Friday, February 25, 2005

Frankie and his Mom

After I posted last night, I started thinking. I guess that small amount of writing kind of got my creative energy going and I began to think about a little boy named Frankie and his Mom that I met a few years ago here in Rogers Park. I wish I could remember his Mom's name, but I can't. I think their story is kind of compelling and it really tells you alot about our neighborhood and the kinds of things one can encounter living in a big integrated city. Some of these things make it hard to have a heart sometimes.

I first met Frankie back in summer 2001 when I was first dating Steve and bringing Mojo around to Steve's house. We'd take Mojo out for walks and would bump into Frankie and his Mom around the neighborhood. Frankie at that time was about 8 years old and he loved Mojo. He always wanted to stop and pet him and Mojo was of course, a glutton for punishment with him. He sat perfectly right in front of Frankie, with his perfect little dachshund body and looked up at him with his warm brown eyes glinting and saying, "all is well and as it should be."

Frankie looked like he'd like to have a dog like Mojo, and Frankie's Mom always acted happy and upbeat when we saw her, but I, being sensitive to sadness myself, often saw a tinge of it in her eyes.

After I moved in with Steve, I started to see them more often of course. I recall one time I was heading for the "L" in the morning going downtown to work and she stopped me (she was without Frankie) and asked me for a dollar. I obliged and then she asked me if I knew anyone who needed a nanny. I, having only a few friends mostly without children, wouldn't be a good referral source for a nanny- but of course, one never knows. I gathered that she was unemployed at the moment and I told her if I thought of anyone, I'd mention it.

She and Frankie were always well dressed whenever you saw them, but I know from experience that you can dress pretty well shopping in thrift stores if you are saavy enough and have some taste. She definitely had a sense of style, wearing a beret stylishly in cooler weather and cute fleece jackets on her and Frankie in bright colors. They way she walked around Morse, so friendly and with her nice leather jacket, beret, pretty face, she was quite an attractive figure. Something about the way she wore her hat reminded me of "The Little Rascals," and she had a kind of playful demeaner as well.

But what always impressed Steve and I was how nice her son Frankie was. He was a really sweet kid- exceptionally polite also, and I have to tell you that alot of the kids around here, even at the tender age of 8 are not exactly what you'd describe as sweet and polite. I walk to my job in the neighborhood at the same time kids are walking to school, and I walk past about three schools. Some of the kids seem nice, but there's a group that is already cursing and "motherfuckering" by the age of 8! These sweet little faces and they already sound like gangbangers. It's pretty sad. Frankie was definitely a momma's boy, very close to his Mom and we thought she must be a good Mom to have such a lovely son.

Then we'd see her and Frankie at the park by the lake, the sanctuary which draws all Rogers Parkers with any sense to it during the warm months, while we were walking Mojo and our new addition, Billie the cairn terrier. Strangley enough, we'd see her with some of the more "colorful" characters from the hood, including the illustrious and self-proclaimed "Froggie," a neighborhood drunk. Froggie was called "Froggie" because of his distinctive "froggy" voice that would be recognized from over a block away. Now, Froggie was what you'd call a nice drunk- he was not really to be feared, more to be pitied. He was like an old world drunk, friendly with everyone, holding his heart, telling me that "his heart stopped beating" when I walked by because of "my beauty." Now, who really minds this sort of thing? He was not only flattering, he was funny as well. if I was going to hang out at the park with a drunk, I would pick Froggie myself. But still, we worried about Frankie, not that is was any of our business.

Sometime after that, I saw her again in the morning going to work and she told me she was headed to work too- she'd got a job as a nanny. And we'd see her over the summers at the park with some unsavory yet not violent type characters and with Frankie sometimes playing with other kids in the park. He'd run up and pet Mojo and Billie and show his friends the dogs and then run off. Sometimes, I thought I saw a bit of shame as he got older and more aware, but I honestly am not sure what it was I saw. Sometimes, I'd see her on Morse with or without Frankie and occasionally she'd ask me for a dollar, though not very often and only when she was without Frankie.

After a few years, Froggie had disappeared to a different street I think (Morse Avenue was probably not kind to him with all the drug dealers over there) and I noticed her always around with this one Rasta guy, who was always around during the day. He evidently did not have a job and seemed to be living with her and Frankie. I heard that he was living there from someone I knew who lived in her building. Incidentally, she lived in an apartment building about half a block up the street from us. It was a nice building and nice people lived there. I say this, because we do have a few more problem buildings on the block and it was nice to see she didn't live in them for hers and Frankie's sake.

Sometimes, when she asked me for money, I wanted to ask her what her deal was, was she doing drugs? She was obviously a bright woman, attractive and she had to be a good person to have this great friendly polite child. But then she was hanging out with fringe people. I admit I was afraid to ask, because I didn't know what her problems were and I am not a social worker and am untrained in helping people. I am just a person who cares about other people and is touched by their difficulties, especially when you see them and speak to them all the time. I don't ever want to close my heart off and not care about people in that way. That's how people in the suburbs get I think, because they don't live with any poor folks, who eat ramen soup for dinner every day because that's all they can afford. Maybe I can't fix their problems, but the least I can do is give a damn.

She also had this crazy brother, who fell more into the mean drunk category. Actually sometimes he'd be nice, but sometimes he'd be belligerant. I am pretty sure he was her brother, but again I can't be totally certain as the word on the street is not always accurate. We had one incident with this guy involving him being drunk off his ass on a Saturday morning at 10am and telling us, as we repaired our fence, that we were doing it all wrong. Steve gets a little irritable when doing home repairs at times and subsequently told him to fuck off, which led to him threatening Steve that he had a gun and would shoot him, which led to us calling the police, who told us the guy was harmless, just drunk and that was when we found out that he was her brother- or at least he said he was. We've seen him since as he's a regular around here, and he thankfully does not appear to remember the incident. Fun in the hood- what can I say?

After a while, they seemed to move away from our sphere and we'd see her and Frankie across the street or down the block, but not really close enough to say hello. Frankie didn't seem as interested in our dogs and we were busy with the home remodeling projects that have consumed our life over the past three years. One day, Steve came in from outside and mentioned that he had seen her and that he said hi, but he thought she didn't hear him and kind of looked at him funny, like he snubbed her or something. Shortly after that, I saw her as I was coming home and she said, "Hey what's wrong with your man? I said hi to him and he just ignored me." I told her, "He told me he saw you the other day, and he thought you looked at him funny. He just speaks quietly sometimes. Just ignore him." She went on her way, and it was a friendly exchange.

The next time I recall talking to her was a beautiful fall day and we had the dogs with us. Frankie stopped and pet them and his Mom said, "You guys- I just love you guys. I had a problem..." and I was bracing myself because I was afraid she was going to ask us for money and I wasn't sure how Steve would react and I didn't want anything unpleasant to happen in front of Frankie. She was at a loss for words it seemed and she asked Frankie, "What is it I had Frankie?" And he said "a stroke." We were really shocked and concerned and expressed it to her immediately, "Oh my gosh, when was that? and Are you okay? and We hope you feel better soon." She had tears in her eyes and said "I just love you guys, you guys are great." and she kind of slurred her words a bit. I may have given her a hug, I can't remember. We went inside and we were both affected and concerned about her and Frankie. She was only in her 30's, or at least that is what she looked to be. And Frankie's Dad, he didn't seem to be in the picture at all that we had seen. I hoped the best for them.

After that, I may have given her a dollar here and there and I saw her on Morse, up to what looked like no good, hanging out a bit on the corner. I prayed she wasn't doing anything more than helping deliver drugs for her Rasta guy. Frankie was growing up and he had to help look out for his Mom too. At least the guys she hung out with weren't gang types, just fringe characters. In my wilder days, I have spent time with a bit more fringe characters, who sold pot for example, and my opinion is that just because someone deals some drugs, does not make them a bad person. There are some really good hearted people that get mixed up in drugs and not all of them become amoral and evil. This is not to say that drugs are good or even ok in my opinion. I really don't think they do alot of good, mostly they harm people and take away from life. But there are degrees in everything.

The next time we spoke was also the last time we saw them. It was early January -very cold and snowing lightly. We were all bundled up in puffy coats and snow pants walking back a supply run from Clark-Devon Hardware. She saw us walking up and said, "You guys, I'm leaving!" We looked and saw the station wagon loaded up with stuff and the Rasta man standing beside her. He said, "Her brother (a different brother than the drunk one) is taking her back to Alabama, where her family is." I said, "Well, sometimes it's good to go back to family." Steve said, "We heard your building was going condo too." This was true, everyone had to move out and maybe the financial strain and her health issues were just too much to handle. Tears were streaming down her face and I was again, really moved by her open show of emotion. I said to her, "God bless and we'll miss seeing you guys." I gave her a hug and said bye to Frankie. We saw her brother getting in the driver's side and he looked a little stern I thought. Maybe the family was bailing her out and it was a strain on them.

It was very cold and after saying good bye we walked up the street to our house. With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes as well as Steve's, I said a silent prayer for her and Frankie.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Crocus rising

It's Thursday- you know day before Friday- and I saw some little crocus heads popping out of the frozen earth! It was also light at 5:30pm today-what a world. We are dog-sitting my Dad's two border collies this week and with our two little ones (Billie the cairn terrier and Mojo the dachshund) we have our hands full.

Billie is quite a little territorial terrier it seems and doesn't want to lose any of her power in the house- minute though it may be! Fortunately, when she gets herself into an scrap, she's so small you can just scoop her up and away from danger.

Anyway, Steve's at the wood shop in Lincoln Park making brackets for our kitchen shelving. The electrician is coming Saturday-yayaya! I am too tired to take the tub of dishes down to the basement and wash them, but maybe I'll do it anyway before The Apprentice comes on. I can't wait to see my tulips come a few months.