From Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse on Kinzie, I peer through the aged windows and capture the cities melodic rhythm. Flashing lights are harmonized by the bustle of travelers commuting to seize the hasty onset of happy hour. The faint sound of tempo-matching horns from irritated motorists provides a subtle comfort beyond my warm oak chair resting in the historic bar. The crisp whiff of winter air drifts in my direction as a new patron takes her seat a few feet away. I stuff my black leather gloves into my pea coat and get settled.
The wooden walls suspend a familiar energy – acting as a canvas for the plethora of professional athletes and celebrities who have crossed through the famous threshold for their traditional photo with Harry Caray’s bust.
Many championships have been celebrated here, as well as testing trials of camaraderie shared with the Chicago Cubs and its fan base. Even one of the most celebrated Cubs icons, Harry Caray, failed to witness a successful World Championship season. So while we partake in our pre-game ritual in the house he built, we can all refine our romance with the Cubs, and their “cursed” antiquity.
The canvas of photos that line each wall in the historic bar has just welcomed a firecracker with a particular charm as soft as her snow-white hair. Dorothy Farrell, and the ambiance that surrounds her, curiously reflects a hypothetical sequel to Jimmy Fallon’s “Fever Pitch” – a romance about a woman who finds fame before fortune, whose last wish and ironic fortune will be to witness the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series. Most of Chicago’s most cherished luminaries have failed to observe this feat, but her story will be different…she refuses to leave this earth until the Cubs complete their century-long mission.
The highboy table is almost too massive to sit comfortably, so in order to accommodate, a swift boost by a few hospitable hands props her where she needs to be. The Chicago Cubs matriarch is greeted by warm smiles, high fives, hugs, and drinks – Farrell, much like Caray, will be to Wrigley Field an icon, cherished by reminiscing fans as such.
It’s an early February afternoon, and Farrell and I are sitting together with cold drinks in hand. Farrell has a few charming venues she enjoys, with this Kinzie staple being one of her favorites to frequent. She boasts a gentle aroma of rose and lavender, which wafts about our oak stained high boy. Her snow white hair sits tight and fluff brushed behind her silver-framed glasses which subtly magnify her twinkling blue eyes. The wrinkles blush with a natural glow, each lining her cheeks with cheerful memories and adoration. Her feet are snug tight in white sneakers, free swinging with each bite of our Parmesan potato chip appetizer. She is wearing a mellow green crew neck sweatshirt, with a red winter jacket tucked behind her seat. The gray fur hood shifts in and out of view as patrons shuffle for hugs to greet her. Everyone else in the bar is wearing suits and business apparel; she is wearing contentment.
When she arrived just a few minutes ago, I missed the grand entrance. It didn’t take very long for me to know she was in the vicinity – but, within seconds, a glass of red wine was already clutched in hand, paired with a shimmering glass of ice cubes firm in her right hand to chill.
“Hi, are you Dorothy?” I asked.
“You’re the one that’s interviewing me?” She replied.
She chuckles and shuffles away.
Dorothy is not your typical 89-year-old sweet grandmother. Her sharp tongue nicks sensitive conversation amply to make the average pre-teen boy blush. She’s used to the attention it brings, and it seems her age truly yields a reason for the spotlight. Farrell is quick to recite her story, as so many people I learn, tend to ask. To be clear, she is as beloved to Cubs fans as Ronnie Woo Woo, securing one lone season ticket in Section 31 after a dear friend passed away in 1984. With four admirable brothers and a father who would listen to games on WGN Radio, she was destined to be a loyal fan from the very beginning. 89 years old – 30+ of those committed to thousands of games with the Cubs. 30+ years of agony, happiness and pre-game jitters. Farrell is to baseball, what baseball used to be – tradition. It’s youth, it’s the innocence, and it’s the romance of the game, which she claims keeps her soul breathing.
She tells me about her doctor’s appointment just days before – her accent peculiarly accentuates the O into an A each time she utters the physician’s name – a sign of Chicago roots. They are concerned because of a small cyst on her lower left kidney – her response to this is candid. “I’m almost 90, what the hell did they expect, I’m f^%$ 89!”
Her bright dentures radiate as we speak, however, the smile quickly suspends as our petite waitress stops by the table – “Where’s Katie?” Farrell demands, searching the room for her favorite bartender. The waitress looks at me sheepishly and kindly tells Dorothy she will be available during the weekend. Next, I get a wink from Dorothy, and she tells the waitress “well, I’m on a special interview, and she’s missing out.” As the waitress walks away, Farrell is excited to tell me about Jimmy, who she claims as her own personal bartender and friend who seems to travel everywhere with her. In no time, I soon meet Jimmy, who sits right down with a martini in hand, ready to spill stories of their cherished past.
Farrell is long winded for her age, and can recite jokes and poetry from the 1940’s just as quick as whose butt she prefers to look at on first base. For the record, it’s Mark Grace’s famed glute’s, of which she admits to being a longtime fan. “There wasn’t a time he didn’t wave to me from 1st base,” she said with a rosy-cheeked grin. One day in the 90’s, Grace took it a bit further, asking Dorothy for a kiss exclaiming: “Dorothy would you get up on the dugout, I want to give you a kiss!“ Farrell looked at him, and said: “are you kidding me, I can’t get up there?” In true gentleman fashion, he jumped up himself and kissed her beneath the summer sun. “It’s things like that which has kept me young,” she chuckles. “I am old after all!”
Back when the United Club was originally the Stadium Club at Wrigley Field and Sammy Sosa’s Jehri curls dripped beneath his sultry red and navy White Sox cap, Dorothy joined what was called the Wild Bunch, a group of beer guzzling die hards hanging out at Bernies Saloon on Clark. The magnificent mixture of suds and sunshine tied annually to the love and charisma of Wrigley. The Wild Bunch traveled to each game they could, and she joined what I don’t think she realized at the time to become her second family.
A few long-time friends of Dorothy’s, Mary and Debbie join us over the course of our interview and begin to giggle in apprehension as they tell me stories about her Wild Bunch days. One story detailing a time when they were all rooming together during the Cubs Convention, and upon returning to the hotel around 3 a.m., find Dorothy missing from her bed. She had been sleeping when they left earlier that evening, and to their surprise, she returned to the room a half hour later fresh from an exciting escapade. “We felt like the biggest losers,” they raved, “we came in early, and here Dorothy is out there partying later than us!” Farrell’s current smile indicates no “ragrets,” and with a life as celebrated as hers, there’s a message I begin to note throughout our conversations. Another tells a story that occurred almost 20 years ago, “this was a road trip, Dorothy had a room next to us, and we had come home after a night out at 2 in the morning. As we walk along the hall, we find her (Dorothy) passed out in the hotel hallway.” Farrell laughs explaining that she couldn’t get into her room, so she decided to sleep on the floor. “I was having too much fun with Katie,” she shrieked. “Wayne Messmer was staying in the room next to me, I’m sure he had to step over me to get in his room.” Never a dull moment.
Farrell has 5 children, 8 Grandchildren, and 7 Great-Grandchildren, amusingly admitting she is not expected to remember all of their names. I catch her studying my Parmesan crusted fingers for any evidence of my relationship status. She hints to a Granddaughter my age – her friends sitting around the table collectively light up. They know of this Granddaughter and all nod in approval that she is worthy of a healthy match. “She’s a model, very smart girl,” Farrell claims, with one eyebrow subtly raised. “She even played softball in college, an athlete!” I’ve heard these familiar words from Grandmother’s before– I’ll wait for the introduction.
Family, however, is nothing Farrell flinches at as we speak. She is uncomfortably forward with detail at times, but her life has been fascinating. Her mother lived to be 102 years old, outliving her husband and all 4 of her children (Dorothy’s brothers.) Two of Farrell’s brothers were murdered serving in World War II, the other two passing of natural causes. She got married in high school and remained with her late husband for 40 years, despite his cheating ways. She was loyal, (“not to the a$$hole of course,” she said) but has remained loyal throughout her admirable life.
I genuinely appreciate her charisma and what I call “Dorothyisms” – it’s been years since I have met someone who did not showcase their lives through technology. Dorothy showed me Facebook, before the days of Facebook were even a concept. Fumbling through her tan purse, she proudly presents a stack of photos, some as recent as last spring. I swipe through, sub-consciously swiping right for the pictures I liked. I come across a photo of her entire family, a cute portrait of her Grandson, a few pictures with Mark Grace, and a curious single portrait of Dorothy at Wrigley with catcher’s gear and a mask. I quickly learn the story behind it. During a game last season, Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo, caught in a 3-2 count, fouled back a pitch to knock the then 88-year-old in the chest so hard, she quickly refrained from ever calling him names.
“He was mad at me at the time,” she explained. “Rizzo goes through these dry spells, so I constantly have to yell at him to “earn his money!” Apparently, he listens. The next game, admirer’s from the Stadium Club showed up to the game with catcher’s equipment, to protect her from taking a nasty hit again.
Most players, like Grace and Kerry Wood, adore her. Over the years, she’s built quite the reputation for herself with the athlete’s and fans. She’s the Matriarch – albeit an unusual one, but a woman respected for her commitment to the game and the Chicago Cubs. She asks me about Wood and how he is doing and proceeds to tell me about his very early days as a Cub. “He was a cute chubby kid then,” she laughs, “but boy could he throw.” Farrell was actually at Wood’s historic 20-strikeout game, recalling the mood and energy at Wrigley during the magical feat. She claimed she was one of the only fans waiting in the stands due to some rain that had begun to trickle during a portion of the game. “Everyone disappeared around me, but as soon as they realized how special this game was, they tried to make their way back down to make it look like they had been watching the entire time. A bunch of fakers and they called themselves die-hards,” she scoffed.
There are only two teams Farrell claims she disgusts, so much so, she hands off her only ticket when they come to town. The first may come as a surprise, but you will not find her at home during the Crosstown classic with our friendly Southside White Sox. Ironically, it’s not because of the team she dislikes, but their fans, who obnoxiously violate baseball’s unwritten sportsmanship rule surrounding section 31. Most season ticket holders enjoy the fruits these seats bring when big rivals come to the Northside. Unfortunately, there’s not a screening process to protect this sweet woman from unwavering “potty mouth,” fans. A World Series Red-Line showdown would be a different story, to this, she mentioned she would “manage” if the two teams found themselves head-to-head in the series. (To those of you who were thinking ahead to take such a game off of her hands, I already asked. I regret these will not be available.)
The next team will also be a surprise to you as Farrell despises the Washington Nationals. Of course, she adores the literal team. After all, they have only been in existence as the “Nationals” for about 7 years. It’s a shame the fans ruin her experience. Although, she will be a bit more inclined to attend this year, now that Dusty Baker has arrived as the new Manager.
“Oh I just love Dusty,” she exclaims. “We go way back!” Baker makes sure to stop by her section before each game when he’s in town. They are good friends and share a few laughs despite some of the negative connotation associated with his name with still-bitter fans.
It seems everywhere she goes, her energy and charisma light up the atmosphere. She brings the party, which is how we formally met. While attending the 5th Annual Woody’s Winter Warm-Up on January 15, at Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant and Chicago Sports Museum, Farrell found herself schmoozing with the handsome 2015 Cy Young Award Winner Jake Arrieta. A photo of the couple cheesing together with Harry Caray photo bombing in the background instantly grabbed my attention on Facebook. I showed her the fantastic photo of the couple together, and she lit up like a Christmas tree yelling “this is IT, this is IT, HA! This is the one, and boy isn’t he handsome?”
It felt like a party at our table. A few beers here, a few martinis’ there, a new waitress and suddenly 5 cold glasses of Jagermeister (notice I said glasses, not shots) were now in front of us; the black licorice scent piercing my nostrils, bringing back cheerful memories of past fundraiser’s and events. Stewart McVicar, a longtime friend and “adopted Grandchild,” of Dorothy’s recalled one of The Wood Family Foundation’s first Winter Warm-Up events at Harry Caray’s. As Farrell was sitting at the bar, she requests the dark liqueur from celebrity bartender Todd Ricketts. Not immediately available, and against the rules, Ricketts disappears for just one minute…returning with a bottle of Jager and numerous shot glasses, generously pouring for all to enjoy.
“You can’t hold a good broad down,” she says. We all clutch our glasses, squirming at the thought of 6oz of cold Jager. I proudly toast to her quote, and we each settle down without words. In the moment, my world being rocked by the irony, metaphors and symbolism surrounding what I was experiencing. Farrell quickly breaks the silence and says, “I don’t act like I’m 90 do I?” she joyfully exclaims, “I have to drink this to stay preserved!” I chuckle, and respond, agreeing she is unlike anyone I have met before.
She is anxious for me to meet Christopher, her elusive “boyfriend,” a server at one of her favorite Italian restaurant’s “La Villa.” We close the tab and take taxis to the next hot spot. I help her into the front seat of her ride and hop in the back seat for our trip. “I like this guy,” she says to McVicar, can he come with to La Villa?” She forgot I was in the car with her, but I smile and shout to her from the back that I was most definitely joining for the party.
The driver drops us off in front of the restaurant, and we shuffle to the front of the door. I peek inside and find the servers moving in anticipation of Dorothy Farrell. The cold door presses open, and the warm blast of air catches us in the face mixed with the heavenly aroma of Italian bread and marinara sauce. The receptionist yells for Christopher and a slim young guy with jet black hair makes his way to shake our hands and formally greet his admirer. They banter as we get seated, with Tommy the Accordion player inserting Dorothy’s name into Jimmy Buffet’s famed “Margaritaville” tune.
This is Dorothy’s life. A charmed one at that – she is thrilled for this season, and the outcome it could bring. She has a feeling 2016 is the year, and I trust her intuition. If you see her at a game this season, don’t feel inclined to buy her an OldStyle or a hot dog – she won’t accept. Farrell rarely drinks in the stands, on account she keeps up the tradition of a pristine scorecard. She’ll still sing the YMCA with you, and deliver commentary on the game. She enjoys the new additions to the stadium and hopes it can only bring more success to Chicago.
Towards midnight, the evening had come to a conclusion. We shared a slow dance by candlelight and parted ways. This evening had been a special treat to my soul, gaining so much respect for the woman forever decorated in Cubbie blue.
She mentioned one more thing as we were saying our goodbyes: “Everyone better promise me they won’t put me in a home when I get old!” she exclaimed. “I’d rather be at Wrigley.”
On Clark the Cub: “Who the hell IS Clark the Cub? How does he know who I am?”
On Water: “I only use it to take a bath”
On the Curse of the Goat: “I don’t believe in that crap!”
The first thing she’ll do when the Cubs win the World Series: “I’ll run on the field, and kiss everyone there!”
On her Tattoo: “Ask to see my mouse” (There’s a $5 fee btw)
On what she wants her legacy to be: “I just want to be remembered as a great Cubs Fan!”