Wednesday, January 4, 2012

left handed

Odd how the simple turning of a calendar page can set one's mind to thinking about the past and what part it may or may not have played in getting you to where you are today. On this past New Year's Eve, I had such a recollection and yet, I am still at a loss as to why I had this particular recollection. Maybe it is due to my turning 45 this year. Who knows?

This much is clear to me. The combination of sharing a New Year's Eve glass of Bailey's with my wonderful wife while sitting next to perhaps the most beautiful Christmas Tree I have ever seen in my house, and thinking about the excitement in my children's eyes as I set off fireworks to celebrate the last night of 2011, got me thinking about why I shoot pool left handed.

To answer why I shoot stick as a lefty, let me share with you, this story.

My paternal grandparents first came to Chicago in the early part of the 20th century, before the great depression. My grandfather was a construction laborer and grandmother was a hotel chamber maid. Here, in Chicago, they had two children, my father Ernest, and my aunt Mary. With the onset of the great depression, my grandmother returned to her native Austria with her two children and her husband remained in Chicago. A few years later when my father was seven years old, my grandmother would return to Chicago, leaving her two children behind. The next time my father would see his mother was when he was 18 years old, relocating to Chicago with his younger sister to reunite with their parents.

In the time they were apart, my grandmother did very well for herself. She and her brother purchased and operated a transient hotel with bar and restaurant called The Blue Danube. Located at 2300 North Cicero Avenue, it was situated across the street from the Western Electric Hawthorn Works which at the time held the record as the largest factory under one roof in the United States. In the photo to the right you see the massive factory structure and its imposing tower. My grandmother's building was the one at the right edge of the picture with the billboard on the roof.

Their clientele were neighborhood locals and Hawthorn Plant employees alike. Rumor also has it that one of the storefronts located on the side of the building was at one time leased to members of the Capone Outfit for the repair of pin ball machines. Truth be told, my father found a slot machine under a burlap sack in that storefront when the building was finally sold. That is another story, however.

After arriving in the city of big shoulders, my father set to work helping his mother and uncle in their business while furthering his education. He first learned English and then obtained a high school diploma at a YMCA high school. Then he began attending classes at Northwestern University which was interrupted when he was drafted to serve in the Army during the Korean conflict. While in Basic Training he met a man from South Dakota who would eventually marry my aunt and become my Uncle Roger.

Both of them were originally a part of the 101st Airborn but dad's background of German as a first language played in his favor. Instead of being deployed to the active theater of war in Korea, he was instead stationed in Germany with the Signal Corps laying out power lines in the Black Forest and playing his part in the Cold War.

With funds available from my grandmothers business, he purchased a Dodge Coronet Sedan while stationed in Germany. His Sergent only allowed him to have it if he could use it whenever he wanted to visit his girlfriends so his wife wouldn't know he was stepping out on her. Dad would also use the car to visit the places in Austria his family lived in, usually coming back with a trunk full of wine bottles. On one such visit, a family friend introduced him to a wine maker's daughter, the young woman who would become my mother, Eleonore.

When dad was done in the army, he and his new bride returned to the Chicago area to start their lives together. They would eventually have three children of which I am the youngest. Mom would spend her days with her mother-in-law who still spent her nights tending the bar as she had for 25 years. Mom and dad would help my grandmother manage her business as well but by this time the business was a pale shadow of what it once was. The Western Electric plant was nearly shut down.The neighborhood was in ethnic transition. On top of that the business was not worth as much as the property that it sat on was. As it turned out, the Blue Danube was in the proposed right-of-way of Chicago's long planned and ill-fated Cross-Town Expressway.  In the end, after my grandmother passed, the building would be sold quickly and promptly torn down. The last time I saw it, or rather the property, was in 1989 when I was in college. It had become a used car lot.

Well before that time, however, I spent quite a few childhood days in the bar. As I was too young to be left at home alone like my brother and sister. I would tag along with my mother and father, calling out from the back seat of the car when I would see the huge red neon Magickist Carpet Cleaning sign on the Congress Expressway that indicated our exit at Cicero Avenue was near.

There wasn't much I could do in the bar so I would hang out and drink Pepsi in glass bottles and play with my grandmother's German Shepard, Sheba. Occasionally I would talk to the permanent residents who still lived in the hotel rooms over the bar when they came in for their first drinks of the day. I only remember two of them. Janie was a character. Just think of any bar-fly and you have her in your mind. Her perfume was abundant and her smile forced, but she was always pleasant to me.

The other was a guy nick-named Poochie. He taught me how to play pool. I was barely old enough to see over the top of the table but he took the time to teach me a thing or two, including how to hold a cue. He always had quarters for the table and liked showing me how he could complete bank shots.

One more thing about Poochie, unlike me, he was left handed.