It's Sunday and for whatever reason I got up and went to church at St. Stan's in East Chicago for 8:30 mass by Father Siekierski.
It was a bit of an event. My mom and her brothers and sisters and all of her aunts and uncles went to St. Stan's back in the day. I was sitting in the church wondering if I was sitting right where my mom had once sat and her mom before that and her mom before that. But I don't know how old the church is... just that a lot of Polish people go there and now it's also a lot of Mexicans.
By the way, I'm not a tall man. And if you're diminutive in stature, all you have to do is go to 8:30 mass at St. Stan's in East Chicago to feel taller. It's mostly Pollacks and Mexicans and neither of these heritages allow you to touch the rim.
The event I'm talking about is my aunt Mary Dabrowski. Technically, she's my mom's aunt. They all grew up in the Frogsville section of Hammond underneath the nine-span bridge. It's across Michigan St./Carroll Ave. from the Roxanna section of East Chicago. Growing up, I had dozens of Polish aunts and uncles who emanated from this rather impoverished area, none of whom reached six feet tall. As I said, if you wanna feel taller, go to 8:30 mass at St. Stan's in East Chicago by Father Siekierski.
Aunt Mary has been asking me for years - "When are you gonna come to church with me?"
"I don't know, aunt Mary. Someday."
"I keep thinking that one day I'll look over and you'll be there."
It's raining now. I sit on the bed digesting an amazing breakfast that Alexis made - always, ALWAYS, with salsa. You can hear the flow in the downspout, but it was sunny and beautiful as I walked into St. Stan's earlier. There's a shrine between the school and church. A sign says it was built in the 50s, which means my mom would have knelt there.
As I entered the church, there was aunt Mary sitting right where she'd described to me many times - "I sit in the second to the last row on the center aisle. Everyone knows it's mine. No one sits there."
There are advantages to being a little sneaky. In high school, my buddies Paul Roberts and Bill Howarth called me "Secret Squirrel." I had developed a habit of roaming around Munster in the middle of the night throwing rocks at second-story windows. "Come out and play, pretty maiden - or open the back door so I can sneak up and play with you." This is a sneaky act, propagated by the ability to throw a rock and motivated by a strong affinity for the company of the fairer sex.
I saw that my aunt Mary was leaning to the right across the aisle to hand someone a hymnal. This gave me the opportunity to walk to the left to the far end of the pew. Quietly,cI slid across the wooden pew and right next to my aunt Mary. She's in her 80s. Maybe just maybe her hearing isn't what it used to be.
Aunt Mary finished her discussion across the aisle, and then turned toward me. This huge, amazing smile burst out on her face.
"Oh my god, Jimmy. You made it."
She held my cheeks and kissed me under both eyes.
"Mark, this is my nephew. He's the one who talks about me on the radio."
"I know who he is," the man said. "How you doing, JED?" And we shook hands.
Now if there was ever an argument for church making strange partners, this was it. Mark Opat is one of the many East Chicago Opats. If you had asked me - "Okay, guess who sits behind your aunt Mary every week at St. Stan's for 8:30 mass," Mark Opat would have been my 10,000th guess.
I sat through mass with aunt Mary and Mark Opat. She smiled much of the time - "Wait 'til I tell Eddie. He sponsored a baseball team this year and they won the tournament at Railcats stadium in Gary."
Eddie's her son, my cousin. Like my dad, who is one of the best 80-year-old softball players in America, Eddie is one of the country's best 54-year-old baseball players. Both of these men, given a few hitting lessons at an earlier age, could have played professionally.
.... Speaking of the playing professionally, my nephew, Craig Dedelow, stopped by the station last week. He got drafted in the ninth round by the White Sox and has been playing for the Winston-Salem Dash. He's 6-5 with really long arms. He would have looked way out of place at 8:30 mass at St. Stan's, although he is both Polish and Mexican.
For a sermon, Father Siekeirski did something quite unexpected - he pulled out a list of 11 things that billionaire Bill Gates tells kids. It starts with:
1. Life isn't fair. Get used to it.
There's also stuff about if you think your teacher's mean, wait 'til you get a boss. And your parents weren't always so boring. They became that way by providing for you and washing your clothes and taking you to school. I really like what Father had to say. I'm just a little perplexed by him quoting a billionaire. That's because we had just finished singing - "We Are the Light of the World."
Blessed are they who are meek and humble, they will inherit the earth.
I heard this line in first grade at St. Thomas More School in Munster, and it has haunted me since.
In one sense, the Catholic church lauds those who work hard for a living and live by the word of God but remain poor. These people are rewarded with heaven.
On the other hand, the church doesn't go on unless rich guys give it money. These guys are shown great respect by priests and bishops.
So what are you supposed to do - work hard by the word of God, remain humble, and then go to heaven?
Or bust ass and bust heads to make a bunch of money so you can give some of it to the church?
I have lived both sides of this conundrum. At the Board of Trade, once in a while I'd make ungodly sums of money in a day. This caused me great disharmony. I felt low after making a bunch of money. There was this ringing in my ear on the South Shore train home from Chicago -
Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of God.
I thought about this lifelong wrestling match with the concept of wealth as I sat with aunt Mary and Mark Opat. After mass, aunt Mary introduced me to Father Siekierski. I desperately wanted to ask him about how he felt about Bill Gates's never-ending quest to make money. But I didn't.
I walked to the parking lot with aunt Mary, where we took the picture above.
"Where you going now?" she asked.
"Home. Alexis is waiting for me. What about you?"
"I go to Petros. I get one pancake and a cup of coffee. Good bye, nephew." And she kissed me, again, holding my face with both hands.
I just finished the morning show. Brian Johnson and Manny Rodriguez and his daughter Hayleigh came in to talk about the 100th anniversary of Sunnyside in East Chicago. It started as a mill town and now it's a neighborhood. Then Gladish came in. We talked about the young girl who threatened to shoot up a Hammond school.
JED took a summer blog break from mid July to mid September.
In the midst of some of the most divisive, hateful racial rhetoric this nation has known in the past 50 years, a Republican governor from the middle of the country is speaking up.
“Diversity is a true strength,” Indiana governor Eric Holcomb said on my show just now. I had asked him what he wanted to say to northwest Indiana, which has the highest proportion of minorities in the state. I didn’t expect him to be so direct.