Friday, November 4, 2016

Did My Grandparents Cheer for the Chicago Cubs?

One of my co-workers asked how an Arizona native living in the American South had become a fan of the Chicago Cubs. Of course, it's all tied to family.

Thinking about my family's Chicago roots led me to the realization that sports affiliations are not a part of my family history knowledge. I failed to ask about sports when I interviewed an elderly cousin some 16 years ago. Now he's gone -- the last of a generation who knew my grandparents and great-grandparents through the eyes of a teenager.

It's hard to think of all the questions we should ask of our family, so this is just a little reminder to ask about sports if it's something you'd like to know.

Reminiscing about our Chicago history, I realized that the 1907 and 1908 World Series wins by the Cubs would have been a part of the fabric of the lives of my grandparents and their families. They lived in neighborhoods on the north side of Chicago, a few miles north of Wrigley Field. In their championship seasons, the Cubs played at the West Side Grounds, which was further south, but they were still the hometown team.

My grandmother, Ruth McFarlane, was a girl of nine in 1907. Her father had been badly hurt in a work accident on the Chicago street car system and the family struggled through financial difficulties. Her schoolmates and church friends would no doubt have been excited about the accomplishments of the home team and perhaps she and her younger sister were also. Did her parents have the luxury of enjoying the wins for a brief moment? By 1910, Ruth had dropped out of school and gone to work to contribute to the family income. I imagine that baseball was, for her, a background thought of no consequence.

My grandfather, Oliver Ekstrom, was four years old in 1907, and lived a life of financial comfort in the Andersonville Swedish-American community. He was the youngest of five living siblings and would have shared the excitement of his siblings and friends when the team brought home the championships. Were his immigrant parents also caught up in the excitement? Did they rejoice at the wins?

Nine years later the Cubs moved to what is now Wrigley Field. I'd like to think that Oliver was able to attend some of the games with his brothers or with his brother-in-law, a Chicago policeman. After Oliver and Ruth married, they went to Central America as missionaries, weakening the strong Chicago ties. With their early deaths, their children grew up in boarding schools in other places.

By the time the Cubs suffered the Curse of the Billy Goat and lost the World Series in 1945, Ruth and her parents were dead, as were Oliver, his father and two siblings. Only Ruth's sister and Oliver's mother and two siblings remained in Chicago, along with three of Oliver's nieces and nephews. That extended family still has members who live in the Chicago area; however, Oliver's children scattered, with three brothers eventually landing in Arizona.

Regardless of Oliver's connection to the Cubs, many of his descendants have embraced the Cubs and have enjoyed visits to the historic ballpark. I've been to Wrigley Field only once, though I've seen the Cubs play at other ballparks. I celebrate their 2016 World Series win as I reflect on the history of my family and our Chicago roots.

Quick drop page and elements from Digital Scrapper's Liberty (2009) and  Sports Mad (2012) kits

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