Aria Calda: Sta Venendo!

My mother died more than two and a half years ago. Her mother, Anna Lazzara, named her Susan, because she was born so close to the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Italian word for assumed is assunta. Ma’s surname was Parello; grandma had a different last name because she was one of the rare women of her generation and station in life to divorce her husband. Grandma was a tough old bird and so, in her own way, was Ma. In fact, she made it her life’s work to keep her marriage together through, as I like to characterize it, thin and thin. Ma’d brag about how everybody told her she and my Daddy-o, Joe Glab, would never make it. He was 20, she 16. In fact, she and he had to run away to Indiana to get married because a 16 year old girl could do so in the Hoosier State as long as a relative over 21 signed for her. Somehow, she’d convinced Uncle Louie and his Polish-American wife, Aunt Vera, to accompany her and Dad over the state line. Maybe they did so because my father was a first-generation Polish-American as well.

Anyway, Ma loved to say, “I showed ’em” — especially after all but one of her siblings’ marriages ended in divorce.

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Ma & Dad, 1945

Ma made it to 92 which is a good long life. She’d accomplished everything she’d ever wanted. She’d owned a home. She paid all her bills. She saved enough to take care of her husband and herself through their retirement years. She had enough left over to bestow a nice little chunk of change on each of her surviving kids. She got all four kids through high school and even steered one through college. None of us spent too much time behind bars, for which I guarantee she thanked her god every night of her life. She did lose one of her kids, the eldest, Frances, to cancer (although Franny herself reached the age of 68, which is within shouting distance of a good long life.)

Ma even learned to drive when she was in her 70’s. And, to her eternal credit, she gave up driving as soon as her mind and reflexes began to slow down.

Had she been able to deliver a valedictory, she’d have said, “It’s time. I’ve had enough. There’s nothing more for me to do.”

But she’d have misspoken. Her passion in life, passed down to me, was the Chicago Cubs.

One of my fondest memories of childhood — hell, my fondest, period — was coming home from school on a spring day and seeing her hunched over her big bread pan, kneading away at the dough for half a dozen loaves of bread, enough for the week. Ma was intense; she’d plunge one fist after another into that dough with the force of a Cassius Clay right hook. Her mouth would be pinched into a determined O.

“Hey, Ma…,” I’d begin, either to ask to go out or maybe, first, cadge a piece of last week’s remaining loaf, toasted and buttered the way I loved it.

“Just a minute,” she’d snap. “I’m busy. I’ve got seven minutes (of kneading) left.”

So, I’d sit at the kitchen table and wait. Her little Sears Silvertone transistor radio would be on, tuned to WGN, the voices of Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau at Wrigley Field describing how badly the Cubs were losing that day.

The smell of fresh bread dough and the sounds of the Cubs game — and my mother’s love — became intertwined. Heaven, I imagined, would be nothing more than a seat in the upper deck of Wrigley Field on a sunny May day with the wind blowing out.

To this day, I still keep transistor radios around the house. They’re archaic, sure, but they were good enough for Ma and so they’re good enough for me.

Ma’s Cubs finally became good for a spell beginning in the late 1960s. By 1969, they were powerful enough to race through the National League, taking an eight and a half-game lead over the New York Mets who, in their entire history had never enjoyed a winning season and whom, everyone knew, weren’t nearly good enough to supplant the Cubs atop the standings.

Ma was beside herself with glee. She’d actually shout “Yay!” when Banks or Williams or Santo would hit a home run. She’d clap, even if she thought she were alone in the house, and comment, “Thata boy!” as whichever hero of the moment crossed home plate.

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Euphoria At Wrigley, August 19, 1969

Of course, the Cubs lost that year to the Miracle Mets. Ma turned glum as summer turned to fall. “They’ll never do it now,” she’d say after it’d become clear the Cubs were suffering a collapse of historic proportions. She meant not only would the Cubs not turn their fortunes around that year, but any year to follow. She’d repeat that curse every year thereafter. “If they couldn’t do it in ’69,” she’d pronounce, “they’ll never do it.”

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The Black Cat, Shea Stadium, New York, September 9, 1969

Still, she wished and dreamed and hoped. And she listened to her Cubs on her transistor radio until the end of her life. A life spent without once seeing her beloved Cubs win a World Series — something one team must do (it’s right there in the rules!) every single year. Not the Cubs though. “They’ll never do it,” Ma’d intone, but she never turned that radio off.

Now, this year, today, the Cubs are the elite team of Major League Baseball. They lead their division, as of this Labor Day, the traditional demarcation point when the games become deadly serious, by a whopping 16 and a half games. No other team in the sport comes within six wins of their total of 88. They will win more than a hundred games this year for the first time since 1935. Nineteen-goddamned-thirty-five. FDR was president. Adolf Hitler had only been Germany’s chancellor for a little than a year and a half. Among the things not yet invented in 1935 were the jet engine, the ballpoint pen, aerosol spray cans, kidney dialysis, the electronic computer, velcro, the credit card, the birth control pill, the television remote, and the transistor radio itself, for chrissakes.

I have a sneaking suspicion Ma would have admitted they can do it this year.

I wish I could say to her, “It’s coming!” Ergo today’s headline: Sta Venendo!

Of course, that line is preambled by Aria Calda — this site’s unofficial motto. Hot air.

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