Royko writes of love
Last week, we pointed you to a piece by Michael Miner in the Chicago Reader about Mike Royko’s early work. But Miner wasn’t done writing about Royko: on his “News Bite” blog, he also talked with Mike Royko’s son, David, about our book Royko in Love, a new collection of letters from Mike to the woman who would become his wife, Carol Duckman.
Mike Royko’s letters burn with the passion and obsession of the moment. It is a state older men remember as happiness because they would be so happy to feel anything that intensely again. . . . . The letters begin in February 1954 with Royko, 21, still in the air force but home from Korea and stationed now in the state of Washington. The first letter is a nonchalant note to the Duckmans, the friends down the block back in Chicago that “Mick” somehow avoided dropping in on during a recent leave. He shrugs off his absence. Writing back, Carol Duckman, 19, drops the news that her brief marriage didn’t work out—she and her husband have separated. The information hits Royko like a miracle. “Writing this letter is going to be the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” he responds. “I’m in love with you . . . I’ve been in love with you for so long, I don’t remember when it started . . .”
The letters pour out of him.
What makes the letters of particular interest to longtime readers of Royko isn’t just the touching love story they chronicle, but the new side of Royko himself that they reveal—it turns out that the tough guy, the cynic, the wiseacre . . . was really a sap—at least when it came to the love of his life.
Not that Royko fans didn’t already have some reason to suspect that: the incredibly moving column that Royko wrote about Carol’s death in 1979, “November Farewell,” was the work of a man who was trying to understand a life that had suddenly, tragically, lost its center. And that feeling would linger for years: a March 1985 profile in GQ by former Sun-Times reporter John Schulian adds some context:
Five years have passed since then. To the outside world, it seems the tragedy has been put to rest. . . . But Royko knows the truth, and it has nothing to do with appearances.
“You lose a wife, you never really come out of it,” he says. “What happens is, you become different.”
He lights a cigarette and takes a puff . . . . “I still know who I am. I’ve been who I am for so frigging long. I’m Royko the columnist. When Carol was alive, I was so much more.”
Only the loss of a lasting love could shake a man like that; Royko in Love takes readers back to its earliest days, to that skinny, jug-eared twenty-two-year-old who had nothing but words with which to woo his beloved.
To supplement those words, we also have three online albums of photos of Mike, Carol, and friends.
(H/T Alex Belth of Bronx Banter for sending me the GQ article, which, sadly, is not online.)