From the Editor's Desk

How Losing a Family Friend Gave Me a Much-Needed Return to Childhood

Mary Norkol | The PhoenixPhoenix Editor-in-Chief Mary Norkol grew up with a tight-knit group of neighbors. They're pictured here — "Chopper," the subject of this week's column, is seen on the far right.

When I first started thinking about how to approach this column, I had one rule: don’t make it too personal. I didn’t want my contributions to this paper — which serves countless different types of readers — to feel like my own personal diary.

I want my readers to relate to the majority of my columns on some level, and, more importantly, find some value in the thoughts I deemed important enough to put on paper. 

That being said, this week’s edition will air on the personal side. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think you’ll be able to find a connection in it.

This weekend, my family lost a close friend. I grew up across the street from him, and some of my earliest and fondest memories are set against the backdrop of his garage — a bonfire in the pit, Squirt in my plastic cup and a crayon in my hand.

Duane “Chopper” Geske was a butcher, known for giving Ziploc bags chock-full of beef jerky to his neighbors without being asked or prompted by a special occasion. My parents said they never shoveled our driveway — Chopper beat them to it almost every time since they arrived in the neighborhood back in 1996.

From a young age, I found myself sitting on bar stools in Chopper’s garage with my childhood best friend, who also lived across the street.

“When we didn’t know where you were, it was always just, ‘Oh they’re at Chopper’s,’” my mom said last week.

We scribbled masterpieces on napkins and scrap pieces of paper. Some of those hand-crafted treasures have been hanging in Chopper’s garage, untouched, for more than 15 years.

When Chopper got sick, my mom suggested I draw him a picture. I felt silly doing it at almost 22 years old, but I knew it would make him smile, and I did it anyway.

My parents visited Chopper shortly before he died. They mentioned how I was starting my senior year at school in Chicago. Despite not being able to speak, Chopper grinned from his hospital bed and pointed at my picture on the wall. 

After getting the call from my mom that Chopper had died, my heart not only dropped into my stomach, but it churned and tied itself in knots. He had been very sick for months, but as anyone who’s lost a sick relative or friend will tell you, it hardly makes it any easier.

For hours after the call, I carried on with my day. It was almost normal — almost.

But flashes of Chopper occupied my mind throughout the day. While I left scathing edits on articles now in this paper, I saw him cracking jokes to the neighborhood dads as the kids played down the street on a summer evening. While I sat on the Red Line on my way home, I heard him asking me how school was going and making sure I had enough to eat. While I filled up my second cup of coffee that day, I remembered the look in my dad’s eye as we raised a glass to Chopper a few weeks ago.

Each memory hurt in its own way, each vision twisted the knife in my gut a little more. But I was brought back to my childhood with each thought, too.

I’ve been pretty caught up in the future lately, a common symptom of starting one’s senior year. I’ll always remember Chopper as a hallmark of my childhood, and now I’ll move forward trying not to get too ahead of myself. Sometimes it’s okay to reminisce about the past.

He’ll remain a symbol of my unwavering support system back on Lydia Circle. I’ll keep a piece of him with me, and I’m grateful for the stories, advice, jokes and each bag of beef jerky  — even if I am a vegetarian now.

So, if I can offer a bit of advice this week, it’s to remember someone from your childhood — someone who represents the best parts of growing up.

This week, The Phoenix has tackled some vital stories, including the account of three women who accused a former Loyola student of sexual assault. 

The Phoenix Editorial Board calls on Loyola administration to change how they handle violence near campus.

Sports explains why the women’s soccer team stacks its non-conference schedule against difficult teams, and the A&E section provides a look into the Artists of the Wall project at Loyola Beach.

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