Irma Serrano


Irma Serrano at the People's Theater, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I never understood why my mother went to Mexico when Irma Serrano came to Back of the Yards to perform at the People’s Theater. She absolutely loved Irma Serrano. My mother had all her records. My mother saw all her movies. Yet, my mother went to Mexico the summer of 1970 when Irma Serrano came to People’s Theater.

But my mother had a plan! While she was away in Mexico, I would go for my mother to see Irma Serrano in concert! I was only fourteen at the time, so I was a little nervous when my mother explained her plan to me. I would go see Irma Serrano in concert and then tell my mother all about the concert when she returned from Mexico. My mother thought her idea was absolutely brilliant. I, on the other hand, had mixed feelings. Because of my mother, I, too, loved Irma Serrano as a singer and an actress. I just couldn’t let my friends know this dirty little secret about me. What if my friends saw me going to the People’s Theater to see Irma Serrano? What would I tell them? What if they wanted to tag along? That was my dilemma of the summer.

My mother arranged everything. She bought another camera just for the concert because she always took her camera to take pictures in Mexico. I was to take pictures of Irma performing on stage. I was to take pictures of every outfit she wore. She changed a few times during her performance, so I made sure I took pictures of every outfit. I have to admit that this was kind of fun, especially since Irma seemed to welcome the additional attention of an adolescent male admirer. My mother also wrote a letter to Irma that I was supposed to hand deliver to Irma Serrano personally. Those were my mother’s orders! My mother wanted me to go backstage after the performance to talk to Irma and take more pictures of her.

“But how am I supposed to go backstage?” I asked my mother. “Just tell them that you’re delivering a letter to Irma Serrano from Carmen Rodriguez! They’ll let in then!” I was always painfully shy, but now I was truly afraid to follow through with my mother’s plan. She wanted me to meet someone who was really a successful star and really, really famous. I was scared to approach Irma after the show. But I was even more afraid of how my mother would punish me if I didn’t take pictures of Irma and deliver my mother’s letter backstage.

I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the concert! Of course, that was also due to the fact that none of my friends saw me going to the People’s Theater that afternoon. Luckily, the concert was on a Sunday afternoon when most of my friends spent the day visiting relatives. I recognized every song Irma sang because my mother always played them at home. The only time I didn’t like listening to my mother’s Mexican music was on Saturday mornings. She played her music starting at sunrise. If I told her to turn it down a little, she would yell at me for being lazy and staying in bed. I would put the pillow over my head and the music didn’t sound so loud that way.

Since I was at the Irma Serrano concert of my own free will, according to my mother (under duress, if you asked me), I attempted to enjoy myself as much as possible. The audience consisted of less than about a hundred people, but they were all really into Irma. Myself included. It was a really good concert! And since the audience was so small, it was also very intimate.

After the concert, I was able to get backstage my mentioning my mother’s name. I seriously doubted that would work, but I was amazed that I got to meet Irma Serrano in person. I told her that Carmen Rodriguez had written her a letter and I then handed her the letter. She smiled as she took the letter and said, “So you’re Carmen’s son? She told me about you.” I don’t know if Irma really knew my mother, but she knew how to treat fans appreciatively.  I asked Irma if I could take more pictures of her and she consented. I was thrilled to be backstage with Irma Serrano all by myself!

So that was my closest encounter with a very famous star!

Parque Marquette


Taste of México, Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois

My oldest son found a frog at the forest preserves and decided to keep it. He bought an aquarium, but soon the house smelled of stagnant water. He really didn’t clean the aquarium regularly or properly. Then he got bored of having a frog. He thought of releasing the frog in our backyard, but I told him it would die there and that would be inhumane. I suggested he take the frog to the Marquette Park lagoon where it would at least stand a chance to survive. A week passed and the frog was still our roommate and the aquarium water was still polluting the air we breathed. Yesterday, we both were home at the same time, with free time at the same time–something that rarely happens with our busy schedules (even though I’m on summer vacation now!).

So, I said, “Let’s take the frog to Marquette Park now.” Amazingly, he agreed. However, he didn’t want to touch the frog because of the putrid smell. He brought the aquarium down from his bedroom and put it on the front porch. He almost threw as he set the tank down. So, I was the one who took the frog out of the smelly tank and put it into a five-gallon bucket to take to Marquette Park.

I’ve been going to Marquette Park since the 1960s. My parents always loved taking us to parks or beaches whenever possible. When my mother got her driver’s license, she ventured further away from our house. Once she took us to Brookfield Zoo! But first she had to build up her courage. So she took us to Marquette Park. She had heard that it was a nice park. She drove us there in her 1964 Chevy Impala convertible. I remember driving on Marquette Road to get to Marquette Park. My mother was amazed by the houses we saw there. When we drove back home on Marquette Road, my mother said, “Some day we will live on Marquette Road!”

Eventually, we did live at 2509 W. Marquette Road! Many Lithuanians lived in Marquette Park. There were very few Mexicans in the neighborhood back in the early 1970s. But that didn’t stop my mother from moving in. I missed my old friends at Back of the Yards, but Marquette Park was a much bigger and better park than Davis Square Park. Marquette Park had a lagoon for fishing, sailing, RC boats. There were plenty of activities at the field house where I eventually joined the Mar Par Chessmen. Years later, I joined the Marquette Park Track Club that was coached by Jack Bolton. There were soccer and baseball leagues. I went there for a wrestling match when I was in the eighth grade. I got to know Marquette Park very well. There were very few Mexicans at the park then.

So, imagine my surprise when I returned with my sons to Marquette Park to release the frog (I bet you thought I forgot all about the frog!).  Over the past few years the neighborhood has been changing. African-Americans started moving in. Now, Mexicans are moving in, too. Whenever I drive through the neighborhood, I see more store signs in Spanish. Since I don’t spend all that much time there, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the park. Marquette Park was filled with mostly Mexicans. Several soccer–actually, fútbol–games were in progress. Unlike the 1970s, all the players were Mexican. Ditto when I drove past the concrete basketball courts. I was also surprised by the Mexican food vendor in the picture above. They sold the usual Mexican food items: elotes, tacos, gorditas, raspados. My son was hungry, so he bought a couple of tacos de carne asada and an elote in a cup. I didn’t even know you could buy elote in a cup! I always buy it on a stick! As Dios intended. But, I’ve also seen pizza in a cup. So why not elote in a cup?

Anyway, we placed the frog (See! I still remember that this post was about the frog!) on the grassy shore of the lagoon and the frog immediately jumped into the water. Live long and prosper!

Holy Cross Church


Holy Cross Church, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I went to Holy Cross Church today after an absence of about thirty-plus years. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew things would be different, but I didn’t quite expect to see so many familiar sights.

Well, to begin with, the church was founded by Lithuanians in Back of the Yards In the early 1900s and they finally built their church in 1913. When I attended Holy Cross in the 1960s, most of the parishioners were Lithuanian. Mexicans were just starting to move into the neighborhood in larger numbers. Mexicans had been moving to Chicago since about the time of the Mexican Revolution around 1910, but they started moving into Back of the Yards in large numbers in the 1930s.  By the time I attended Holy Cross, there were many Mexican parishioners. However, Mexicans also had their own church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, about a half-mile away from Holy Cross.

On Sundays, we usually went to mass at Holy Cross Church, but sometimes our family went to the mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary because the priests said the mass in Spanish. I enjoyed hearing mass in Spanish, so I never complained. Apparently, too many Mexican parishioners from Holy Cross started attending mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary on Sundays. Well, the priests and nuns from Holy Cross didn’t like this at all. Suddenly, we were required to attend Sunday mass at Holy Cross Church. We had to sit with our class and the nuns took attendance. If we didn’t come to Sunday mass at Holy Cross, we had to bring a note from our parents explaining where we were. This was directed at the Mexican students only. But everyone understood the rule. There was no racism involved. If you belonged to a parish and enjoyed the benefits of their Catholic education, you must attend their mass.

Imagine my surprise when I went to Holy Cross Church today and I observed that at least 99% of the people in mass were Mexican, all except the priest who I’m guessing was African and spoke fluent Spanish. The mass was said in Spanish and the children’s choir sang in Spanish to marimba music. I really didn’t expect to see any of my former teachers or classmates, and I didn’t. Well, it turns out that Holy Cross Church and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church have merged since most of the neighborhood is now Mexican.

The new Holy Cross.

I was wondering what the priests and nuns of my school days would say if they saw the church today. Well, at least the church is still alive and well. The Polish parish of Sacred Heart no longer exists. I walked there before mass and was surprised that most of the buildings were demolished and a Chicago public school stood in its place. Holy Cross School no longer exists, but the parish rents out the school building to the Chicago Public Schools. C’est la vie.

Happy Father’s Day!


4405 S. Wood Street, Chicago, Illinois

Happy Father’s Day!

I would especially like to thank my father Diego for being my father. He’s holding my baby brother Joey in the picture and I’m standing next to him. Seated are my brothers Danny, Rick, my sister Delia, and my brother Jerry. My mother isn’t in the picture because she was the photographer. She loved taking pictures of the family!

I can honestly say that the happiest days of my life were when I was a boy living with my family before my parents got divorced. Both my parents were always there for me, although we did have a few misunderstandings. My taught me some carpentry and how to use tools. I would always help fix his cars because he was a mechanic at the Curtis Candy factory. He was proud to be a mechanic. My father respected anyone who was a good carpenter or mechanic by calling them maestro. Thanks to my father, I’m now able to perform many fix-it projects around the house.

As a father myself, I often think of all the things my father did with us and I try to do some of the same things. Sometimes, just being with his children was enough satisfaction and joy for my father, especially after my parents divorced. Even we’re not doing anything together, I’ll often sit in the same room with my sons just to be with them. Occasionally, we’ll start an unexpected entertaining conversation.

My father always asked me for suggestions for trips we could make, and no matter how crazy I thought the idea was, he would take us on the trip. He never made any excuses for not going. So, now I follow my sons’ suggestions. One time, my oldest son was writing a report on Mount Rushmore and we all became interested in the report. My son suggested that we go to Mount Rushmore and we went the following June. Every time I go on vacation with my sons, I always think of my father.

Confessions


Holy Cross Church, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

Some people have more secrets than others. Those who seem to have the most secrets approach me and ask me how I can reveal so much about myself on my blog. Well, I see my blog as a confessional of sorts. This where I purge myself of my past and afterwards feel renewed.

On several occasions, over the past ten years, people have pointed an accusing finger at me and said, “You’re Catholic! What do you think about all the sex scandals in the Catholic church?” Well, the first time, I was caught off-guard by this verbal assault. I didn’t know what to say. I often think about the sex scandals in the church every time I read about them or see them in the news. My whole life has revolved around the Catholic church, either by being an active participant or avoiding it when I didn’t agree with their teachings.

So, I have a confession to make. Despite having spent my whole life actively involved with (or actively avoiding) the church, I have never been sexually molested! And I never witnessed or even suspected anyone of being sexually molested by the Catholic clergy. I don’t deny that the sexual allegations are real. I’m merely saying that I never personally witnessed any or even heard any rumors about any sexual improprieties by the priests or nuns while I was a Catholic student.

At Holy Cross in Back of the Yards where I attended school and church from kindergarten through eighth grade, I was often alone with the Lithuanian priests and nuns. I enjoyed staying after school to help in the classroom with my teachers who were all nuns. I was an altar boy and I was often alone in the sacristy with the priest who said mass. No matter with whom I was, he or she would strike up a conversation and we would talk about school or church. We always had a mutual interest in each other. During my time at Holy Cross, I often thought about becoming a priest because I admired the holiness of the priests and nuns of Holy Cross Church.

After graduating from the eighth grade at Holy Cross School, I began my freshman year at Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Indiana. While visiting DHS in the seventh grade, I was surprised that the seminarians used profanities and were allowed to smoke cigarettes! At Holy Cross these acts were sins and were subject to discipline! After that weekend visit, I decided that I would not attend DHS. However, in the eighth grade, DHS contacted Holy Cross about my attending DHS and Sister Cecilia the principal was so thrilled that I was going to become a priest! So she called my mother with the good news, who was ecstatic that I would become a priest! My pastor also congratulated me on my decision to become a priest when I served mass for him.

No one listened to me when I said that I didn’t want to attend Divine Heart Seminary, nor that I didn’t want to become a priest. But I never said anything bad, or at least what I conceived as “bad,” about the seminary. My fate was sealed. I would attend DHS the following fall. Sister Cecilia announced to my eighth grade class that we were extremely fortunate because we had a vocation in our class. She called my name and I had to stand up at the front of the class so the class could acknowledge me. My life in the eighth grade would never be the same! The girl I had a crush on no longer waited for me after school. When I met up my friends at the park, they would say, “Here comes Father David” and change the subject to something more innocent in the presence of a “priest.”

At DHS, I spent a lot of time alone with priests and brothers. In fact, they were responsible for supervising us. As a teenager, I enjoyed the company of adults who seemed to take a genuine interest in me. We also had to pick a priest for a spiritual adviser. Once a month or so, or more often if necessary, we would meet with our spiritual adviser and discuss our spiritual development. The two of us would be alone in an office for this meeting. Looking back, I suppose this would have been an opportune time for sexual abuse, but nothing of the sort ever happened.

There was another priest that I enjoyed visiting in his office. I spent a lot of time talking to him because I enjoyed talking to him. Once when the Explorers went camping he went with us. He said we could share the same tent. At the campsite, my friends were all having fun in their huge tent, so I said I would set up my sleeping bag with them. The priest I came with said that I had already made a commitment to share a tent with him. I reluctantly put my sleeping bag in his tent. I wasn’t happy about the situation, but I accepted it. That night, I slept with my hand on the handle of my hunting knife. I was angry about having to be in that tent instead of with my friends. Of course, whenever I went camping, I always slept with my hunting knife in my hand. I was a city boy who was dreadfully afraid of the ax murderer!

Years later as an adult, I would look back at this incident and realize that this priest had taught me a valuable lesson about commitment and making promises meant keeping them. In fact, I would often feel guilty that I suspected this priest would do anything to me while we were camping.

Although I didn’t want to attend DHS, I have to admit that I still warmly recall many memories from my seminary days. I left DHS after the Thanksgiving break of my sophomore year. Every time I came home, I would beg my mother not to make me go back. Eventually, after much begging, she agreed to let me stay home.

Now, whenever DHS has a reunion, I always attend. I enjoy meeting my old friends and talking about the good old days. Once I met two of my former classmates for lunch. We were talking about the good times at the seminary. I don’t know why, but I brought up the sex scandals of the Catholic Church and how we had avoided them at DHS. There was an awkward pause. Then, one of my classmates told me how DHS had sexual abuse. They both knew about them. I didn’t ask them how they knew about it. How could I have not known about sexual abuse at DHS? They mentioned two students from our freshman class who didn’t return for their sophomore year. They were molested by the priest with whom I had shared a tent while camping. Then they asked me if I left the seminary because I had been sexually molested at DHS. I was shocked by these revelations and this line of questioning! I was never sexually molested! I left the seminary because I never wanted to attend in the first place! Many students left DHS for a variety of reasons. I’m not sure if I convinced my former classmates that I was never sexually abused, but that’s the honest to God truth.

Well, in the end, I guess I didn’t make any kind of confession, but rather, I spilled my guts.

Mayor Daley


Daley Library, University of Illinois at Chicago

As a lifelong Chicagoan, Mayor Daley has always been part of my life. And by Mayor Daley, I mean both Richard J. Daley and Richard M. Daley. As a boy I lived under the reign of Richard Da First. In Back of the Yards, everyone knew Mayor Daley because his name always appeared on some of our neighborhood programs and in daily conversation. At Holy Cross, the Lithuanian nuns told us how Mayor Daley went to mass every day and therefore a good Catholic and Chicagoan. Mayor Daley was a man of mythic proportions.

When Mayor Richard J. Daley died in 1976, I, along with many of my family and friends, were in shock. Mayor Daley was the only man we had known as The Mayor of Chicago. The last time I had such a feeling was when President Kennedy was assassinated. There was a period of alienation for Chicagoans during the interregnum until the next Mayor Daley was elected.

All true Chicagoans rejoiced when Richard M. Daley was elected mayor. The present Mayor Daley (Richard Da Second) is always highly criticized and panned for his politics and poor diction (like father, like son), but he always gets reelected, in part because of his father’s fame and reputation as good Chicagoan.

My life has crossed paths with the Daley family on many occasions. And I’m extremely thankful for that connection. Even when I’m not thinking about the Daleys, they remind me of their existence in some surprising way. Of course, there are all the signs at the Chicago airports to which Mayor Daley welcomes you. Then when I least expect it, I see another reminder somewhere totally unexpected. Once, when I was studying at the Saint Xavier University Library, I went to admire a stained glass window. I then noticed a small plaque that dedicated this window to Joseph Daley, father of Richard J. Daley who donated the window.

By good fortune, I was assigned to guard the home of Eleanor “Sis” Daley, the widow of Richard J. Daley, when I was a police officer. No police officer wanted to work the detail because it was perhaps the most boring assignment on the job, so as the rookie, I was assigned to sit it front of the house. I was attending UIC and I used to study while in the unmarked car. No one complained because I was always alert and awake and actually guarding the house. Sis once asked me if I was bored out there, so I told her I was going to school and the guard duty allowed me to catch up on my reading. When I finally graduated, somehow I made it into the Chicago Sun-Times for a Chicago profile. Sis saw my profile and asked me to come into her house. She told me that she was proud of me. She said that her husband wanted to build a university in Chicago for students just like me and that was why UIC existed. She said that UIC was Mayor Daley greatest source of pride!

I thought it was a momentous occasion when Mayor Richard J. Daley’s writings went to the UIC library and the library was named after him. Yet another way that Mayor Daley impacted my life!

Casimir Pulaski Day


Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

Today is Casimir Pulaski Day. Pulaski Day is celebrated the first Monday of every March in Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois. I mean “celebrated” as in Pulaski Day is an official government holiday, but Illinois is the only state in the country where it’s an official holiday. In Chicago, it’s technically also an official holiday. However, it’s not a parking meter holiday, so be sure to feed those meters! That also means I can’t go to the Chicago Public Library today because it’s closed today. Chicago Public Schools and the Cook County offices are also closed today. The United States Post Office just delivered my mail, so it’s not a federal holiday. Pulaski is a very important holiday in Chicago because of our large Polish population. In fact, Chicago is the second largest Polish city after Warsaw. 

So who was Casimir Pulaski? He was a cavalry officer who fought for the U.S. Military during the American Revolution. President Barak Obama, a Chicagoan, signed a resolution that made Pulaski a U.S. citizen last November, 230 years after his death. If you know any Chicagoans, you know that U.S. citizenship is topic that is near and dear to their hearts. Hopefully, President Obama will help resolve the problems of living immigrants next!