The building excitement among the Chicago Cubs faithful ahead of a 2016 season that feels more promising than any in recent memory will likely prompt many stories like the one you are about to read. My story may not be unique, but it is uniquely mine. It is the story of a fan whose love of the game and a team was nurtured by two very special people: a kind and generous man who never felt the joy of a Cubs World Series win, and a feisty woman who actually saw it happen when she was only 8 and hoped in vain, her whole life, for a repeat.
My grandfather may have been my principal Cubs influence, but he was not the only diehard Cubs fan in the family; he was raised by a pretty serious fan in her own right. My early memories include afternoons spent at Great-Grandma Rose’s house, eating Snickerdoodles, playing Uno and other games at her worn metal kitchen table with oh-so-70’s-vinyl covered chairs, and watching the Cubs. Atop the old tube television sat a prized possession: her framed photo of The Penguin, Ron Cey. It wasn’t autographed, but you would think it was worth a million dollars. She’d kiss it for luck, and if you knew what was good for you, so would you. She didn’t have to convince me to love the Cubs, she was the perfect role model of a true fan. She passed away when I was young, but within her walls I made some of the best early memories of my life.
Long after she had passed, I would watch countless games with my Grandpa. His name was Mush, obviously a nickname…that the entire town called him for most of his 87 years. If you’ve heard cantaloupe referred to as mush melon, you’ll understand the name and have a good idea of his hair color before it grayed. There were countless things that made him special, countless things that he taught me. Perseverance, support of those you love and respect, and hard work were all among those lessons. But a true love of the game (no matter how your team performed) is one that always stuck with me. Even when the Cubs (often) had a losing record, even when they were losing that very game, even when the game was scoreless and did not look promising. Always. One of the things I’d most like to hear him say one more time: “0–0, in favor of the Cubs. It ain’t over, Baby,”
The last summer I visited, we watched every game. He’d sit in his glider and often fall asleep, only to wake up and act like he saw that last big play. I’d sit close by so he could hear me because he was too stubborn to wear his hearing aides by that point. I didn’t bring my girls to a game at Wrigley Field on that trip, but we did walk the perimeter of the Friendly Confines and snapped a lot of pictures during an amazing day in the city. He wouldn’t have tolerated that trip even if he had wanted to go- he knew that- but he was happy they went, and broke into an enormous smile when I showed him the pictures.
The last time I ever spoke to him was on my birthday in January 2014. My aunt held the phone and he said “Happy birthday, Baby.” Having not spoken much more after that, he passed away 5 days later. As I packed for the funeral, I was struck by the urge to bring him a final gift: a Cubs logo baseball that I felt very strongly belonged with him forever. At the end of the wake, during the last moments we would ever see him, I made my move. A few relatives added treasures when I told them what I had done, possibly* including a screw top beer with which we had toasted him and then left him half. It was a fitting goodbye.
Many think that baseball is a game for kids and to some extent I agree. I am a Cubs fan with the enthusiasm of a kid, now trapped in a grown woman’s body. I still get excited for each opening day as if it’s Christmas morning. I’ll always treasure fond memories of two of the greatest fans in franchise history, sadly among those who won’t get to experience the thrill of the best team we’ve had in a very long time. Grandma Rose may have helped get me started on the path to Cubs fandom, but Grandpa Mush cemented a love of the game and of this team that can never be shaken. This really could be “our year,” and I hope they see every minute from the best seats in the house.