A weekend in Lawler is good for a few good ‘O’Connor stories’
We sat underneath the big tent at Irish Fest and I kept waiting for my old pal Bill Sheridan to bring up the Cubs.Sheridan is the Lawler native who wrote the book “Depot Street Memories: The Lawler Stories” and I never really tire of telling the story of how I met him.During my first spring here, the Carnegie Cultural Center invited Sheridan to read some of his stories from his just-published book.The problem was the day arrived and it was absolutely gorgeous outside, and my plan was simple: I’ll go listen to the “old guy” read one story, snap a photo or two and bolt.It was a good, solid plan; after all, I’ve lived in northern Iowa long enough to know that those perfect spring days don’t come around very often.But my plan failed.Sheridan opened by reading “Miracle in Pew 24,” the story of how his mother thought he was feigning illness to miss school so he could watch Game 7 of the World Series between his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers and those despicable New York Yankees.Dang, I was hooked and ended up staying at the Carnegie for a couple of hours.A friendship was born that day, and although we seldom meet, when we do, the conversations are long and heartfelt ... and usually come around to baseball.A couple of years after little Bill Sheridan fainted in that pew at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, the Dodgers moved out west and the love affair between the boy and the team ebbed.Yet, we still talk baseball, and as we talked on Saturday, I waited for him to bring up the Cubs, the team many in his family now consider the “home team.”Finally, he looked up, with a twinkle in his eyes, and said, “How about those Cubs?”And almost immediately I thought of another old pal — the departed Jim O’Connor, the clothier-turned-newspaperman who became one of my first real friends in New Hampton.When Sheridan and I get together, what we really do is exchange stories.Depot Street Memories is just that — a collection of stories, mostly funny, mostly from Sheridan’s youth.And when Bill asked me that question — how about those Cubs? — I couldn’t help but tell a story.The last summer Jim was alive was in 2012, and the Cubs were awful — not Minnesota Twins 2016 awful but pretty bad, nonetheless.By the time the 2012 season mercifully ended, Chicago had won 61 games and lost 101, but what I remember about that season occurred sometime early in the season, probably in early May.Jim had went to visit his son’s family in Kansas City — with a couple of stops to visit his “Native American friends” at the casino in Tama — and while he was gone, the Cubs had lost six or seven in a row.And these were your stereotypical Cub losses, too, where Chicago had several times snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.Jim, as he always did, returned to the office on a Tuesday and I couldn’t help but needle him.“Hey, your Cubs are doing well, aren’t they?”He turned his chair, leaned his head up against the wall (it was a typical Jim O’Connor pose, we used to joke) and smiled.“Ah Fenske, you know why I’m smiling?”“Enlighten me,” I answered.“All is right in the world. I didn’t lose money at the casino, my belly is full and the Cubs are in midseason form.”As I write this, the Cubs — yes, the Cubs! — are 47-20 and lead their division by 12 1/2 games.On Saturday, under the big tent in Lawler, Sheridan wondered aloud if this could really be the year, the season the Cubs finally win their first World Series since 1908?And then he answered his own question.“It probably took Jim a few years up there to get everything straightened out,” he said, “but he’s got to have a hand in this, doesn’t he?”Maybe it is Jim O’Connor whose pulling the strings on this incredible season by the Cubs, maybe not.But in the end, what Saturday taught me was this: A good story, no matter how nice the day, is worth it.