Just remembering: It was two years ago today that our dad passed on. I’m not sure a day goes by that I don’t have some thought of him (and yes, of our mom, too — she died in August 2003, and it’s hard to believe it’s been that long).

Here’s a reading for them, two lifelong Chicagoans: Carl Sandburg’s “Passers-By,” from “Chicago Poems” (1916):

Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city’s afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.

I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of a hope,
Lips written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love.
Records of great wishes slept with,
Held long
And prayed and toiled for…

Written on
Your mouths
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.

April 11, 1953


Sixty years ago today: My future mom and dad smooch in full view of their wedding party at the Windermere Hotel, down on the South Side near the Museum of Science and Industry and the University of Chicago. The Windermere: My mom’s family, the Hogans, had a history there. I believe my mom’s parents, Edward Daniel Hogan and Anne Louise O’Malley, had their wedding reception there, back around 1925. My Uncle Dick’s ordination party was held there in 1965. I think I read that the U of C owns it now and has converted it to a residence for students.

Anyway, the picture: It’s one of a couple of color snapshots I’ve seen of the event. There are lots of formal black-and-white wedding pictures, too, showing the wedding party and important family members in various configurations. To me, Dad looks nervous in most of those pictures and Mom looks something I interpret as close to ecstatic. My dad’s mother, Otilia Sieverson Brekke, a Norwegian Lutheran, shows a steady lack of warmth for the proceedings. After all, she’d been forced to endure attendance at the Hogans’ Irish Catholic parish, St. Kilian’s, at 87th and May streets.

On the left margin of this picture is Dad’s friend (and best man?) John Lacognata, a fellow musician. I know he and my dad and another guy–who was the other guy?–once drove out to the West Coast from Chicago in a Hudson my dad had bought. I remember Dad showing slides of that trip, complete with a shot showing the car with water bags slung across the front to aid the crossing of one of the Southern California deserts.

On the right of the picture is a woman named Kay, whose last name I can’t remember, but whom I think went to Loretto High School with Mom; they would have graduated about 1947. Kay and her husband, Norbert–again, I don’t recall a last name–lived out in the south suburbs when we were growing up there; I remember visiting them and not getting along with their kids.

In the center of the picture: Mary Alice Hogan and Stephen Daniel Brekke. She was all of 23; he was 31. What were they thinking? I never talked to them much about their courtship, and uncharacteristically, Mom didn’t give me the inside story during some long, wandering, late-night talk. My Dad volunteered after Mom died in 2003 that it was she who asked him out on their first date when they were both working at the Chicago Land Clearance Commission. They went to Schrafft’s downtown. There was also the story of how Steve took Mary on a date to Uno’s, the original location at Ohio and Wabash. Mary Alice reportedly told Steve she’d never been to Uno’s, a pizzeria that allowed patrons to scrawl their names on the walls. Anyway, they get there and are seated. On the wall adjacent to their table, “Mary Alice Hogan” is written in red lipstick. I don’t know how Mary Alice explained that.

Anyway, there they are: Norwegian minister’s son and the daughter of an Irish-American bank clerk and schoolteacher, getting ready to set sail into joys and sorrows unimaginable, right after they cut the cake.

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Mom’s Day

So, certain dates come to have a meaning of their own. For me (and for the rest of my family, I think), November 26 is Mom’s birthday. She would have been 75 today. Born in Chicago in 1929, just a month after the stock market crash. Knowing that, and knowing what happened in the world over the first 12 years of her life (the Depression, the New Deal, the rise of the fascists and Nazi Germany, the war in Europe, Pearl Harbor), I’ve always imagined that she was born into a world that must have seemed, to her parents, to be on the verge of chaos or calamity. But it probably just wasn’t that way. I’ve heard that her dad, who worked for the First National Bank in Chicago, was never out of a job. At some point in the ’30s after the last of her six kids was born, her mom went back to work as a grade-school teacher in Chicago. They never lost their home or anything like that, and in fact seemed to have been an anchor for relatives who weren’t doing as well. So all that stuff happening out there in the world someplace probably seemed remote from the day-to-day cares of raising a family. And when tragedy made an indelible mark on their lives, it had nothing to do with the wider world: one of Mom’s brothers and three other relatives drowned in Lake Michigan one summer day in August 1939, her father died on lung cancer in June 1941. By then, of course, the big troubles from outside were starting to squeeze in on everyone, though maybe the family story and the world story never really did twine together; I guess I imagine they did from having a rough outline of what was going on around the family in my head, on one hand, and having heard lots of stories from Mom (and Dad) about those years.

Anyway, Mom, happy birthday. Thanks for — among all the other things — giving us so much to remember and to think about.