Although I have lived in Chicago for close to a decade, I am a Massachusetts boy to my core.
I harbor no illusions about ever being considered a native Chicagoan, both because I spent my childhood in Brookline and because of the extremely stringent standards local apply to that designation.
Even the great Studs Terkel, the voice and soul of Chicago who died at age 95 just days before Barack Obama’s historic election in 2008, was noted in some of the many flowery tributes that issued forth about him to have lived the first 12 years of his life in New York.
Being middle-aged and living what amounts to a low-level diasporic existence means that I treasure connections to my home state.
I love hearing Boston accents when I go home to see family.
I wept on Monday while watching a documentary by the Farrelly brothers about Red Sox icon Luis Tiant’s return to his homeland of Cuba after 46 years.
And I value even more the chance interactions I have with people here who are from the Boston area.
Jack Crane is one of them.
We met first on the phone about six or seven years ago while he was working at Shore Bank and I was working on a story about housing on Chicago’s South Side. Jack detected a non-Chicagoan lilt and we discovered our shared Bay State roots. He informed me that my last name’s Irish and Jewish components would put me in good standing with large chunks of Boston’s population.
Jack has given me many gifts in the years since then.
He bestowed an enormous honor on me by being the first person ever to recognize me in public from my picture on the blog (The picture is a few years old at this point, so I gave him extra credit for sifting through the additional grey hairs!).
Dunreith and I were taking our standard weekend walk along the lake when a tall, bearded gentleman said, “Jeff Kelly Lowenstein!”
It was Jack.
We chatted and chatted, and hatched a plan to get together with his lovely wife Michelle-which we did a couple of months later with great pleasure over a tasty meal she had prepared.
That meal was a vegetarian one.
Jack also gave me the gift of an unambiguously carnivorous experience by taking me to Manny’s, an authentic New York-style deli that is one of David Axelrod’s favorite joints.
Jack described with a knowing smile taking my brother Jon to lunch at Manny’s and the enormous volume of food Jon consumed after learning that Jack was treating (Jack’s daughter Liz and my brother Jon are friends and colleagues who traveled to Haiti together for a project after last year’s devastating earthquake.).
Jack’s given me the gift of support and honest feedback. A regular reader of the blog, he also lets me know though the grapevine that he notices when I’ve not posted for a few days. On the way out the door from my 45th birthday party, he also told me in no uncertain terms that he had been underwhelmed by my comments there. While I don’t remember the exact words, the gist was, “‘Real great, Jeff. ‘Duh, I’m a writer. Thanks for coming, everyone.'”
Above all, Jack has given me the gifts of wisdom and perspective.
These come most often in the comments he posts regularly on the blog and which I have featured on more than one occasion. When we were looking at colleges with Aidan this summer, for example, in a comment that underscored life’s whimsical nature and the vagaries of being a parent, Jack emphasized the pivotal role a compelling (and attractive) tour guide can play in determining where your child thinks he or she must go.
This morning I woke up to read the following from Jack in response to the post I wrote earlier this week about Aidan turning 18:
What I did not realize at the time Dan turned 18, ten years ago, is that our time together would dramatically change. I figured we would at least have a few summers together. But, alas, the burgeoning musician was keen on sharing a dilapidated two bedroom flat with 6 college buddies (or more!) while he broke into the Chicago summer nightclub scene. I missed him back then, but I also envied the choice – he was much braver than I at 18. I am certain Jeff, that down the road when you haven’t seen or heard much from Aidan in quite a spell, you will get an urgent call for a connection. It may be brief, but it will assure you that all the love and sacrifices you made for your kid went deep into his heart, never to be forgotten. A smile, a laugh, a touch and you are right back to where you were you left off, yet there is perhaps less giving on your part, and a gradual receiving from your son, and that feels pretty good. In fact, being open to Dan’s gift has recently carried me through some very long days.
You are blessed Jeff,
Tears sprang to my eyes as I read and reread Jack’s wise, honest and tender words.
So, on this morning the day after Christmas 2010 has officially ended, I am grateful for my fellow Massachusetts man and the difference he has made to me.