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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In mid-October, my father wrote a wrenching letter begging my mother not to hold out hope that he could get an early transfer back to the Chicago area. “The service is a pretty cold, heartless organization and they have frightening disregard for the feelings of the individual,” he said, admitting that “480 nights [until discharge] of lying in my bed in a dark empty room and feeling like I’m living for the sake of occupying space . . . seems impossible. It’s so awful that I tell myself very often that it can’t happen but then I stop kidding myself and try to accept it.”

 

October 20, 1954

Two weeks and we’ll be married. Married! Honey, it’s all true. It’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened. It’s a fairytale in real life. Carol Joyce Royko. Carol Joyce Royko. That sounds like music. Baby, can you imagine what it feels like to have a life dream come true? To be on the threshold of a life of happiness—sublime happiness? Baby, you’ve done all this. You’ve made me the happiest, luckiest, most fortunate guy in the whole wide world. Oh sweetheart, thank you for being you.

 

October 25, 1954

We will have the most unusual group of people imaginable in attendance [at the wedding]. I’ll tell you about them. Joe Kahwaty, a Syrian boxer from Brooklyn, 3 years of college, dark, handsome, and a very good friend. George Shoff, a card shark from anywhere and everywhere. Ermono Gurrucchi, an Italian from Connecticut, 270 pounds, 5’ 10”. Ralph Peterson, best man, electronics engineer from Chicago. Bill Varns, my boss, and another officer who is a farmer from Ohio. Variety? We’ve got it. Baby, the only thing that they all have in common is that they are all good eggs, good friends, and though extremely different, they are alike in that they are gentlemen.

 

October 27, 1954

Baby, this is going to be difficult for me to write but I’ve got to do it and I’ll explain why. Honey, I don’t want to wear my uniform at the wedding. You know how I feel about the air force. If I wore the uniform it would be hypocrisy on my part. I don’t like the AF. It’s caused me nothing but trouble. It’s separated us, it refused to transfer me, and when I’m with you, I want to be your husband, and I don’t like to think of myself as a husband while decked out in those blue rags. No one else will be in uniform and I’d feel like a fool. Baby, this wedding is the big moment of my life. Being in uniform would detract from it. . . . Honey, I’m going to wear a suit. I’ll be a nondescript looking civilian but I’ll feel a lot better. I know that you want me to wear my blues baby, but that uniform would disgust me much more than it would please you.

 

November 1, 1954

Just received the application, the bond and your letter. Congratulations honey. Just think, one week of being Miss Duckman, Then Mrs. Royko.


They were married on November 6, 1954. After the honeymoon, he returned to Blaine and his letters continued, but fate soon smiled upon them, although in deeply bittersweet fashion. Due to his mother’s terminal cancer, the air force showed some compassion. Dad was granted a transfer to the base at O’Hare airport. The last letter in the box is a telegram.

1955 Jan 14, Everett Wash
Carol Royko, 5408 North Central Ave
Arriving Sunday at two. Great Northern RR
Love, Mick


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