Our Chicago Pit Crew

I read Anne Lamott’s “Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers” on my mom’s recommendation.  A quick read, she is a favorite author (witty and spiritual) and it was a great book.  I read it while cruising through Chicago for a holiday visit, and a passage jumped out at me:

” The circle of family and friends ― “the lifesaving gift that your pit crew of people has been for you” ― is often at the heart of the “thanks” prayer.  The marvel is only partly that somehow you lured them into your web 20 years ago, 40 years ago, and they totally stuck with you,” she writes. “The more astonishing thing is that these greatest of all possible people feel the same way about you ― horrible, grim, self-obsessed you.”

Wow, what a great theme for our trip back to Chicago.  It was as if we’d headed for Knoxville back in the summer, and were heading back to the Chicago “pit” for a quick change, refresher, refill, and reload.  Notice I did not say relax.  What a whirlwind trip, surrounded by family and friends we loved being with. People who filled our tanks both physically and spiritually.  And, for the record, we use “Chicago” loosely to describe Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect, Wheaton and the surrounding area.  Around Knoxville, we are from “Chicago” to keep things simple and not get into “suburbs about 25 miles northwest of Chicago.”

The family – loved seeing everyone, including a holiday gathering with Carol’s family on Saturday and a get together with Tom’s family on Sunday.   Inspired by sisters, we shopped for yarn for a lovely striped afghan I’m crocheting.  Played games and ate too much.  Watched football and connected with aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and then ate some more.  We sat in circles sharing stories and catching up.  Of course, everyone missed Tom who was back in Knoxville working hard.  While we were at the party at his mom’s house, Tom was clever to send us a couple pictures from his Sunday…first a picture of an attic shelving unit he assembled to organize all the boxes of stuff (nice surprise!) followed by a few pictures of him fishing that afternoon on a lovely lake.  We missed having him with us, but truth told, at the pace we were moving he would have had a hard time keeping up!


The friends –the boys and I started off with a neighbor brunch hosted at Mary’s.  Wow again, I got choked up driving down our old street and then the tears were on full force greeting my old chums.  I mumbled through my tears, “really, Knoxville isn’t that bad, we are enjoying it there, but I’m just realizing how much I’ve missed all of you!” Russell’s champagne toast was sweet (“…In the words of Kotter…Welcome Back.”)   This party was too cool…with make your own omelets in a baggie that had two mixed raw eggs, you add your toppings (cheese, onion, mushroom, sausage, bacon, peppers), then let out the air, seal the bag and 6 of them at a time go into a large pot of boiling water for 13 minutes, then voila, perfectly cooked custom individual omelets.  Fun!  For dessert, Sharon and I were surprised with feathered tiaras and a large birthday cake with the number candles “110,” our combined age.   All this and we’d been in town for less than 18 hours.

–          Boys hooked up with friends throughout the weekend, dropping by homes and fitting in a couple sleepovers.  I had the pleasure of catching up with a few of their moms.

–          Brian enjoyed watching sports and eating out with high school friends.

–          We met the SJS basketball team and parents at Sports Page for a great night of togetherness.   We really miss hanging with the parents in the stands and Kevin was in his glory, back in with his bunch.


–          Kevin dropped by SJS during the lunch hour on Friday to say hi and got the best greeting from teachers and students alike.  Not sure who missed who more…so nice to see so many familiar faces that helped shape who he is.

–          I went to a lovely Bunko party with my college girlfriends and spouses at Laura’s home.  This group always pick right back up where we left off and is a good source of laughs, feedback and encouragement.  Adding in the guys upped the laugh quotient, a clever bunch of spouses.

–          I had no time, but squeezed in a friend for coffee (and an oil change while we hung out at Starbuck’s…hmmmm…ties in with my theme) and dear Terry totally filled my tank.  We have a mutual admiration society going (if you don’t have one, I highly recommend it.) We laughed, traded lifestyle tips and quickly caught up on the goings on in our lives. So glad I found that time!

Finally, faith – we made a point to hit 10:30 mass at St. Edna and it was a treat to hear a favorite deacon’s sermon.  He spoke of Herod and the Magi (wise men), and asked people to think about who they identified with more.  He said invariably, people respond the Magi.  But when pressed a bit to consider that it was Herod that preferred to stay in his comfort zone and keep things the way they were, versus the Magi that were not afraid to shake things up, drop everything and travel to a new land to search for a King… most of us may really be more like Herod, resistant to change.  We discussed on our car ride after mass our family probably qualifies as having a touch of the Magi in us at this stage.  We left a comfortable surrounding that we loved, and embarked to a new land.  In many ways, we’ve had to adjust, rely on our wits, reach deep into our faith, and carry on.  While we’ve missed so many familiar faces and places, we’ve survived and maybe soon can say we’ve thrived.  The book is still being written. ( And man, this is quite a book I’m writing here, thanks for the encouragement to keep blogging by a bunch of you.)


Heading back to Knoxville was all good.  We were glad to be back home as a family, have new friendships developing, sports to play and good events ahead of us here.  Plus, it was nice to put away the suitcase and slooooooowwww back down to the southern pace of things.  My word, you all move a lot faster up north than we southerners are used to!  Wink-wink.   Thanks for being part of our pit crew.

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5 Responses to Our Chicago Pit Crew

  1. Northwoods Sue says:

    It sure was fun to see you all, and be back in Illinois as well. I hadn’t been back to mom and dad’s house in years. And, I am one that says…..keep the blogging going!!!

  2. Aunt "B" says:

    Ditto to Sue’s comment regarding your blog…it is one of the most enjoyable reads everytime….Aunt B

  3. Sandi Kemerling says:

    Amen! Do continue blogging as it is truly a gift you were blessed with. One of the many!

  4. stewcarol says:

    Thank you pit crew commenters, love to hear from all of you! Sandi, I’d say you and Mark have a touch of the Magi in you, too, with travels and changes just a way of life you are good at!

  5. And I am so happy and blessed to be part of Your pit crew…I’m so happy I waited till I had a cup of coffee so I could thoroughly read and Enjoy this blog…good for the heart and good for the soul. Like my friend Carol with the Brilliant Brain!
    Thanks for making time for me…Miss you!!

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