Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Memoirs: Me and the Champ

Circa 1957. I was just five years old and visiting Chicago with my parents so Dad could attend the semi-annual furniture show at the American Furniture Mart. It sat at the south branch of the Chicago River and just a few blocks from the Lake Michigan shoreline and Chicago Navy Pier. We did some touristy things like shopping at Marshall Field, and visiting my cousins while Dad worked. It was fun for me as a kid to be in a different location and stay in a hotel.

One evening while waiting for a dinner table in the hotel restaurant, Dad led us into the bar. I followed along with Mom as children are expected to do. The bar was smoky and crowded and I stood there obediently, albeit annoyed and bored with loud, drinking adults flanking me on all sides. Glancing up at Dad, he’s now grinning ear to ear and swiftly walking over to some old guy who was seated at the bar. He shook his hand, “Hi Champ!” I just figured since Dad grew up in Chicago, he just knew this fellow, possibly an old friend who just by chance, happened to be sitting there. He then introduced my mother and me to Rocky. I shook the stranger’s hand while trying to hold on to my autograph doggy.

Rocky Marciano had retired the year before, 1956 as the World Boxing champion after defeating Joe Lewis. He was the only champion to retire undefeated. Dad loved boxing. He referred to them as Prizefights. That was back in the day. I watched with him on the black and white Zenith. Meeting Rocky Marciano didn't mean anything to a five year old until years later. In addition, it wasn’t until years later that I learned another earthy detail about that chance encounter with Champ.

Unbeknownst to me, in 1957 my mother Mille was 39 years old and extremely attractive. In other words, in today’s world she would be a “hot babe”. To me she was just good, ‘ol, overprotective Mom.

Back at the bar. We had just met Rocky, I was unimpressed, and we were still waiting for a table. Being five, I now had to go the bathroom—bad. Mom excuses us, (we were very polite in the 50s) takes my hand leading me back to our hotel room to do the deed—up the elevator and down the long hallway towards our room. I was turning blue trying not to explode when halfway down the hallway Mom realizes something and stops. What? She turned around to see that “guess who” was following us. Yep, Rocky. What? More correctly, he was following Mom who promptly yet politely spat “I think you better just please just turn around and go back downstairs!” So, it seems that Rocky Marciano was cold-tracking Mom like a coonhound diligently following a scent trail. Men. True story.

My mother is now 91 years old. She vividly (and proudly) remembers the story to which there is really no moral, but I still have his signature on that autograph doggy.

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