“…one would think that you all had the same mother”
When it was apparent that he did not have much longer to live, Chickie pleaded with me to return to Chicago…to Taylor Street’s Little Italy.
“These are friends that love me and I love them with all my heart. I have known them all my life. I have a lifetime of memories growing up with them. We knew each other’s mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. My sister Katie once said, ‘You and the guys are so much alike one would think you all had the same mother.’ Please, please, let’s live in Chicago once more. It’s important for me to see my friends again. I can’t move to Chicago on my own. It is up to you. Do this for me.”
Despite the problems it presented for us, I took Chickie back to Chicago. The extensive medical care he needed was free to us as long as we stayed in Arizona. I could not earn a living in Chicago. Not only had waitressing become too difficult for me, I could not take chickie with me to work. In Sun City, I could work as a home care provider at my discretion….whenever and wherever I wanted. This enabled me to either take Chickie with me or I would book close enough to home so I could stop back frequently during the day to check on him. In addition, the degenerative bone disease that further complicated his health problems required that he avoid harsh winter climates like Chicago.
Roberta remained Chickie’s constant companion during his inevitable march toward death. When and how it was destined to end, she knew not. She was, however, braced for the ordeal. Nothing would deter her from remaining at his side during this final journey. Soul mates from the time they first met, she always held close to her heart his first words…words that captured her heart… her soul…her very being for all time.
“I remember the first time I saw you at a distance. It was as if lightning hit me because I knew at that moment I was going to marry you. I knew you were something special. I had to find a way to meet you and talk to you. I can’t imagine going through life and not knowing you…not having you as my soul mate. You are the only thing that matters. You are my heart.”
She had embraced those first words he had spoken to her, so long ago. They were her first glimpse of his soul, this man with the heart of a lion. From that time forward, those words, locked away in her heart, magnified every blissful moment they had together. And it was those same words that sustained her during the trials that lay ahead– “sustaining me till death do us part.”
Roberta knew this was the beginning of Chickie’s final journey toward death. She made arrangements to rent a place and they moved back to Chicago (Berwyn). His physical condition would dictate when they would have to return to Arizona.
Roberta served as his driver and companion as they revisited places that held those precious memories…memories of neighborhood friends. She took him on rides up and down Taylor Street, from Western Ave to Jefferson. They parked at 1022 Taylor Street where he was born and 907 S. Loomis where Roberta had lived. Each time they took the pilgrimage from one end of Taylor Street to the other, the further Chickie was able to reach into the back roads of his memories… memories he had harbored all these years. He knew the guys from Taylor and Halsted, the Goodrich School guys from Sangamon, Peoria and Newberry streets. He also knew the guys who frequented Sheridan Park, the Jane Addams Hull House and the CYO where he trained as a Golden Gloves boxer along with Richie Guererra and Jackie Corvino, also of Golden Gloves fame.
It was at these institutions that they played, trained and socialized. Where the young men from every segment of Taylor Street’s Little Italy bumped into each other. As close as everyone in Taylor Street’s Little Italy was, Chickie’s fondest memories, his reveries, were of the times he spent with the guys from Morgan Street–the Morgan Fads. Beans, Bugsy, Hammer Nose, Steady Eddie, Wacker, Scardone, Tony Paris, Joe Esposito, Nickie Rabbit, Pete the Bear, Fiore, Mcgurgs, Tarquin, Wacko Jack, and on and on and on. Chickie recalled every one of them, nicknames and all.
They visited Greek town, where, while growing up, Chickie had helped his father deliver ice. They also drove to Rush Street. That’s where Chickie took Roberta on their first date. “I remember that Radio was the bar tender at that lounge and Joe Esposito (Joe Skornz) was the police officer who was assigned the Rush Street beat at that time.” They also revisited the Off Track Betting (OTB) parlor.
Chickie: “I loved the meeting of friends there…the action, the smell of cigars, the call of the races.”
It was a glorious time for Chickie. So many beautiful memories were resurrected.
I don’t know if growing up in any other neighborhood was as special as growing up in Chicago’s Taylor Street. For Chickie, it was a special place that produced special friends and a camaraderie that was reflected by Chickie’s sister, Katie, which deserves repeating here, “You and the guys are so much alike that you would think you all had the same mother.”
In the inevitable march towards death, he revisited Taylor Street, his boyhood home. He relived his life and touched, for the final time, the friendships made there. Chickie and Roberta also revisited the scene where they once pledged their undying love for each other. Their trip to Mt Caramel Cemetery, where Chickie’s parents, brothers and sisters are buried, signaled the end of his farewell tour. They returned to Arizona.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I arrived at the rehab center at 7am. John is lying on the floor on front of his wheel chair. I rang for the nurse.
Chickie: “I know that I am dying. I’m not afraid of death. I am afraid, though, to leave you alone.”
Roberta: “I’ll be OK, Chickie.” We embraced and held on to each other. No words were spoken. A lifetime of memories passed between us.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
I pressed my body to his in order to keep him in the chair. The strength of the spasms is causing the wheelchair to bounce. Talking to John, I said, “it will be over soon…I’ve got you…I won’t let you go.” The spasms ceased. He was exhausted. I stood up to catch my breath. He beckoned me to come closer, kissing me twice on the lips. “I love you Roberta; I’ve always loved you.” I replied, “I love you too, Chickie. I’ve always been so proud of you.” He gave me a Mona Lisa smile and nodded that he wanted to go to bed. This was the last conversation between us.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Serious complications had set in and Chickie was transferred from the Boswell Rehabilitation center to the hospital. Father Joe of St. Clement of Rome gave Chickie the Last Sacraments. I stayed overnight in his room.
I should not dare to leave my friend, my husband.
Because…because, if he should die
While I was gone and I…too late…
Should reach the heart that wanted me;
If I should disappoint the eyes
That hunted, hunted so to see,
And could not bear to shut until
They noticed me…
Monday, March 27, 2006
Lying on his left side, he was staring at me. I could tell he was cognizant, but he could not speak. I said, “Ti amo; cora mi…cora mi.” He made a throaty sound; his eyes glazed once.
The nurse came into the room, “I have John’s (Chickie’s) morphine.” “He died,” I said…and asked that she close the door behind her.
Chickie died at 4:45 p.m. Cause of death: internal hemorrhaging. Something broke inside of him and it wasn’t his heart, although functioning at only 15% of its former strength. Chickie had the heart of a lion. He was so brave…so courageous.
I closed Chickie’s eyes and laid down beside him. Placing his right arm round me, I held him in my arms and sobbed. Two nurses came into the room to verify that Chickie was dead. (Confirmation of death requires 2 nurses or a doctor. The doctor never came.) Another nurse entered the room and said she was required to clean the body before the driver from the funeral home comes to take the body. I told her I would bathe him. After I had bathed Chickie, I put his arm around me, held him in my arms and wept. It was three hours since Chickie passed away. I felt a hand on my shoulder and I was told that the driver from the funeral home had arrived. I watched as Chickie was put on a gurney. I ran through the hallways and took the elevator to the ground floor, ran through the parking lot to my car and drove to the hospital receiving dock in time to follow the hearse to the funeral home.