Tea for Two
My dad was a police officer and worked as a Patrolman his entire career. Most of the time, he held two jobs that were very much alike; one with the City of Chicago Police and a second with the University of Chicago Police.
Early in his career, he worked nights walking a beat on the South Side of Chicago. He was extremely honest and his refusal to back down when performing his duties occasionally got him into trouble. One of his duties was to make sure the bars closed down on time. If the bar was open after hours, he would go inside and with his “billy club” he would pound on the bar and announce: “Attention, attention please. This bar must close, you must leave now.” On some occasions, a politician or a high-ranking Police Officer might be enjoying a bit of libation when my father made the announcement. Sometimes such a luminary would order my father to leave the bar open. When this happened, my father would take his club and pound on the bar again and announce: “Attention, attention please. This bar must close and everyone must leave immediately.”
Although he was stubborn and strong on principle, he was also very kind and warm. He was perhaps the prototypical broad-shouldered friendly Irish cop who made all kinds of friends on his beat. His closest friends called him “Husk,” short for husky, because his shoulders were practically as broad as his 5’10” frame.
After his shift on the Chicago Police Department, he would walk a beat for the University up and down the streets around the “midway,” the large boulevard that was the location for countless carnival attractions during the Columbian Exhibition of 1893. The parkway could be dangerous during the fifties and sixties when my father worked for the University. Residents in the area who would take walks in the evening were happy to see my dad and other police officers like him on the beat. My dad whose reading taste was limited almost entirely to the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily News, was good company for a few of the University Professors who would take a break from their mind-numbing research to get a little exercise.
The professors did not talk to my dad about the theoretical, but he was one of those people who was interested in anything that was going on in your life that you may want to discuss. He could put anyone at ease in seconds and often conversations centered on things that mattered in life. He was not judgmental and saw the best in people.
My mother was a perfect foil to my father. She was born in Scotland of Irish parents who had emigrated for work. Her mother died when she was born and her father, a soldier, died of TB when she was barely school age. After a short stay at a Catholic boarding school, she journeyed to the United States with her two older sisters who wanted to settle around an older brother who had emigrated several years before. The sisters soon became homesick and they left to go back to Scotland. Mother stayed to be raised by her older brother who had a deep affection for “wee Margaret.” Her brother had been educated in Scotland and was an engineer who was holding onto work during the depression when his little sister arrived. My mother grew up to be well read, and somewhat refined. She was a voracious reader and played tennis and bridge. While she may have listened to big band music outside her home as a teenager, her brother insisted on a diet of opera and the classical music at home. When she decided at 18 to marry a big hulking Irishman whom everyone called Husk, her brother was bitterly disappointed. He wanted more for her than the life or a cop’s wife.
My father’s mother was also upset when her plans to match my father with the daughter of her best friend were crushed by my father who was smitten with the skinny kid from Clydebank, Scotland.
Love can be messy and messy it was for the Norris family. My father was outgoing with deep religious convictions. He was worldly, but pious. My mother was questioning and opinionated –even cynical at times. Raising a large family on a meager income took its toll on my mother. She became more introverted and when she reached middle age, she found it next to impossible to sit in the crowded “baby boom” Masses of 60’s and she had difficulty just leaving the house at times.
I remember attending mass with Dad when I was very young and hearing him whispering the Latin prayers. I would mumble sounds that I thought sounded liked the prayers: “sisasisasisasissisa.” When Mom attended, we would stand at the back as close to a door as possible. Only years later did we find out that there were names for some of the maladies that she suffered from. In her 80s and 90s she found that sitting right up in front at Mass got her a much better seat and she only looked out on a few people on the altar. She had also been able to attend hundreds of crowded events as her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren make their way through life. She was also able to recover much of her outgoing ways as she grew older.
My father was always looking outward at the world around him. He taught us to say a Hail Mary when we heard an ambulance, when we passed the cemetery or when we heard of any suffering on the radio or TV. Although he rarely had “two nickels to rub together” himself, he was always giving a dollar here or dollar there to those who looked like “they needed a good cup of coffee.”
Often my father had no car, but when he did own one, he was always looking for someone who needed a ride. If he saw a nun standing at a street corner, he would often pull over, show his police badge and ask her if she needed a ride somewhere. Often, I would start out riding “shotgun” on a short errand with my father and end up squeezed in the middle of the front seat between my dad and a good Sister on a journey that took us many miles out of our way. He was always picking someone up or dropping someone off.
My parents had little. For a large part of my mother’s married life, she had fewer possessions and clothes than the day she got married. Appliances might go broken for months and she often had shabby clothes. My mother was very patient with my father, but occasionally, his giving ways would upset her especially when she thought he was overdoing it at our expense. She was also patient when he would invite people whom most would have called misfits over to the house on a moment’s notice. My father kept in touch with some of his early friends from the “old neighborhood,” Saint Lawrence Parish in Chicago,who had never married and had no immediate family. My father would pull out a couple lawn chairs in the backyard, sit, and talk for hours to these lonely old friends.
There was much love between my parents, but they did fight and at times, frustration came out. We all remember the night my Mother said she was leaving and slammed the front door as my father stewed in a chair in our living room. After a few minutes, my father announced he was going out after my mother. The “Hail Mary’s” and tears flowed for a very tense 20 minutes as we sat and wondered whether we would ever see our mother again. Much to our relief, we heard some talking out in front and looked out to see my father and mother arm-in-arm sitting on the bottom stair in front of our house.
Love is messy. My parents had a scruffy rough and tumble kind of marriage perhaps like many marriages of those whom we have come to call the “greatest generation.” When they were very young they had their dreams and then lived a life that was different from their early musings.
My Dad was practically tone deaf, but there was one old song that always seemed to stir him when it was performed by countless singers on TV. It is a very old song called Tea for Two that debuted in 1925. I would think it was one that his parents liked in their time. The music was written by Vincent Youmans with lyrics by Irving Caesar. The song is one of those that is “corny,” but it became a jazz standard performed by many of the greatest jazz musicians. Key the title into “You Tube” and you will find some great versions of it by the likes of Nat King Cole.
In the song, a young couple dream of having a place of their own, spending time together and raising a family.
Picture you upon my knee, just tea for two and two for tea,
Just me for you and you for me, alone!
Nobody near us, to see us or hear us,
No friends or relations on weekend vacations,
We won’t have it known, dear, that we have a telephone, dear.
Day will break and you’ll awake and start to bake
A sugar cake for me to take for all the boys to see.
We will raise a family, a boy for you, a girl for me,
Oh, can’t you see how happy life would be?
Life seldom plays out like our dreams, but then it would not be life if it was so scripted. When my father was in his late sixties and sickly, he told me that his one regret was spending too much time worrying. He had seen a lot of twists and turns in his life.
My father prayed earnestly through life. He was fond of saying “God help us” with total humility and “keep the faith” with compassion. The night before he died in his sleep, he called me on the phone. He was feeling blessed that night and he shared the joy with me. He told me that he was so very thankful for having my mother as his wife and how blessed he was for it.
My mother outlived my father by a three decades and she proved repeatedly that people can get better with age. She has selflessly helped her children through numerous illnesses, pregnancies, divorces, deaths and all manner of smaller troubles and tragedies. She has always been there for us even as we grow old ourselves. She was 97 years old when she passed away just a few years ago.
And regardless of how messy things got with my parents, we were able to look back on one very special couple who heeded Saint Paul’s advice and “fought the good fight.” Today, I am not sure if my father would recognize his own family. Like many families today, his suffers through many of today’s pressing problems. Some he may not considered possible.
Each of us finds obstacles in our own lives and loves. Often, we need help. Sometimes we find ourselves in dire straits. If my dad were here, he would probably tell us, say a prayer and “the man upstairs” will help you through it. As simple as it sounds, it’s the best advice I’ve heard to date.