I never met my paternal grandfather. He passed away from a massive stroke about a year before I was born. I was named after him but know very little of his early life. He came from Russia when he was 3 years old and the family settled in Chicago. He worked hard his whole life in several businesses, including becoming on the largest furriers in the city. My understanding was he was working in one of his shops on some fur coats when a massive stroke took his life at 59. He is buried among hundreds of others who settled on the north side of Chicago in the 1920’s in the western suburbs in a plot they bought as young adults. For many, their burial plots were the first pieces of property many of them bought fearing they would not be able to do so later in life.
My maternal grandfather was therefore the other grandfather I knew. Many families have a strict father, memorable uncle and beloved grandfather. He was all three but I was fortunate he was the beloved grandfather for me. He was orphaned at an early age after his mother died during childbirth with what would have been the fifth child in the family. He had 2 brothers and 1 sister, a brother would later die following an ice skating accident and an infection that was untreatable at the time. His sister lived with relatives in Indiana while my grandfather and his brother grew up in orphanages and foster homes on the west and south sides of Chicago for most of their childhood.
His generation became “The Greatest”. My grandfather survived the depression, World War II and lived to 97. He and my grandmother were married 65 years. They married on the Sunday before Labor Day so they could have 1 day for a honeymoon.
When he was 85 he told me “Keith, if I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” The social security office offered him early retirement at 58 thinking he would be dead by the age of 60. The actuarial was off by about 40 years. He saw grandkids and great-kids. Retired to Florida where he lived the remaining third of his life. Before retirement he placed thousands of windows on the tallest buildings in the world as a glazer.
He told me his fingerprints are all over glass on the Sears Tower, John Hancock and Standard Oil Building. Some of the names have changed, officially, but for some we still know them by these names. Sometimes I would imagine him working on those buildings, 90+ stories above the street from the comfort of the observation towers peering out on the lake and city.
On opening day at Comiskey Park, usually around April 1, he would have women from the local glazer’s union or from their company office call my school and my cousin’s school and claim that we were sick and Grandpa would take my two cousins and I to Comiskey for opening day. We always sat along the first base line and I sat next to my grandpa while my younger cousin kept score next to me. I never appreciated keeping score but my cousin seemed to enjoy it, checking with our grandfather from time to time to see if he made the right notations in the program.
Growing up on the south and west side of the city, my grandfather perhaps became a White Sox fan when it became relevant. However, even before moving to the north side to raise his family, he claimed that while they lived on the south side of the city, he lived on the north side of the street, so he could be a Cubs fan too.
He used to tell me about going to get bleacher seats at Wrigley on the day of the game, perhaps skipping work a bit to catch several innings. He claimed the tickets were a nickel and when Wrigley raised the price of a bleacher seat to a dime he stopped going. When I asked him why over 5 cents would he stop going to sit in the bleachers grandpa said “Because the Cubs weren’t worth watching when the seats were a nickel.” Of course, “Budweiser” bleacher seats, if you can find them are several more nickels than they use to be and the Cubs are worth watching now and hopefully for years to come…
When my grandfather passed, with my grandmother passing about 18 months before he did, he moved back to Chicago to be closer to my mom and aunt. He didn’t keep much over the years that wasn’t already given to the family after my grandmother died. His desk for many years had little on or in it with the exception of some pictures of the grandkids under a piece of beveled glass on his desk, which he likely made.
In the top draw of the desk all that remained were ticket stubs, 4 to year, neatly organized by year, rubber banded together from home White Sox games played in early April.
More to follow in additional parts.