In the spring of 1964 or so, Carl Rudolph Sanchez sat at the counter of a local burger joint eating some fries and shooting the breeze with some friends. Greased back hair, a smile that was just the other side of a grin, kind of like he knew something you didn’t. Sweet ride in the lot just outside, car keys on the counter next to his plate. His father was from Mexico, but his Mother had emigrated from Italy when she was a child. Carl hadn’t embraced any of his parents’ cultures. English was spoken at home but it was interwoven with bits of Spanish and Italian. Carl didn’t understand any of it…
Merle Francis Bell, a cute 16 year old, sat nearby swooning a bit wondering how to make her move as the so-called second wave of feminism spread across the United States. Betty Friedan’s bestselling book and feminist classic The Feminine Mystique had come out in paperback, so maybe she felt emboldened. Merle looked exactly like Winona Ryder from the 1999 film ‘Girl, Interrupted.’ She took a deep breath and made her move. She took those keys from beside the plate of fries and fled to the lot, jumped in Carl’s car and began to start the engine.
The passenger side door swung open and Carl jumped in. “If you are going to steal my car, I think you should at least take me with you,” he said.
And that was the start of a tumultuous relationship that would produce two children and end in divorce around 1973.
Carl and Merle were my parents, and that’s about all I know about that part of their lives. I was told that story. At least I think I was told that story. I tell that story, and my children have heard it but I’m not sure it’s true. I would love it to be.
I have no pictures from first dates or family meets. I don’t know what their wedding was like. I’ve never seen pictures of their life together. I have never seen them interact with one another, or kiss. Never seen an embrace. Never heard their voices. I, for having spent some years with them, do not know them. I have seen a few pictures at parties they had attended. Halloween seemed to be important to them and they took great pride in their costumes. Football player and cheerleader one year, him as the cheerleader, her the player. One year all in blackface, as an African American couple I guess…I don’t have any context for that picture so I am not sure what to make of it. My parents weren’t racists and had lots of black friends (some of whom were at that party) so…”What’s up with the REALLY INAPPROPRIATE blackface costume Mom and Dad?” I would love to ask.
They divorced in the early 70’s and went their separate ways. My brother and I saw Dad every other weekend, hanging with him at his bachelor pad. Mom bought a bar, named it the “RamBull” (for the two signs of the Zodiac that we represented) and we would split our time hanging out in that neighborhood with a group of friends that lived over there and at our house with a different group of kids.
My mom had a lot of friends after the divorce. We used to hang out with Sandy, who was gay and drove a sweet black Bonneville. John Swoop worked with her at Sears years before, and…I don’t remember the others. There were many. I wish I did. I just don’t have any records…
Our house burned to the ground one night when I was in fourth grade. We were away and we lost everything. We lived in a hotel for a bunch of months as the house was rebuilt, and I think I vaguely remember my new room in the new house…but only vaguely. I think I remember somehow coming across lots of carpet square samples and tacking them to my walls. I’m not sure.
I remember being at my Dad’s apartment in June of 1977 when the riots started in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. That’s where the RamBull was and I remember being worried that my Mom would be hurt. Dad told me everything would be fine, that she wasn’t close.
And then, in October of that year, my mom died. The next few days were a blur. Hundreds of people showed up at the funeral. The procession of cars was over 200, blocking traffic for miles. So many well-wishers, so many hugs. I don’t recall any of it…
I went to live with relatives and from that point on had a pretty unremarkable life filled with all of the unremarkable things that people do; A fight after school with Jerry Nichols. eighth grade graduation in matching corduroy vest suits. A first kiss, and then a girlfriend (not the same girl.) Music camp in the summers after both 7th and 8th grades. Distinctly not signing up for swing choir but getting scheduled for it anyway as a freshman. Ken Herring and I doing a talent show rendition of ‘I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly.’ High School, then college. I used to do a killer imitation of the first minute of “Oh Sherrie” by Steve Perry at Northwestern.
A few years later my Dad passed, and with him, many unanswered questions.
I became a stand-up comic for a bit and eventually moved west to throw my hat in the ring. Got married and started a family. Went through all of their kid stuff, and recorded what we could. Took lots of digital pictures when they became popular and switched to my phone a few years ago.
My kids are growing up now, and it seems we have the potential for some marriages and eventually some grandkids.
I was on an all-day date with my wife a couple of days ago and posted some pictures of us during the date to Facebook. Someone commented, “Okay that’s enough you are on a date with your wife get off Facebook. Enjoy your time together.”
I replied that we were rubbing it in our kids’ faces, showing them that not only did Mom and Dad have a life, but it was a good one!
My wife gets upset at me sometimes because I try to document much of our life. I’m sure it seems like I am not being present in her life when I pull out my phone and take a picture or post a status update to Facebook. I am certain she feels like she is second or third in my life sometimes. I feel bad sometimes, and I wish she didn’t feel like that. But I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. I try to make sure she knows that she is my only top focus. She is my life.
But I will document everything I can. Pictures, videos, check-ins, status updates…I will brag about my kids and post cat videos. I will comment on your posts too. I will engage you in debate, and I will piss some people off. I will comment on absurd pictures and I will call you out if you post spam or false information.
Here is why:
What I do now is forever.
Someday I will be dead, and my grandchildren will be able to sit down in front of a computer and browse through my life. They will see my face, and hear my voice. They will be able to compare my walk to that of my great-great-great grandson and see how genetics has passed my particular swagger. They will hear my jokes and say to their grandfather, “Now we know who you got your corniness from!” They will see a relationship in full bloom that features the Mother and Father of their Fathers Mother…That will be fascinating, I think.
I don’t have that from my life. I have bits and pieces, fragments of memories of partial stories that may or may not be true. I have memories of ‘something’ but nothing specific. I have gaps where names should be, imagination where a video of my Mom onstage singing should be. I want a YouTube video of my mom stealing my dad’s car. (Girl tries to steal car, gets date instead) and a full video from the Halloween party which might shed some light on the inappropriate costumes. I want links to my parent’s old friends through a social network so I can get messages that start out, “I knew your parents…” I want to look at pictures of the bachelor pad and see if it is as cheesy as I remember. I want to hear their voices. I want to compare our noses. I wish I could have known them the way adults know each other. I have only kid memories.
My kids will have all of that and more. My children will have me and my wife. Their children will have us, too. We will be seen differently by all of our descendants. We will be seen and known.
As we sit and drool in an armchair as we approach our 100th year, unable to kick ass the way we can now, our great-grandkids will pull up a video of the funniest rendition of ‘I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly,’ and say to their friend, “My Great Grandad is cooler than your Great Grandad.”