For some reason, as with the three or four of your who read my blog, Christmas reminds me of the people who made an early exit stage left. That happened with my mom, who died roughly half my life ago, in 1988. I don't know why this milestone somehow makes me miss her all over again, but it does. It makes me think of all of the time she fought cancer before she passed in a hospital room at the University of Chicago. Afterwards, my four brothers and sisters and I and my dad walked silently down the hall toward the elevator carrying balloons and stuffed animals and a few pictures of when she was little. It's those pictures, or thoughts of them, that have me up at 3:25 on Christmas morning.
I guess in my quest to find the right medium to create in, I would like to see those pictures. Like a lotta people in this world, including maybe two of the three or four of you, my mom grew up poor and with a lot of hard circumstances staring her in the face. One of the other things staring her in the face was her father, who somehow contracted siphylus and went crazy... but still lived in the neighborhood across the street from my mom. That would be my grandfather. My mom told me the story once of combing her hair in her bedroom and she looked out the window to see him, her dad, staring at her.
"He knew who I was. He knew who I was."
That's some kind of statement. Can you imagine a young girl taking solace just in the fact that her dad knows who she is? I guess that makes sense in that as this man, my grandfather, got crazier and crazier, he still roamed the neighborhood... mumbling to himself and just shuffling around. It gets even weirder. Once on of my uncles - Dennis - drove me through the old neighborhood and pointed to a backyard.
"That's where the shed was," Dennis said.
"The shed where your grandpa lived. They chained him up at night so he wouldn't roam around."
I'm not making this stuff up. The three or four of you blog readers, who most likely double as half of the seven or eight people who listen to my morning radio show, sense that once in a while I exagerrate for dramatic purposes. But here it is on Christmas morning and pluck my eyebrows out if I'm making this up.
I don't know why I'm thinking of this on Christmas morning when I should be rejoicing in the birth of Jesus. I just can't shake the video image of my mom sitting at a desk brushing her hair and her dad sneaks up to the window and watches her do it. My mom notices him and smiles at him. She wants something, anything... recognition, a wink. Maybe my grandfather smiles back, but probably not. My mom looks into his eyes and sees it there, or thinks she does.
"Recognize me, dad. I'm your daughter."
Anyways, that's how the disease goes, I guess. You go crazy slowly. I probably shouldn't be writing about one of the family secrets that no one talks about... but it's keeping me up in the middle of the night on Christmas. And if there's anything I've pledged to you in relating My Radio Life in radio, podcasts, photos, poems, videos, music and this blog, it's to pretty much share my life as it comes to me. And what comes to me in this unbearable house quiet is that my mom sat brushing her hair and, "He knew who I was."
So it goes. There is a radio link to all of this. WJOB AM 1230, which has been around since 1923, sits a few blocks from where my mom grew up and my grandfather slowly went crazy and lived in a shed. WJOB is a 400-foot tower that was built sometime around my mom's 10th birthday. She would have seen it being built from her bedroom window, quite possibly the same one that her dad stepped up to that one night.
The tower actually sits about equidistance between three points. One is my mom's rather poor neighborhood of the "Frogsville" section of Hammond. That's to the north of the WJOB tower. To the southeast is where my dad grew up in a more affluent area of Hammond known as "Hessville" or maybe "Woodmar." My ancestors actually came to this area of Hammond in 1871 after the city of Chicago burned down. They walked here.
There's another point, to the east of the tower, and that's the boyhood home of Jean Shepherd. He grew up on Cleveland St. I ran into a guy the other day while working out. His last name is Harper. He's some sort of unofficial historian of Hessville, and he had a lot to say about Shep, including that people stop on the street sometimes to look at his boyhood home.
My mom (and her wandering dad), and Shep, and my dad and his people. That's a comforting thought on a Christmas morning in our living room when it's way too quiet except for the pound, pound, pound of my fingers on the laptop keyboard. I hope that when the three or four of you wake up and read this that you're having a good Christmas.
I do want to share with the three or four of you a photo that my aunt Gayle grouptexted me last night. Aunt Gayle titled it, "Christmas 52 years ago." She sent it also to my brother, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and to my sister, who lives in Northport, Long Island.
"Awesome photo. Merry Christmas," texted my brother Jeff, who looks just like me.
"Love it!!! Thanks for sharing.... Merry Christmas to all!!!!," texted my little sister Ally, whom I give credit for the creative use of elipses, but she loses points for the exclamation marks. You'll notice in all of these hundreds of thousands of words, maybe millions by the time it's all over, I won't ever use an exclamation point. I'll have to have a talk with my sister about that.
No exclamation points. Ever.
Now that I think about it, I'd really love the chance to wave my finger in Ally's face about exclamation points. I'd love to see her kids, too, Alex, Lisa and Marie. Just like my nieces and nephews around the corner, Ally's kids argue a lot and I don't know why but I'd really like to see that on Christmas morning. What you want on Christmas morning, more than any other morning of the year, is to have family around.
We had that last night. We went to Alexis's mom and dad's house and spoke a ton of "Spanglish" and ate tamales. I roughhoused nephews Gabe and Luke, throwing them in the air and tickling them and even knuckling their crewcut heads until it got hot enough to start a fire.
"Don't make Gabe throw up again, please," said Alexis's sister, Carol, who's a cop at Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, and now also a grandma.
She's right. A couple Christmasses ago, I threw Gabe around so much that he projectile vomited in the middle of the living room. It was great. I threw him on the ground, laughing. He stood up, got this painful look on his face, and then vomited straight into the air like out of the Exorcist. Then, like out of a John Wayne movie, he wiped the remnants of the vomit off his cheek with the back of his wrist and charged right back at me. Like I said, it was great.
Today, my stepson Steve will come over for breakfast with his girlfriend Mashelle and her three kids, Kera, Abigail and ..... Alexis will make bacon, eggs with salsa, tortillas (for the more Mexican) and toast (for normal Americans), pancakes, sliced fruit, orange juice, etc. Maybe my daughter Jeanie, who's 24 and in from New York, will help. Maybe even her boyfriend Daniel, who's here also from New York, will help too. Most likely, though, my younger daughter Jackie will sleep until all of the food is cooked and ready to eat before appearing.
Later, we'll go to my sister Jenny's for a big hullaballoo. My brother Brian, who lives across the street from Jennifer, will be there with his wife Michelle and three kids, Katie, Megan and little f#8^er Allan. There'll be a lot of other peole there too. It's Jenny's year to host. Sometimes we do it. Sometimes she and Mark do.
That's all I got for you on this Christmas morning, 2016. You could gander at the photo above of my grandma and grandpa Dedelow and their kids from 52 years ago. On the left is my grandpa Dedelow, whom I also miss on this Christmas morning. He wasn't much for showing emotion, but he did bequeath to all of us a supreme love for anything baseball. And he did give me my first beer one day after dinner at his house.
My dad's the rather short guy next to him, and then there's aunt Gayle. The younger dude in the sweater is my uncle Ed, who died a few years ago. I gotta say that on this Christmas morning, when you think of some of the people who exited stage left way too early, I think of uncle Ed. He liked to lecture me, to talk about the great lessons that life had to offer. Not that I'd really want to hear one of his grandiose life teachings right now, but I wouldn't mind hearing him laugh. He could fill up a house with that deep, hearty laugh. On the end is my uncle Duane, my dad's older brother. And seated is my grandma Dedelow.
Also included is one of the only photos that's left of my mom. It sits on a table in our formal living room (yes, we have one.) It's my mom on the right and her twin sister, Joanie, on the left. That should be enough for now. Merry Christmas.