On Wednesday, November 17, I flew north to Chicago for another teaching visit to Northwestern University. First stop was to see my first cousin once removed (one generation older), Lorenzo Enrico Frederick (originally Federighi, the family name was Anglicized to address anti-Italian prejudice). Larry and I connected in July, the week after Uncle Alan, Cousin Jim, and I visited the neighborhood where my great-grandparents, grandparents, and mother lived. On the flight, I re-read several e-mails Larry (b. 1937) sent in July and August, giving some details of his life.
Italian music fit, so I cued Andrea Bocelli. “Ave Maria” was first up. I have written before about the intersection of songs and place, and hearing that piece by Bach stirred a memory; I first heard it at my grandfather’s (Lorenzo’s uncle’s) funeral in 1958. But that sad recollection passed quickly – although my grandfather died at 64, when I looked at the Fredian family tree I saw that his surviving siblings lived into their 80s and 90s.
I called Larry as I walked off the plane, and he said his wife Judy and he would pick me up at O’Hare in 20 minutes (they live in nearby Glenview). When they rolled up in their red Subaru it was a thrill: if I met Larry earlier, I was too young to remember, and here was kin; indeed, he and Uncle Alan are the only survivors of the older generation on either of my parents’ sides. Another connection. Wowie!
Where to begin the conversation? No logic prevailed, but over the course of the next several hours we relayed more details of our lives, our families, our beliefs. Judy and Larry have two daughters and a son, all living within 15 miles of their home. Roots were an important topic. Larry’s mother Alicia, my grandfather’s youngest sister, married Pietro Federighi a few years after he arrived in Chicago in 1921, after driving a truck in the Italian army and three years as Giacomo Puccini’s chauffeur – Larry showed me his dad’s Italian driver’s license. Larry did not have a lot of old photos, but he was kind enough to lend me all that he had, including a real gem, my grandfather Jim and his siblings Alicia and Frank as young kids, circa 1903. To hold an original photo of your ancestors, more than a century old, in your hand is to me a special experience, laden with emotion.
Before noon we drove a mile or two to the Glenview town center, an interesting place built on the former Glenview Naval Air Station (coincidentally a place that I toured with my second cousin, Lt. Thomas Fredian, when I was in first or second grade). After the Cold War ended and scores of bases closed, this chunk of valuable and desirable suburban land was nicely redeveloped; in the middle of the shopping area is the old airfield control tower, way cool. Lunch was at Bravo, a cozy and stylish Italian restaurant (where else would we eat?!). We yakked and laughed some more.
Back home, Larry showed me some of his paintings, sketches, and etchings, hanging throughout the house. His talent is considerable, and I especially enjoyed a couple of landscapes from my favorite Lake Superior, and a lovely and touching portrait of his mother (my great aunt) Alicia, done just after her death in 1991. It is such a joy to see the artist’s house, and even greater when he is kin.
We chatted a bit more, the high point being Larry’s description of sleeping arrangements in the two-bedroom apartment where they lived, above my grandfather’s Centrella Grocery on Marshfield Avenue in Chicago (faced with declining health, my gramps sold the store to Larry’s dad in the late 1940s). There was still lots more to discuss, but we were out of time. At 3:15, Judy and Larry drove me to the Glenview train station, and I said goodbye. Italian men kiss each other, and we did. It was such a sweet day.
But there was work to do downtown, and I hopped on the Metra suburban train into the Loop, then the CTA 124 bus across the center to the downtown campus of Northwestern. Right on time I met my host Miguel Brendl, a very bright young marketing prof who I have described in previous updates. We yakked over a light dinner, and from 6:00 to 7:15 I delivered the lecture on what American’s marketing team did in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Class was small, about 15 evening MBA students, but engaged.
Said goodbye to Miguel, walked a block west on Superior Street, and checked into the Affinia, a pleasant boutique hotel. Unlike some of those kinds of places (where staff has clearly signaled that I was not sufficiently hip to lodge there), the lobby people were exceedingly friendly and welcoming. The room was swell.
I took off my necktie, worked a bit of e-mail, and headed out, south on Michigan Avenue, past all the glittering shops and stores, past windows already filled with Christmas décor and stuff, to the venerable Billy Goat Tavern. This was the place immortalized by Belushi and others in Saturday Night Live in the 1970s (“Cheeseborger, cheeseborger. No fries. Cheeps”). Long before those skits, it was a watering hole for Chicago Tribune and Sun Times journalists, whose offices were a few hundred feet away, in opposite directions. As I hoisted a bottle of Old Style, the classic blue-collar Chicago brew, I toasted the memory of the Tribune; although it is still being published, it is now owned and largely managed by people who are essentially juveniles wearing adult clothing but holding impressive bank accounts. Sam Zell and his team of misfits are in dire need of adult supervision.
Refreshed, I walked back to the hotel and clocked out. Was up at six, across Chicago Avenue town on a bus, onto the Blue Line subway to O’Hare, and home.
What a joy to find kin!