9:17 on Sunday morning.
Ho-hum. It's another rainy morning in the Calumet Region. Just like yesterday, and the day before that. And the day before that. It's a continuous stream of gray nothingness dotted by the occasional black cloud, loud clatter and quick flashes. Then there's the occasional sunny yet cool evening and the 2.5 mile path around Wicker Park becomes almost unnavigable with all of the moms and dads and their kids in wagons and strollers. Tough summer for baseball, softball, picnics, barbecues, flower planting, sunbathing, slip-n-slides and...
Air shows. It's the Gary Air Show back in business today. Remember that it was out for a while as those in charge pissed on their trees and those with the money to sponsor it weighed their advantages. Tough luck for Gary today. The crappy weather will no doubt keep people away, yours truly included. Thought of going but nah, not in the rain.
Instead, later today we'll all descend on uncle Duane's farm in Crown Point for a surprise party for Aunt Gayle, the oldest of my dad, Duane and Ed. There'll be a zillion Dedelows and Blantons and Foreits and you get the picture. Midwestern fun around the basketball court, the pool that no one but the most ardent swimmers will brave in the rain. There's the counter in Duane and Connie's kitchen where everyone will congregate around and ... tell stories. That's what we do. It's why I can tell passable stories on the radio. Standing around at family gatherings listening to half-drunk uncles tell stories with whiskeys in their hands. Listening to my mom and her sister and mom and cousins and aunts sit around the kitchen table smoking cigarette after cigarette and eating prune coffee cake and drinking pot after pot of what smelled like burnt toenail coffee.
Yes, there have always been stories. The women - how one kid has trouble reaching around to wipe his own ass: "mommy, can you help me?" How the neighbor couple fights every night as soon as "All in the Family" has ended. How so-and-so didn't say "hello" at Van Til's grocery store and that must mean her husband is back on the sauce. My upbringing is not so different, in spirit, from that of Jean Sheperd in his short story books and on his national radio show. We come from the same stock of people where the women sit around the kitchen table and tell stories... and the men stand around the barbecue of counter and tell stories... with whiskeys in their hands.
Except, unlike Jean, who once came in to town to accept an award from the Hammond Library and turned everyone off... except, unlike Jean, I got a zillion fucking relatives everywhere. It's kinda cool, really. You'll be broke down on the side of the road with a flat... and eventually a second cousin will drive by - "Jimmy, that you?" Or as a teenager you're trying to get into a party in another town and you just happen to drop the name of the branch of your family that lives in that town.
You're related to that muthafucker -------? Then come on in.
There are 17 towns in Lake County, Indiana, and maybe six in Porter County... and I'm pretty sure that I have currently relatives living in every one of them. Or, at least for the smallest ones, have had a relative who lived there. It was kinda weird as a high school basketball player going to the different towns to play. Invariably after the game a group of relatives from that town would be waiting outside the locker room after the game - Jimmy, Uncle so-and-so and his two daughters are here. You remember them, don't you?
"Of course, dad" is what I would say even though I may or may not have remembered them. Maybe I saw them once and the Mueller-Dedelow reunion at Wicker Park and we stood around singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" together. That happened once. I'm not kidding. A guy named Johnny and I played 18 holes of golf and were stinky drunk and we drove our golf cart over in to the park.
Really, Johnny, I just gotta stop by. Told my dad I would.
OK, just for a minute... and then we're going out to a bar.
OK. And we drove up fast across the play area where kids were hopping on swing sets and moms were sitting on park benches sneaking cigarettes... and we came upon this gathering at a shelter of extremely white and extremely tall people all standing around with yellow pieces of paper in their hands. We screeched up, I stumbled out of the cart, and my aunt handed me two pieces of yellow paper.
And here's one for Johnny over there, auntie said.
I took the yellow piece of paper and handed one to Johnny and we stood around the cart, right next to 50 or 60 people, in relative quiet. Then this old white guy I didn't remember said -
And he raised his hand and everyone started singing Yankee Doodle Dandy. The words were on the paper right in front of drunk Johnny and drunk me... so we started singing along with the rest of the German-Dutch clan on a cloudy day in Wicker Park. At first we kind of mumbled through it -
Father and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
But by the end of the first verse, both Johnny and I, after taking a honking good swig off our beers, joined in for the rest.
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.
Yankee doodle, keep it up
Yankee doodle dandy
It didn't take long but as soon as the singing wore off and the family, at the direction of this gray-haired guy I couldn't quite place, worked down the page to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," Johnny and I were snickering and that evolved into downright guffaws, bent over holding on to the golf cart.
You better get on outta here, you two, aunt ----- said. This is no place for that kind - of -..... drunkenness. There's kids here.
So we left. And every once in a while I'll be standing in line with a gallon of milk at the grocery store and I'll hear this low humming, singing....
Yankee doodle went to town
A-riding on his pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni
And I'll turn around and it will be Johnny (OK, I'll tell you his last name) Leary with that stupid grin on his face. We're not related but our grandmothers hung out together and so did our dads and that's just how it goes if your family comes to an area in 1871 after the Chicago fire... and then never really leaves. That's the German-Dutch side. The Muellers, Dedelow, Van Gorps, Vanes, etc. And then there's the Pollacks. They came more than 100 years ago, too. They came to work in the steel mills around 1910... and few of them, us, leave either. It's a cesspool or corresponding genes and more than once in my errant youth I asked a girl, as we were kinda hitting it off at a party in a garage somewhere,
We're not related, are we?
You get the idea. So today we'll all get together to celebrate aunt Gayle's 80th birthday. She doesn't live around here anymore. Aunt Gayle lives in a retirement community across the street from the University of Central Florida in I don't know what town that is. Her oldest daughter, Kim Blanton, who's in her 50s and just married for the first time last summer, put the whole thing together from her place in Boston with her new husband, who works for the teachers union there.
Why is any of this important? I don't know. Maybe I'm invoking the spirit of Jean Sheperd, he of A Christmas Story fame, who grew up a few blocks from WJOB and first worked in radio there. Or maybe I'm trying to tell you that I'm really not that good at the morning show. It's just that I have enough relatives who listen that I can carry at least a modicum of ratings and that makes all the difference.
Either way, in a few hours I'll be standing around the plate of celery and blue cheese dip with a Coors Light in my hand and a bunch of other contraction-worker looking guys. And what will we be doing? You guessed it.
I thought I was done with this meaningless blog... but then my wife came up to tell me something and I forgot about the Mexicans.
Now that I've married into the land of chihuahuah cheese and never-ending hugs, I can nearly double the amount of people that I'm directly or semi-related to. We'll be at a romantic comedy movie at Showplace in Schererville, and near the end the two people you knew were gonna be together from the start finally get together, and my wife starts sniffling at how beautiful their lives are now that they've gotten together... and she'll look up - in mid-sniffle - and say:
Oh my god, there's my cousin Marta.
And I'll look down the aisle and there'll be another white guy just like me... or maybe he's a Mexican also... and he'll be sitting there with my blank stare on his face. And next to him will be a brown woman with white tissue in her hand, gently dabbing it to her near-perfect cheeks. And then we'll walk out of the theater together and he and I will stand next to the popcorn maker talking about the traffic on 41 or the recent Black Hawks Stanley Cup and the two short Mexican women will converse in staccato Spanish, faster than at a Brazilian beach party.
But anyways, I gotta tell you what brought this up. My wife's like the 57 trillion other Mexican mothers in el mundo. She puts her kids first, even to the point of hoarding eggs for them. She scampered up the steps, opened the bedroom door, and whispered:
Jim, I only have four eggs. And Jeanie (my daughter) just came down looking for eggs and she's eating them now. So don't come down asking for eggs. Ask for a waffle.
OK. Doesn't really matter to me if I eat eggs and salsa and chihuahua cheese with a corn tortilla... or a freaking Dutch waffle doused in Aunt Jemima syrup. All will be well as long as I don't open my mouth, playing around or not, and ask for some eggs. So it goes.
You never really know where it's gonna go next. I was sitting in bed blogging to you and waiting for the wife and daughter to make me a waffle... and my little brother calls.
Hey, so we going to breakfast?
Jeff's in town with his wife Laura. Forgot about that. Jeff's a radiologist at Ohio State in Columbus and he doesn't come in very often and when he does he likes to go for breakfast with everyone.
Sure, we'll meet you in a little bit.
Jeff's an interesting story, even by My Radio Life standards. (There, by the way, is my first use of that term. I've been looking for a title other than - "The Blog that Nobody Reads." How about that - "My Radio Life." I like it) Anyways, Jeff went to IU in Bloomington and got an English degree and then he and what became "common-law wife" Laura hung around Bloomtown working at a mental health center (which is ironic biz that's what I did for a while.)
But Jeff and Laura did it for a long while. Alcoholism, drug addictions, depression, anxiety, you name it. They worked in a halfway house atmosphere for a long time and if you ever worked in one you know that it can drag you in and keep you there, especially if you're a little bit granola in the first place. So on his 30th birthday Jeff announces that he wants to be a doctor. It was quite the surprise. So what did I and the rest of the family tell him?
Really? Cool. What a great idea.
Not that he could apply directly to med school. At 30, he had to go back and take 12, count 'em, 12 prerequisites to get into med school. Organic chemistry, physics, Anatomy, Biochemistry, all of that. And he got an A in all 12, and an A+ and the highest grade in seven of them. Which was a good thing. Because for his undergrad English degree he had to explain away a mediocre GPA and even an "F" or two, including Anthropology. It was in his last semester at Bloomington - you mead I'm gonna graduate whether I pass this class or not? Yes. OK thanks. And then he just didn't go anymore.
Anyways, he went to med school at IU in his mid-30s, aced that. Did some post-grad work at Ochsner in New Orleans for six years and then a fellowship at Michigan State... and now he's a staff radiologist at Ohio State. A true story of redemption... and genius. He really is the smartest Dedelow I ever met, which is saying a lot, since we all think we're the smartest Dedelow anybody ever met.
Anyways, so we gathered sister Jenny and a couple of her clan, and a couple from brother Brian's clan (sans Brian) and went to Commander restaurant in Munster, which we chose because, you guessed it, they are a longtime client of family radio station WJOB. Then Laura and Jeff came back to the house and we polished off a bottle of Lindemann's Cabernet Sauvignon from Austrailia. I heard they have shitty food in Australia. Who cares, still wanna go there someday.
It won't be today, though. Today we're headed to Aunt Gayle's 80th surprise birthday party. As a present, we're getting her a certificate for $80 to Carrabba's Restaurants. Why Carrabba's? Because when they came into Schererville with a new restaurant last year, they hired me to be their celebrity endorsers. Imagine that. It's worth at least an $80 gift certificate for Aunt Gayle on her 80th birthday.
I really should be watching the news for tomorrow's radio show, but instead I'm just gonna sit in my room and gloat about winning in Scrabble. The daughter and the wife are still stunned... and a little bit pissed. So I'll let them stew. The winning double combination?
WHID and IGAD. 62 points.
Aunt Gayle's 80th surprise party came off without a hitch, as you can tell from the pictures. Just click on one of the photos above and it'll take you to a ton of photos of the party. Time for bed.