Is This Heaven? No It’s Iowa

Late yesterday morning, Bill was out in the garage working on his car and I was reading a book. It occurred to me that it was a holiday – Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Holidays used to be pretty meaningful to me back in the days when I worked hard for a living and got paid to write. When Court was little, a holiday meant a day off to spend hanging out with him. After he was grown and on his own, a holiday still meant that I got to get up when I felt like it and spend the day with Bill doing whatever I wanted.

If we’re in Colorado when a holiday occurs, my grandkids might stop by our house and we may watch a movie or or go geocaching or make some cookies. But when we are in AZ, I pretty much need to be reminded of a holiday as one day is kind of like the next, in a good way.

As it happened, however, I was unwilling to spend the entire day – holiday or not – sitting in my easy chair even though the latest Longmire novel is quite enjoyable and more important, due back soon to the library. So I asked Bill if he wanted to celebrate the amazing civil rights activist Martin Luther King by getting an Italian beef sandwich at Portillo’s.

Well, duh. Of course he did. How better to honor a great man than with a sloppy, juicy beef sandwich?

While driving to the Chicago-based eatery, we passed Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs’ spring training. You might recall that many baseball clubs west of the Mississippi train in the Valley of the Sun in the spring, and play spring baseball games. It’s the only time that I pay much attention to baseball, I’m afraid.

Seeing Sloan Park made me start thinking about baseball. Which further led me to spend the afternoon watching a movie that I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years – Field of Dreams. I’ve only seen Field of Dreams one time, and that was at the movie theater, likely with Court, who would have been 9 years old when it was released. If you had asked me what it was about yesterday morning before I saw the movie, I would have said it was about baseball. That, of course, is true. But the movie is also about making peace with your past. It isn’t until literally the end of the movie that you realize that everything that happened led up to Ray Kinsella (played by a very young Kevin Costner) playing catch with his father, long dead. Ray’s biggest regret was that he had, in anger, said something hurtful to his father, and then never saw him again before his father died. Here was a chance to make peace for a past hurt.

Oh, if only this could happen to all of us, right?

But enough of that. Let’s talk about the beef sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the onion rings.……

Italian beef sandwiches have had to grow on me. The first time I ever ate an Italian beef, I found it to be, well, ordinary. Haters, don’t hate. Because I came around. I learned to order hot peppers instead of sweet. I discovered the benefits of having my sandwich dipped instead of wet. Wet means they pour the juice over the sandwich; dipped means they fill up your sandwich and then, using a tong, dip the entire sandwich in the juice. This practice, of course, results in a drippy mess that requires a multitude of napkins and a willingness to sacrifice a clean shirt. There’s an art to eating a dipped Italian beef sandwich, my friends. After 25 years of marriage to a Chicagoan, I have learned the art.……

My late mother-in-law loved herself a Chicago hot dog. I never saw her eat an Italian beef sandwich, but up until her final couple of years, she was always eager to go to the Portillo’s near her house where she would order a hot dog and French fries. She saved her chocolate shake for Steak N Shake…..

Arizona is required by state law to post the calorie count for all restaurant foods. Party poopers. Each Italian beef sandwich was 530 calories. Of drippy goodness and, unlike Ray Kinsella, no regrets.


Dad died in November of 2010. All of his grandkids and some of his great grandkids attended his funeral. It so happened that four of his grandkids had babies not too long before he died, bringing the total number of great grands at that time to 10. I remember four mommies standing in the back of the church bouncing Asher, Austin, Mylee, and Jenna, to keep them from crying. I could imagine my mother in heaven smiling.

We were happy as we all learned of the upcoming births earlier that year. But what I really recall about that joyous news was that Jen told our father, “Dad, you’re like Abraham. You have descendants like the stars in heaven.”

She, of course, was referring to the Book of Genesis when God told Abram, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.”

Now there are a total of 14 great grandkids, ranging in age from 1 to almost 11. So between those 14 great grands and his four kids and nine grandkids, he really was like Abraham. And we are all like the stars in his heaven.

I’ve mentioned before that it makes me sad to think that my mother didn’t get a chance to meet any of her great grands. She would have loved them all. Dad certainly did, and enjoyed being around them until he was too sick to enjoy very much. I have a vivid memory, however, of bringing my granddaughter Kaiya to visit him when she was just a baby. As an infant, Kaiya didn’t much like being with people she didn’t know well. But that day she sat on Dad’s lap and he spoke quietly to her saying words that I couldn’t hear, and she didn’t make a peep. She just stared intently into his face. It was like she understood every word he was saying. That’s a great memory.

Yesterday afternoon, Jen and Bill and I hosted a gathering of family in honor of Jen’s visit. I’m happy to say that just like Field of Dreams, when it comes to family gatherings, if we build it they will come. With a few exceptions, the family poured into our little house in Mesa and gathered! Food, laughter, Coronas and bloody marys, NASCAR, carne asada, guacamole, Maggie’s green chile, Christopher’s smoked pork butt – we had it all.

And as she often does, Jen had a great idea. Let’s commemorate the great grands in a visible way, she said.

So the cousins who were present all used their individual artistic ability to design their own tile. The ones who weren’t able to be there will get their chance as well. When all are completed, we will bake them to make the design permanent, and display them in some manner.

We managed to get the kids to sit still long enough to take this photo. Painfully shy Jenna is trying to hide in the back row, and her sister Lexi, newly out of the hospital where she spent almost a week because of an infection that wouldn’t budge, is crying heartily, none too happy to be away from her mommy for too long.

But you know, the photo shows Mom and Dad were, indeed, like Abraham, and their descendants are like the stars in heaven.

great nieces nephews 2.2016

Left to right: Noah, Jenna, Lexi, Austin, Kelsie, Grace, Faith, Asher, Lilly. Not present are Mackenzie, Carter, Kaiya, Mylee, and Cole.

This post linked to the GRAND Social