HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — They went on their first date to a Valentine’s Day dance a few years after the Chicago Cubs lost the 1945 World Series. In the seven decades between that night and this one, Rene and Helene Van Hulle raised four kids, losing one of them a decade ago. They moved from the North Side to the suburbs, finally ending up here, in a small apartment with yellow walls, in their respective recliners, waiting on another World Series game to begin. She’s 83, and he’s 88. He’s on oxygen all the time, dying, in the care of a hospice nurse. This is the last World Series he’ll ever see.
When the doctors placed him in hospice care, essentially sending him home to die about a year ago, he asked his girls if they’d take him back down to Wrigleyville, to see the place where he grew up. That trip brought back so many memories, the World Series season of 1938, and 1945 when all the men were coming back from the war. Driving his block, he still remembered the houses where his friends, nearly all of them dead now, grew up, and where they’d play. He remembered the old German bar, where his mom would help fry fish on Fridays.
Even Helene learned some new things.
“Did you play baseball?” she asked.
“What position?” she asked.
“Left out,” he said, making fun of his own complete lack of talent.
Over and over, they bring up Rene Jr., their son who died in 2007. He was beloved in the Chicago gay community, an activist and leader, and they’d often go hang out at the bar where he worked. Tonight, their daughter Laurie is wearing one of her brother’s sweaters, turquoise and worn — her good luck charm when the Cubs play. Rene Jr.’s name is spoken with love and a touch of regret; he loved the Cubs more than any of them. But, for a few minutes at a time as his name is said aloud, their son and brother is with them. They can hear his voice describing seeing the green field for the first time, after only seeing Wrigley on a black and white TV.
Rene Van Hulle is watching this Cubs’ World Series run with his wife and daughters. Courtesy of Wright Thompson
The nurse is sitting back watching, stunned, because she has been seeing Rene for months and this is the most upbeat and energetic he has been. That’s the greatest gift the Cubs gave so many people around the city Friday night. Who knows how many great days Rene’s family will have with him? Tonight, he was laughing and cracking jokes, the same sharp and quick man they’ve know all their lives. The game woke something in him, something that doesn’t come out much anymore.