This used to be our playground

Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Mom's crab tree, 1984
Mom’s crab tree, 1984
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Mom with Beth outside - 1973
Mom with Beth outside – 1973
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital - 1970
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital – 1970
Grandma on Dad's chair, 1970
Grandma on Dad’s chair, 1970
The family in front of the house for Beth's first communion - 1982
The family in front of the house for Beth’s first communion – 1982

Last night, my sister went up to Kenosha for the closing on our family home, where our family has lived since 1966. It’s the only home Beth and I knew from our growing up years until today.

Last year, after we moved my mom into her new home, we spent months cleaning (and cleaning) the house, getting the things we wanted out of it, and planning and executing an estate sale with the incredible help of The Balderdash Collection. In November we put the house on the market, and yesterday it was sold. Pretty incredible when you consider the market today.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in at the house and took one last walk around. Although it was completely empty, I still could see everything the way it was, and I could remember things that happened in every nook and cranny. Where I’d listen to my music. Where my mom would sit and look at the crab tree in the front yard. Where we sat at the dinner table. Where we’d sit and watch TV as a family after dinner. Where my sister and I played together and made up silly games. Where fights happened. Where good and bad news was learned. Where my Dad died. They all happened there.

It’s hard to say goodbye to a place as special as this… but it’s time. We have a lot of wonderful memories there, and we’ll never forget those. But now it’s time for new memories.  In new places.  And now, someone else can make memories in our old home.  I hope it has as many good things in store for them as it had for us.

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Baseball, Boys and Dads

Today was opening day for the Chicago Cubs.

To most of you that’s not a big deal. In fact, I’m sure there are a good number of you who read that first line and said “Who cares?”

Well to this baseball fan, it’s a big deal. Because baseball means more than just nine guys running around a field hitting a ball with a wooden stick. It’s because, for the most part, boys and dads have a sort of innate relationship around baseball. Sometimes that relationship blossoms into a loving and wonderful coexistence; and sometimes it harbors a lifetime of regret and/or agony.

For me, the relationship between me, my Dad and baseball has almost always been a positive one. I remember playing catch with him in the backyard and going to the park to hit a few line drives (which were probably only bloopers but to me they were line drives.) I was never much good at playing the game, but I definitely recall the first few trips we made to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play.

One of my fondest memories is during our second visit to Wrigley Field. I was probably about 8 or so and my sister was 6. We were seated in the main grandstand area, to the right of home plate, just under the upper grandstand. They were pretty great seats. I had my program and my Cubs baseball cap, and my sister was sporting her trademark Cubs fisherman’s cap which was so cute on her little head. Mom and Dad were reviewing the lineup with us, getting us ready to start keeping score for the game.

I looked up and saw a mob of people forming from the Cubs dugout, walking up toward the stairs of the grandstand. In the mob I could see Jack Brickhouse, the legendary Cubs broadcaster. I knew he was probably just finishing the “Lead-Off Man” interview with one of the players and was heading up to the announcer’s booth in the Mezzanine. The only way to get there was through the crowd, so every time he made the trek, he would be besieged by autograph seekers.

I asked my dad for a pen, and he found one for me. In a flash, I grabbed my program and took off. I could hear my dad calling after me, “Ricky! Get back here! RICKY! You’ll never find your way back!” But I knew where I was going. I ran after the mob, and followed them down the stairs into the concourse. Just after turning to the right, I reached the the mob and tunneled my way between the legs of the taller fans. I got right up to Jack Brickhouse, smiled with my toothless smile, and said, “Mr. Brickhouse, can I have your autograph?”

Jack replied, “Sure, little fella!” and grabbed my program and signed it with my felt-tip pen. I looked at the signature, said “Wow! Thanks!” and dashed back to the seats.

When I got back, my dad was fuming and my mom was frantic. “We thought we’d never find you! How did you find your way back?” they cried.

I responded quite confidently, “I knew where I was going!” and not another word was spoken about it.

Throughout my dad’s and my life together, baseball remained as a constant in an otherwise symbiotic relationship. No matter what else was going on in our lives, we could always fall back upon what the Cubs were doing that year, or what bonehead moves the management made that would plunge the season into another fit of despair.

As I said before, I wasn’t much of a player. I did play on a Little-League type team in grade school, but I wasn’t all that good. I was always stuck in right field, and I spent more time picking dandelions than running after base hits. Dad, of course, was furious with me and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t a better player– but I assured him that it wasn’t because I didn’t like the game — I just didn’t enjoy playing it as much as I enjoyed watching it.

So that’s why, when the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus started rehearsing the song “What You’d Call A Dream” from the little-known off-Broadway play called “Diamonds,” I was struck by how much meaning the game has in so many people’s lives. Whether you’re the greatest or worst player, or whether you ever made the game-winning hit or cost a team the game; there’s something special and meaningful about the relationship between fathers, sons and baseball that can never be broken.

So this Friday and Saturday, when I’m on stage, choking back tears during that song, I will remember the trips to Wrigley Field; the days playing catch in the summer sun; the baseball cards and team rosters, and his recollections of years past; the afternoons watching WGN and Jack Brickhouse– and later, Harry Caray– call the games; and the good times–and bad– that revolved around the game.

What You’d Call A Dream

There are two men out, and its in the ninth, and the score is four to three
There’s a man at first, and a man at bat, and the man at bat is me
And I’m sorta scared, and I’m sorta proud, and I’m stronger than I seem
And I take a swing, and my dad is there, and its what you’d call a dream

For the ball flies in the sun, and it sails off as I run
The crowd is roaring, cheering as I go, so are all the guys on the team
And I run for home, and we win the game, and its what you’d call a dream
And the sun shines like diamonds
The summer sun shines like diamonds
The summer sun, high in a baseball sky, shines like diamonds
And the sun shines like diamonds

There are two men out, and its in the ninth, and the score is four to three
There’s a man at first, and a man at bat, and the man at bat is me
And it’s what you’d call
A dream.

Holy CRAP! I REALLY AM going to be an UNCLE!

This past Sunday my mom and my sister’s mother-in-law planned a mini baby shower for just the family so that my sister could get a jump start on all the things she needs for the babies.  Since Beth was put on bed rest so early, they had to cancel the plans for a big, all-out shower with family and all of her friends because there was simply no way she could attend it.

But as the days and months went on, Beth suddenly realized that she needed those things.  Baby clothes, baby towels, blankets, bibs, bassinets, bowls, bottles… everything in twos (or more), and just about anything and everything else that starts with the letter “B” and then some.

So the Grandmas went into full panic mode, which means they calmly contacted all of our cousins and my brother-in-law’s cousins and family and got the word out that a “mini” shower would be held at my Beth and Geoff’s house.  Thankfully, everyone came through with flying colors.

Now usually baby showers aren’t my thing.  I may be gay, but the whole process of opening gifts and everyone going “Awwwww it’s another blankie!” or “Awwww isn’t that cuuuute?  A breast pump!”  gets a little weird for me.  So I initially didn’t plan on going to the mini-shower because, for one, I figured it would be like that; and for another, I kind of wasn’t invited.  (The original intention was to have all the female members of the family there.)

But then reality hit me like a sledgehammer:

“Hey dumbass, you’re these babies’ uncle.  You need to be there.

Which was followed by the shining realization:

“HOLY CRAP!  I REALLY AM GOING TO BE AN UNCLE!”

Granted, I’m not the ONLY uncle, but I AM the ONLY uncle on my sister’s side of the family.  And that carries a hell of a lot of responsibility.  Which included getting my uncle-butt over to my sister’s house to be at her shower, with a gift in tow.

I wanted to get her something she really needed, so I called my mom for guidance.  She told me they still needed a second bassinet, so I placed the order and scheduled it to be delivered to their house.  It didn’t make it in time for the shower, so I printed out a picture of it and put it in the card I brought, with a note saying it would probably be delivered very soon.  It arrived today.

The shower itself was really nice.  I saw some of my cousins that I haven’t seen in quite a while and a few other people I hadn’t seen in a very long time.  Mom made barbeque beef, which was delicious and there was a lot of food for everyone to go around.  My cousin brought her daughters and everyone enjoyed playing with and holding the baby.

Beth stayed in her recliner almost the whole time.  She’s a 30 weeks now and is starting to get uncomfortable very quickly.  The babies are moving around a LOT, which of course is wonderful news.  They’re healthy and very much on schedule.   At their last ultrasound, Baby “A” was determined to be just over three pounds and Baby “B” was just shy of three pounds.  Six pounds of baby and more to come.  Yikes.

It’s just amazing to see this happening to my little sister.  It’s been such a difficult road to get to this point– from failures to successes to scary moments to hopeful happiness.  She’s so ready to have those babies, and we’re all excited to have them, too.  But we want to have them when they’re ready– and not a moment sooner.

And when they do arrive, their Uncle Rick will be there with Grandma Jill, probably crying our eyes out with joy.

I probably won’t be having any kids of my own, so these little girls are all I have.  I want them to know that their Uncle Rick is going to love them unconditionally and will be a big part of their lives.

It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that I’m going to be an uncle very soon.  But I think when the moment arrives, I’m going to be the best darn uncle those little girls could ever have wished for.  They deserve it, and so does their Mom and Dad.  And with their Grandmas here on earth and their Grandpas in heaven watching over them, they are going to be so very loved.

Pretty lucky little kids, I’d say.