine. And I’ve been a little turned around since my uncle Danny called me on Saturday morning. I was sitting on the toilet when Alexis handed me the cellphone.
As soon as I saw that it was my uncle, I knew. Last month, my sister Jennifer and I had gone to visit my grandmother in a home.
“That’s the last time we’re gonna see her alive,” I told my sister as walked from the facility. We both had, you guessed it, watery eyes.
“Don’t talk like that.”
You watch. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up and do the radio show. For some reason I can power through a radio show with little or no effect from death bewilderment. But every time I sit down to write to the three or four of you, my ankles tingle. I can’t fake it with the three or four of you like I can with the seven or eight who listen to my show. Go figure.