This is a test on Feb. 6

I am updating the server and site. I will be back to regular postings soon.



Streets of danger

One of the benefits of working at Duke University is an amazing library with great online resources. Earlier this year, I went searching for my family in the archives of the Chicago Tribune, and found a number of articles that mentioned my grandfather and father, but also two about relatives I wasn’t expecting to see.

Judy Sisco

My grandparents, Louis and Virginia Sisco, had a daughter named Judy, and I’ve known all my life about her tragic story: she was killed as a young girl as she darted into the street, and that my grandparents missed her painfully every day thereafter.

The July 24, 1939 edition of the Chicago Tribune included an entry — part of a series titled The Massacre: Chicago’s 1939 Traffic Toll that was recording traffic deaths across the city — with the headline “GIRL, 2 ½, KILLED BY CAR AS SHE DARTS IN STREET”:

Judith Sisco, 2 ½ years old, was fatally injured by an automobile yesterday before the eyes of her mother, Mrs. Louis Sisco, 3132 South Highland avenue, Berwyn. The girl was struck when she darted into the street from her mother’s side. She died in the Berwyn hospital. The accident occurred in the 6500 block of Roosevelt road. The car was driven by Albert Ivanjack, 1707 Morgan street.

I sent a PDF of that article to my mother, and she texted me this:

The lady across the street saw it happen and tried to yell but it all happened too fast. Mom refused to charge the young man who was 18 years old, I think. He felt so bad. He came to the funeral. Judy darted between two cars that were parked. She ran after a gum wrapper or something like that. After that my mom used the halter and leash that somebody had started selling. People used to say terrible things to mom but she didn’t care because she didn’t want another child killed.

That’s why, anytime we were near a street or in a parking lot, I had a firm grip on the hands of my children.

Frances Zuiker

The December 4, 1936 edition of the Chicago Tribune reported that a “girl and father” (21-year-old Miss Mary Schmidt and John, 60 years old) were fatally injured when their automobile skidded in slippery car tracks and crashed head on into a street car.

Further down, there is a report of another street car accident:

Nine persons, seven of them street car passengers, were injured last night in a spectacular crash between a street car and a truck and trailer at 48th and State streets. The tank of the truck exploded, setting fire to the truck and the car. No was was seriously hurt.

A list of the nine individuals and their home addresses follows, and includes “Mrs. Francis Zuiker, 51 years old, 137 East 115th street.”

I was confused. Francis Zuiker is my grandfather, he was 26 in 1936, and he didn’t get married to Clarice until the next year. I also had never heard of one of my relatives being involved in a street car crash. I asked my father, and then the family mailing list, and no one else remembered such an incident. But then one of the uncles confirmed that my great-grandparents had lived on East 115th Street, and another uncle reminded me that my great-grandmother was named Frances (Link) Zuiker.

So, my great-grandmother Frances was on a street car that crashed into a truck. That’s interesting.

At the end of the list of names, though, is this added line: “All the passengers but Mrs. Zuiker are colored.” My grandmother was white. I never met my great-grandmother, and I don’t know how she reacted if and when she read that line in that 1936 report. If she were alive today, how would she feel about the racism and inequality that is still so ingrained in American society? Would she, like me, want desperately to find some way to help make our nation more just? I don’t know why Frances was on that street car, where she was coming from or going to. One of my uncles told me that my grandfather, Francis, “had no trouble relating to and being friends with anyone and everyone.” Did he learn that from his mother, Frances?

Frances’s husband, my great-grandfather, was named Cornelius Zuiker. I’ve been looking through the Census records and learned that he immigrated to the United States of America from Holland in 1892. Peter Sisco, another great-grandfather, came to the U.S. from Italy in 1899. I’ll continue to search for my other ancestors, and update my online genealogy.



The Zuiker opener at Wrigley Field

Beer vendor's apron and bottle opener made by Francis Zuiker

When the Zuiker aunts and uncles gathered earlier this month in Florida to surprise Aunt Judy on her 80th birthday, my father sent me a message to report that Uncle Larry was passing around a new book I might be interested in getting.

He was right, and so I ordered a copy of Wrigley Field’s Amazing Vendors, by Lloyd Rutzky and Joel Levin. The book is a collection of photos from the 1970s showing the men (and a few women) who worked at Wrigley Field selling hot dogs, popcorn, beer, and soda.

My father, Uncle Larry, Grandpa Zuiker, and most of the other aunts and uncles worked at Wrigley, Comiskey Park, Soldier Field, and Chicago Stadium. And page 40 of the book features a photo of my father, with this caption extolling my grandfather:

“One of the most famous and cherished tools of Chicago’s beermen in the 1970s was the Zuiker opener, which fellow employe Francis Zuiker made as a sheet metal worker [at the Pullman Car Company]. They were completely unbreakable and opened bottles with precision. Zuiker sold them for only $1 each. … Above is Zuiker’s oldest son, Joe. Joe was one of several Zuikers who toiled at the ballpark.”

One of my earliest memories is of seeing my father on television as I watched, with my mother, an evening White Sox game. My dad was in law school at the time, selling beer at the ball games to pay for the degree. Later, when I was in high school, dad would take me to Cubs and Sox games, and I used to love walking with him through the stadiums as he was greeted by one old-time vendor after another.

The Zuiker bottle opener that grandpa was famous for was also mentioned in the 2000 Chicago Tribune obituary for Francis Zuiker:

Mr. Zuiker always had more than one job, usually as a free-lance writer and photographer, a side occupation that brought in extra money as well as satisfied Mr. Zuiker’s creative nature. Another of his secondary professions was hawking popcorn and beer at sporting events in town; his daughter said that while on that job, he made (but never patented) improved can openers and similar devices for fellow vendors.

The Tribune had featured grandpa 27 years earlier in a story about ball-park vendors. (“At the ball park: It may be peanuts but it’s their bread & butter!” by Stephanie Fuller; Chicago Tribune, Aug 21, 1973; pg. B2] I found that article this summer when I was searching the Tribune archives for mentions of my family. (One of my next blog posts will be about two surprising finds about my grandmothers.)

I liked this passage at the end that explained grandpa’s experience with how “heat combined with beer drinking” could cause trouble:

“Different teams attract different types of crowds,” he continued. “With Cincinnati and St. Louis you get the beer drinkers. Other teams bring more family crowds. No two teams draw exactly the same type of crowd.

“You see, most vendors work both the Sox and Cubs baseball games, hockey games and events at Solder Field. We get a lot of exposure. At Sox Park, Texas and California bring in families. By a family crowd, I mean you get a lot of tour groups and people who bring their own lunches and drinks. They’re not big spenders.”

Zuiker feels the ball park is a bonanza for kids who obtain summer jobs as vendors and can pay for their education. He ought to know as his six sons worked their way thru college hawking items, his wife works in the hot dog room, and one of his daughters is a “weenie wiper,” a person who stuffs the hot dogs.

I am in search of a Zuiker opener. [Uncle John sent a photo of an opener and an apron made by Francis Zuiker. See above.] My mother-in-law, meanwhile, reports that she’s got a custom-made beer-bottle opener that her father crafted on his farm in Huron, Ohio. I suspect we could put together a book about the self-sufficiency of the greatest generation with just photos and stories of the bottle openers those men and women created for themselves and their comrades.



Whatever happened with my decade of narrative?

On my 40th birthday, in 2010, I threw a party for my friends. Standing before them, I pledged to make my next decade one of narrative, in which I would learn to be a better storyteller and find ways for others to tell their stories.

(My 30th birthday inaugurated a decade for writing, in which I blogged regularly and edited and published a book by my father and a book by my grandfather. My 20s were for growing up and experiencing the world; I lived in Hawaii, got married, edited a magazine, and served my country as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.)

I started my forties well, telling stories on stage and organizing events; I posted an update in 2012, another in 2013.

Then, five years ago, I had my online wipeout. In the blogging and social media sabbatical that followed, I thought long and hard about the many lessons I had learned in the preceding years, especially the importance of listening, really listening to the people and world around me. Thankfully, in those lessons and through the people I know, I found new energy and meaning.

All along, I was looking for some way to create a “listening booth” at Duke University Hospital (where I work), some way for patients and their families to talk about who they are.

One afternoon, while I was waiting outside the auditorium for a research seminar to finish, I watched silently as a patient, pushing her IV pole beside her, shuffled by in hospital-issued gown and yellow socks. She glanced over her shoulder at me, and said, “This is bored to death.”

At the time, I was reading the excellent book by Dr. Danielle Ofri, What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear. But I was also hearing from health system leaders that physician and nurse burnout was an important issue that needed to be addressed in innovative and systematic ways. One colleague challenged me to submit a proposal that might focus the listening booth on the stories of the health care providers and staff across Duke, so that we all might be inspired by their meaningful conversations. (Think StoryCorps for the hospital.)

In 2018, I’ve given some hints about what came about. Last February, I posted Voices and stories, and in March a short follow-up post, More Voices, then in September came Finally, Voices to report that the Duke Institute for Health Innovation gave me a small grant to pilot the Voices of Duke Health listening booth and podcast. Since then, I’ve been working with a great team — third-year medical student Karishma Sriram, recent Duke grad Susannah Roberson, and Dr. Jonathan Bae — to facilitate those conversations and share them in a podcast.

Voices of Duke Health lives at I hope you’ll subscribe to the podcast, or just take 15 minutes to listen to at least one episode: The Roller Coaster is a good starter, or learn the correct way to use a stress ball.

My decade of narrative is almost over, and I’m taking stock: My storytelling skills haven’t improved much, but I have been able to collaborate with others to make something that can inform, educate, entertain, and inspire others. I hope it will help us all to listen more patiently, deeply, lovingly.

There are many more Voices of Duke Health podcast episodes to come; we’re already working on possible next phases for the listening booth. I’m hoping this project will continue well beyond the start of my next decade, though I am working on ideas for what focus I might kick off on my 50th birthday.



Leaving a trace

Typing machine

I bought a third typewriter earlier this year. This new one is a gorgeous matte-black Olympia SM-2 from 1952, purchased on Etsy from Christopher Mullen of Acme Type Machines in the Netherlands. (My other typing machines are a Triumph Tippa 1 and a Cole Steel in need of repair.)

The Olympia sits on my desk in the library, and I try to type a few sentences each day. Here’s an entry from earlier this week:

Monday, Christmas Eve: I made a fresh gingerbread cake, then showered and shaved, dressed, and went out to Whole Foods for salmon and other ingredients for our meal tomorrow. Store was very busy. Home now. Malia and Oliver are baking chocolate chip cookies for Santa. Erin is out for last gift shopping. It is a sunny day, not too cold. I love our land. I finished reading Clarity Win$, by Steve Woodruff. It is a very clever, focused book about developing a clear set of messages, identifying your bullseye customer, and finding focus. Just what i needed at the end of this year as I contemplate the next year of my career and work at Duke.

The next day, I recorded how I walked out on the land, put up a hammock between two trees, and read a book (There, There, by Tommy Orange, a present from Erin).

Long before I became a blogger, my maternal grandfather, Louis Sisco, was using a typewriter on a rolltop desk to record his and Grandma Virginia’s activities in DeKalb, Illinois. My family was living in Idaho in the 1980s, when long-distance phone calls cost, and Grandpa would send the pages to my mother so she could feel at home at every mention of breakfast at Barb City Manor or bingo night at St. Mary Church or visits with Aunt Ginger or one of my cousins.

“One more peek into grandpa’s diary” was typed at the top of each week’s report. My grandfather was a natural born blogger, as Dave would say.

I have a collection of these typewritten pages, and since the Olympia arrived, I’ve been reading them for inspiration, and a connection to my beloved, departed grandparents.

Here’s an entry from one of the diaries. It’s undated, but I believe it is from November 1981.

Friday: It was a steady rain during my walk but I did get home in time to watch the launching of the Columbia. It was such a gloomy day with nothing to do for a change so I started to address a few Christmas cards. We did a little Christmas shopping and then came home to lunch. Judy and Lonnie were here too. This being Thursday means the it is another Bingo night for mother. You guessed it, the report on her return “I almost won”.

That’s a seemingly mundane report, but it means much to me. Grandpa walked each and every morning, very early. He was generous and timely. He loved his children and grandchildren. Grandma religiously played bingo and enjoyed reporting her near-winnings.

I also have a stack of typewritten chronicles from my other grandfather, Francis Zuiker. His letters are essays and travelogues, retyped by my grandmother Clarice with carbon paper so my father and his eight siblings would each get a copy.

An excerpt from The Zuiker Chronicles #31, April 25, 1977 (Park Forest, Illinois), “THE RENEWAL”:

The park around us is a sea of yellow dandelions. The sun is shining, the wind is out of the north and it is cold as well. If that isn’t a contradiction, then consider that Captain Steve Donovan just provided us with a Florida fishing report that is filled with exciting news of trout, mackerel, flounder and sheepshead being hauled in by the dozen by Capt. Steve and his cronies …

In the 1970s and 1980s, these small-just, just-ahead reports connected family across physical distance. Today, my grandparents and other relatives are dead, but their letters connect us across a metaphysical void.

My goal in 2019 is to continue to type, write, journal, blog, and jot every day—to leave a record of my activities and losses and joys and interactions, a trace of my existence that will connect me to my loved ones here and now and in the future.



Home.  AboutArchiveContactRSS.