Friday, November 5, 2010

38 Hours In Chicago

I just arrived home from a whirlwind trip to Chicago. I was there for the day to attend the funeral of Danny Casas. Uncle Danny as I always called him was the father of my close friend Alan. Danny and his wife Merle were close, life-long friends of my mother and father and Danny was also a fraternity brother of my dad’s when they went to Roosevelt University in Chicago together.

I worked all day Wednesday. Craig Boston our Sales Manager led the team through an outstanding strategy session that day where we brainstormed great ideas for 2011. I left the meeting and headed to the airport where I flew to Chicago and arrived at midnight. A quick cab ride and I was at home with my parents. Things haven’t changed in 51 years, my mother was waiting up for me when I arrived. We talked a while and I went to bed.

After about three hours sleep, I awoke and was off to the airport again to pick up my friend Roger who was flying in on the red-eye from Los Angles. After picking up Roger at six AM, we went to the Doubletree Hotel and picked up another friend Scott (who lives in LA too) who coincidentally was already in Chicago on business.

Just like high school, with Roger and Scott and me driving my father’s car we were off to meet another friend Ken at Walker Brothers The Original Pancake House in Wilmette for breakfast. It was only seven o’clock in the morning and we were all together, just like we were thirty five years ago. And yes we had an apple pancake! And yes it was GREAT! We caught up, all expressed our sadness about Alan’s loss, yet we were having a good time and enjoying each others company the same way we did when we were kids in school.

After breakfast I dropped everyone off so we could get ready for the funeral. I went home had a quick nap, some conversation with my mother and father, a shower and I was off again to pick up Scott and Roger to go to the funeral home.

We had a dilemma? It was noon, the funeral started at one, we were a little hungry again and none of us had eaten a hotdog or beef sandwich since we arrived in Chicago. Did we have time to grab a dog and still get to the service on time? My parents were emphatic that we get there early and my mother was going to save us seats. Scott, always the wise one and the voice of reason said it was going to be a long day, we had the funeral, then the ride to the cemetery and the burial and we needed to eat something! Made sense, didn't have to twist my arm!

This will come as no surprise, we went to Portillo’s, I did something that I have never done before in my life. I ordered a hotdog plain with nothing on it, just a dog and a bun, no relish, or onions, peppers, tomato, mustard or celery salt. There was a method to my madness. I did not want to smell like a hotdog all day or drip mustard on my white shirt, tie or suit.

It took a little bit longer than we had calculated to get our order. When the food came, we devoured it! We had to have broken the land speed record for eating our feast. Roger had a dog with the works and Scott had the wettest Italian Beef sandwich I have ever seen and it smelled GOOD! We all shared an order of fries since we did not want to over do it. By the way, we were only five minutes late and arrived at the funeral home at 12:35.

When we arrived, there was a receiving line to pay your condolences to the family. We walked around the side, went right to the front to see Alan. We paid our respects and apologized for being a couple of minutes late for his dad’s funeral; we came clean with Alan and told him we stopped for some dogs. He wasn’t mad that we were late; he was disappointed that we did not bring him one.

The funeral was a traditional Jewish service. The Cantor spoke, sang and recited prayers in Hebrew. Alan’s sister Cindy spoke eloquently and delivered a wonderful, heartfelt eulogy about her father. She made us laugh and made us cry and evoke our own individual memories of her father.

Following the service, a procession was formed and we drove all the way to the south west side of Chicago to one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the City. It was a long drive using surface streets, taking over an hour to get there as we wound our way through the different neighborhoods of Chicago. As always, Scott was right, glad we had the hotdogs.

When we arrived at the cemetery it was cloudy, cold with a few raindrops. We all gathered around Uncle Danny’s grave, more prayers and more tears. Then, remarkably, as if on cue as the casket was being lowered into the ground, the sun forced its way through the clouds and it was bright and beautiful outside. No doubt this was some sort of sign.

As is tradition, we all preformed a “mitzvah” by helping shovel the dirt on top of the casket. As the casket was being covered with dirt the clouds came back and it started to rain harder and harder. Another sign I'm sure.

After the cemetery we all drove back north to Deerfield and went back to Cindy’s house to sit “Shiva” the custom of bereavement where visitors pay a visit to the mourners, share stories about the deceased, and are generally there to comfort the mourners and each other. There is typically a lot of good food. This was certainly the case at Cindy’s house. There were some outrageous deli platters. All of my favorites from corned beef to Chopped liver, rye bread, kosher salami, dill pickles, egg salad also, cookies, pastries, chocolate covered pretzels, candy nuts and more. Most importantly, it was a gathering of good friends and family reminiscing about Uncle Danny, old times and catching up on years gone by.

Shiva was over close to 10p and we still owed Alan that hotdog from earlier in the day. While none of us were really that hungry, Alan, Roger and I decided to go to the new Super Dawg in Wheeling and just relax. Old habits are hard to break. Just like the old days, we would end our nights out with either a slice of pizza or a hotdog. This night would be no different. Alan told us as we were coming home from our Vienna indulgence that his father would have been proud of us for being together and having a dog that evening!

I have come to the conclusion that Jews like to medicate themselves with food! Maybe it’s just me… “I don’t think so….”

Back home to my folk’s house by midnight. Guess what? My mother was waiting up for me and wanted to debrief me on the entire day. Finally, went to bed by one and slept until ten this morning. Then, my mom and dad drove me to the airport. On the way we had a quick pit-stop for lunch. No hotdog, actually had a chicken gyro (very good). After a nap on the plane, landed in Phoenix at three-thirty and Home Sweet Home!

All in all, it was a nice day yesterday. A very nice day! A special day! How could that be, we were there for a funeral? There in lies the paradox. Good things come out of sad situations. It was a nice day because friends and family from near and far were all together, reminiscing, reconnecting, catching up and celebrating, celebrating a life!

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