RIP Uncle Buddy

If I could only share one story with you about my uncle Buddy, this would be the one.

Around the time Susan and I began dating in 1993 I attempted to impress her with the fact that I visited Chicago “all the time.” What I neglected to tell her was that every time I had ever visited Chicago, I had done so while riding in the back seat of my parents’ car. Susan called my bluff and suggested the two of us should hop in her new car and visit the Windy City on our own. I panicked, and asked my dad for directions (“take I-44 to St. Louis and hang a left at the arch”). Somehow, without a GPS or much common sense, the two of us found both the “big arch” and, eventually, Chicago.

I don’t think we called ahead and told any of my relatives that we were coming to Chicago, but that didn’t really matter as there was always a place to crash once you got there, especially at my grandma’s house. Grandma O lived on the first floor of a two-story house and my aunt Linda and uncle Buddy lived upstairs. Between the front porch, the couches, and my aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom, there was always room for visitors.

Because of our complete lack of planning both my aunt Linda and grandma had to work the day after Susan and I arrived, but uncle Buddy was off and agreed to take us around Chicago.

Let me take a moment to paint this picture. My uncle Buddy was a big guy with tattoos on his arms and damaged vocal chords from accidentally drinking lye as a child. To a twenty-year-old me, he looked like the bad guy in every 70s biker flick (which is funny, once you got to know him). Buddy married my aunt Linda in the late 1980s, so it’s entirely possible that I had only met Buddy a couple of times in person prior this trip, and Susan had never met him at all. So for someone who barely knew us to step up and say “I’ll show you town” on a whim was pretty neat.

The next morning the three of us hopped on the train and headed downtown. We ate lunch at Ricobene’s, and I will never forget it. Susan and I both bought gigantic chicken Parmesan sandwiches that were bigger than our heads. There was no way either of us could finish our sandwiches, so we took our leftovers with us in a paper sack. After lunch the three of us went to the Field Museum and then the Shedd Aquarium, all while carrying around those heavenly-smelling to-go sacks. After a few hours, all that extra marinara sauce and grease began to leak through until the bottoms began to give way. Eventually the bags completely disintegrated and we were forced to dump our soggy sacks and sandwiches into a trash can. If I close my eyes, I can still smell them.

I have lots of memories of uncle Buddy and food. I remember another time Susan and I arrived in Chicago and my uncle said he would throw something on the stove for us for dinner. Thirty minutes later we were upstairs eating fettuccine Alfredo covered with the biggest prawn you ever saw. My uncle Buddy loved to cook and loved food. He loved my aunt Linda, and he loved all of us, too. And we loved him.

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