Hanging Out in Rockford: Friday the 13th: Losing a friend

My son is here a couple of weeks visiting from Budapest. I only get to see him a couple of times a year. This time, I am lucky and get to spend more time with him than usual. What I would like most of all is to spend a couple of weeks with him in Budapest. The last time I went (also the first time) was a couple of years ago. I loved the town. It’s one of the best things I have done in my life.

On the Friday before he leaves, I am still working on the freezer from hell. The freezer that defies my freezer knowledge (and I am pretty good, I could probably make a living repairing refrigeration); the freezer that defies logic. Friday the 13th, but I am having a good day, I think. Still, I have to finish the freezer, and when he calls to ask me if I want to go to the YMCA, I have to refuse, but I say we can go to have lunch. When he gets to the Irish Rose, I suggest Mexican because I know that is something he misses and cannot get in Budapest. He agrees, and so we go to Tortacos Sotto.

While we are having lunch, I get a call from my Realtor, Rudy, and he says he has definite interest from a buyer on my Rockton location and that he may have word on it before the week is out. If I do sell the Rockton store, I plan to visit my son where he lives, almost immediately. It’s like a sign, but I don’t want to assume anything. I try to put the matter out of my mind until there is a definite reply. So, it seems like a pretty good Friday the 13th, and who made that silly rule anyhow?

The next day, I take Drew to O’Hare and on the way, we talk, and he almost seems sad to leave. I tell him to get on the plane, and when he gets back to his friends he will feel different. I am sure he will. I know he needs to live in some place that is not Rockford. I know he has grown way beyond what this city can satisfy. I know my son is now a resident of the EU. I would like to have him closer, but I understand his need to be who he is.

By the way, he has a Web site, and for those of you who missed the article in The Rock River Times a few weeks ago, it is a podcast about Budapest—a regular weekly show about the town he lives in. You can find it at budacast.hu. He is looking for advertisers.

I pull into O’Hare and get lost. I miss the turn-off; the same turn-off I take every time I pick him up or drop him off. I have to go all the way around again to find the international terminal. I pull the van up in the departure area, and we unload the two suitcases he has, the old one he brought and the new one his mother bought for him. We stack the one on top of the other against the handle. He pulls it toward the door, and the top one drops off onto the ground. I go over to him and help him stack it on top again. We hug for the second time, and I head back to my van. As I pull away, I look back to see him negotiate the double doors successfully. My eyes fill with tears as I take the exit toward Chicago, the one that eventually leads you back to Rockford.

Monday night, I learn that my friend Jenny has died. That she died on Friday the 13th. Tuesday morning, on my way to the market, Tricia Davey calls me on my cell. She wants to know if I heard about Jenny. I suggest that we get together and have a drink to her. She calls Tricia Peters, and we all agree to meet at the Irish Rose. Later, I call Jon Agustsson, and he says he would like to be there, too.

We all sit at the Rose and get drunk and tell Jenny stories. I tell everyone the thing I feel most badly about, that Jenny reached out to me, and I failed to get back to her. She hadn’t been very communicative since her marriage, and I had felt kind of closed out. She called the Rose using her new last name, and I didn’t go to the phone because I didn’t recognize it. Then later, she called me on my cell, but I didn’t get the message until early in the morning, and I forgot to return her call the next day.

A day or so later, I am sitting at the bar at Little Italy. Tracey asks me if I knew Jenny Geiger. She has read the obituary in the newspaper. It said she was the manager of the Irish Rose in Rockton. I sit there looking at my cell phone, and I see her name. Reflexively, I am about to erase her number, but I hesitate. It is the first Jenn and the only one without a last name. I decide to keep it, realizing that I will think about her every time I see it.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

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