September 20, 2014

An open letter to Chicago’s archbishop-elect Blase Cupich

Dear Archbishop-elect Cupich: Eat at Burger King. By yourself. In street clothes. If you want to get to know Chicago and those of us who live here, go to the Burger King on Lawrence Avenue, just west of Western Avenue. And, as you’re eating your Whopper, watch the Mexican-American family that is likely to be eating there. The father is just off work, and you can see the weariness drip off of him. He’s got some menial job — in a factory, or as a bus boy, or perhaps in the kitchen at another Burger King. Those are jobs without much dignity in our American culture, but, with his family, he holds his head high, and his kids chatter with him with great love and respect. Listen to the two gray-haired, gray-bearded Serbian guys. Unless you’re a polyglot, you’re not going to be able to guess what they’re saying, but you can tell they’ve got strong opinions. Look at the elderly man in a tie, white shirt and dark suit. He always sits alone at one of those small tables along a wall and does a crossword puzzle. If you glance around, you’re likely to see some Asian-Americans, a homeless […]
September 19, 2014

Book review: “Treasures of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library,” edited by Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein

My suspicion is that you don’t know that there was an Abraham Lincoln II. I hadn’t until I read Treasures of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, edited by Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, a spirited and beautifully illustrated book about some of the cool stuff in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. Turns out that Abraham Lincoln II, called “Jack” by family and friends, was the only son of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only one of the 16th President’s four sons to reach adulthood. An important figure in Chicago and in national government during the late 19th century, Robert was the American ambassador to Great Britain in 1889. Jack was in boarding school there when a cut on his arm grew infected, and, within a few months, he was dead at the age of 16. His grieving parents had a death mask made (just as a death mask had been made of his assassinated grandfather), and, from that, Theophilius Fisk Mills created a mournful 25-inch-tall porcelain bust of the boy that is now one of the Library’s treasures. Another teeenager Another treasure has to do with another teenager, an alert 14-year-old named Ronald D. Rietveld who, in 1952, was […]
September 18, 2014

Book review: “The Book of Bebb” by Frederick Buechner

Miriam is dying. Her twin brother Antonio has brought to her hospital room her two young sons 12-year-old Chris and 10-year-old Tony. Her ex-husband Charlie, whose idea of a good time is getting a lot of sleep, opts out of the visit, just as later he will opt out of having much of a funeral for Miriam. Charlie Blaine didn’t want to make any fuss about death any more than he wanted to make any fuss about life. His idea was to get through with both as quietly and painlessly as possible, with plenty of long naps along the way. The two boys, awkward and clueless, don’t know what to say, and neither do Miriam and her brother. The visit fritters along with its only bright point a sudden and excited recapitulation by Tony of the Abbott and Costello movie he’d seen on TV the night before. Later, though, when it is time to go, Tony seems wilted, giving an enormous yawn and knuckling his eyes. Perhaps it is because this action reminds Miriam of her ex-husband or of her own approaching death, but she reacts sharply, directly. “Now you stay awake, Tony,” she says. “You just keep your eyes […]
September 7, 2014

Poem: How to throw bricks

Pavement cave-in around manhole. Excavated on the fallen side of the brick chimney to the deep sewer. A small pit, earth here, damaged brick tower there. Mason climbs down with mortar bucket. Summer laborer, son of friend of legislator, throws bricks. “Hey!” Not like that. Two bricks pressed together with laborer’s two hands, pressed together with hands, firm and soft. Swung down in languid, forward movement. The press-together holds. Mason catches them with his two hands, pressing them still together, soft and firm. Stacks them. Patrick T. Reardon 9.7.2014
September 5, 2014

Books that remain in my heart and head

On Facebook, Andy Bourgeois posted a list of books that had stayed with him, and suggested that several people, including me, do the same. Andy is a real-world friend of mine. We played basketball every week for about five or six years, and we’d often talk about books. I love trying to come up with a list like this. On the one hand, it’s impossible. What about the books that just don’t come to mind immediately? How do I draw the line between number 10 and number 11? But the sheer impossibility of it makes it fun because whatever I come up with is not the final word, not by a longshot. If I try to come up with a list tomorrow or a month from now or a year from now, other books will elbow their way into the top 10 and some on this list will fall off. Here’s my annotated list: “The Violated” by Vance Bourjaily — I love all of Bourjaily’s novels. In this one, his opening pages describe a play that is being put on by several children. It gets interrupted, and I’ve been waiting ever since for it to resume. Also, this novel includes […]
September 1, 2014

Poem: Hamstring injury

Clutch, clench, the back of the thigh. Then, emptiness, a hollow, danger, a hobble, a caution, a warning. Tendons wear. Skin thins. The final hollow. Patrick T. Reardon 9.1.14