Chapter 1: Why I'm Here
|Looking out my bay window, it seems like Spring is here. I can't quite gauge the temperature, but I can tell it's above 30. That's great for March, in the Chicagoland area.
Yes, it's Chicagoland. I grew up calling it that, and to me, it will remain Chicagoland until I die. To you, it's the border between Illinois and Wisconsin. Bears/Cubs/Blackhawks/Bulls country, if you're into sports. Peppered with White Sox fans; people whose immigrant families settled on either the North or the South side of Chicago. That's what really determines the team preference.
My Gramma grew up in the stock yards. Canaryville, home to the singing Irish immigrants. She was 6 years old, and singin' at The Chicago World's Fair with the other crooners from the block. I had the honor, of meeting their neighborhood baseball team as a teenager. The Stars Morley baseball team. Hearing them, in their ripe 70's, sing a perfectly harmonious version of "Tura Lura Lura" was the pinnacle of my small, insignificant life.
Mary was my Gramma's name. She was my best friend as well as my biggest cheerleader. I used to sleep in the same, giant, king sized bed as her when my family moved back to Illinois from Florida. At night, she filled my impressionable mind with golden nuggets from her life.
In her early 60s, when I was still a baby, she provided child care services for a number of different families.
There were the kids that didn't have any milk at their house - who she would sneak milk in for - because the parents wouldn't buy it for some reason. She brought them clothes and small knick-knacks too.
The mom of these kids let her go, for bringing this stuff into the house. When she told me this story, I didn't ask any questions to clarify. I just listened intently to my Gramma, lulling me to sleep with her soothing voice.
Now, as an adult, I could think of a thousand reasons why the kids didn't have milk or clothes or knick-knacks. I guess the reasons don't matter, but the fact that she wanted them to have these things, made her special to me.
Another family she talked about were Kim and Vivian. Kim was the daughter and Vivian was the mom. She had met them through a healthcare clinic and offered to watch Kim while Vivian ran errands.
By ran errands I mean Vivian rummaged through industrial sized garbage recepticles looking for food, home goods and other salvagable things. Kim was in her 20s and had a mild learning disability. It contributed to her social awkwardness, but she was a very capable girl.
Her mom, Vivian, was a salvager, or what I would call a hoarder. She had two riverside properties chalk full of "stuff." Literally everything in the world resided in those two houses; Combined, the properties were worth a cool million. Gramma was paid 10 dollars each sitting for keeping Kim occupied while her mom made the rounds. Eventually, Gramma stopped going over there because it smelled like cats and old paper.
I got to meet these two fine ladies when I was in 8 years old. Gramma let me go over there one day during the summer. They were rummaging near the house and had stopped by for a chat. I remember was their attempt at feeding me Ovaltine.
I was overwhelmed with how much stuff was in the first house, so they brought me to the second house (filled with even more stuff), fixed me the water and powdered vitamin drink, and then walked me home. I too, could smell the cats and old paper.
My Gramma's favorite kid to babysit was Victor. He had some type of disability where he couldn't speak or walk at all. To this day, I don't know what it was called.
His face was misshapen, but he would smile for my Gramma. She read him stories and kept him entertained while his parents would go to dinner or out for the evening. They loved their son and needed some adult time, so they looked for a caring individual who would treat him like a person, not a burden. Mary filled the void in their family.
She was with them for two years. Eventually, she couldn't lift him anymore. But she always carried him in her heart.
My sister ran into Victor's mother at a local brewery, just a couple of years ago.
She overheard a woman talking about a "Victor" to a group of friends, all in their 50s.
Something lead my sister to ask the woman if she ever had a babysitter named Mary Callahan, and the woman began to tear up. For minutes, my sister and this mother cried and hugged each other.
In the middle of a packed house, they were connected over a bridge of time. The memory of my Gramma Mary bonded two complete strangers, with a missing link, who just happened to be sitting next to each other. They reminisced and compared; confirming facts that my Gramma had burrowed into my sister's brain, things this woman lived and couldn't forget.
"She saved us. We really needed her," the mom expressed. Updates were given. Victor had been put into a private care home after graduating from High School. His parents visited him every day. They made sure he was taken care of, but the toll had been taken on them. My sister understood, and didn't at the same time, but couldn't judge. She just wiped her tears and told the woman how much my Gramma loved him.
These are the memories I have as I get ready for my babysitting job. Now, I am 31 years old, with a 4 year old son of my own. If my Gramma Mary were alive, she'd probably be living with me. Hell, she's living with me anyways. Her spirit never leaves my thoughts.
My son occupies himself with Youtube videos while I dress. I look in the mirror and think to myself, "New kids need to feel comforted. What do approachable babysitters look like? Babysitters wear braids."
I confidently start braiding my salt and pepper hair to either side, then checked it out in the mirror to see if it's even.
"I'm way too old for braids. Either that, or my hair is too short." I decide to take the full braids out and leave small, side braids up top.
"There, now I look more like a Mom."
I can hear my Gramma Mary laughing at me from beyond the grave. "You look cute! Don't worry about it, they're gonna love ya," I can hear her yell.