Hi all and welcome to Woody’s Words & Wit. As a sixty something baby boomer, I will be writing, mostly about my favorite era, the 60’s and 70’s to start, but not exclusively. I am currently, an unpublished writer, with a voracious appetite to constantly tap-away on my keyboard. As thoughts enter my head, I must write them down before they drift away. Like I said, I am sixty something and occasionally suffer from the dreaded “CRS” syndrome.
The format of Woody’s Words & Wit, will be mostly fiction and non-fiction story telling. No politics here. I’ll leave that crap to those who think they know something about how our planet should proceed. I promise to keep it interesting and light for the most part.
Let’s start it off with some humor.
How men and women record things in their diaries
Tonight, I thought my husband was acting weird. We had made plans to meet at a nice restaurant for dinner. I was shopping with my friends all day long, so I thought he was upset at the fact that I was a bit late, but he made no comment on it. Conversation wasn’t flowing, so I suggested that we go somewhere quiet so we could talk. He agreed, but he didn’t say much.
I asked him what was wrong; he said, ‘Nothing’. I asked him if it was my fault that he was upset. He said he wasn’t upset, that it had nothing to do with me, and not to worry about it. On the way home I told him that I loved him. He smiled slightly and kept driving. I can’t explain his behavior. I don’t know why he didn’t say,’I love you, too’.
When we got home, I felt as if I had lost him completely, as if he wanted nothing to do with me anymore. He just sat there quietly, and watched TV. He continued to seem distant and absent. Finally, with silence all around us, I decided to go to bed. About 15 minutes later, he came to bed. But I still felt that he was distracted, and his thoughts were somewhere else. He fell asleep: I cried. I don’t know what to do. I’m almost sure that his thoughts are with someone else. My life is a disaster.
A two-foot putt….who the hell misses a two-foot putt?
I have written a memoir called Pinky’s Drive-In. It’s about the group of friends that I grew up with, on the north side of Chicago, and how we progressed from teenage boys to young men. These misadventures cover from 1963 to about 1973, a very tumultuous era in modern history.
I will attempt to bring you a chapter a week. Oh yea, be on the lookout for some more jokes too. Enjoy.
Richard J. Woodburn
Ken turned out the bar lights as we exited by the side entrance. We stood out in the gravel parking lot that had once been Pinky’s Drive-In. There were several inches of wet heavy snow on our vehicles, so we began to wipe them off with our hands and windshield brushes. The storm gave way to a clear moonlit sky, which held the promise of a pleasant spring day.
I felt rejuvenated, as I grabbed a handful of snow and tossed it onto Pat’s windshield, which he just cleaned off. Pat didn’t know who threw the snow. He thought it came from Jeff and retaliated with a direct hit to Jeff’s temple. That was all it took. Game on!
I was the brunt of Jeff’s revenge as he threw a snowball at Pat that got me in the face as Pat ducked out of the way. Ken’s pickup was parked next to Ted’s rental. He swept his arm over the hood of his truck and covered Ted with wet slush. We felt like kids again as we laughed, and yelled our usual obscenities at each other. The onslaught went on for a couple minutes, until we called a truce.
Then, as we quieted, a strange feeling came over me. The empty lot seemed to take on a familiar feeling. As the six of us stood there, we appeared as shadowy figures against the dim light.
When Ken said, “See you guys next time,” I caught a sharp glimpse of the past.
As I turned to face him, I didn’t see a middle aged man with a slight beer gut, but a much younger, vibrant image appeared. Ken’s gray hair was replaced with the blonde wavy crop he sported in his teens. It was as though we all morphed back to our youthful selves when our bonds were fresh and new. The old pink cinder block structure that once stood there, reconstructed itself around us.
My head was filled with the sounds of those cherished days, when our adventures were just beginning. It was 4:30, after school, and the juke box was blasting “Shutdown” by Jan and Dean and I smelled that fabulous aroma of greasy burgers and fries on the grill, as Scrubby yelled, ‘Order Up’, from the pick-up window. Little Tony and Bugsy were playing All-Star Hockey, as Big Al appeared in the back room and shouted, “Out, ya bums!”
Chicago (north center neighborhood)
We each placed five pennies on the tracks. It was still light out, so we decided that as soon as we saw the train light, we would hide by the braces, so the engineer wouldn’t see us and radio the cops. We sat along the side of the bridge, in our own protected sections and waited. About ten minutes went by, when a light finally appeared from the north.
“I see a light, I shouted. Hide! Hide!”
We tucked in and curled up as small as possible against the bridge. I had never been so close to a train before, and was trembling uncontrollably. As it got closer, the bridge began to vibrate. I looked up quickly, and saw that the train was just a block away and coming fast! I tucked back in and held my arms over my head.
The vibrations turned into loud rumbling. I opened my eyes just as the bright light was upon me. It felt like the bridge was going to fall apart. The unexpected, long, blast of the train’s horn was deafening. It made me tense up more, and hold my hands over my ears! I held on for dear life as it roared past…
Mrs. Kelly’s Wake
I grabbed a large cup of black coffee from the kiosk in the lobby and pulled out of the parking lot at about 4PM. My gas tank was low, so I stopped to fill up before getting onto the expressway. Even though the traffic pouring out of downtown Milwaukee was moving well, for a Friday, I didn’t have time to go home and change into something more comfortable, so I hung my blue pin striped suit coat in the back seat and loosened my red power tie as I settled in for the drive to Chicago.
The fastest route from Milwaukee to Chicago is a straight shot down I-94 south. The trip usually took about an hour and a half, so if I made it to the northern suburbs by about 5:00, I would be at the funeral parlor by 5:30. That would give me plenty of time to pay my respects to Shawn’s mom, see my friends and be back on the road, heading home by about 8:00. It was early spring and the weather was still cold and wet, so I wanted to make it back before it turned to snow.
I felt excited about seeing some of my old pals at the wake and hoped most of them would show up. As teenagers, my friends and I hung out at a greasy spoon diner called Pinky’s Drive-In. There were about twenty of us, and like most teens; we lived our lives day to day with little control over the big picture.
It seemed like the only time we got together now was for a parent’s funeral, although I must say I was closer to Mrs. Kelly, Shawn’s mom, than most of the boys. Shawn’s family rented the lower level of my folks’ 2-flat on Bell Avenue in Chicago when Shawn and I were just past the toddler stage. She was quite a remarkable woman in many ways, and even though I haven’t seen her in such a long time, I felt remorseful that, now, she was gone.
I finally arrived at O’Malley’s Funeral Parlor at about 6:00. The parking lot was half full and the snow was just starting to come down again. I made it just in time. I buttoned the top button of my shirt, pulled up my tie, and headed straight for the men’s room, as my large coffee had taken its effect on my kidneys. The door swung open as I was washing my hands, and as I looked into the mirror, there behind me stood Mrs. Kelly’s only son, Shawn.
“Hi, Woody, glad to see you could make it,” said Shawn.
“Hey, Shawn, how are you doing?” I asked as I reached for the paper towels. Shawn seemed a little more wired than usual. His mom was a kind of legend amongst the boys, so he was probably anticipating seeing the whole gang.
Shawn would always assert a smile and hefty handshake, but tonight, a firm hug and pat on the back were in order. Shawn always stayed fit. He stood about 6 foot and still had a 36 inch waistline. Even though his once wavy auburn hair was basically gone from the top of his head, he looked sharp in his charcoal gray suit, black shirt and dark gray tie, and his black winged tip shoes had a spit shine I could see myself in. Shawn spent some time in Viet Nam in the ‘70s. If you were to ask him where he was stationed and what he did over there, he would tell you to this day that it was classified, and as he put it, once a Marine always a Marine.
“I’m okay, all things considered. You’re the first to arrive, except for a couple of the older guys. I can’t believe it’s snowing in April. I guess if you don’t like the weather in Chicago, you just have to wait a minute. I don’t believe I actually said that. So, did you just drive down or are you staying at your sister’s? How’s your mom doing? Where’s the old lady? How are the kids?” exclaimed Shawn.
I held up my hands, “Slow down a little, slick, one question at a time.”
“Sorry, old man. I guess I’m a little nervous. I never know what to say at these things, even my own mom’s,” said Shawn as we exited the men’s room.
“Dar and the kids are fine; she sends her love and condolences. I drove down from Milwaukee after work alone, and my mom’s fine, thanks for asking. She’s been living in an apartment complex around Sheridan and Foster since my dad died last spring.
I gestured toward the door. “Hey, there’s Pat.”
Pat “The Hustler” could smell a poker game a mile away. I think he paid his way through Catholic High School with his winnings. God knows his mom didn’t have the dough. We played cards in his third floor walk-up till dawn. Pat lived with his younger brother and his mother. His mom was Hispanic and made the best flour tortilla tacos, Spanish rice and refried beans north of Mexico. She also allowed us to drink beer as long as no one was driving. At seventeen and eighteen years old, we felt that life couldn’t get any better than that.
With his Irish gift of gab, acquired from his father’s side, it was only fitting that Pat became one of Chicago’s finest. He stood about 5’ 9” and was still in great shape. His thick light brown hair showed just a hint of gray now around the temples, but his neatly groomed mustache was still reddish blond.
“Hey, Pat. How’s it going? I thought you had to work second shift, or are you on one of those cop breaks?” I quipped with a grin.
“What do ya say, Woody, nice suit. Is that a Maxwell Street special or did you roll a pimp?” Pat said as he traced my paunchy outline with his finger.
Pat never just arrived; he always had to make an entrance.
“It’s nice to see you too, dickhead.” I replied with a grin.
Everyone had a good laugh. Pat and I shook hands and nodded as if to say touché to one another.
“Have any of the other guys shown up?” asked Pat.
“Everyone is either downstairs or across the street in the tavern,” said Shawn.
“So what caused her to pass?” asked Pat with a quiet reverence. A look of mournful relief came over Shawn.
“She went in her sleep. You know, like it’s supposed to be. The doctor said her heart just gave out.” He paused briefly. “I guess it was just her time.”
Paulie, Linda and Ken arrived next. Paulie and Linda had been together since they were 14 years old. Linda kept her slender figure, even after raising two kids. She was one of the few ‘Pinky’s Girls,’ but had always been considered as one of the boys by the whole gang. They married when they were 18. I couldn’t believe that was over 40 years ago!
They were empty nesters now, since their son and daughter moved out of their single family bungalow on the northwest side. Paulie always loved his Italian food and was starting to show it, although he still had the shoulders of an athlete, and like most of us, his former greasy jet black hair had given way to shades of gray.
‘Lovable’ Ken, like me, put on a bit of weight over the years. He looked to be about 250 pounds, but his large 6’2” frame held it well. His thick hair was sparkling gray, cut in a crew, and he still had striking blue eyes. His gray mustache was neatly groomed and connected to some salt and pepper chin whiskers. The look really worked for him.
Ken owned the most famous neighborhood bar on the near north side. The Cameo Club was the hang out for three generations of former ‘Pinky’s Boys.’ It became the rite of passage for each one of the boys to have his first legal beer at the Cameo when he reached the age 21. It stood next door to Pinky’s for several decades until the old diner was torn down sometime in the late 80’s, and had been reduced to a gravel parking lot.
It was always a pipe dream that one of us would own that hallowed establishment someday and Ken actually made it come true. He had changed the theme and clientele over the years to keep in step with the evolving neighborhood. The old Cameo Club was called Krabby Ken’s Beach Bar now. Ken remodeled the entire place. He hired only well-figured young ladies as bartenders and required them to dress in string bikinis. He was upset to find that the bare-bottom look was illegal, but had the girls push the envelope whenever possible.
Linda gave all of us a big hug. The biggest one went to Shawn.
“I was really sorry to hear about your mom.” she said.
“Thanks, Linda. It’s great to see you guys,” Shawn replied.
Ken put his arm around Shawn. “I closed the bar for a private party tonight. Everyone is invited back after the service.”
“Thanks a lot, man. I really appreciate that,” said Shawn.
The rest of the gang started to arrive. Weaser, Myrat, Moose, Ski, and Jeff came across the street from the tavern. Those who didn’t show up were scattered across the country or just lost touch over the years. Shawn seemed to be a little moved by the attendance and I think Mrs. Kelly smiled down on all of her surrogate sons and daughters.
We were all seated as Father Murphy began the service. He was actually a former Pinky’s Boy himself. Murph was one of the older guys, a first generation Pinky’s Boy, if you will. He was now a Catholic priest at a nearby parish. We all felt it was quite appropriate for him to give the eulogy.
As the formal parts of the service came to an end, Father Murphy asked if anyone would like to relate a story or perhaps an antidote in remembrance of Mrs. Kelly. We all had fond memories of our youth that many times involved Shawn’s mom and a few of us actually mustered up the courage to stand and speak to the congregation. Ken went first.
“As you all probably know, Mrs. Kelly was a crossing guard for many years back in the early sixties,” he began. “A few of us went to Bell Grade School and were patrol boys when we were in seventh and eighth grades. We all got to know Shawn’s mom pretty well during that time. She was a wonderful woman and had a heart of gold; however, she did not have a pot of gold. She actually just got by enough to raise her two kids, Margie and Shawn, mostly on her own since her husband left.”
Ken continued with his story. “During the winter months, we patrol boys would all come together on Mrs. Kelly’s corner about ten minutes before we had to be in school. We were freezing from standing out in the cold for the past hour, helping the smaller kids to cross our assigned streets. When we were all assembled, she would break out a couple of thermoses of hot cocoa and a big bag of doughnuts and sweet rolls for us. We went off to class, thinking how great it was that the school provided this snack for us.
“We didn’t find out until years later that it wasn’t the school that popped for the treat. The credit should have gone to Shawn’s mom. She made a deal with the corner bakery to save the day-old sweet rolls that she bought at half price for her patrol boys and it was she who brought the cocoa from home. It was also not known at that time that a couple of the boys came from poorer families. She would take them aside from the others and give them lunch money every day.”
Ken got a little choked up as he continued. “That was just one of many wonderful acts of kindness Mrs. Kelly did that endeared her to me. She was a loving and generous lady, and I will miss her.”
Even though I wasn’t one of her patrol boys, I felt that Ken’s story depicted the open heart that Mrs. Kelly always wore on her sleeve. If she could help, she would. That was the way she lived her life, and the world was better for having her in it.
Pat went next. He walked up to the front of the congregation, giving Ken an ‘atta boy’ pat on the back as they past each other.
My fondest remembrance of Mrs. Kelly is a little different then Ken’s,” began Pat with a smirk. “It is true that she was a loving and generous lady and did indeed have a heart of gold. It is also true; however, that she had a more practical side to her. There was nothing she liked better than teaching one of life’s lessons to her teenage son and his friends.”
We all sat up a little more at this point, knowing that this was going to be good. Pat had always taken pride in being a skillful storyteller. He was never satisfied with those ‘one-liners,’ as if they were beneath him.
He continued on, “I recall one Friday night when we were in high school. A few of us decided to have a little poker game. Shawn invited us over to his house because his mom was gone for the evening. We played nickel, dime, and quarter in those days and probably only had about twenty dollars amongst the four of us. The game was progressing nicely until Mrs. Kelly came home early. We froze as if we saw a ghost.
“We all knew her house rules were that Shawn was not allowed to have friends over when she was not at home. Strike one! She also didn’t allow smoking. Strike two, or drinking, you’re out! This was quite a dilemma, because the game was well underway and we had no place else to go.
“In her infinite wisdom, Mrs. Kelly cut us a deal. We would be allowed to remain and finish the game if she was allowed to play. This seemed reasonable to us, especially in lieu of the fact that if she called our parents, we would be grounded for life. What choice did we have?” Pat continued as we listened intently.
“I always took pride in the fact that I was a skilled poker player, even at the tender age of sixteen. I was notorious for cleaning out the best players in the neighborhood. This, however, was a special night. I never before experienced a run of luck like Mrs. Kelly had.
“I drew two pair; she beat me with three of a kind. I had a straight, she countered with a flush. She won at stud poker! She won at draw poker! She even drew an ace when we played Indian Poker! You know that stupid ass game in which everyone puts one card on his forehead without looking at it. Then each one blindly makes a bet or drops out. Whoever stays in with the highest card wins the pot.
“In less than two hours, she had every last cent on the table in front of her. When the game was over, we four, princes of poker, sat in the living room, trying to figure out how such a nice lady could take all our money. That was all we had for the rest of the weekend.
“The next thing we knew, Mrs. Kelly came out of the kitchen, clutching her winnings, our money, in her hand and waving it over her head as if to shame us.
“‘Let that be a lesson to you boys,’ she said. ‘Next time, ask before you want to use my house for a gambling parlor. By the way, ‘she continued’, I’m afraid you won’t be enjoying the company of my son for the rest of the weekend. He’ll be staying in, doing chores for the next two days!’ She said as she picked up the phone and ordered pizza for all of us out of her winnings.”
This, of course, induced a wave of laughter and understanding nods from the congregation. Pat slowly raised his head and looked up to heaven as he said, “Thanks, Mrs. Kelly. Thanks for the lesson in humility.”
I remained seated as I listened to the tales my friends related, and remembered those wonderful days from my youth. I felt that I would save my comments for the after-wake celebration at the tavern, as I didn’t feel that I could hold my emotions in check if I spoke to the congregation.
A couple more people related their fond remembrances of Mrs. Kelly. Murph closed with The Lords Prayer, and we all said our last good-byes to our dear old ‘mom.’