Snowstorm


The Big Snow of 1967

The Chicago snowstorm is more than just a meteorological event. For my brothers and me, this was the perfect time to go out to play in the snow and make snowmen and snow forts. We actually enjoyed staying out all day in the snow if possible. My mother would send me to the store so we could stock up on milk and bread. She was afraid the stores would run out of milk whenever she saw the first snowflake falling. I had to buy at least two gallons of milk and bread. We were tortilla eaters. We never really ate bread at home unless there was a snowstorm. So I had to buy as many loaves of bread as my mother could afford. We would eat sandwiches and toast for weeks after a snowstorm. My brother Jerry and I used to go door to door with shovels knocking to see who wanted us to shovel their sidewalk. We would earn some money that way. We watched Ray Rayner to see if our school would close for a snow day. But they never did. All the teachers at Holy Cross were nuns who lived in the convent next to the school and most of the students lived within a three-block radius anyway. Ray Rayner would announce school after school closing, but he never called out Holy Cross! Going to school cut into our snow playtime.

So it’s snowing now, and has been since early this morning. I’m hoping for an e-mail from UIC telling the their calling a snow day. But they can’t close down the campus because they also have a hospital. UIC has never shut down the campus for a mere snowstorm. Not even the Big Snow of 1967. So, I better get up early tomorrow morning so I can shovel my car out and drive to school. Actually, I don’t mind going to school in the snow. I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, so I actually enjoy the snowfall. I enjoy shoveling the snow. As an adult, that’s how I now play in the snow. And I love it!

Petunia


Petunia

Long ago, my brother Jerry had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia for a pet. “Why did you name her Petunia?” I asked him. Well, what is Porky the Pig’s girlfriends name? Petunia! And so in a moment of sheer brilliance my brother had a pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia. He was always proud of his naming abilities thereafter.

Petunia had quite a personality.  She attracted people from all over the neighborhood since no one else had a pig for a pet. They would drive by just to see Petunia in the yard. One day, Petunia escaped from my brother’s yard and within hours someone had returned her home. Everyone knew where she lived.  Petunia was very friendly, especially if you were eating. She would butt her head against your leg until you gave her something eat.

I used to visit my brother quite often, so I used to see a lot of Petunia. I liked her, but not in the same way I would have liked a dog. When I moved next door to my brother I got to see way too much of Petunia, but  I was sorry to see my brother move away. But not just because I would miss Petunia!

Once, when he moved to his new house, Jerry left a case of beer on the rear deck and Petunia managed to puncture through the cans with her teeth. She drank the whole case of beer! She staggered around the backyard until she fell over and passed out. There were empty beer cans all over the deck.

I think my brother loved that pig more than any pet he ever had, including our dog Duke. Some days, he paid more attention to Petunia than any one else in his family. Once when I was at Jerry’s house, I noticed that Petunia’s toenails were painted red. Jerry had painted her toenails and his wife Rita wasn’t too happy about it. She said, “He never painted my toenails!”

P.S. Yo-Yo Ma named his cello Petunia.

Bob Bloom Roofing


The south side of Chicago

So I was at the gas station at 55th and Ashland this morning filling up my tank. The first thing I thought of was how this used to be my neighborhood on the outer boundary of Back of the Yards. I used to wait on this corner for the bus whenever we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Sometimes we would eat at the Burger King on the corner there. I used to deliver newspapers in that neighborhood. Then, the neighborhood changed and it became the “bad side of town,” but when I hear that I have to laugh because it was also called that when I lived there in the 1960s. So I’m getting gas there this morning and I’m getting dirty looks from people who think I shouldn’t be on their turf. I just smile at them, knowing they don’t know that I feel comfortable right there on their turf because it’s still my turf.

The second thing I thought of was Bob Bloom Roofing. You see, I was pumping gas when I looked up at the roof in front of me, when I wasn’t watching my back. I saw the black tar that repaired a once leaky roof. When I owned my house at 1018 W. 32nd Place, my roof started leaking. At first, I was in denial because I couldn’t afford to get a new roof. I talked to my brother Jerry the fireman because it is a well-known fact that all firemen  have a side job because of their work schedule that gives them forty-eight hours off after working twenty-four. In fact, my brother is a also painter on the side who will paint apartments, houses, and just about anything else on his days off. In college, he majored in art. So he’s overqualified to paint your house, just in case you’re interested.

Anyway, I told my brother about my leaky roof. Yes, it continued leaking despite my denial. Jerry recommended Bob Bloom Roofing, a fireman who worked with him. Off-duty firemen seem to gravitate toward jobs that involve ladders. Jerry gave me his phone number and Jerry promised to talk to him before I called him. This is how Chicagoans take care of each other. They recommend a contractor who is trustworthy and then they’ll call him up and tell him to take of his brother, or whomever.

I never actually met Bob Bloom Roofing until years later. To this day, I still think of him as Bob Bloom Roofing because whenever we spoke on the phone, he always, but I mean always, called himself Bob Bloom Roofing. He was always advertising his company. And that’s why I still remember him, I mean his business, all these years later. Anyway, I called him up and explained my roof leak to him. We couldn’t find a mutually convenient time to meet in person at my house because I was busy every day and evening for the next two weeks, but I really needed the leak fixed. Bob Bloom Roofing suggested that he could go check out my roof on the way home from the firehouse. He left me a message saying that it would be an easy repair and he would only charge me about $150. I agreed and within three days my roof was repaired. I mailed the check to Bob Bloom Roofing’s home and we were both happy with our business transaction.

A couple of years later, another section of my roof leaked and we went through the same process to repair my roof. I never actually met Bob Bloom Roofing until one day my brother had a party at his house and he invited a lot of his firemen friends. As I wandered through the party, I would introduce myself to the firemen, who are not exactly known for being polite guests. Eventually, I introduced myself to one fireman who responded, “Hi, Bob Bloom Roofing!”

You gotta love Chi-Town!

Many are cold, but few are frozen


Pilsen, Chicago, Illinois

I’ve heard a lot of complaints this winter about how much snow we’ve had in Chicago this winter and last. People are also complaining about how cold it’s been lately. Most of these complainers are either too young or haven’t lived in Chicago very long. These are the cold, bitter winters that I remember as a boy! No, I won’t exaggerate about how cold and snowy winters were in Chicago in days of yore. I don’t have to. Just recall the weather since December and you’ll see how much snow we used to have and how cold it used to be. Once you get used to the weather, you can actually still enjoy living in Chicago. There are, after all, much colder places than Chicago.

When I was a boy, I spent a lot of time outside during the winter. I delivered newspapers, shoveled sidewalks for money, played ice hockey, and occasionally, played baseball in the snow. We liked to do things that would make adults shake their heads at us. Like staying outside in the cold. The one thing I did learn–although somewhat accidentally–was to dress in layers. We didn’t have very much money for proper winter clothing such as down coats, wool socks or sweaters, or insulated gloves. One day, while ice skating at Davis Square Park across the street, I got cold, so I went home and put on some more pants and socks and shirts, eventually experimenting until I learned the correct amount of layers to wear. I would wear two or three t-shirts, three or four pairs of pants, and four or five pairs of socks, depending on the temperature. When everyone else went into the park fieldhouse to warm up, I continued skating outside. I never got cold again once I learn to dress for the weather.

And I also taught my brothers how to dress properly for winter. One extremely cold, snowy winter, our school, Holy Cross School, had a fundraiser for which we had to sell Christmas cards door to door. There had been snow on the ground since Thanksgiving Day. Even though the sidewalks were shoveled, there was snow pile up everywhere where no one walked or drove. My brother Tato and I started knocking on doors trying to sell our Christmas cards–unsuccessfully. We were at the third house and the woman who answered the door told us she was interested in buying Christmas cards. So, we turned around and started walking down her front porch stairs. When I reached the sidewalk at the bottom of the wooden stairs, I heard my brother Tato slip on the ice and fall down the stairs. I checked to see if my brother was okay and I helped him up. The woman who was watching us through the front window opened the door and called us back up to the porch. “I’ll buy a box of Christmas cards,” she said. Well, we sold her a box of Christmas cards and went on our merry way to the next house. This woman also refused to buy Christmas cards from us. As we were walking down her front porch, Tato again “fell” down the stairs. Of course, the woman called us back and bought a box of Christmas cards from us. We persisted with our sales pitch until we sold all of our Christmas cards. In fact, the next day, we asked Sister Cecilia for more Christmas cards for us to sell. She was suprised that we could sell that many Christmas cards!

Family


The Rodriguez Family, Chicago, Illinois

Thanksgiving Day was a reunion of sorts for the Rodriguez family in Chicago. I really enjoyed getting together with my family as much as possible. As usually happens, this reunion was a last-minute get together that turned out better than if someone would have planned it for weeks.

I really had no plans for Thanksgiving Day since my sons would spend the day with their mother and her family. When we were married, many relatives came to our house for Thanksgiving dinner. But now, I never know what I’ll do for Thanksgiving until the last minute. I’m not really very good at planning too far in advance. Anyway, our family started the day with a memorial mass for three relatives who had died in the last six weeks: My cousin Shirley, my Aunt Marcela, and my Uncle Meño’s mother-in-law.

My Uncle Placido was coming in from Lubbock, Texas, where he is the bishop of the archdiocese and he would say mass for us. We all agreed to meet at St. John Fisher Church for the 9:00 am mass and then go our separate ways because everyone, presumably, already had Thanksgiving Day plans. Well, we stayed in the back of the church talking awhile and then we started taking pictures. Lately, we can’t take enough pictures of each other. I took extra pictures on my iPhone so I could add everyone to my directory, even though I had no immediate plans to call anyone.

Then, my brother Jerry suggested we go back to his house for coffee for an hour or two, but then we’d have to go because his wife was having dinner for her family in the afternoon and it was the first Thanksgiving without her father because he had died earlier this year. Whoever was available could come back at about 7:00 pm. Well, some of us stayed and never left. I won’t mention any names, but I could name all the people who came and stayed, and all the people who left at the appropriate time–because I was there until midnight. And I didn’t come alone either. I brought my father, my Aunt Conchita, and her son Peter. No one complained that there was extra company in the house, especially not the people who had overstayed their invitation. Uncle Placido showed us the 25th anniversary book for his archdiocese in Lubbock, Texas. Later, we looked at more pictures after we ate a huge dinner. Despite the fact that there were more people there for dinner than were invited, there was plenty of food for everyone. In fact, everyone was invited to take leftovers home. We all said good-bye and promised to see each other very soon. We shall see.

Pop


This is my father in about 1976.

Pop. Just Pop. That’s what I call my father now. My brother Jerry’s children who are half Irish call him Papa Diego. I still call him Pop because when I was little we only spoke Spanish at home and my parents were mami and papi. When you’re very little, say up to about five or six years old, calling your parents mami and papi is still acceptable. When I started playing at the Davis Square Park, other kids called me baby if they heard me call my parents mami and papi. So, eventually I began calling them Mom and Pop. Definitely more acceptable by my peers of preteens. But I could never write pap because everyone would mispronounce in English. So that’s how he became Pop, just plain Pop.

I remember, once when I was at the park, Bobby–I never did learn his real last name–started a fight with me. I must have been about six at the time. I still had not learned the protocol that if someone hit you hit them right back or they would forever pick on you. Bobby punched my face and I ran home crying. I got home quickly because we lived right across the street from the park at 4501 S. Hermitage Avenue. Both my mami and papi were home. My father was somewhere in the apartment; how someone could disappear from his family in a four-room apartment is beyond me. Anyway, my mother wanted to know why I was crying. I said, “Bobby hit me!” but in Spanish. “¡Bobby me pegó! My mother thought I had said papi hit me. My mother immediately began scolding my father–who was forced to come out of hiding. It actually took a couple minutes for me clear up the confusion and prove my father’s innocence to my mother. My father took me to the park to look for Bobby, but he had left. Somebody was probably trying to beat him up for some prior transgression. As I would learn later–mainly because Bobby was always in life no matter how I tried to avoid him–no one liked Bobby because he was an all-round  troublemaker. Once someone tried to shoot him, but they missed him and shot the person sitting next to him on the park bench. Luckily, the bullet went through the fleshy part of his thigh. Everyone was troubled by the fact that such an act of violence had failed to restore peace to our neighborhood by ridding everyone of Bobby for good.

But back to my father. Pop. When I started calling him Pop, no one made fun of me anymore. One unintended side-effect was that my little brothers stopped calling my parents mami and papi. That was rather sad because everyone knows how cute little children are when they call their parents mami and papi.

That's okay if you don't have salsa. I brought my own.