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In 100 years, my grandma’s seen (almost) everything

Today’s column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

In 100 years, my grandma’s seen (almost) everything

The WISCH LIST

May 8, 2010

Mother’s Day won the race.

But just barely.

One hundred years ago today, on May 8, 1910, the state of West Virginia became the first to officially declare the second Sunday in May as an annual Mother’s Day holiday. Six days later – and more than a thousand miles to the west – my grandmother, Irma Lucille McCart, was born on a farm in Boone County, Neb.

So on Sunday, Mother’s Day will celebrate its 100th year of official existence (the first local service was held in Grafton, W.V., in 1908, and Congress declared it a national holiday in 1914). But my grandma, now Irma Bledsoe, will stand just a few steps behind in the marathon to the century mark.

And when she does cross the 100-year mark on May 14, I think we’ll christen it a “Grand” Mother’s Day.

Come next week, my extended family will gather in Longmont, Colo., to celebrate my grandma’s milestone. But during this month’s build-up to the big day, I’ve found myself thinking about everything that’s happened – both in Chicago and around the globe – during a life that’s spanned two centuries, 18 U.S. presidencies and more than 36,500 days.

Ponder this: When my grandmother was born, the Titanic had yet to sink (1912), the zipper hadn’t yet been patented (1914) and the pop-up toaster (1919) was still nothing but a pipe dream.

Crossword puzzles (1913) didn’t exist, Mother Teresa wasn’t yet born (Aug. 26, 1910) and Albert Einstein was still pondering his theory of relativity (1915).

As of May 14, 1910, Mark Twain had just recently passed away (April 21), while O. Henry (June 5) and Florence Nightingale (Aug. 13) were soon to follow. New Mexico and Arizona were still territories (each received statehood in 1912), whereas Alaska and Hawaii (1959 statehood for both) barely even registered on the U.S. radar.

In Sweden in 1910, they were still using guillotines to execute murderers.

Seriously.

Back here in the Land of Lincoln, Chicago’s 1910 population stood at 2,185,283, establishing the Second City as just that – only New York City had more U.S. residents with 4,766,883. Philadelphia (1,549,008), meanwhile, was the nation’s third most populous city, while St. Louis (687,029) and Boston (670,585) ranked Nos. 4 and 5.

Out on the West Coast, Los Angeles, with its 319,198 residents, checked in as only the country’s 17th largest city and found itself behind the less-flashy likes of No. 14 Newark (347,469), No. 12 Milwaukee (373,857) and No. 9 Buffalo (423,715).

In 1910, President William Howard Taft – our nation’s heaviest president, tipping the scales at 300 pounds, and also the last to have facial hair – made the unfortunate mistake of calling baseball “a clean, straight game.”

Nine years later, of course, the sport would be rocked by the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, while eight decades after that, steroids would shake baseball to its core.

During 1910, however, the Windy City was joyously caught up in the throes of baseball fever. On the South Side, White Sox fans celebrated the July 1 opening of Comiskey Park, which at the time was considered the finest baseball facility in the world with its then jaw-dropping capacity of 48,600.

The Sox would go on to finish a disappointing 68-85 during the 1910 season, but Comiskey – along with Washington’s Griffith Park and Cleveland’s League Park, which also opened that year – was credited with helping usher in the rise of modern, home-run baseball thanks in part to such enclosed, steel and concrete stadiums.

Elsewhere in the city, Chicago’s hottest baseball team during the Summer of ’10 might have been the Leland Giants of the Negro League. Owner-player-manager Rube Foster called the Giants the greatest team of all-time with a roster boasting Hall of Famers or All-Stars at almost every position. Considering Foster’s squad posted a staggering record of 101-4-1, it’s hard to argue with him.

The Giants, though, weren’t Chicago’s only 100-win ballclub in 1910, as the Cubs – then playing ball at West Side Park (Wrigley Field’s construction was four years away) – piled up a 104-50 record to capture their fourth National League pennant in five years.

In the World Series, though, the Cubs saw their pitching staff crumble and their bats go silent as the Philadelphia Athletics easily rolled to a 4-1 Series win.

You know, you’d think that when someone lives to be 100 that they would have seen everything. But even my grandma, bless her heart, hasn’t seen the Cubs win a World Series.

Perhaps, if I live until 2076 – when I would turn 100 – I’ll get to see it happen. Although, I’m not counting on that, not just the mother of all baseball dreams.

But the grandmother of them.