October 18, 2017

Moving

I received an invitation today. Friends from my eighth grade class at school are planning the next reunion and get-together. That’s right, my eighth grade class.

I moved to the Chicago suburbs during the years we used to call “Jr. High.” Now, it’s “Middle School.” My folks built a brand new house in a new subdivision. Dad had been transferred to his company’s office in Wheaton from Dixon, IL, his hometown and the place we had lived for a few years near my grandparents. Now we were starting a new adventure.

I can still see the tears in my grandfather’s eyes as we drove away.

The community into which we were moving was made up of “immigrants” like us — folks who had come from other places to take jobs in the burgeoning western suburbs of Chicago. Families with baby boom babies like me were filling the subdivisions and schools. I got my first job as a paperboy in our neighborhood. We were in “section three,” which was still under construction. I started in the late fall and remember the panic of watching the late afternoon skies grow dark while I tried to find street signs and addresses on unpaved lanes and cul-de-sacs. I finally gave up, crying, and Dad drove me around and helped me get the papers delivered.

The school I attended was not one of the newer “Jr. Highs” but a K-8 elementary school. We had a dress code, and I was sent home the first day to change because I wore blue jeans. For boys, hair had to be neatly trimmed above the ears, collared shirts tucked in and belts worn. No sneakers were allowed. Girls had rules about skirt length and make-up was forbidden, as I recall.

I entered the school just as we were all being immersed in adolescence. Thrown together like refugees on a ship, we became close, so close that today, over forty years later, we who lived through those junior high years still feel like best friends, and we reunite whenever we can.

I have more than one story like that, because I am a person who has moved often. Now, I haven’t relocated as often as people whose folks were in the military or in similarly transient vocations. However, over the course of my life, I have been transplanted with fair regularity. Like many who move often, my memories are compartmentalized, like separate chapters in a storybook that have little relation to one another.


There’s my life in small town northwestern Illinois as a child. We lived in three houses in that town. I don’t remember the first one, but we moved to the second when I started school. I got my first bee sting crawling under the clothesline and putting my hand down on a bee in the grass while mom was hanging wash. Dad taught me how to ride my bike there, and he caught me with my grandpa’s old catcher’s mitt as I learned to throw a baseball. They gave me my first watch and I set it back and lied about it having stopped when I didn’t want to stop playing and came home late for supper. I stayed up into the wee hours one night with the searing pain of an earache and had my tonsils out while we lived there. I don’t remember any of my friends’ names, but it seems now like I must have been outside playing with them all day, every day.

It’s the next house that I remember best because it remains my favorite. The small attic had been converted and I had the whole thing for my room. We had the best basketball court in the neighborhood and a two and a half car garage in which we made a haunted house one Halloween. Most of all I remember Mark and Jimmy and other friends, playing wiffleball and war and climbing trees and getting in trouble for breaking the neighbor’s windows and throwing tomatoes at the grumpy old man who lived behind us. Dad took me to high school basketball games and the local team did their warm-up routine to “Sweet Georgia Brown,” just like the Harlem Globetrotters. I explored under the bleachers and picked up change that had fallen so I could buy baseball cards.

That’s where we lived when Roger Maris hit 61 homers and I fell in love with watching Sandy Koufax pitch. That’s where we had the weeping willow in the backyard that was like my own personal “Giving Tree.” Dad brought home a dog for me once. We called him Rusty and he didn’t have a tail. He dug so many holes in the backyard that Mom finally had enough and we took him back to the pound. I used to dress up in my dad’s huge hooded sweatshirt, pull it up over my face and head and run around the backyard until Rusty knocked me down and dug through the fleece until he found my face and licked it. I hung grandpa’s catcher mitt on the back of the garage on a nail and practiced my pitching.

There’s a whole rich chapter in a corner of my mind for that place, even though we only lived there a few years. I was young enough that one Christmas I laid awake in bed and looked out the dormer window of my room at the moon, just waiting for the moment when Santa would ride his sleigh across its path. My sisters were born there after my younger brother had died. Our street was still paved with bricks. One time I took the word of a neighbor and thought I could run and find the end of the rainbow and get the pot of gold. Gosh, I loved that place.

From there we moved back to Dad’s hometown. It was great to be near my paternal grandparents. Grandpa suffered with diabetes and had trouble with his eyes, but I was the first grandchild and his pride and joy — he loved having us close. Nothing could be finer than watching the Cubs on TV with my grandpa while he sat in his recliner, muttering through each loss and saying, “One day when you pitch for the Cubs, things’ll be different.”

We rented a two-story house on a busy street and I played in the yard whenever I could. Even if no friends were around, I’d toss the wiffleball up in the air and hit it and play my own ball game. When we moved into the house, I found a treasure. Down in the old cellar, under the coal bin, were cases and cases of old pop bottles. We had a little neighborhood store two streets over from us, and I made several trips to turn those bottles in for the deposit money. I’m sure I spent it all on baseball cards.

We walked to school, and sometimes I would take a shortcut by climbing the wall of the old quarry at the end of the street. Our school was at the top of a large hill. One of the streets near the quarry was our usual route — a long and very steep climb — and when we weren’t trudging up or down it on school days, we would ride our bikes or skateboards down it, faster than I’ve ever gone, as I remember. It really is a wonder we survived.

My best friend was Randy, and we went to church as well as school together. The best thing of all was singing in the choir on Wednesdays after school. Rosie, our choir director, was an angel to put up with boys like us, and wow, could she make us laugh. Afterwards, I would walk to grandma and grandpa’s house or home for dinner. I sang my first solo on Palm Sunday one year, from the balcony up on the right, wearing a red robe.

That’s also where my mom introduced me to my first phonograph record: “The Best of the Kingston Trio.” But before long it was the Dave Clark Five and the Beatles and the radio, and there was no looking back. Each week WLS in Chicago came out with a “Silver Dollar Survey,” listing the Top 40. I’d go down to the record store and pick one up on the day it was released. For a long time I saved them (wishing I had them now!). Every day after school I’d play in the yard or on the swingset and listen and sing along as they counted down the top songs. When I could I would buy a 45. I had a friend sleep over one night and we were jumping on the bed when he fell off and broke my new “She’s a Must to Avoid” by Herman’s Hermits. My favorite movie was “Pinocchio” and mom and dad bought me the record that had the storybook with it so I could relive the story at home.

One time I cried and asked to be kept home from school because that day I had to dance with a girl. My favorite indoor game was “sock basketball.” We’d hang a wooden box with the bottom cut out up on the wall in our playroom and shoot a ball of rolled up socks at it. Dad still took me to the high school games — he had been a star at that school. One time they let the YMCA kids play at halftime and I think I missed every shot I took. Dad liked the Drum and Bugle Corps. shows on the football field too. That’s also where I started playing Little League and I used to pitch sidearm. We played on fields by the river and the old Borden milk factory. Occasionally dad and I went fishing.

Then one day it was off again, to a new life in a new subdivision with new friends in the suburbs of Chicago. From Chicago, several years later, we moved east and everything was different. That move initiated new chapters and additional journeys to places I’d never dreamed. But those are other stories for another day.

All these things came back to me this past week when we went to Tennessee to move my parents into a retirement community. They sold their home in the same town and have taken up residence in a new place that has cottages, apartments, assisted living, and rehab facilities. They’re still healthy and active, and have a beautiful new, smaller home now, and no longer do they have to do the upkeep, yard work, and so on.

It’s stunning to me that this will be their last house.

As one who has moved a lot throughout my life, I’ve developed an ongoing, nagging sense of “What’s next?” My life has not so much been a novel as it has been a book of short stories, each with a definite beginning, middle, and ending. The characters in each tale continue to live in my mind as they did when I knew them. They don’t cross into the other worlds and the other experiences of my life, they exist within distinct ecosystems that somehow each remain unique and special inside of me. Life has been a wonderful journey of moving through these separate stories, each one holding its own meaning and significance. It’s hard for me to fathom that one day the book will end, the final chapter will be written, and the cast of characters in that final story will take their last bow.

When I go to the reunion next month and see Tom, Debbie, Jan, Pat, Bob, Dawn, others, I will enter a time warp. It will be as though I open up the book to that particular chapter and step right in to the story again. I will want to say to them, let’s go walking through the neighborhood. Let’s do a James Brown dance. Let’s play homerun derby or basketball in the driveway, or two-on-one football in the street. Let’s record the Beatles album on your dad’s reel-to-reel and play it backwards and see what we can hear. Let’s spend the day at the pool. Let’s go steady.

It will be good. And then I’ll move on again.

Comments

  1. What a great post! Your blog has been on my feeder for a couple years now, and I love what you do.

    When I was growing up, my family wasn’t a moving family (and same with my wife). Now that we have our first child, we were both kind of curious to hear what the experiences in life are like for someone who moves a lot more.

    A well written, informative, and beautiful narrative.

    Thanks!

  2. In September I am attending a collective 50th birthday party for my High School graduating class. Mixed emotions, as I came to the High School from another culture at the end of Grade 10, and was a year younger than everyone else. High School can be tough!

  3. My memory is compartamentalized similarly, but around stages of disability. I figure out what year things happened in by which wheelchair I owned (they all have names), or if I used normal or forearm crutches or even just a cane. I haven’t moved nearly so much as I’ve gone through mobility changes, but even living in the same place is a different story when what you can do changes radically.

    Sometimes, even though I can remember it well, those past stages (whether better or worse than now) seem somehow unreal. It is hard to imagine all of those things really happened.

  4. Andrea T. says:

    Love this. Love how reunions bring back the memories, how your parents’ final move can do the same (I dread the day my parents move out of the house I grew up in!). Thanks for sharing your memories, Mike.

  5. Chaplin Mike…it’s posts like this that make me read IM.

    I remember all my moves quite well. The first move was the big one…from California to Montana for college. I remember the shock of the different pace of life. At first I hated it…and at the end of my freshman year considered transferring. Boy..am I glad I didn’t. I had so many firsts..my first snow storm, my first time away from home, my first time eating food other than Mom’s, friends who hunted and offered me elk meat, etc.. I remember the fall of 1993…I had a Music Appreciation test and was studying classical music. Then one of the other California guys who lived most of his life in southern California screamed..

    “It’s snowing…”

    Stunned I ran outside and stood in amazement with other kids and watched the snow come down. I played in the snow for hours. I would go in and come back out. And I was woefully unprepared for my Music Appreciation Test. I bombed it, I got an F actually. When the professor wanted to know what happened I told him about my first snow storm. He laughed, my grade bounced back. And to this day I take a lot of pride in that F as well. Leaving Montana was hard. I remember my final goodbyes and all that happened there. And with that I moved back to California.

    Then came my second move….

    It was to Milwaukee, Wisconsin from California to attend grad school. Again I remember the shock of it all. People eating fried cheese curds, the 3 seasons of winter and 1 season of road construction, and realizing that loving the Packers was mandatory – however I was not going to wear a wedge of cheese on my head. Then I also experienced my first humidity, brewery tours, the changing of seasons which stunned me in its beauty, and memorable times in Door County. Grad school was demanding. In all honesty there were times I wondered if I would make it through. But I did and since I was planted in Milwaukee…I decided to stay there. I was lonely when I arrived in 2000, but by 2005 I was home.

    That led to my third move….

    It was from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to the Washington, D.C. area. Here I experienced culture shock. People getting up early to avoid traffic on the 495, traffic jams that can last over an hour and a half. On the plus you had all the culture of museums, the history, and the poisoned political atmosphere. No where else have I lived in the United States where some people make a full time living at trying to destroy their opponent. I have made friends but I learned that Washington, D.C. is transitory. My friends mostly rotate out after a couple of years either due to job change, life change, new military posting, etc.. My close friends that I have today I know will be gone in a couple of years. That is what makes Washington, D.C. the loneliest place I have lived. And its why I keep an active social life in trying to find and meet more people.

    But I also know that one day my parents are going to have to make that change as well. And in all honesty..it frightens me. This was a great post CM!

  6. Love this post. The compartmentalized life is exactly the one I have. We moved around a bit too, and each place has its own unique memories that are disconnected from the others.

  7. petrushka1611 says:

    I absolutely loved reading this. Thank you! 😀

  8. reJoyce says:

    Love the idea of writing down distinct memories from different hometowns. If I am going to do it, I’d better get started though – I just figured out I moved to six different cities growing up and a further 13 more since marrying 28 years ago.

    Here’s a question for all you frequent movers: when someone asks you where you are from, do you just pick one of the places you’ve lived or give a long explanation?

  9. cermak_rd says:

    I have moved residences several times, but only consider myself to have had 2 homes. The first was my home town in Central IL, where the corn and beans grew so thickly and provided employment opportunities to a youngster. I remember the oil rockers pumping oil in those same fields and even in town (there was one at the end of my block. Stunk like heck when the wind blew our way). Now, those oil rockers are gone, and in some places windmills are going up in their place. I bet a windmill doesn’t smell as bad! Anyway it was a great place to grow up.

    Then I moved to Chicagoland. Bright lights, big city! With more things to do and see then I’ll ever find time for. I lived in dorms, then crummy apartments, with one disastrous move out to the hinterlands of suburbia (Glendale Heights, east of Chaplain Mike’s Wheaton) before moving back in toward those bright lights. We bought a house in Berwyn (about 6 blocks from the west side of Chicago), we got married and we’ve stayed there for the past 15 years and have no plans to move. So I consider myself to have had 2 homes. My childhood one, and the one I have now with some nomadic time in between.

    My father sold our house when I graduated college. I think he was just hanging on to it for me. He has a smaller house now that he’s had ever since. I remember the pang of knowing I’d never set foot in it again. I guess it was that sentimental streak that had me agreeing with my partner to buy his boyhood home in Iowa as a vacation spot. It’s actually been a good decision. It’s a fun, quiet place to just get away a couple times a month.

  10. Ronald Avra says:

    I grew up in rural Arkansas and after sundown the two radio stations we could pick up were WLS in Chicago and WOAI in San Antonio. At that point, Steve Lundy was the night disc jockey on WLS. Many years later, I moved to Texas for work. I met an attorney here who was raised in Pennsylvania. Turns out that she was listening to WLS at the same time I was. That doesn’t seem to mean as much to people who are used to the internet as a part of everyday life.

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