Chicago, My Home
John Norberg, humor columnist s

"Chicago . . . Chicago . . . Chicago is my home. My heart is in Chicago wherever I may roam."

Those words are the chorus of a song my mother drilled into my head when I was a boy in Chicago.

Mom was born and grew up in the city and it didn't matter that we moved to the suburbs shortly after I arrived. She told me I was a Chicagoan. She told me I should never forget it and she taught me to sing that song.

It wasn't hard to memorize, even for kid like me who had trouble remembering to do his homework and mow the lawn. The chorus only has 15 words and four of them are "Chicago."

Two other words are the message of the song: "heart" and "home." Chicago, heart and home -- that was what she was teaching me. She wanted me to know where I belonged.

My mother died this year on March 1 and the other week we sold her Chicago home.

Her home was the heart of our family. It wasn't the home where we grew up. It wasn't even the home where we lived when we were teens. Our father died shortly after she bought it. But, it was her last home and a mother's home is always the place where family gathers.

The words to her Chicago song were written in 1919. The lyrics were set to music and first performed in the fall of 1921 – the year after she was born. She sang the song in school every day when she was a girl. It was a melody that spanned her life.

It has seven less memorable versus that include lines like "love in her heart and bounty in her hands." But the 15-word chorus captured the soul of a city and the families who live there: "Chicago is my home . . . My heart is in Chicago . . ."

Our hearts are in our homes.

I went back to her Chicago home before attending the sale closing where attorneys, including my nephew, led us through the complicated process. I didn't understand any of it.

"This looks good. Sign here," my nephew said.

I remembered when he spread birthday cake across his face.

I was proud of him. For the birthday cake and for becoming such a smart attorney.

There was nothing complicated about visiting mom's home. It felt simple and warm.

It was home. A home is more than the building where we live. A house is a building. A home is family, love, and memories.

Can you imagine the chorus to the song going like this: "Chicago, Chicago, Chicago is my house . . ."

I opened the front door of her home and I was struck by the emptiness: no furniture, no lamps, no family photographs, none of the paintings she carefully crafted herself hanging on the walls. No World War II Navy officer's cap from my father sitting on the fireplace mantel.

But as I walked through the rooms I realized the home was not empty at all. It was filled with memories. And like everything that has to do with family, the memories were noisy.

In her home I could still hear the sounds of laughter, of our family being together – the music of people who love one another all talking at once.

Does anyone ever listen when families gather at home?

I could hear the voices of our children, the tiny childhood voices that still call to me in my dreams.

They also still call to me in about 1,000 hours of videotape I don't know what to do with. But that's another story.

Walking through the home I remembered the many times we and stayed over night there to begin family expeditions in Chicago – baseball parks, museums, zoos, and more, always with bags of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in tow.

"Mom, I'm 50 years old. I have a good job. I can afford to buy us lunch."

"Be quiet and eat your sandwich."

Mom loved to show us her Chicago home. From this home we left to visit Norway and Sweden and reunite with our heritage.

In this home my mother chased geese that came onto her lawn and patio from a nearby pond leaving reminders of their own. She used a broom to chase them away and earned the nickname "Mother Goose" in her neighborhood.

There were many Thanksgivings in this home. Standing in the empty dining room I wondered how we fit so many people into such a small space. It was so tight we could eat off the plates to our left and right as well as our own – which was kind of nice, as I recall.

I remembered the Thanksgiving our youngest child gave everyone three seeds of corn. Before we could eat we had to go around the table and say something for which we were thankful. When we finished the first round, we did it all again and then a third time – once for each seed of corn.

It was beautiful. But by the time 15 people had listed more than 30 things they were thankful for it got pretty tough to come up with good new ones. People started saying "ditto" and other things.

"I'm thankful this almost over because I'm getting hungry."

"I'm thankful I have more hair than my brother."

"I'm thankful I ate some turkey in the kitchen before we got started on all this."

That was the year our sister-in-law said she was thankful she was pregnant with twins. And then my wife said she was thankful she wasn't.

Not long after that we agreed we had many reasons to give thanks, put the seeds aside and ate.

I don't remember ever being in this home without eating. The minute I walked into the door my mother started pulling food out and trying to get me to eat. Then she hinted not too subtly that I was over weight. "You're looking very prosperous."

"That's because I come home too often and you give me all of this food."

"I don't make you eat. Have some coffee cake."

In this home on fall Sundays we watched the Chicago Bears on TV because that's what you do in Chicago. We prayed, sometimes cried, often laughed and sang in this home, including "Chicago is my home" – many times.

As I walked to the front door to leave my mother's home I could hear my footsteps echo through the empty rooms. But I didn't feel empty. I felt very full.

I felt full of the love and happiness of that home.

Homes, family and memories are a moveable feast. They stay with us, inside us. They're part of us.

Don't worry mom. I still carry Chicago, home, and memories in my heart -- wherever I may roam.

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