"2 : something of special value handed on from one generation to another " – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Thank you, Al Capone~

on April 25, 2013

Last night, I was sitting in a restaurant, listening to an elderly man I had just met tell some great stories about his youth. And, while his stories were very entertaining, I found myself missing my grandpa.

And, at the risk of killing your interest in this post, I admit up front that Al Capone was not my grandfather. However, Al Capone did play a role in my existence.

You see, my grandpa was this larger-than-life sort of guy. He was big in every way – big hands, big belly, big voice, big laugh. And big stories. If you have ever seen the movie Big Fish, then you might have some idea as to the character of my grandpa. He was a Big Fish. When I was living in Taiwan, my cousin, Cathy, sent that dvd to me with a note that said, “Must watch. This IS grandpa.”

As a young child, I listened to his stories with wonder. By the time I was a teen, the wonder wore off, replaced by the angst of indifference. As an adult, I tuned into his stories again but was often too distracted by the busy-ness of life to stop and really focus on the precious, fleeting moment. I want to put these memories down now. I wish I had done it sooner, when grandpa was still with me, grinning, laughing, loving. I miss him so much.

So, I remember that grandpa told me that he had been a beer runner in the late 1920s, during the reign of Prohibition, Speakeasies, flappers, jazz, bootlegging and Capone. I had heard him tell about working at the filling station as a mechanic in Logansport, nestled halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago, before the advent of interstates, when Capone’s guys would pull in for gas. He told us that he was startled as he lifted the hood to check the oil and found a tommy gun mounted in the engine block, pointing out the front of the car.

Once when grandpa was in the hospital, I was visiting him.

Grandpa Conn

I wanted to tap into his Capone lore, but he was not as forthcoming with the stories on that day. I asked him why he stopped running beer and he told me that, one day after running beer from Chicago, he picked up the paper and saw that a rival gang of Capone’s had been killed in Chicago. He said that after seeing that in the paper, he thought maybe running beer wasn’t such a great idea. I asked him when that happened– was it cold out?

“Yes,” he said, “it was winter.”

“Grandpa, was that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?!”

“Well, I don’t know– mighta been. It was cold. I do remember that.”

Then his stories took a turn and we were off on another adventure somewhere in the mountains on our way to visit baby Donna and fixin’ broken-down cars on the side of the mountain road while Norma and Nancy peeled potatoes in the back seat and Dick and mom started settin’ up the portable grill . . . and Capone was no longer in the room with us.

Then, in 1997, one of my cousins was killed in a tragic car accident. My grandma had been visiting another cousin in South Carolina at the time. So, she flew back home for the funeral and I picked her up at Chicago’s Midway Airport. We were both very sad about my cousin’s death- a young life full of joy and promise cut horribly short. I decided to distract our minds by getting grandma to tell some of her own stories. And I cannot actually remember another time prior to that day that I was ever alone with my grandma. For the next three hours drive to Logansport, I had grandma all to myself and she had my undivided attention. So, I started with this one question: how did you and grandpa start dating?

Now, grandma was not known for her tall tales. Her feet were planted a little more solidly on the same earth we all walk on. So, I am always more inclined to believe grandma’s version of reality as truth and she confirmed many of grandpa’s assertions.

Grandma told me that she had known Grandpa for a long time before. They ran around together with a bunch of other kids from the neighborhood. They were friends and he was a nice guy. She really liked Gene. But she had heard that he was starting to get more involved in Capone’s beer running and she was worried for him. So grandma invited another girlfriend to help her distract Gene from the speakeasies and the beer-running. They decided that they would go over to the garage when they both got off of work. They would invite Gene to go to the movies or go for some ice cream or out for a drive. And, so, that’s what they did. And it worked. Except, at some point, the other girl just stopped coming along. Now, my grandma was a beautiful woman and I suspect that grandpa was not at all sorry to have grandma all to himself and I know he loved having all her attention.

I told you she was beautiful!

I told you she was beautiful!

They eloped in 1932 and spent 66 amazing, loving, big fish years together.

Thank you, grandma.

Thank you, Al Capone.


12 responses to “Thank you, Al Capone~

  1. Julie says:

    Love it!!

  2. Cathy Schaefer says:

    Patty, thank you for writing these memories down – can’t wait to have my kids read this! It’s time to start sharing these stories with the next generation.

    • pattyo1984 says:

      Thanks, Cathy~ I think so, too! Please share any anecdotes you remember, too! I think we need to have a slideshow this summer. Will let you know when I am heading up that way!

  3. Beth says:

    This is great! And I love the colors and layout. And the bright sun at the bottom! I can’t imagine where you get the time but keep it coming. 🙂

  4. Mary says:

    What a great story. I loved to hear Gene’s stories. I agree with Cathy. We all need to write down more stories for our children.

  5. Carol Harp says:

    Very nice Patty! Beautifully written. Agreed- don’t know where you find time, but hope you find more! ❤

  6. NORMA FLOHR says:


    • pattyo1984 says:

      Thanks, Mom! I will email you the full story so you can print it out. I knew their birthdays, but it did not occur to me that grandma would have been 100 this year- ! Stay tuned. More to come!

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