Does the Pope drive through the woods?

(With summer ending and fall approaching, I'm recollecting some autumn moments over the years. Sweatshirts, football, red and yellow leaves, cross country meets, new Old Farmer's Almanacs and bite-sized candy bars. No, fall isn't so bad.)

In the fall of 1979, my mother had signed me up for a soccer clinic at Norridge Park. The clinic basically was to introduce kids to the game, and Mom must have thought I would enjoy a new sport (I already was sports-obsessed by age 8). Even just a decade later, I probably would have been playing soccer at age 6, but in 1979, it hadn't invaded suburban (or in my case, the middle-class neighborhoods inside the fringes of Chicago) youth sports.

I don't remember much about the clinic, which was one or two days a week for a few weeks. I obviously wasn't that enamored with soccer, because if I really took to it, I probably would have asked to keep playing. That's too bad -- I think if I was born 20 years later, soccer would have been a good sport for me, and if I did take an instant liking to it, I might have gotten good enough to play in high school, not because I was naturally talented, but because there simply weren't as many soccer players back then.

Soccer isn't the theme of this post. The papacy is.

On Oct. 4, 1979, Pope John Paul II arrived in Chicago. He spent about two days in a city with the largest Polish-Catholic population outside of Warsaw. Needless to say, this was a big deal to Catholics in Chicago. Our parish and support wanted to show the our support. Mom picked me up from soccer that gray-skied day to join other parishioners and classmates to see the Pope.

We drove to a grassy area next to the Kennedy Expressway off Seminole Street somewhat near our house. There was a hole in the fence and a good 50 yards to the expressway, and a many people had gathered. The Pope's motorcade would travel from the airport via the Kennedy to downtown. We waited to see him. Zoom! His limo with tinted windows sped by. I never actually saw the Pope that day, but just his a brief blur of his car.

I remember so much from this fall, especially this October. Oddly, there are some autumns from my youth from which I haven't remembered as much (including one I wrote about last year). But not 1979. The memories are vivid and important. Even when I was younger (about 12), the start of fourth grade seemed like a transition from being a little kid to being a not-so-little kid. Maybe that's why everything from that fall -- the whole next 12 months, in fact -- is so easily remembered.

Michael is only a third grader, but is turning 9 this fall like I turned 9 in the fall of 1979. I hope he remembers everything.


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