Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The 96 LeSabre Reappears

My old workplace reaches me still in odd ways.  I was forwarded a letter from YSB sent by a local auto salvage yard, reporting that in their possession was a 1996 Buick LeSabre, with VIN number, and if it was not claimed in 15 days it would be junked and sold for scrap.  It was my old white LeSabre.  I remember it well.

Back then, around 2010, YSB was still accepting and giving away cars, though not many.  Clunkers for Cash and the recession pretty much wiped out our fledgling program.  Years earlier a foster parent/car salesman and I put the idea in motion after he called me about his sister and her Buick Skylark.  The conversation went like this.

“Listen Dave I’ve got an idea.  My sister is trading her car in on a new one and it’s in damn good shape because she let me help her maintain it.  Anyway, we can’t give her much in trade in, and what she gets means less to her than if she could take that money as a tax deduction.  Unlike me she’s got money, has her house paid off, has no deductions, and pays a lot of taxes.  Besides that I know someone who needs that car, and you do too.”


“Mother of those kids my wife and I had in care this spring.  They’re home and she’s working, walking across the river over a mile to a fast food job.  I see her with her kids and a couple of red wagons hauling their laundry to the Laundromat.  She’d be a great candidate to get a car.” 

“How’s this work anyway?”

“Well it works a lot better than Cars for Kids which accepts cars, sells them at auction for a little of nothing, gives the money to some kids’ charities, and take a fee for handling them.  The money means way less and has much less impact than poor families owning cars, especially where this is little or no public transportation.  My sister’s car doesn’t have that many miles.  For someone driving to work and the Laundromat it would last damn near forever.  And think of what it would mean to that Mom and her kids.  They’d be a family like every other in town with a car.  That has value way beyond what the car is worth.”

“Sure does.”

That Mom had four kids.  I could see them in a car already, all smiles.

“What do we do?”

“You take the car and write my sister a letter thanking her for a donation of $4,500, tell her worker to make sure she buys liability insurance and has a license , I take care of the title transfer and plates and all, and we give it to her.  Simple as that.”

I loved simple things back then.  Still do.  I yearned for grassroots programs without paperwork, reports, cash flow problems, supervisors, disgruntled staff, and audits.  Nothing beats straightforward understandable basic help.  As soon as he described the process and I accepted the idea the program was born.  No flyers, little marketing, no frills.  The foster Dad and I, along with a very pleased YSB worker, did all those tasks within a week.  The Mom was amazed there were not more strings attached.  And the kids were ecstatic.  As she drove away from the office they were screaming from the back seat.  It’s a small town.  I saw her on the street in that car for years.  It always made me smile.

That was the first of many give away cars.  I wrote a blog about it.  The community began to realize we were an option for used car donations, and when they understood that we passed them on to provide transportation for local families, I think it meant something to them.  We picked up our second car from a retired teacher who had taken it away from her Dad who could no longer drive.  It was a high mileage but sweet running Oldsmobile Delta 88.  My secretary and I went to her house to get it and I took the donated car back to the office to see how it drove.  That one was a beauty.  The next problem was deciding who got the cars.  I’d put out an e mail to staff asking they recommend worthy recipients and get flooded with requests.

The original concept included having my car salesman/foster parent screen the cars to make sure they were sound but I often got carried away and said yes before he could see the car.  I accepted a 1982 Volkswagen Passat sight unseen from a local guy I halfway knew.  When we went to get it had a lot of rust.  When I drove it back to the office I noticed the front end was wobbly and the steering felt loose.  The engine didn’t sound good either.  I called the foster Dad/car guy.

“Hey I got a Volkswagen yesterday I need you to take a look at it.  It may need some work.”

“Volkswagens don’t need much work before they’re useless.  The parts are expensive.”

My car guy was not a foreign car aficionado.  He's GM all the way.

“I’ll come down over my lunch hour.”

He came in the door at 12:10 and got the keys.  My car guy is a man of few words and is known to form opinions quickly and voice them bluntly.  Straight talk coupled with a good heart made him a great foster parent.  His wife complimented his skills, and they provided a really good experience for a lot of kids.  I was so sorry to see them divorce.  But that’s their business.
He was back at 12:15.  When I looked up from my desk I could see he had something of importance to communicate.  Before I could speak he did.

“That car’s junk.”

“We can’t pay to fix it and make it worth someone’s while?”

“I wouldn’t give that car to my worst enemy.”

“That bad?”


I said nothing.
“You were going to let me see these cars first.  That was the deal.”

“It sounded so good over the phone.”

“Yeah well that’s why you got me.”

“Now what?  I can’t very well give it back.”

“Give me the title.  I know a guy can make it go away.  Just be more careful in the future.”

I was.  I loved giving away those cars.  I’d been driving cars like that my whole life.  Most Americans tend to think when a car racks up 100,000 miles it’s a liability.  Maybe that used to be true.  But these days cars will last more than double that if you change the oil.  I’ve made it a point to buy good cars, Buicks with a particular engine, the 3.8 liter V-6, that have around 100,000 miles.  The price drops steeply right then.  I have bought cars like that for twenty years.  I haven’t made a single car payment in all that time and go everywhere I want.  Newer cars are nice I hear, but I don’t want one.  The car I drive now, a 2006 Buick Lucerne with heated leather seats, is one of those cars.  I bought it at 97,000 miles after I retired.  It now has 105,000 and runs like a top.  I’ve driven it to Florida twice.
The 1996 LeSabre was an older earlier version of that same high value cheap car.  However at only 160,000 miles I thought about making a change.  I had bought it four years earlier and though it had many miles left in its life I was ready for a new one.  That Buick had come in contact with several fixed objects at close distance, all at low speed mind you, due to some optical problems I was experiencing.  After taking it to my body shop guy for the third time, this time after a much too sharp left turn leaving a parking place and a subsequent collision with a street sign pole, my body shop guy, also a man of few words, looked at the peeled back sheet metal starting at the headlight and extending into the front wheel well and said

“That’s messed up.”

“I know.  Can you make it look halfway decent for not a lot of money?”  I don’t buy collision coverage on these cars.

“No.  I can either put it back together and make it look good for a lot of money, or for not much money and a lot of bondo I can put it back together but it’s never going to look good.  Probably not halfway decent.  I’ll do my best.  If you don’t mind my asking, how’d you manage this one?”

“Does that really matter?  Just fix me up as cheap as you can will you?”

The 96 LeSabre had cloth seats, lacked a number of modern features, and although it had served me well and was mechanically sound I thought it prudent to part company with the car.  It wasn’t just the cosmetics, there were too many bad memories.  That and I was going to have some eye work done, improving my odds of avoiding future collisions.  So I gave it away.

My staff selected a single mother for this car who had quit drinking, gotten her kids back, and had put together a real shot at making good on a second chance at parenting.  Maybe third.  In any case her worker was pulling for her, and convinced me my car would give her a real boost.

It was 2010.  My foster parent/car guy had found a nearly stunning 2000 beige LeSabre for me with lots of good accessories, including that feature where the radio keeps going after you shut the car off in the garage.  For me it’s the little things.  As the 96 LeSabre pulled away with another elated Mom and her kids, I felt this time the personal satisfaction of being the donor.  Everything at YSB changed soon after that and frankly I forgot about that car.  Until I got that letter.

Fast forward six years.  I’ve been retired for almost four of them.  I considered ignoring the letter but someone I know, this time a family member, needs a car.  ‘What are the chances that old Buick still runs well?’ I thought to myself.  I decided to go see.

Aging and the passage of time are funny.  When you experience something up close every day; people, animals, buildings, or in this case cars, it is hard to notice them changing.  But when big chunks of time create gaps of familiarity the difference can be striking.  Dramatic even.  Seeing my old white Buick was a shock.

I had put that LeSabre through difficulty, but nothing compared to what happened to it subsequent to me.  It obviously encountered something of significant size and weight most likely at a high rate of speed, and apparently head on.  It was shocking.  A picture would better communicate the extent of the trauma my old Buick had gone through after it left me.

Though my old car was obviously of no use to me or the relative I was considering giving it to I went inside the salvage yard to see if I could make their job of junking it any easier.  I was also nosy to find out what happened to it.  The woman at the desk gave me a rundown of what she knew.
“How did you find me?  Was my name still on the title?”

“It was next to last.  The owner never responded.  We’re just doing what we have to legally to junk it.”

“You need me to sign anything?”

“Nope.  We just try to locate the owner as best we can.  Find someone on the title.  This one’s a no brainer, not worth the towing and storage to do anything with it.  Do nothing, and after the required time elapses we junk it out to get it off the lot.”

Because I hadn’t seen him in a long time, what with my car running fine, I went to the car dealership to consult with my old friend the foster Dad.  There he was, behind a desk doing what he does, selling a couple a car.  He told me later he’d met them at a restaurant or somewhere, got to talking, and before he knew it they were asking him about used cars.  God only knows how many cars he’s sold.  Somehow he makes you feel good about spending all that money.  They looked pleased at the transaction, he kept smiling, and as I waited in the showroom I did the Trib crossword.  I had no interest in the new cars parked around me.  I finished the puzzle and started thinking about my history of cars.  Except when I was traveling and living outside the country I’d rarely lived without one, mostly because I hardly ever lived in America where public transportation was available.  Cars mean freedom to farm kids.

At 16 I began driving my Dad’s GMC pickup with a three speed on the column.  I bought a two tone 63 Ford Galaxy with my own money, a 61 Galaxy, the Austin America, drove my Dad’s truck again, then a 1970 Torino with a 351 Cleveland engine which Jim Tapen sold me for $75 when he hired me as an advocate at DCFS.  I later gave it to a kid on my caseload who was marrying his pregnant girlfriend.

After the Torino I moved on to a cosmetically challenged 66 Bel Air purchased from Joe Garcia for $37.50.  He bought it for $75 with the stipulation that each time it passed hands the price be cut in half.  Rather than sell it for $18.75 I simply gave it to Habib, a friend I met in Morocco who somehow made it to the Illlinois Valley.  None of those cars lasted a long time, but they were fun to drive.  It’s liberating driving a car with little value.  What can go wrong?Sometimes you have more money in your billfold that the car is worth.  They’re expendable.
Soon after briefly owning an ill advised Volkswagen I finally upgraded to a 1973 Toyota Corolla, going over the $1,000 price plateau for the first time.  It was so reliable.  The body rusted terribly while its engine lasted nearly forever.  I had steel plates welded onto the floorboards because I was afraid my kids would fall through them.  Following the Toyota came a great deal on an ugly Oldsmobile Cutlass Brougham with a serious roof liner problem, followed by my Mom’s 81 Malibu after she passed, and finally this current string of high mileage great value Buicks.

I try not to get sentimental about cars, because they’re objects and tools, transportation devices in the end.  I did however keep Mom’s Malibu too long.  It had linkage problems, lacked intermittent wipers and didn’t even have cruise control.  But once in a while when I drove it I felt like Mom was with me and it relaxed me.  Work was crazy then.  I needed relaxing.

My car guy friend finally finished with the satisfied new owners of a great or semi great used car and came to see me.

“Something wrong with the Lucerne?”  He has a great memory.

“No, its running fine.  I wanted to show you one of my old cars.  One of the ones we gave away.  Look at this.”

I brought up a picture on my cell phone that looked like the one below.  I turned the screen towards him.  He immediately made a pained face and looked away.

“Oh shit.  I hope nobody got hurt in that thing.”

“Both air bags were blown but I didn’t see any blood on the seats.  And it would have soaked in.  They were cloth you know.”

“Yeah I remember.  You were holding out for leather and I told you it was such a good car it was no time to get picky.  How’d you find out about it?”

“The salvage yard sent me a letter.  Police had it towed here. They told me it was in a bad accident in your town.  Main Street.  Four cars involved.  Either that car or one it hit ended up on top of another.  DUI they thought.  I couldn’t find anything in the paper about it.  Said it happened in August.”

“I’m telling you I’ve seen this car regularly for years.  The woman you gave it to was still driving it not long ago.  I bet if it was a DUI she wasn’t driving it.  She attends meetings faithfully.”

My friend is an alcoholic who has been sober for most of his life now.  He’s in his sixties.  He turned it around.

“When did we give that thing away Dave?”

“Title said 2010.”

“Six years ago?  Can it be that long?  It had 160,000 when you gave it up and lasted another six years?”

“It didn’t end well though.”

“No, but so what?  Forget how it died and look at all the miles it gave the people that drove it.  Twenty years worth.  That car doesn’t owe anybody a damn thing.  We should all be as useful and helpful as that Buick.”

We shot the breeze for a while catching up.  He’s still sick of the paperwork in the car business, which he says is worse, and now made more complicated by the computer.  He wants to get out if he can afford it, retire, and ride his motorcycle.  He’s just a little worried about retiring.

“You ever miss what you used to do?”

“Once in a while.  But I get over it.  You’ll do fine.  Talk to a financial guy.  I bet you can swing it.  Really.  Don’t wait.”

I want my friend take the trips he so often talks about.  Ride his bike to where it’s warm when the Illinois Valley turns cold.  He has simple wants.  I hope he retires soon.  He doesn’t owe anybody anything either.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

These Days

An old friend, who owns a cornfield, raked cobs off her land after the harvest, dried them, and bagged them up.  Another friend who lives close by hauled them to town and brought them to the shack where I found them, delivered while I was away, stacked neatly on my shack porch ten feet from the little stove where I will burn them.  It’s extraordinary really, the kindness of others.

As the weather cools I’ve been heating the shack the lazy way, first with a little electric heater under my writing desk to take the chill off in the morning.  Then as the days shorten, and stay colder longer, I’ve been burning pine scraps supplied by my brother Denny, torn up hardwood flooring from a remodel at the church, bits of oak, and now these local cobs.  When I think of all the cobs we burned on the farm, a mountain of cobs as big as the shack left abandoned each time we shelled out the crib, later lit on fire and reduced to a fragile mound of embers so hot you couldn’t stand within twenty feet of it, I lament the waste.  All those BTU’s, up in smoke. 

Cobs burn fast and hot.  They’re nice to start a fire with, or add to a dying fire to create a little more warmth at the end of the day before the story ends.  I’ll get into the oak soon enough.  It’s been drying for two years, this batch I have split and under the woodshed roof.  To fit it into my stove I must cut it once more into 5 inch lengths with the chainsaw.  I’ll do that in batches as I need it, then split them again on my stump in the shack to a manageable size.  You can burn a lot of wood on a cold winter day, and we have plenty of those ahead of us I’m afraid.  There was that big moon though before the cold set in.  But Leonard Cohen did not live to see it.  We go on, all of us, without him.

I can feel myself shifting gears again a week after the election.  I was in the polling place working as an election judge just seven days ago.  So much has changed in a week.  I was sad, and then angry.  I’m still angry.  Yesterday I watched CNN for the first time since election night, but only for a short while.  I really don’t want to see or hear from the President elect yet.  The trouble is I don’t do anger well at all. Just ask my wife.  Its best I lay low until I can somehow turn it into action.  I feel I need to be more politically active for the sake of my kids and those around me, the people at church, the people in the homeless shelter, minorities, the LGBTQ community, immigrants and refugees, the people that will suffer most from what will happen if we do not stand up as Americans and stop this.  It pisses me off that I have to continue to do it at all.  It feels like I’ve been doing it all my life.  But it is very apparent that I must.

In the meantime I’ve withdrawn to the shack.  I loaded my five disc CD changer with four Miles Davis CD’s and a Phillip Glass.  Not a lyric to be found.  I thought Miles would pick me up most but in this mood I’m in I most appreciate Phillip Glass.  One CD, six songs, all around 6 minutes long, with mysterious one word titles: Opening, Floe, Island, Rubric, Facades, Closing.

Philip Glass, now 79, is the son of Jewish Lithuanian parents who came to America to escape German oppression and helped other Jews escape.  His father ran a record store and promoted new music, often sending customers who entered his store wanting to buy Beethoven home with Bartok instead, with an offer to buy back the albums if they didn’t like them.  Philip developed a keen ear, studied flute at the Peabody Institute, mathematics and philosophy at the University of Chicago before going to the Julliard School of Music and concentrating on the keyboard.  He earned a Fulbright scholarship in 1964 and went to Paris where he studied composition with someone famous named Nadia Boulanger.  His early music was described as minimal, a label he moved away from.  Here’s how Philip Glass describes his music.

"I had worked for eight or nine years inventing a system, and now I'd written through it and come out the other end."  He now describes himself as a composer of "music with repetitive structures."
Despite his musical genius, he found it impossible to make a living from it. Apart from his music career, Glass operated a moving company with his cousin, sculptor Jene Highstein, and also worked as a plumber and a cab driver from 1973 to 1978.  On top of all that he is a first cousin once removed of Ira Glass, the NPR hero of "This American Life."
Philip Glass is the best composer you've heard and don't know.  He's won three academy awards for film scores, written operas, chamber music, symphonies, collaborated with countless artists (including Leonard Cohen) and has a body of work that extends to nearly form and genre.  One single CD, "Glassworks", recorded in Tokyo in 1982 made its way into the weird musical collection of this dairy farmer/social worker holed up in a cedar sided shack alongside a Midwestern ravine.  I don't know diddly about music.  But I knew immediately when first hearing Philip Glass' music it was like the ocean; open, forgiving, honest and beautiful.  When I heard it again this week I knew why I randomly picked it from among my jazz CD's.  It brings me in and calms me down.

Not that I wanted to calm down.  When I get angry like this I mostly want those around me to just shut up.  Unfortunately what I want is usually counter to what they need, which is to have someone listen.  When bad things happened at work I would feel this way and search for some way to ward off staff who wanted to come in and discuss or “process” problems.  I grew sick and tired of process.  I abhorred process.  I literally thought I would puke if I had to involve myself in one more discussion to “process” some past problem or event.  If there is a hell, which I doubt, and it is personal mine would be an eternity of meetings where I sit and listen to others process problems.  I would nod endlessly and go insane for the rest of time.

I took a stab at curbing such work discussions with the parking meter.  The city was removing its parking meters and selling them for $10. I bought one and my brother Darwin mounted it on a pole for me.  I put it near the door in my office.  When my staff came in and said

“Do you have a minute?”

I answered in the affirmative, always, handed them a penny, telling them that in fact, I had twelve minutes.  In downtown Ottawa, a penny would allow you to park for twelve minutes.  I would then tell them to put the coin in the meter and twist the crank.  Then we would talk.  When their time elapsed a little red flag on the meter would noisily pop up, which was my cue to smile and politely tell them their time was up.  Twelve minutes seems like a long time but rarely did anyone end their conversation within twelve minutes and even more rarely were they satisfied with the outcome. I gave up on the meter.  It only made people mad.  

I fantasized about other control measures.  I kept my door open on principle but desperately wanted to close it and on it place a sign that would ward off all those who wanted my attention.  As a government funded private agency we lived in a sea of acronyms.  My sign, as an acronym, would say


You figure it out.

After I retired and was free to do anything I wanted, with no regard for tact, I considered making that same sign for my shack door, using my wood burning pencil and a piece of nice cedar, but now with the word “Welcome” on the other side for cheerier days, which I hoped would be more numerous.  But so few people visited the shack I concluded it would serve no purpose.  Good thing.  Though I no longer have cause to be overtly obnoxious, I still want to be at times.  Some would tell you I still am.  I find my feeling of wanting everyone to shut up persists, even when no one is talking.

Those bad moods can make for awkward and even painful days though my life now is largely solitary.  Take pity on my good and patient wife, who now bears the brunt of my private funks.  And thank you Philip Glass.  It was nice being with you for a time.  I needed that.  Listen a while.  Maybe Phil will calm you down as well.

You might also consider building a fire.  Click below

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Like all Wednesdays November 9th, 2016 is garbage day in my neighborhood.  I got up early to take out the trash and recycling.  I spent Tuesday in the Lion’s Club working as an election judge at my precinct.  It was a long 16 hour day.
I had breakfast, made coffee and headed to the shack.  There was frost on the shingles.  Because the time changed the sun was already up.  I walked through leaves.  I’ll have to get the mower out and chop those leaves up again before long.

The shack is perfect for a day like this.  I started a fire in the stove, plugged my phone into a charger putting it out of reach, and loaded the CD changer with classical music: Bach, Sibelius, and Strauss.  Next I turned on my computer and went straight to Word.  In Word I am safe from interruption.  As long as I stay out of Outlook and off Face Book it’s just me, the music, the warmth of the stove, the light coming through the trees into the shack, and words.  I want to finish a story I am writing about 1961.  It seems like a good place to be this morning, 1961.

I wanted Mom to let me stay home but she wouldn’t.  I was ten, Dad was in the field, and Mom had to go into Danvers to help prepare a meal at the church.  Someone died and they were going to feed their family after the funeral the next day.  Something like that.
“Margaret Melick is helping so Jeff will probably be there.  You can play with him in the park.”

The tiny Danvers park, a bandstand surrounded by trees, was next to the church.  Jeff was my age and we were friends.  But he didn’t come.  It was me and a bunch of old ladies in aprons talking all at once in the church basement.  I went upstairs, walked around the empty pews, played chopsticks on the piano, thumbed through a hymnal and silently played the good songs in my head.  Empty churches are big, quiet, and lonely.  I couldn’t stand it for long.  I went to the kitchen and found my Mom.

“Can I go down to the drug store and read comic books?”

The drugstore was a block away on Danvers’ only block of businesses.  The druggist’s wife ran the soda counter and if you bought a fountain drink, or even if you didn’t, she let you take comic books from the rack and read them without buying.
“Sure.  Here’s a quarter.  And while you’re there, go across the street and give Aunt Dorothy this on our bill.  She handed me a twenty dollar bill.  It was so much money.

“Don’t lose that.  And be there when I honk.  No exploring.  Just the drugstore and Aunt Dorothy’s.”

Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Harry ran a grocery store right across from the drugstore.  One honk from our 53 Dodge would work for either place. 

I was the only customer in the drugstore.  It was a summer weekday afternoon and hot.  I put my quarter on the marble counter, said hello to the druggist’s wife, and ordered a green river.  I always got a green river.  My friends got chocolate cokes, cherry cokes, phosphates, all kinds of fountain drinks but I always went for the green river.  The druggist’s wife had white hair done all up high with black hairpins.  As she pumped green syrup over ice cubes in a coke glass she asked what I was doing in town.


“You didn’t come all this way just to see me and buy a green river did you David?”

Danvers people want to know everything.  And I was over being called David.  I wanted to be known as Dave.  Not wanting to talk but knowing I had to I said

“Mom’s at church working on a ham dinner.”

“I bet that’s for the funeral tomorrow.”

“Yeah, something like that.” 

I smiled because it was polite and took my change and green river to one of two little tables they had by the comic books.  I scanned the rack.  They didn’t have many new ones.  I settled on a Jug Head comic I’d read before.
Sometimes when I was alone on the farm I’d think how good it must be to be a town kid so you could see other people more and go into places and buy things.  But when I got to town I realized it wasn’t much different.  If you really wanted to be someplace different you had to go to Bloomington.  But that seemed impossible.  We hardly ever went to Bloomington.  There was a Sears and Roebuck store there but we ordered things from the catalog that arrived to our big mailbox on the gravel road.  There was no reason to go to Bloomington.

I read a few more comic books, put my empty glass back up on the counter, was careful to say good bye to the druggist’s wife, and went across the street to the grocery store.  Uncle Harry was standing by the cash register.  He was tall and skinny with hollow cheeks.  As I came in the door he was shaking a Chesterfield cigarette from the pack he kept in his shirt pocket.  With the unlit cigarette dangling in his mouth he smiled and said

“Well if it isn’t my nephew Davey McClure.  What brings you to town?”

Of all my names I hated Davey the most.  I liked Uncle Harry but he could get loud and a little obnoxious.  But he was a Chicago guy.  My Dad said Chicago guys are like that, so we tried to ignore it when he was rude.  I figured he couldn’t help it.  He loved Aunt Dorothy and we loved her so that meant we had to love Uncle Harry too.

“Mom’s cooking hams at the church.  I’m just waiting for her to come get me.”

“Look out.  Farm boy in town.  You been chasing after the town girls Davey?”

I blushed.  It was things like that he said which we tried to overlook.  I acted like he hadn’t said anything.

“Is Aunt Dorothy here?”

“She’s back at the desk.  Cubs are on you know.”

Uncle Harry and Aunt Dorothy’s store was narrow but deep.  Two aisles.  It had an oiled wooden floor that slanted.  The shelves covered up the windows on one side, it shared a wall with the furnace and sheet metal shop on the other side, and the store room blocked light from the back.  The sun only made its way in through the front door and windows.  It was dark and smelled like old bananas.  I walked toward the back of the store. 

Aunt Dorothy smoked Pall Malls and always before she opened a new pack she slapped it violently against the palm of her hand.  I heard that slapping noise as I headed back.  When I turned the corner into the tiny little office, jammed with papers, she was just opening up the red pack of those long unfiltered cigarettes.   She was a little woman with a big smile.  She always had something good to say.

“What brings you here Dave?”

God bless Aunt Dorothy.  She was catching on to my new preferred name.  I reached into my pocket, pulled out the twenty, and handed it to her.

“Mom asked me to give this to you to pay on her bill.”

“Well isn’t that nice.  You tell her thanks.  Come here.”

I stepped up to her chair and she gave me a big hug.  Her breath smelled like cigarettes and beer.  I looked on the desk and there was an open bottle of Falstaff.   I’d seen her drink beer with Uncle Harry at their house but I didn’t know she drank at the store too.  We didn’t keep beer at our house.  I heard Lou Boudreau’s voice coming from her little transistor radio on the desk. 
“So what are you doing Aunt Dot?”  My Dad called her Dot sometimes so I did too.   I was studying ways to make conversation.  I listened for how people did it.  ‘What are you doing’ was one of the starter questions I was trying with people. 

“I’m supposed to be writing checks but I can’t keep my mind off the Cub game.  They got a chance to win this thing.”

“This is the last game with the Phillies isn’t it?”

“No they swept the Phillies three games.  This is the second game of a double header with the Pirates.  They won the first game 11-4.  Then damned if they didn’t take the shortstop, Banks, out of the lineup.  I don’t understand.  They were ahead 2-1 in the middle innings, now they‘re behind 4-2.    We need a base runner and a homer.  They’re on a roll.  If they win it will be five in a row.  I think they’re going to tie it up.”

“Why do you think that Aunt Dot?”

“I just do David.  I feel it in my bones.”

She forgot to call me Dave that quickly.  Aunt Dot got very excited when she listened to the Cubs.  She took a big slug of Falstaff.  The beer must make her optimistic I thought.  I looked at her face as she stared at the radio.  I couldn’t tell if her teeth were bigger or her gums were smaller but something looked bigger about her mouth.  She looked a little old.

“Who’s pitching for the Cubs?”

“Jim Brewer.”

“Dad says they always lose when Brewer pitches.  Isn’t he 0-5?”

“Yeah but he’s kept them to only four runs today.”

It was August 17th and the Cubs were playing in Pittsburgh.  There were eight teams in the National League and the Cubs were in 7th place.  The Phillies were in the basement and the Pirates were in 6th place.  Cincinnati led the league.  Chicago would finish the year in 7th place with a record of 64 wins and 90 losses. 

Lou Boudreau was talking and I had looked past Aunt Dorothy at the stuff around us.  On one side of the tiny office cardboard boxes were stacked tall; Wheaties, Chesty potato chips, Quaker oatmeal, Uncle Ben’s converted rice.

“Thank God, Tappe is pinch hitting for Don Zimmer. Zimmer can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

On the other side were cases of cans, Chef Boyardee spaghetti, Del Monte peas, Welch’s grape jelly, Peter Pan peanut butter.


Bob Will quickly struck out in the top of the 9th to end the game.  Aunt Dot sat back in her chair with a look of exhaustion and lit a Pall Mall.  I felt bad for her.

“They won four in a row Aunt Dot.  That’s pretty good for them.”

“Yeah, David but they do stupid things.  It’s bad enough they have mediocre players but on top of that they do stupid things.  It makes me so mad.”

“Dad doesn’t expect them to win as much as you do Aunt Dot.  Course he works outside and can’t listen to the radio like you.  He reads about them in the paper.  But he doesn’t get, you know, upset.  He just shakes his head.”

“Yeah well your Dad’s a good Cub fan but he looks at things differently.”

I knew that.  I tried to figure out how Dad looked at things.  It was hard.  He didn’t say much about how he felt.

“Aunt Dot can you tell me about being in Chicago?  I mean I know you and Dad and your family lived in Chicago but I can’t picture it.  What was my Dad like in the city?”

“He really liked Chicago David.  He would explore, and find places, and take us all there.  Ask him sometime about the Italian guy’s basement.  He’ll know what you’re talking about.  He was brave.  He went everywhere.”

She took a big pull on her Pall Mall, held it a while, and exhaled.  A cloud of smoke wrapped around her head.

“You know we were farm kids, your Dad, Aunt Fern, and me.  Even your Uncle Eldon, though he’d been in the city longer.  After your Grandpa was killed in a car accident our Mom had to sell the farm, and we all moved up to Oak Park.  Uncle Wick helped us get decent jobs.  Good thing too, because the recession hit and we were still OK.  But I didn’t think your Dad would ever go back to the farm.  Yep.  Chicago taught us to be Cub fans and Democrats.  And your Dad is the best of both.  You know how much I love your Dad right?”

“Yeah I know Aunt Dot.”

“Go get yourself a bottle of pop.  On me.”

She reached in the middle drawer of her desk and handed me a dime.  I didn’t tell Aunt Dot I’d just had a green river.  I went to their cooler, one of those where the bottles stood straight up in cold water and you slid them upright through a track of parallel rods to a place where you could pull one out after you put your dime in.    I bought a Dad’s Old Fashioned Root Beer.  I went back to where Aunt Dot was still sitting, recovering from the Cubs loss.  We clinked bottles-her Falstaff and my root beer.

“So you really think the Cubs are going to win the World Series someday Aunt Dot?”

“Heck yes.  They got to get a manager in there first.  But you get someone with brains, keep Billy Williams, Ernie Banks, and Ron Santo together and put some pitching around them and they’ll go all the way.  I think they’ll win it yet in the 60’s.”

“The 60’s?  Jeez Aunt Dot it’s only 1961.  The 60’s will last another eight years.  You think it will take maybe eight years?”  I was only ten.  Eight years was a lifetime.

“Well these things take time David.  It’s like politics.  You wait till your time comes.  We waited out that do nothing Eisenhower for all those years and now look.  We’ve got a good young Democrat with a family in the white house.  He’s a winner that guy.  He’s got a plan. And your Dad loves him.”

“I know.  I’ve never seen Dad so happy as when Kennedy got elected.”

“That’s cause your Dad’s a good Democrat David, on top of being a good Cub fan.  Good things come to those who wait.”

 I heard the honk of our Dodge Coronet from the street.

“There’s Mom.  Thanks for the pop Aunt Dot, and thanks for talking.”

“You’re welcome Dave.  Tell your Dad hello.  And tell him his little sister said the Cubs are about to break it all loose.”

“OK.  But he won’t believe you.”

“Tell him anyway.”