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My Husband's Story

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The following is from the Chicago Sund Times front page, Thursday July 30th, 2005. It is my husband, Aaron's story. Thank you to all of you have responded to my posts in the past. They helped me/us through our struggle. Peace & Love, Caitlin

Chicago Sun Times

A kind heart, a helping hand

June 30, 2005

BY MARK J. KONKOL Staff Reporter

On most nights at Village Tap, Aaron Watkins held court from behind the bar, the

first to greet you when the swing of the door announced your arrival.

Tall and fit with a closely shaven head and stubbly beard, he moderated barstool

debate, shamelessly flirted and always, when you needed it most, offered an

empathetic ear.

Folks came to the Roscoe Village tavern just to enjoy his company. And during more

than eight pint-pouring years there, Watkins found some of his best pals, shared some

of his best times and met his best girl, Caitlin Marcoux, a transplant from


Village Tap regulars became a "second family'' with Watkins at its center -- a pillar

of a tiny drinking community.

In mid-May, doctors diagnosed Watkins with a rare, aggressive lung cancer. On May 26,

he married his best girl. And on Saturday -- just 30 days later -- his heart stopped


His death leaves a giant gap in the lives of his barroom loved ones. Wilted flowers

line the sidewalk below photographs and tender messages are taped to the bar window.

On Wednesday, Village Tap mourners gathered at a Lake View loft to celebrate Watkins'

spirit with people from other corners of his life.

Afterward, they marched to Lennox Lounge -- home to much of Watkins' courtship of

Caitlin -- to properly toast his memory.

Buried beneath their grief for this bartender was a thanksgiving for having found

each other in such a giant city.

Although the number of Chicago taverns is smaller than ever -- down from some 7,000

taverns in the late 1940s to 1,283 today -- Watkins' passing reminds us that

shot-and-a-beer joints remain a dear part of city life.

'Better lives' through bars

Chicago taverns, gathering places where working-class folks would discuss the day,

once littered neighborhood corners.

"Bars were very important. They were neighborhood centers providing things that

people could not find in their own homes, even good restrooms. It was a place where

you could collect money for charity, cash a paycheck or escape on warm evenings from

being stuck in hot tenements,'' says University of Illinois at Chicago professor

Perry Duis, author of The Saloon: Public Drinking in Chicago and Boston 1880 to


The demise of the corner tap here is well-documented, blamed by some on the sale of

beer at supermarkets, the boom of television and the continuing decline of tavern

licenses. Since 1994, 411 tavern licenses have been revoked and 53 ward precincts

have been voted dry since April 1995, city officials said.

They called him the "Zen Bartender.''

Watkins was a tattooed fine artist, bass-playing rocker and martial arts master with

a kind heart who had -- for his most faithful regulars -- a generous pour.

Behind the bar he often shared duties and tips with Alexia Delandry, whom he lovingly

referred to as his "bar wife.''

"He made friends everywhere and talked to everyone,'' Delandry said. "When a boy

broke my heart or when I had to put my kitty down, he was always there.''

Many of the 300 folks who crowded the sweaty, tear-soaked "celebration" Wednesday had

had special encounters with Watkins.

''He picked me up so many times when I needed it. And, no, not from being drunk on

the floor,'' said Village Tap regular Bijal Shah.

And places like Village Tap and counterparts across the city allow Chicagoans an easy

way to make introductions, occasional fist fights aside. "You can open your belt,

relax and socialize at taverns without having to work at it,'' Northwestern

University professor Bernard Beck said.

After Watkins passed, members of the bartender's first and second family met, some

for the first time, at Village Tap.

'A special place'

John Talley manned the bar. "[Aaron's] parents were there Saturday and Sunday and

everybody got to go up to them to say they were sorry. . . . It was a meeting place

for them. They got to soak up the atmosphere and see people walk up and pay tribute

to their son. They said they felt like they were at home, a part of something


For their son, it was indeed special, fateful even.

Take a quiet September night in 2003, for instance, when a spunky, tattooed blond

from Nantucket walked in.

"We were flirting with each other shamelessly,'' Marcoux-Watkins said. "After I left,

my friend bet me $5 to go back in and give him my number. When I walked in the door,

he threw up his hands. He said he tried to yell after me, but didn't know my name,''

she said.

"He called me the next day . . . Aaron and I weren't big drinkers. This wasn't about

boozing as a lifestyle. The bar was the center of the community and has been for

years. It was a huge part of life, an extremely special place."

Widow left with bills

Watkins' death leaves his 28-year-old widow with a heavy heart and "financial

craziness,'' some $400,000 in medical bills that insurance won't cover, she figures.

Without prompting, though, her barroom in-laws already raised $5,000 to help. And

they're putting together a July 4 motorcycle run to pitch in a little more.

Marcoux-Watkins said she finds comfort in some of her husbands' final words: ''Don't

be afraid.''

"I lucked out. I walked in the right bar at the right time, met the right guy and it

all makes sense to me,'' she says. "This community around me is just so incredible.'

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What a wonderful tribute. Your husband was quite a man. The article was a very moving one.

I am sorry your young life has been touched by such tragedy. My heart does ache for you.

Wishing you courage and strength and sent with much love,


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What a wonderful man he sounded like. You were a lucky woman and he a lucky man to have found each other. My sincere sympathies on his passing. and so very young. God has a wonderful Angel to look over you and the friends and family he loved. I only wish I had know him and had a drink in his bar!

God Bless You always,


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Your husband still lives in the hearts and minds of the many people whose lives he touched. Sounds like an unforgetable person who contributed a little something each day to each person he met. I'm sorry you had such a short time together. It isn't fair.


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Dear Caitlin,

First my condolences for your tremendous loss.

What a wonderful tribute for this amazing man who gave of himself to help others. You must be so proud of him.

To have a whole town come out for him is a feat in itself that I can only imagine was overwheming.

How lucky he was to have so many who showed how much he was loved and missed.

And how lucky you both were to have so much loved shared between you both even though it was cut short so abruptly.

Always hold onto those wonderful memories of him in your heart. For in your heart he will always live on through you.

You seem to have many friends who will always be there for you. You are so blessed for that.

Peace be with you,


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