Royko in Love

Long before becoming an acclaimed newspaper columnist, Mike Royko was a young airman secretly in love with a beautiful gal from his Northwest Side neighborhood. From afar, “Mick” began to pour out his feelings in a torrent of letters that ultimately won her heart. Discovered after his death, they show glimmers of the wit and voice that would one day distinguish Royko’s prose—and a romantic streak buried beneath the wise-guy exterior

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Part of a cartoon in which Royko depicts his joy at the receipt of Carol’s latest letter—and his struggles to craft a worthy reply. Click here to see the cartoon and other images.

 

On leave in September, Mike proposed and Carol accepted. She would come out to Washington in November and they would be married that month. After a brief honeymoon, she would return to Chicago and he to the posting at Blaine. Her agreement to become his wife did little to calm his insecurities. 

September 23, 1954

My darling, as soon as possible be with me again. Nothing has any meaning, the world is empty without you. Life is too short to spend away from you. Write often. Tell me you love me. I can’t hear that often enough. I love you so much that if I lost you all that would remain is death. Leaving you made me realize that I couldn’t live without you. Death would be more meaningful than life.

Goodbye for a little while baby. Once more I’m 2000 miles away with my love for you as my only companion. I love you, I love you, I love you.

 

September 23, 1954

Forty minutes ago I mailed a letter and if this arrived with it I hope you read that one first. After I mailed it I noticed that I had two hours to wait for my train . . . so I called up the marriage bureau and checked with them. Baby, we can be married as soon as you get off the plane. No blood test required. I can get the marriage license, mail it to you, you fill out your part in the presence of a notary public, mail it back to me and that’s it. As soon as you arrive, we’re off to a Lutheran church for the ceremonies. When I get to Blaine I’ll check with some Seattle boys and find a nice place for a honeymoon. . . . There must be a quiet lake nearby, with a cozy cabin and a lot of solitude that doesn’t cost lots of money. This isn’t the vacation season so that shouldn’t be difficult to find. Oh my sweet, how I’m longing for you and the day you’ll arrive. I’m going to have everything prepared so that everything is as perfect as can be. My darling it will be the most perfect week two people ever had together.

 

September 24, 1954

Everyone seemed happy to see me back. The C.O. said “welcome home”. I saluted and said “home hell! I just left home.” He thought I was joking. Back to work now. They allowed everything to pile up.

 

September 26, 1954

I’ve been trying to read but all that’s available are recently written fiction novels and they have the same types of plots. Romance. I’m the last person who would be against romance, but baby they all sound so shallow and weak.

I’d like to write our story. I wonder if it would sell. It’s got the ingredients. First we take a boy, a very mixed up boy who has a crush on a girl. The girl has already shown indications of someday being a beautiful woman. Then we take the conflicts. The boy feels inferior and never voices his love. Time passes and someone else appears. The boy accepts this because he is young and the young heal very easily and in the young there is hope. Then one day there is no longer any hope and the new wounds hurt and they don’t heal. Then the boy goes to war and he carries with him pictures. Pictures in his bag and pictures in his mind. The pictures in his bag are pretty but the pictures in his mind aren’t. Now we have a boy become a man. A broken heart and war can make great changes. He comes back and he hides. He hides from the thing he loves more than anything else. Then one day there is hope again and the hope becomes promise and the promise becomes love and love like theirs can only have one consummation—they lived happily ever after.

So I could write a wonderful love story—if—I were a writer but since I’m not, the world will have to suffer along its way without knowing about us.

 

September 27, 1954

I’ve got to pinch myself. A man can want something so badly all his life that when finally it’s within reach it’s still hard to believe. You, the girl of my dreams, the most important person in my life, you are going to be my wife. When we’re celebrating our 30th anniversary I’ll still be a bit amazed and I’ll still be the luckiest guy to ever walk the earth.

 

October 2, 1954

Someday honey, someday, when I’m a success in other peoples eyes I’ll be asked how success is achieved. I’ll have an answer all ready. By wanting it for someone else’s sake more than for your own. All these things we want, I’d never give a thought to without you.

 

October 2, 1954

It’s still Friday night and its been two and one half hours since I finished the last letter I wrote. After I sealed the envelope, I took a shower, shaved, and heard music coming in through my window. I dressed and walked down to the source of the music—the club. When I walked in the door, a sudden and very surprising cheer went up. It took a few seconds for me to realize that the cheers were for me. Someone handed me a drink and the ribbing started. The news that I’m getting married spread around the base like wild fire and everyone was getting their two cents in. One of the guys was making long speeches against marriage. Someone yelled “show him her picture”. It was one of the guys from this barracks and one of your sincerest admirers. I showed him your picture. He could say no more. It was a pleasant two hours. I had three free drinks, sang in a make shift quartet and to top it off, won two dollars in my favorite bet. A new lad thought he was quite a bass and was low noting all over the place. A two dollar bet was made and I left him somewhere up among the baritones—easy money.

 

Photography: Michael Boone Photography/Courtesy of David Royko

 

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5 years ago
Posted by Dolmance

I lived in a really rough neighborhood in Chicago and started reading Mike Royko when I was ten years old. He had a perfect mix of goodness and cynicism that made for a fundamentally decent person one would be hard pressed to make a fool out of. When I left Chicago in my mid teens, I could honestly say that the only good thing that happened to me in that city was Mike Royko.

5 years ago
Posted by Graziella

I always loved reading Royko's column and I was glad to have been given the chance to see more of his inner soul. Absolutely great writer!!!!

Grace M Weber,
Seneca, IL

5 years ago
Posted by nostalgic

Are there any men like this left who are so willing to put their love in black and white?

5 years ago
Posted by Blomette

I too, grew up reading Mike Royko in the Daily New in the 1960s. I lived in Highland Park at the time, though I attended Deerfield H.S. After I graduated from high school, I was overjoyed to find his columns were sydicated and I could find them in other newspapers!

Thank for this!
Pam

5 years ago
Posted by miscanthus

What a heartwarming selection of letters! I grew up about 3 blocks from that address on Central Avenue. During my high school and college years it was a great pleasure to get home from school and read Mike Royko's column in the Daily News each evening. I would have been delighted to know that your mother had lived in my neighborhood.

Thank you for sharing the personal side of one of my favorite writers.

Mary in Texas

5 years ago
Posted by rjchiarito

This is a truly amazing article! I consider myself one of Royko's biggest fans and urge anyone who likes him to join the Facebook group Royko is God at http://www.facebook.com/wall.php?id=21235063655#/group.php?gid=21235063655

5 years ago
Posted by gladiator

I was on my way back to Chicago from Vietnam, where I had been a war correspondent attached to the First Marine Division at DaNang. I had lived for a while in Australia, spent a week in New Zealand, and now I was in the airport at Auckland.
I had gone up on the walkaway above the waiting room. Looking over the crowd of travelers, a beautiful tall redhead appeared with orange curls, very elegant in her best traveling clothes. Mmmm. She was something like Deborah Kerr in AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER with Cary Grant, but with a long Viking face. I made my way downstairs and inserted myself into her path, saying, "Hello."
I was a rough, common-looking character in blue jeans, and her nose was in the air. She sniffed,"Hello," back, but she didn't notice me at all. I was quite beneath her line of vision.

We were on the same plane to Tahiti, but I didn't get to speak to her again. In Tahiti, I met up with a tennis pro who was on a world tour and we hung out. And then one night I ran into the redhead again, in a hotel lounge. She was with a Swiss fellow I had also met--and I was to learn later that he had warned her not to have anything to do with me, that I looked disreputable. But anyway I asked her to dance. There was beautiful music playing and the Polynesian waves were hitting the shore under a bright moon, palm trees waving in the breeze.
She turned me down.
So I asked again.
She turned me down again.
The third time I asked her, she danced with me. And after that she wanted to dance every dance with me. We danced under the stars; it was very romantic.
And even though we didn't even kiss, when I walked her back to her room, I told her that we were going to be married some day. We exchanged addresses, but I'm sure she didn't take me seriously in the slightest.

Kathleen was on her way back to Yorkshire via Montreal, and I was on my way back to Chicago via Mexico. She was British and French royalty, and was born in Steeple Lodge at Wentworth Castle, the first structure listed in the National Registry, built by the Earl of Strafford. She had attended England's first grammar school at Penistone, church at Bolsterstone, and she loved the Eweden Valley, where later I would scatter her ashes.
I was a common boy from the rough streets of Chicago.
It is common for travelers to exchange addresses and never hear from each other again, so maybe Kathleen was surprised to hear from me when I returned to Chicago.
In those days you exchanged letters only once every two weeks. There was no e-mail, with its lightning courtships of several letters a day. But gradually her letters became more and more affectionate and full of love for me, and when I told her that my prospects were not very good, she didn't seem to care. And finally I sent her a one-way ticket to Chicago.
She often related to me her surprise upon opening the letter to find a ticket. She ran to her mother, said with astonishment, "It's a ticket!" and asked what to do. My beloved mother-in-law said, "Go for it, love."
But her Uncle Johnny bought her a return ticket just in case.

She was one of those rare girls as beautiful inside as she was outside, and all the moreso for not knowing that she was. One time she came to me all a-twitter, and I asked, "What's up with you?"
She said, "Some construction workers whistled at me!"
"Sure. You're a dish."
"Oh, I am not!"
She didn't have a clue the effect she had on people. I always said that if she had taken tea at Buckingham Palace, the queen would have sought her good opinion. People automatically deferred to her, but she was gracious, friendly and kind to everyone.
I used to say, "She doesn't eat, she makes her own clothes, she's always the same age as the day I met her, and she thinks I'm God." And when I was worried about our economics, she would respond airily, "Oh, you'll work it out." She never worried, and maybe it was her faith in me that made me a better man than I had any right to be.
After many years of marriage, living in Britain and America with our beautiful children, as she lay dying we agreed that it seemed like we had been together only a very short time. I was a common boy from the rough streets of the big city, she was an elegant girl from rural Yorkshire. It had been like living inside a movie with Mrs. Miniver, being married to her. Yet somehow we had made it work, and I had become her knight of the round table. I loved my dear more at the end than I had at the start.

Carrying her ashes on my lap across the Atlantic, to Eweden Valley, where I would fulfill Kathleen's dearest wish, the lady in the next seat asked me if my wife hadn't wanted to join me on the trip.
I looked down at the can containing her ashes and thought, Mmmm, I have it in my power to spoil this woman's flight...
When I returned home, I found this poem typed on a scrap of paper in one of her drawers:

When I am gone--
Think of me not as your disconsolate lover;
Think of the joy it gave me to adore you,
Of sun and stars you helped me to discover.

And this still living part of me will come
To sit beside you, in the empty room.

Then all on earth that Death has left behind
Will be the merry part of me within your mind.

5 years ago
Posted by ual727

My name is Don Karaiskos. I'm mentioned in the first paragraph of this piece. I was Mike's roommate while we were at Blaine, WA. I took those pictures with my camera on that Easter Sunday in 1954. How lucky for me that I "drew" this man to be my roommate for almost two years. He was a complex person in many ways but in the ways that really counted, he had a sentimentality about him that defied description. This sentimentality of course comes to the fore in his letters to Carol. Also, his genuine interest in those he called his friends. I was discharged from the Air Force two months before he was married but I knew all those guys who were in attendance at the wedding. We remained in contact after our stints in the service, trading visits to their place at 5408 N Central and our home in Ohio. I was an airline pilot by profession and lived out in Crystal Lake for a spell. We visited each other during that time. After I left my Chicago residence to be based in Cleveland. I had many layovers at the Palmer House. Mike either visited me in my room or we met at Billy Goat's.

What an outstanding person he was. Very few days go by when I don't think about him and our times together there in Washington State. After I met Carol it was easy to see why he harbored the love for her that he did as she was a wonderful person also. I used to see him sitting at the desk in our barracks room writing those letters every day. Of course he never spoke of the content of those letters - he was like Captain Miller in "Saving Private Ryan" when asked about his wife. Captain Miller replied "Those are things that I preserve for myself". That was Mike.

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