Midwestern kindness

20 Oct

Tracey, Mary & Cindy

hi mary! it was real nice to see u at the reunion the other night. u were always a nice person to me in high school and still are a nice person now! take care and i hope to see u before the next 10 years pass!

I traveled home, to the Midwest, twice in August. The first time was primarily to visit my parents. Last Christmas, we talked about going on a trip together and couldn’t quite make that work (cruise to Alaska, Montreal). And then we both thought at the same time: Why not come home? I hadn’t been home in several years, since my parents now visit every Christmas.

I was looking forward to the trip. I still have close friends who live in Northwest Indiana (AKA The Region). Band of Horses was playing a show in Chicago and I managed to snag tickets before the show sold out.

My parents always spoil me when I’m home. My dad gives me money when I go out with my friends, and when I leave. My mom offers to do my laundry, which I never really need to have done during these short trips home. They let me sleep in and I take walks around the neighborhood with my mom.

I needed this trip home to relax, since work had been pretty stressful. The weather was beautiful, and my dad was able to get access for me to the pool not far from their home. I was in training for two big swim events (1.5 and 2 miles) in August and September, and he had chatted up the manager and she said it was fine for me to swim. The water was warm and I got some sun (wearing my sunscreen, of course).

When I’m home or even when I talk with my parents on the phone, there seems to be a fine line between sharing what’s going on in my life and causing them to be worried about me. It’s a little strange, and sometimes a delayed reaction.  I’m always open with my friends, and I haven’t always had a great relationship with my parents. But I do now, for the most part, so I end up over sharing. And sometimes when I’ve over shared, it’s actually brought us closer together.  I suppose that parents just never stop worrying about their children.

My trip to Chicago was pretty great.  I found an inexpensive place to stay via Airbnb. I wouldn’t stay there again because it was above a club and the dance music was pumping until 2:30 a.m. or so. But I went to a late show at the Metro, not far from Wrigley Field, and the noise didn’t matter much by the time I made it home. I had wanted to find a place that I could potentially walk to, although I ended up taking a cab home because there have been a lot of muggings.

During the day, I wandered around on my own, which is something I always enjoy. I tried to go to a fashion meets Impressionism exhibit at the Art Institute, but the line was halfway down the block. I opted instead to see 20 Feet from Stardom, a fantastic movie that made me smile and also reminded me of high school days, listening to R&B or soul music, as it was called. (Newfound respect for Mr. Bruce Springsteen.)  I walked around my old neighborhood in Lakeview, went to the Weiner’s Circle, saw openings in my old apartment building on N. Hampden Court, and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant that I always went to (El Jardin).

None of my friends could go to the show at the Metro, so I got there early to try and sell my extra ticket. I found an interested buyer pretty quickly, a younger guy who said that tickets were going for a high price via StubHub. I told him that I just wanted to get my money back that I’d spent ($45), and he was thrilled. He quickly bought my ticket and offered to buy me a beer inside to say “thanks.”  We had at least an hour until the show, so I wandered the neighborhood a bit more. A Cubs game had ended right before I arrived in the area, and the bars were packed. I was feeling nostalgic, which always seems to happen when I’m in Chicago.

When I returned to the Metro, I wandered around inside. I went up to the bar, and the guy who bought my ticket was right in front of me. “Hey,” he turned and said, “What are you drinking?” Midwestern kindness. He certainly didn’t have to buy me a beer or even act like he remembered who I was. It was a sign of a good night, and a good visit home. I was also reminded of Midwestern kindness from another young guy, Ray, who was with his girlfriend, sister, her husband and friends during the show. He was jovial and cute and a little drunk. He introduced himself and his crew and continued to greet me throughout the night whenever he walked by. At one point, he spilled a beer and actually went to find a rag to mop it up with. What drunk guy does that, ever? Maybe it’s not a Midwestern thing, but I decided it was that night.

At the end of August, I also returned home to the Region for my 30th high school reunion.  Thirty years. It didn’t and doesn’t seem possible, on most days.  When I first received the invite via Facebook, I wasn’t sure if I’d attend. I already had my trip home planned at the beginning of the month, and two trips home in one month … well, really? I was on the fence. Then emails started trickling in through Facebook. Shannon, whose locker was just a few away from mine from 7th through 12th grade, forwarded the invite to me. I was touched by all of the emails. I should go home, because who knows who would make it next time?

I had a really great time, and I’m so glad that I went. It’s hard to connect with everyone at a big event like that but I managed to chat with a lot of people. They’d sold more than 100 tickets, according to Cindy, my best friend since 7th grade. On Friday night, the day before the big event, about a dozen of us met up in downtown Highland and then ended up at a bar on 45th.  Cindy and I had gone to the Legion hall to put out the tablecloths and arrange a few yearbooks and a class photo that I found of our graduating class. There was a big storm that night, and rain was coming in through one of the windows. Then, the power went out.  We left the Legion and made our way downtown, which was close.

The storm had knocked the power out, which actually made it a little easier to ease into the Reunion weekend. It wasn’t bright lights, big city, here’s your REUNION. Lisa K. and I parked next to each other, and I hadn’t seen her in forever. We hugged, started chatting and made our way to Langel’s. Patti was there, Jill K. and Karen.  Jill wasn’t able to make it on Saturday, and I was really glad to see her and catch up. We were really close in junior high.  My memories of that time include listening to Journey records in her basement (her brother’s music) and spending a lot of time with the boys who lived down the street (the Huppenthals, Marvin Good, the Kutchkas).

Jill said she’d heard a song on the radio recently that reminded her of a dance we did at a talent show. It was to Music Box Dancer. I don’t remember a talent show, but I remember that song. Lisa said she didn’t remember a talent show either. I do remember dancing like a whirling dervish to it in my bedroom, and feeling like I’d sprained my ankle one day. I was doing some kind of ballet move, probably a set of turns.

I was happy to see and talk with Donna, who grew up on the same block as I did (Prairie Avenue) and who was my closest friend throughout grade school. We drifted apart starting in junior high. I hadn’t seen Mike G. in years and we were lifeguards and managers at Scherwood Pool, a place where I had many fond memories and that was a big part of my high school and beyond years. And I chatted with a few people that I really hadn’t talked with in high school. It’s nice that barriers fall away after the years go by.

It was fun to reconnect with Mike S. and to meet his wife, Jill. Mike and I had been in touch off and on in recent years through Facebook. I’ve known him since 6th grade. I would see the music and bands he posted about and thought it was interesting, after all these years, how you can be on the same page as some of your friends despite the miles and time, and shifts and turns in our respective lives. I joined them at Mike’s old house on Sunday and we hung out at the pool, talking about music and life.  Mike’s younger brother, Mark, was also there with his wife and kids. One of the kids knew who Bob Dylan was when we were chatting, and I was impressed. A whole family and younger generation who are into the classics and indie music. Mike and Jill and I talked about meeting up at a fest next year. They live in Columbus, Indiana.

There are lots of additional stories that I could share here, but this post is getting lengthy and most of you are probably losing interest at this point. Upon my return to Seattle, someone from the class of ’83 sent me an email that I shared at the start of this blog post. It made me smile. Work was stressful and I had needed a break. It was nice to return to my roots. I also hope it won’t be another 10 years until I see my classmates and friends again.

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