Two street corners in the magnificent city of Chicago host the memories of my grandparents in a perfect geo-spiritual symphony performed by Bocelli or Hamlisch or Sinatra, composed by Gershwin or Berlin, and quintessentially conducted by Barenboim. West Pratt & North Richmond and East Oak & North Michigan. Both couples remained Chicagogüenses: born on the West Side in the early 1920s, hard-working, honest, funny and for some special reason flowing with unconditional love towards me. These ancient souls championed more than sixty years of marriage, love and respect for each other and perpetually exist in my thoughts and prayers. The street corners where they lived are precious reminders of what was lost with their passing and the gratitude of having been gracefully touched by their lives. Before our marriage, I considered my greatest attribute to be the role of grandson. Now, I am a husband to my soulmate and a father to our precious baby boys.
At West Pratt and North Richmond, we breathe deeply with my maternal grandparents. Kiddy corner with a new Hasidic synagogue, we carefully approach the street and enter their house. Ama serves tuna sandwiches on toasted whole wheat bread, or baba ganoush on matzah, or cucumber tomato cream cheese sandwiches on challah, and delicious watermelon around the 4th of July. My boys feel my Papa’s scratchy trim beard and receive a hug with his enormous arms. In the dining room, Papa tells us a joke about a Jewish cowboy and Ama plays Oyfn Pripetshik on piano. Ama and Papa are overjoyed.
At North Michigan and East Oak, we admire the majesty of a green skyscraper. The memory of my paternal grandparents rests peacefully on the 37th floor kiddy corner with The Drake. Ascending in the speed elevator, we emerge to gaze at Bubby’s radiant smile as she opens the door to greet us. Inside, we use binoculars to view Oak Street Beach and the endless Lake. My Poppy makes us laugh and sings the melody for In a Little Spanish Town. We eat extra-lean corned beef sandwiches on kaiser rolls with mustard, pickles and Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry pop. We see beautiful artwork collected from decades of travel. Together, we dance side to side and admire the kinetic Agam acquired on my bar mitzvah trip to Israel. My sons touch my great-grandfather’s Hebrew Old Testament he carried in the Navy during World War I. The boys marvel at the hand-crafted, leather wise man reading a book and seated in a meditative stance in a glass case. Bubby and Poppy are overjoyed.
Legacies they left are street corner memories and old Chicago mailing addresses. Their souls undoubtedly intercede in the celestial realms for our health, wealth and success. Just as the two streets connected in a subtle and eloquent way, my love connects us with them. Remembered joy softly emanates from the root of my soul to my wife and sons.
Photography by Michaela Filkin