Fritz died on Christmas Day . . . and I remember . . .

Years ago. I’m stepping off the curb, about to cross Damen Avenue one spring Sunday when this car creeps up behind me slow and rolls on to the grass and sidewalk. Lumbering like some chrome and blue sheet metal monster, Fritz is wide eyed and grinning at the wheel pretending like he’s going to hit me. I start laughing and don’t stop till he’s parked. We cross together and walk into the church.

Ever visit Chicago’s famed Berghoff Restaurant? Back when the elegant wood paneled center of the action was operating in full German efficiency mode, the smell of the sausage, pot roast, potatoes and always the famous creamed spinach was like a culinary bridge back to the old world. Service that was quick and elegance that was for everyone. That famous creamed spinach recipe that Herman Berghoff always kept a secret. That was Fritz’s recipe.

Stop and Shop was another Chicago institution, now gone. But when it thrived, it too was a bridge back to the most joyous and bustling European marketplace. Old world marketplaces that reached across the centuries. The smells of spices and the meats and cheeses and freshly baked bread.

Stories of Stop and Shop. Stories of catering for the wealthy clientele, the elite on Lake Shore Drive? Stories of another time brought alive and made real for right now. Right this very second.
Stories that showed the eternal hope in hard work, generosity, spectacular food, good friends, church family and most of all love.

If you wanted stories like that, you could listen to Fritz.

You could look in his wise and knowing eyes and understand that he’d lived those stories.

Generosity? I remember more than once, agonizingly long meetings in the basement of the church, trying to somehow find the money to keep the lights on, keep the music going. And Fritz would sit, on one of the brown metal folding chairs, off to the side. Legs crossed. He would watch. Say nothing. Up until we got to the point of saying just how much money we were short. Often no small sum. There would be a second of silence as we took in the number. There would be that doubt that always comes with true faith. And then as that doubt would sink in, Fritz would raise his hand and say. “I’ll take care of it.” And he did.

Fritz, for all the stories and the laughter, commanded respect. I remember watching one of Chicago’s premier chefs first meet Fritz. And when she was introduced, when she realized who he was, I saw her nod in respect and simply say to him, “Chef.”

Fritz could communicate by his presence. Simply by the way he walked into a room.

Like when he would walk into the church. His beloved Sylvia on his arm. The way he looked at her. The way his eyes would shine. These two wise souls.

The way they showed the world love.

Fritz. We will remember you.

4 Responses to “Fritz”

  1. David Cunat Says:

    Thanks for posting. I wish I had spent more time talking with Fritz, but when I did he always had a kind and gentle word for people.

    • Paul Haider Says:

      I wish that I could have heard the stories from Fritz while he was still around. However, I have a Chicago Guy to enlighten me with the tales of a great city and the best of the Midwest.

  2. Naomi de Plume Says:

    Yes, thank you for posting. I wish I had known him, he sounds like the kind of person you never forget.

  3. chicagoguy12 Says:

    Naomi–you would have liked him.

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