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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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