Dripping with nostalgia
Our neighbors in Chicago were May and John Romashko and their daughters Tanya, with whom I am still in love, and her little sister Sonia. Tanya was balletic-bodied; Sonja less so.
May would make borscht every week and give us a huge pot. Can taste it to this day.
John was a mover. Every six months or so, the coppers would be parked in front; John nowhere to be found. Then a few days later, John would come strolling up the sidewalk, dapper as anyone, in pin stripes, three pieces, gold chain hanging from his vest, and announce, Lonnie, how are you? Coppers gone. Until the next time.
May and John would have furious verbal fights. Before air conditioning, so no one closed the windows. We had no idea what they were saying, not knowing Russian. When they weren’t fighting and things were unusually quiet, the mosquitoes being yelled at by Muscovites keeping them in check. We killed dozens a night. Our windows wide open. Screens? Holey. (Holy Moly, as said the Ancients.) There was a gangway, so-called, between our one-family homes. If you reached far across, you could almost touch their bedroom windows and swat their own Russian-speaking “komarovs.”
Ah, the days of no AC!
Our neighbors on the other side were the Dorshes. Bill Sr. had lost an arm in WW2 and drove a Studebaker, three shifts on the column with a knob he could revolve. He also played baseball with us in the street, mitts and all. Bill would catch the ball in his prized mitt, throw the ball up into the air, gingerly drop his glove to the ground, catch the ball and invariably throw us all out.
A fierce critic of his son Bill Jr., who later became a fierce prosecutor in the Cook County court system, Bill Sr., in the early Black Power days, became a fierce liberal. My father, neither lib or con, tired easily of Bill Sr.’s radicalism. They apparently got into a shouting match with Bill insisting on more rights for Blacks and my father, also Bill, insisting that Bill Sr. had given more than enough for his country and he should stop worrying about the rights of people he would never know.
I knew my Dad pretty well and he was heroic as well, but Bill Sr. was one of a kind.
Our parish was St. Tarcissus, after the boy martyr who guarded the sacred Host and lost his life in the process. Three priests, two young, Father Stone who was a holy man who converted my father, and Father Carey, harder to figure out, probably gay before the term was even used; and the pastor Father Kush(inski), who took regular Caribbean vacations with his comely middle-aged housekeeper. No pedophilia there. (So many Poles, and Slavs in general, shortened their names, hoping for that instant assimilation. What a shame that the rest of us could not be expected to make the effort to pronounce their patronyms.)
Our favorite TV show? “Life Is Worth Living” with Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Whose parish was right around the corner from Grand Central Station in New York. He would swoop onstage, his purple and black cassock trailing, purple beanie atop his slicked-back hair. He was charismatic, handsome, funny, urban and urbane and gently persuading us that Life indeed was worth living. Not a smarmy Joel Osteen in sight. (Love that he embodies that word.)
I met Sheen when he officiated at his niece’s wedding in a lavish ceremony outside Chicago. He had that uncanny ability to work the crowd and let the crowd come to him as well. His persona was what we saw on the tube.
A gentler time? Perhaps. Kush(inski, Sheen, Bill Sr.? Jr.? John and May? My Dad? Heavenly Tanya? And what about Sonja?
Dripping with nostalgia, a pain for the past: Life continues to be worth living. May we never figure it out.