I am the Granddaughter of a 1930’s Bookmaker. From Chicago.

Maybe that’s where the “Buy low, sell high” mentality comes from.  Maybe it’s why I buy and sell things.  Maybe it’s why I’m a baseball fanatic, and somehow find my way to Las Vegas Sportsbooks most winters to bet on league division winners and the Word Series.  I don’t know.

It’s spring now, and with the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, I tend to become nostalgic of my childhood, bringing me to ask my dad about those days I spent with him and my maternal grandfather at the horse track.  Each year I get more details, so I’ve decided to document them here.  I wanted to write this story a year ago – who’d a thought the Cubbies would win the World Series before I could put this on the board?

Let’s start at the beginning.  Back in the 1930’s, on the outskirts of Chicago, my young grandfather worker for a baker.  Fresh bread, cookies and pastries, things that pre-war 1930’s housewives in the rural part of the Midwest would budget for, and present to their husbands after the evening meal, bread to make sandwiches for their husband’s lunch pails.  A cookie for a well behaved young child.    There wasn’t a whole lot of money being made on baked goods back then, and, well, the bakery owner would occasionally send my youthful grandfather off to ‘run’ an ‘errand’ on the train to place $2 long shot bets at Arlington Park on one specific horse.

Well, after many trips on the Great Western Railway, and hours spent placing bets on horses, or should I say, one horse that never came in, my grandfather started keeping the $2 bets and heading off to do other things with his precious time.  Like maybe dating my grandmother.  How would the baker know?  His horse never won.  As you can probably guess, in time, that losing horse finally saw its day on the track, the baker heading down to the track to claim his winnings for the bet my grandfather never placed.  Needless to say, grandpa was fired that day, but that is not end of  his bookmaking bakery story.  He wasn’t too worried, because when you’re a bet runner, the next natural promotion is…bookmaker, no?

My grandfather did well at bet making, and it wasn’t just the ponies.  He bet on baseball games, (you see, it really is in the blood!)   There was this thing, back then, and maybe Cubbies fans still do it today, I’m not sure;  you see, if you placed the bet before the game started that the Cubs would score 13 runs that day, well, you’d win a wad of money.  Yep, he won that a few times.  And you know, those Cubs are favored to win the 2018 World Series right now.  It’s April, and as any fan knows, we won’t know the truth till October.  Maybe early November if we play our cards right.  (That was a gambling pun, by the way).

I wish I knew more stories of those days.  Because I was yet to be born, my appearance in this story, or “participation” I should say,  doesn’t really happen until well into the 70’s.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Grandfather works for the baker, doesn’t place a long shot bet and gets fired.  Grandpa keeps betting, for himself and others, and saves enough money to open a donut shop of his own in the heart of Chicago.  He was married to my grandmother by this time, it was the 1940’s and time to set up a family business.  It wasn’t just any donut shop though – they sold these amazing, dense, triangle donuts, perfect for dunking in your hot coffee.  And yes, my family still has the equipment and the recipe to make those very special donuts.

“How do you know I love you?  I make you my grandparent’s signature triangle donuts.”

As mentioned earlier, there was not a whole lot of money in the bakery business back then.  I’m not exactly sure how it came about, as the story gets a little blurry right about here, but my grandparents lost their lease on that little donut shop in downtown Chicago.  It was picked up by a savvy business owner wanting to franchise.  Maybe you’ve heard of it, it’s now called Winchell’s.

Meanwhile, grandpa found a job with Rembrandt Brass and Iron Company, and began the daily train commute with so many other Midwestern men in work shirts and fedoras from rural parts of Illinois into downtown Chicago.  Grandma settled in working for a (not so) French Bakery that, was ironically, the former business of my grandfather’s former employer, the baker who fired him.  It was also walking distance from my grandparent’s farm.  (Yes, I partially grew up on a farm, but I think you kinda guessed that already).  Hours of my early childhood in the 1970’s, in the late afternoons, after school and after the bakery closed, were spent with my grandmother inside that bakery.  I have a penchant for buttercream roses and have consumed more than my weight in buttercream in any single year.  (The way to my heart?  Buttercream).  For as long as I can remember, my grandmother was up at 5 am, and sometimes earlier, serving coffee and pastries to the businessmen walking across the street to the train station for their daily commute.  Like clockwork, the wives would arrive back at the train station at 6:00 pm to pick up the men in the family Town and County Station Wagon.  I see it so clearly.  (This car is on my wish list.)

Sugar scarfing and scoring colorful, character shaped cookies and cupcakes for my friends was not all this kid was doing in the 1970’s.  Nope.  I was hopping on that train with my grandfather, occasionally leaving pennies on the track to be smooshed, and sometimes would travel by Cutlass or Dart with my dad and grandfather, and head to Arlington Heights to the race track.  Sometimes we’d make a quick stop at a mysterious man’s house on the way and collect $1,000, (a grand, a big ‘un’) – to place a bet for him on our way to the track.  Keep in mind, the median yearly income in 1975 in the United States was slightly over $14,000.  This meant the average person’s month’s salary was won or lost in one day at the track, the actual bettor not present.

I was always given $2 to place a bet on a horse of my choice.  I ate hot dogs and looked like a young Jodie Foster.  I knew what win, place and show meant, as well as a trifecta and the Daily Double before I was 7 years old.  Back in those days, a cute kid such as myself could saunter up to the betting cage and place a carefully marked out bet for myself, my dad or my grandfather.  Yes, I had the racing form in my hand, and yes, they always checked to be sure I properly placed all bets once I finally found my way back to the seats, or standing and yelling spot.  (With my sense of direction today, I’m not really sure how I navigated those experiences back then without having a panic attack or using a   cell phone for guidance.  The magic freedom and safety of the 70’s.  I want that back.)  Where my dad and grandfather were, and what they were doing while I was placing bets will always remain a mystery.  Most likely talking and enjoying the day, I guess.   I know I got bored after a while and spent endless hours picking up betting slips off the floor of the race track.  Stacks.  Stacks of betting slips.  I WAS A STOOPER.  Hours comparing these tickets to the results.  I can’t remember ever winning more than $80 betting on a horse in my life, and I think I was in my 20’s by then, and that was from a $2 bet.  I can’t remember winning more than $2 from the discarded betting slips as a kid.  And I took the loosing slips home!  What was I going to do with stacks of losing betting slips?  Play with them?  Are they future tax write-offs?  Are gamblers born this way?

“I knew what win, place and show meant, as well as a trifecta and the Daily Double before I was 7 years old.”

In my 20’s, I always thought that I would move back to rural Illinois after having been transplanted in California, to buy that bakery and let the legacy live on.  I don’t have that dream anymore.  Dreams change.  People change.   Some things stay the same.  Like the thrill of betting slips and taking a chance on your favorite things.

A Glossary of Betting Terms:  http://www.paulaura.com/betgloss.htm