My mother was born and raised in a huge Italian family in Chicago. All the relatives, the trips to the museums and the Sears Tower, Chicago-style hotdogs, the sausage, cannolis, homemade meatballs and ravioli, pizza, raw clams, stuffed artichokes, “Lu-beans,” hugging, kissing, yelling—that was the Chicago-style to me.
I grew up in Tulsa, Okla., and I was always amazed by how my mother knew everyone halfway across the country. She knew every cousin, aunt, uncle, grandparent and great-grandparent.
She told me her father had always taught her the importance of family. “Respect your elders. Go visit your aunts,” he would say to her. As a result, she grew up visiting and asking questions; she learned the history of her family from the people who lived it, face-to-face. She was ensuring that the family library wouldn’t be abandoned when her aunts weren’t around any more.
When I was entering high school, she reconnected with her high school sweetheart and bada bing, bada boom, we moved to Chicago.
We married into another large Italian family with a Gramma and Grampa who lived in the same house since 1949 where they raised eight kids. Most of the aunts and uncles lived on the same block as Gramma and Grampa, and we called it “The Compound.”
Gramma was always in the kitchen, while Grampa serenaded her with opera. Uncles picked on uncles, aunts made fun of uncles, and more than 30 cousins swam in the pool and ran through the grapevines growing in back (used for homemade wine, of course). Suddenly, I was immersed in the very Chicago-style that I loved during my visits as a kid.
As the years went by, the Chicago-style came to mean something more than just the food and trips to the city. It was about family, tradition and respect.
After my son was born, I knew it was my turn to raise my child in the Chicago-style. I wanted him to have a deep understanding for the family he had around him. I wanted him to know the way his great-grandfather raised my mother, and in turn how she raised me.
Family. Tradition. Respect.
My son won’t remember the visits to see his great-grandmother now because he is only 1, but it’s important that I take him anyway. He needs to be around his family so that he can impart the history to his kids and continue the family library. He can tell them how their grandparents met and how his grandmother really did walk two miles to school every day. He can teach them to respect their elders.
These are the things that my son will never learn on Facebook or whatever social media platform takes over next. These are the things he can only learn and experience face-to-face. When he’s able to understand, I will explain to him the importance of these visits. Then, when he is old enough to visit on his own, I will remind him, “Respect your elders. Go visit your aunts, and uncles, and grandparents. This is family. This is tradition. This is respect.”
This is the Chicago-style.
Pat Jacobs is a stay-at-home Chicago dad, freelance writer and he co-manages the blog, Just A Dad 247, a blog for dads.