Local view: A New Year tribute that is long overdueAnother New Year springs upon us, and I’m thinking how life is a meteor, fast and never again. A generation has blasted by before I’m getting around to doing, finally, what I should have done before.
By: David McGrath, Duluth News Tribune
Another New Year springs upon us, and I’m thinking how life is a meteor, fast and never again. A generation has blasted by before I’m getting around to doing, finally, what I should have done before.
My cousins lost their father, my Uncle Don, when they were young children. Lost is a euphemism since he was ripped from their lives, and from Mary Ann, their mother and the wife he revered, when he was 42.
Fate cruel and tragic and all that, but what also is unforgivable is that there are people walking around like me who know things their childhood memories are still owed. So 2013 will be the last of too many New Years to pass before I write this down.
Surely, the Cichowskis have Super 8 movie film showing how their father walked and stood and smiled and waved his arms in silence. And cassette tapes playing his voice and infectious laugh. But I can only imagine how many mornings each of his four children, now grown, wake before the light, aching from a dream, wondering how it might be to sit across a table from him in a warm kitchen, coffee steaming: a conversation, his presence, that power in their lives. If only!
No one can give them that. And the limit of my presumption is to recall a story as well as I can remember and then trust to his love and their longing for its truth.
Such as the chill Monday afternoon long ago, the week after Christmas, my brothers and friends playing touch football on the narrow asphalt gridiron between parked cars where we lived, while Don was visiting my mother — Aunt Gert to my cousins — having a sandwich of cold turkey and hot gravy and a Pepsi. Slouching way back the way he did, legs crossed in a tangent to the kitchen table.
He was passing through, had been at the court downtown, representing juveniles for assault. He stopped by his big sister’s often. So here he was wearing a suit, but they never fit. Like dressing a six-and-a-half-foot dolphin, permanently arced, with a broad trunk and narrow hips. It was only a question of when he’d come out that door, flow down the stairs, raise his hand for the ball. We kept looking up at the house.
I was 18, wearing a sleeveless ski jacket, shoes with leather heels, an unlit Marlboro protruding from the corner of my mouth. We were fooling around. Punting the ball. It would only mean something when he came out, when he would tell us the teams, where to run and where he would pass the football.
Don Cichowski was a pure athlete, unlike any of the rest of us. I’d gone through the archives of the papers where both he and I went to school, with stories about “Chico” hitting a ball over the roof of the power house, a feat never replicated, and old “Chico” scoring a hat trick, though the team lost the game. But it was more than hockey or sports, really. He had a tall man’s way of standing in our street, head slightly bowed, eyes level, arms hanging loose.
But it was his gaze, a perception, like of no other man I have since known. Everybody on our street — my brother Pat, our neighbor Bob — he appraised with a kind of manic joy.
His passion for testing limits, his ceaseless vigilance for adventure: you wanted to be there.
His look was challenging, demanding; his smile saying I bet you cannot do this; his eyes on fire with, I hope to God you can.
His magic was harnessing his brains and energy and will and then inverting it into you. It’s why every courtroom, banquet hall, softball field, church and park I’d ever been in with Don had an oxygen level that was rising, an electricity charging, and expectations ascending.
I sat back at free safety as Don singled out Bob Remiasz, whose need and will and heart he saw plainly, the way a hypnotist knows. He sent him long, straight at me, and then had him turn abruptly in a banana curve, where he snatched the cold hard ball out of the sky, crashing heavy into Jerry Jesenius’ new car, plowing a hip sized dimple in the driver’s door.
Don let out a whoop for the touchdown — or maybe the throw or more likely the exhilaration of unlimited possibility.
And then we all ran for it, Don at the head of the pack, laughing like hyenas, scuttling from the scene of the crime.
The dent was made right later, the adult thing to do. What I can swear to is that instance of pure joy, Don’s immortal, fugacious spirit. That for me is recollected, for his children inherited.
The holidays are for celebrating the stories, spiritual and traditional, that connect us all.
Don Cichowski died instantly from a heart attack in 1977, leaving a wife and four children: Joe, MaryKay, Paul and Roseann.
David McGrath of Hayward is the author of “The Territory.” Contact him at profmcgrath2004@ yahoo.com.