Dutchie Caray on Harry: Where does the time go?

Published: 2/1/2008 12:18 AM

There are still a couple days a week when Dutchie Caray walks into her Palm Springs home and expects to hear the TV blaring.

She thinks she'll peer into the living room and find Harry sitting in his chair, propped up in checkered shorts and black socks, watching an old movie and studying the newspapers.

It's been 10 years since Harry Caray died, and Dutchie misses him as much today as she did when he passed away on Feb. 18, 1998.

"It's just gone by so fast. Where does the time go?'' Dutchie wondered Thursday from her winter home in California. "But Harry used to say that wasting time is a crime. He lived life to the fullest, that's for sure.

"That's the lesson he left for me. It's one he left for a lot of people.''

Harry left Dutchie at the age of 83 after collapsing in a Palm Springs restaurant on Valentine's Day 1998, the day she considers his death. He never regained consciousness, and passed away a few days later after they turned off the machines that kept the broadcast giant breathing.

"He never opened his eyes to look at me again. I never got to talk to him again, so as far as I'm concerned, he died that night,'' Dutchie explained. "You know, my sister was out here visiting and we just went by that restaurant the other day, by that corner on Palm Canyon (Drive).

"I didn't say anything to her. But I thought to myself, 'That's it. That's the place.' They changed the name about a year after that.

"It's hard to believe it's 10 years. I walk into a room sometimes and expect him to be there. Then, you wake up and think, 'God, what's wrong with me?' But I think everyone experiences that when someone dies.

"But I really do miss him so much. Harry was the life of the party. I mean, he was always fun to be around and our entire life was a party with Harry.''

And while she's hardly the Mayor of Rush Street, Dutchie has become something of a First Lady of the Near North Side, a fixture at Harry Caray's restaurant downtown and a frequent visitor to all things Cubs.

If she's not an ambassador to Harry's legacy, she's at the very least a glimpse into what Harry meant to Chicago, and his fans have embraced her as they did her husband.

"People have been awfully nice to me since Harry passed away, and I think it helps me remember Harry,'' Dutchie said. "It's funny because they treat me like a celebrity and I'm not a celebrity.

"Harry was the star, and when he was around no one noticed me, and that was OK with me, but now they recognize me and I think they just want a little piece of Harry to remember.

"It's everywhere I go in Chicago and out here in Palm Springs because he knew so many of the locals, and he really enjoyed his time out here.

"I was at the Cubs Convention and that's all people wanted to talk about was how much they loved Harry.''

Ironically, what made Harry an icon in his later years is precisely what would keep him out of the business today, when no one would hire a broadcaster who didn't fit the mold, without the cookie-cutter voice and statistical database.

"He was truly one of the greatest entertainers ever in broadcasting, and maybe the last of them,'' Dutchie said. "But some of those games were just so boring and so out of reach that he just moved on to another subject, whether it was the girls in the audience or spelling the names backward or whatever didn't have to do with baseball.

"A lot of times I went home because I'd rather listen to the game on TV than watch the game at the park.''

Dutchie says those memories make her smile, as does the knowledge that during the last few years of his life, Harry discovered the joy of family that he had never before embraced.

"You know, Harry was an orphan and he never liked Christmas and he didn't really want to be around the children or the grandchildren,'' Dutchie recalls. "But that all changed, and he found such joy in having the little ones around.

"The day he died, his little granddaughter sat in his lap that whole day while he watched TV, getting down and getting back up again. He just adored that time with his family, and I'm so glad about that. He really came to appreciate what it meant to have a family.

"Harry took good care of me, too, and I appreciate that. I'm basically a pretty happy person today and don't have much to worry about.

"The restaurants keep me busy and involved and I'm always on the move.''

But there's no substitute for being married to a one-man circus.

"I do miss him so much,'' Dutchie said, her voice trailing off. "The way he lived life every day was something to see. It was so great to be a part of it, and you know that when he's gone, it's just not going to be the same.

"That's why you have to enjoy the good times because you just never know about tomorrow. You wake up and it's been 10 years already.

"My how the time flies. Harry was right about that, too.''