Today, for the record, is Bill Kurtis Day in Chicago. If you’re like me and spent your childhood here, Mr. Kurtis, which is what I called him when I met him, is an honest to God Chicago icon. Unlike New York and LA, our celebrities come from politics and local news stations. I like that about Chicago.
Some of my earliest memories include watching Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson reporting the news. For some unknown reason, I had a crush on Walter and would plead with my parents to let me stay awake and watch with them. I would intentionally mispronounce Walter’s name, “Walter Ja-pe-skin’s Perspective,” as it seemed to charm my folks, making it more likely I could stay up. It felt so grown up, being with my folks and older sibs, watching these two men report the news.
I was an odd kid, and the news did it for me. In the eighth grade, I thought Phil Donahue was dreamy. I so wanted to be “That Girl.” I mean, Good Lord, when you look at the hair I’ve been sporting for two years, you see I am completely guilty of being a Marlo Thomas wannabe. She was kind of like a younger, more wide eyed Mary Tyler Moore. See? I’m odd. I know this about myself.
Okay, but enough about me. It’s Bill Kurtis Day in Chicago! I am celebrating with this post and spreading the news of the day’s significance. I heart Mr. Kurtis. He is imminently trustworthy in his news delivery. He is a reminder of my youth, that has somehow extended into middle age. Improbably, he and Walter are back reporting the news again. So much in the world has changed, including how we get our news, yet there they are, each week day, doing what they’ve done since I was wee and having to trick my parents into letting me stay up to watch them. I don’t need to ask my folks’ permission anymore, and truth be told, I am rarely using television for news. I still believe in what Walter and Bill Kurtis say, though, as they say it so well.
There is something comforting about things in our youth that don’t change, that come along with us on our aging process. This could explain my fascination with Mayor Daley as well. Or my Mom’s Dorothy Hamill wedge haircut that she wore so well from 1976 until she was diagnosed with her brain tumor in 2004. Or Kraft Dinner on Friday nights. These things comfort me.
In spring 2010, I got a call from our daughter’s hospice agency, Horizon Hospice. They were interested in honoring us as their Caregivers of the Year. Would we be willing to accept such an award? Would we be willing to speak about Donna’s hospice experience to a room full of Chicago movers and shakers in an upcoming gala? Sigh. I was torn. It was lovely to be recognized for our caregiving, and yes, an opportunity to talk about Donna is always welcome, but, you know, this call out of the blue cemented Donna’s death and absence. Then our contact mentioned that Bill Kurtis would be hosting the evening. “Yes,” I said, quickly, without even consuting Mary Tyler Dad.
I confided to our contact at Horizon that Bill Kurtis was one of my Chicago icons and I would be so pleased to meet him. Oh, and could I include my father, who would be equally pleased to meet another Chicago icon — you might not know my Dad, but he is totally and completely a Chicago icon.
The evening came and it was lovely. Mary Tyler Dad, the wry and sardonic love of my life, had started referring to it as ‘The Hoscars.’ We were both in our finest clothes, which means I got to see him in a collared shirt, always a bonus. We got to sit with some of the hospice caregivers that cared for both Donna and us in the most terrible of days. Both of Donna’s docs shared the evening with us, too, and that was especially touching. And for the first time ever, I ate bacon coated with brown sugar. OMG, as Mary Tyler Son now exclaims. Bacon in brown sugar is potentially the best appetizer ever.
About an hour before the actual event, while rich folks hob nobbed over bacon and cocktails, and we tried to not look too conspicuous, Mary Tyler Dad, my own Dad, and I were ushered into the main room where Mr. Kurtis and his lovely partner, Donna LaPietra greeted us. They held a bag out to me, full of Kurtis swag — signed photos, an autographed copy of Bill’s book, the whole Kurtis shabang. We chatted and posed for photo after photo. I learned that Kurtis was changed from its original Kuretich. Mr. Kurtis and I shared Croatian heritage — no wonder I lived him! And we chatted about Laura Ingalls Wilder, my favorite childhood author. He just happens to own the land in Kansas where the Ingalls family homesteaded. Bill and Donna could not have been kinder or more gracious. And to hear Bill Kurtis say my name and introduce me? It. Does. Not. Get. Any. Better.
So, yes, I had a great, great evening. And today, I have a very personal reason to honor Mr. Kurtis on Chicago’s Bill Kurtis Day. Except I am still kicking myself that I didn’t bring an Anchorman DVD for him to sign. Sigh.
Mr. Bill Kurtis, Mary Tyler Mom (complete with awesome sweat stain), and Mary Tyler Dad at the May 2010 Horizon Hospice ‘Hoscars’
Bill Kurtis, Mary Tyler Mom and her Da — another Chicago icon, at the Horizon Hospice ‘Hoscars’