Out Loud: The pilgrimage
With the beginning of baseball season approaching, my father has apparently become restless.
“I don’t know what to do with myself anymore,” he said to me once over the phone. “The essence of being a Cubs fan was sticking with them no matter how bad they were. It feels different now.”
I would’ve rolled my eyes into the back of my head a year ago, but one 28 hour stint in Chicago transformed my views on family, the Cubs and baseball as a whole.
The journey began on Thursday, Nov. 4. I was idly sitting in Perkins with a friend, lamenting that I hadn’t bought tickets to Game Seven of the World Series, which had come to a historical close the night before when the Chicago Cubs, my father, my grandfather and my great grandfather’s beloved team, won for the first time in 108 years.
“So?” my friend said. “Go to the parade.”
Five minutes after the idea was planted, I purchased two last minute plane tickets to Chicago and called my partner in spontaneity, Tara, to let her know she was flying to Chicago at 5 a.m. the next day.
At our gate, I was surprised to see scores of bleary-eyed Philadelphians adorned in Cubs’ red and blue stumble into the terminal.
“I have been waiting a long, long time for this!” one middle aged man strolled in and yelled. The gathered crowd cheered as the man walked over and joined the growing group of strangers that was reliving the final game.
After the plane touched down, Tara and I found ourselves in the front row for the victory parade. The seven million other people who had descended upon the city were at our backs, and we were face to face with the moment masses had waited a century for.
Post-parade we navigated to Wrigley Field. It was different there.
The rest of the city was abuzz with an effervescent bliss. Jazz bands had set up in the middle of the streets and were playing for dancing throngs. Colorful flags flew above exuberant crowds of strangers who were arm in arm, singing.
Wrigleyville, however, was eerily quiet despite all of the people milling about — making too much noise would’ve been sacrilege. The only evidence of the million-person party elsewhere was the spray painted goat on a leash.
On the brick buildings surrounding Wrigley there were hundreds of names written in chalk. Each one was a Cubs fan who did not get to see the team win it all in their lifetime.
This is what I came to do. I located chalk and scratched my great-grandfather’s name on the wall overlooking the sanctum where his hallowed team played.
I sent a picture to my father, who immediately called me.
I could hear immediately that my normally stoic dad was choked up.
“Katie,” he said. “You know how much it means to me that you did that… I think that it’s so important that Grandpa Nails is represented there today. I have to say I’m really emotional right now.”
I bought into the Cubs hype beforehand, but it was only then that I really understood.
This whole thing — the parades, the bands and the flags — they weren’t really about the sport or even about winning a competition.
It was about carrying on a century-old tradition and honoring family. It was about people in a city divided by race, religion and politics having a reason to literally dance in the streets.
With Chicago street jazz announcing my departure, a box of Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza in hand and a deeper understanding of my own roots, I returned home the next morning leaving behind a city united.