Travis Erwin posted the idea that each of us oddly assorted bloggers should take Mondays to post about our hometowns... I don’t think he knew exactly what he was asking for, but here goes....
I grew up in Cicero, Illinois and I’m oddly proud of that fact.... the best way to describe my hometown is rough around the edges. We are an odd combination of hardworking salt of the earth and hardnosed cretins. I learned the fundamentals of baseball on the corner, using the curbs as bases and a perfectly placed sewer as second... the corner house wound up with a lot of broken windows and the ragtag assortment of neighborhood kids wound up with permanent scars from sliding on concrete – being afraid to slide would have earned you more scars. Louisville sluggers are still better than aluminum, in case you’re ever wondering...
My town is best known for racism and Al Capone.... there’s an interesting combination to live down, so the attitude becomes an ever present chip on your shoulder because you know, from the jump, most people have a judgment before you open your mouth... opening your mouth is another problem – for those of you not from Chicago, the accent is fairly atrocious in certain areas... Cicero has about the worst of the bunch... if you’ve ever heard a Cicero accent, you will recognize it anywhere – people from other places sometimes confuse it with Brooklyn, but I think ours is actually worse... and no, everyone in Chicago does not have this weird bit of language skewing, just a few neighborhoods. If you’re wondering, my Cicero-eeze is pretty bad... so bad in fact that I’ve passed it down to my children... My daughter was giving my son a little spelling quiz one day, my son was about six at the time... the conversation went like this:
Daughter: Spell tree.
Daughter: No, I said TREE
Son: That’s what I said, T-H-R-E-E
Daughter: No, not tree, like one two tree, Tree, like where a bird builds a nest!
Son: I’M NOT PLAYING WITH YOU ANYMORE!!!!
For all of its foibles, and there were many, Cicero was a great place to grow up. The title to this post will tell you a lot of what you need to know, every single person from Cicero is a character, with a story and an odd sense of humor... each one is unique. If you've ever read Stephanie Plum novels, I swear to you Trenton and Cicero are twin towns.
When I run into people now who were from Cicero or Berwyn, it always comes down to which Parish they were from... which streets they hung out on, and we almost always know people in common... ate at the same places, loved the ices at Freddie’s. We were all the same, then, kids with dirt under our nails and a sarcastic sense of humor. Every kid I grew up with had heart – they all did, every one of them. For every classmate and kid down the street I remember, there’s at least one instance where they put their friends first, where they put their own wants or needs to the side and did something noble, even if it was just something small... like standing up to a bigger kid – usually one with a bat or knife, or in later years, worse. Every one of them was the same as me, just as important, just as valid, with just as much to give to the people who loved them and the ones they loved.
I often think about my neighborhood when I watch the movie Angels with Dirty Faces For those of you who have never seen it, it’s an old Cagney movie with the Bowery Boys in it. Cagney plays a gangster who just came out of jail and his best friend is now a priest who tries to keep the Bowery Boys on the straight and narrow... Cagney’s character did his first stint in juvenile for something he did with the priest... and there’s a scene toward the end where the priest says something along the lines of, ‘there but for the grace of God goes I...’ and ‘spare a prayer for the kid who couldn’t run as fast as I could...’
Sad to say, there are a lot of great kids that I grew up with who didn’t make it into adulthood, and more that didn’t see thirty. Back then, I thought it was a great neighborhood, and there really are a lot of great people who came out of there – but it wasn’t the safest or best place to grow up... there were shootings and stabbings, a lot of people got into drugs and generally fell down a slippery slope... I know more than my share of people who died too young or wound up in jail, sometimes they just didn’t have a shot and sometimes it takes more than heart to make it through the obstacles life throws at you... sometimes it’s just dumb luck, or maybe it’s providence.
The most recent of Cicero’s citizens to make the news was Catalina Garcia She was a 20 year old student who died in the shootings at NIU this past Valentine’s day... She was a graduate of Morton East High School whose parents still live in Cicero – I don’t know Catalina, you won’t find much about her in the news because the media is too busy discussing the shooter – but I do know this is a girl who beat the odds getting to NIU, this is a girl whose parents worked damn hard to make sure she had a head on her shoulders in a neighborhood that often didn’t... this is a girl who deserves to be remembered because she earned it in honest work and determination...
These shootings leave me cold – now the media is focusing on gun control... it’s not the issue, it’s a political rally cry and a way to divert people’s attention from the fact that there are some things in this world we just can’t control... if you want my opinion, I think the media should be more responsible in their coverage of these events... I’m sure the shooter has a story, but he doesn’t need twenty headlines... Why don’t you memorialize the people who deserved better instead of building up role models for nut jobs of the future? As far as gun control, Illinois is already ridiculous with its gun laws – it won’t stop anyone, there are other ways to kill people. And even if you do put more laws on the books, those only stop law abiding citizens... criminals really don’t care how illegal it is.