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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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50 Years Later: Peoria High School Class of 1953 Reunion
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To respond to people who've asked me about the reunion because they couldn't attend, to communicate with those who were there but somehow we didn't connect and to capture impressions for myself, here are my views of:

  1. the run-up to the reunion, October, 2003
  2. the trip to Peoria
  3. the Glasfords' pre-weekend hospitality party Oct. 2
  4. sight-seeing Oct. 3
  5. informal group gathering Oct. 3
  6. sight-seeing Oct. 4
  7. formal group gathering Oct. 4
  8. Peoria the place, then and now
  9. the trip home

I underestimated how emotionally charged much of the weekend would be. Many of my reactions stem from my experiences while living in Peoria -- the first 18 years of home life, school life and interior life. Telling my personal back story has led to many interpolations and digressions, so this account is as much or more about me than about the reunion itself.

By relating how I feel I don't mean to suggest that someone who sees things differently is somehow remiss. But I must do my best to be true to myself.

A. Preparations
Ken and Joan Carrigan: honor their names and be sure to include the rest of the reunion committee. It was obvious the preparations consumed huge amounts of energy, time and money. The end result was that the weekend was as close to effortless as possible for the rest of us. If there was single problem or slip-up, it certainly wasn't noticeable.

B. Getting there
Thursday morning it was 29 in Peoria and 23 in Madison, where I've lived since I was 21. But it was bright and sunny, dispelling any last-minute "Do I really want to do this?" feeling. The fact is, I did really want to do it.

With few exceptions, Illinois is flat, rectangular and unvarying. But fall color was emerging, and by following I-80 west to Princeton and turning south along I-180/29, I came upon a stretch of really lovely countryside: rolling hills, heavily forested, almost no development agricultural or urban, just the road and the land. This put me in an upbeat mood.

"Just the road and the land" means a lot me. I didn't drive until I was 28; I didn't need a car. But I got to love driving, and in due course have driven in every state in the USA except Alaska and Louisiana, and in the whole southern tier of Canadian provinces, including Newfoundland. Most of this travel was on non-Interstate roads because I'm an irrepressible sight-seer.

The Carrigans had helpfully sent a card from the Marriott Courtyard with a map that got me right to the hotel without difficulty. 219 miles, 4 hours, several stops en route, a rather leisurely pace. The hotel room was entirely adequate and reasonably priced, thanks to a group rate for reunion guests.

I'm a seasoned traveler and usually pack light, but for this occasion I brought my high-rent boom box and a stack of CDs, a laptop computer for keeping up with my journal, and all the paraphernalia required to have good coffee available at all times. I'm a serious caffeine addict, and I like my drug about three times as strong as anything you can get in a hotel or restaurant.

Another bonus of the Crossroads was that my room had a balcony. I never smoke indoors, not even in my own house or car, because of the smell. So no matter what the weather, which on a windy, 25-below Wisconsin winter day can be something of a challenge, I go outside to smoke. At the hotel, outside was only a sliding door away.

At any rate, as soon I was ensconced in the Crossroads, I took a long nap, so as be halfway alive and alert for Bob and Aline Glasford's hospitality bash later that afternoon.

C. The Glasfords' pre-weekend hospitality party Oct. 2
In the living room of their suite at the Crossroads, Bob and Aline had laid out a nice buffet, and when I arrived, about an hour into the proceedings, were busily keeping everyone supplied with food and drink. There was a short lineup at the door because the first item of business was to get one's name tag.

The name tags were emblematic of the forethought lavished upon all aspects of the reunion events. The tag itself was simple: white card stock bearing your name in large black type (readable by less than perfect eyes) and including a reproduction of your photo from the 1953 Crest yearbook. The tag was encased in a clear plastic envelope and furnished with a long elastic string designed to be worn around the neck.

There were similar tags for each guest, but without a yearbook photo, of course. This was eminently functional, since the presence of a photo meant you were looking at a classmate, even if you hadn't the least idea who it was. While some of our classmates were easily recognizable as merely older editions of the person you knew 50 years ago, in fact most people had changed enough that you needed the name tag to connect the present to the past.

This in itself was a ice-breaker, blatantly looking back and forth between someone's face and their name tag -- a process that in more formal settings you'd probably do more surreptitiously -- before smiling and saying, "Ah, my goodness, how are you, <Whoever>!?"

Skipping the gory details, my attendance at the party consisted of brief visits to the hospitality suite because I've been coping with sciatica, a painful back ailment, which was to plague me all through the reunion. Standing up for more than about 30 seconds brought on paroxysms of pain. By the end of the weekend, I had grown less self-conscious about saying, "Please excuse me, I have to sit down," but realistically, it was something of a barrier to normal social interaction with anyone who was standing. The room was full to overflowing that first night, so of course standing was the rule and seats were few.

At the party there was a display that affected me deeply, several rows of yearbook photos, with names, of classmates who had died. To be sure, we knew the names already from the rosters we got in the mail before the reunion. But the pictures amplified the loss, made the sense of grief somehow more pointed and real.

Upon reflection, I think several factors contributed to this heightening of feeling. One is obviously our own mortality; who knows what our futures hold with respect to death and dying? It came to them -- in some cases shockingly early -- and it will surely come to us, however much relief we may feel that it's not yet. One stood there, looking, together with two or three others, wondering and exchanging comments, notably "Do you know what happened?" and "I think it was cancer/heart disease/whatever" and "I don't know." It was rather sober, sad and numbing.

Another thought that passed through my mind as I was scanning these photos was the litany of idiotic, stupid, dangerous and illegal things I've done in my life -- better not to list them in this perilous period of our country's history -- any number of which could easily have killed me and others, yet there I stood, alive and fairly healthy, having gotten away with it all. How strange.

Eventually, on account of my sore back, I was hanging out more in the hotel lobby (down the hall from the party) than at the party itself, grateful for an opportunity to sit and relieve the pain for a while.

D. Sight-seeing Oct. 3
Well, after all I was born in Peoria and lived there until I started college the fall of 1953. After my mother moved to Chicago in 1962 I had no remaining family connections there, but I didn't really consider that I lived in Peoria after starting college. The fact is, I couldn't wait to get away from there.

Home and school
During the reunion weekend I went around to the places where I lived as a kid. Though we were on Peoria Ave. when I was born and there was a house on Corrington in between, we moved to 1201 North St. when I was 2, and that's the first house I remember. Apart from ugly jalousie windows that now enclose the formerly open front porches of this large two-story duplex, it looks exactly like it did 60+ years ago.

The next place, where I lived from ages 5 to 10, was a big frame house on W. McClure, one door from Linn. It's long gone. The Jewel food store that replaced it has since been replaced by Sutton's Carpets. The location meant that I started school, beginning with kindergarten, at Columbia. I retain many memories of the place, including frequent fistfights. At least kids didn't carry weapons back then.

In 1940 Columbia was quite modern; now it looks rather industrial to me. But it seems to be in a fairly good repair. I checked out the playground, where I was notoriously inept at baseball and remembered the dozens of fights that awaited me on that bridge across Dry Run Creek, my route home. I hope the creek is no longer the open sewer it was then.

When I was 10 we moved to Hamilton Blvd, a horrible dump in a roach-infested, six-flat building at the bottom of the hill. The family fortunes were going downhill too. The building is long gone, replaced by one of the many buildings of the Methodist Medical complex. Good riddance to the Hamilton Blvd place, in my book: that rat hole framed the low point of my life emotionally, psychologically, socially and economically. From there the only possible direction was up.

One thing that wasn't awful was that though I had moved out of the Columbia School area, I was allowed to attend 5th grade there anyway. When I was 11, my mom and dad got divorced, a step I wholeheartedly welcomed, unaware then that it would be incredibly difficult for my mother afterward, economically and especially socially (it was always the woman's fault in those days, you know).

Shortly after the divorce we moved to a smaller, less expensive apartment a few blocks away, about a quarter the way up the Knoxville hill, in yet another six-flat building where each flat had been divided fore and aft into two separate apartments. But at least the new place was clean and bug-free. It's gone too; I-74 runs right through where it used to be.

The move to Knoxville prompted the Columbia principal (Mr. Long? I never liked him and apparently the feeling was mutual) to tell my mom I had to change schools for 6th grade. She somehow worked it out so that I could go to Franklin rather than to White, which was a lot closer. That proved to be a bit of luck.

But at the time I was quite crushed. Worse, my mom was working full-time and couldn't help me get installed in the new school on the first day. So first I had to find Mr. Landis' office on my own, then trot in there and announce myself; as I was small and shy, this was not easy, the more so as Landis was very similar to my dad in appearance and demeanor (at least when the old man was sober): toweringly tall, very erect posture, tidy, slicked-down dark hair, very stiff and very stern.

But you know, despite all this it turned out really well. Years later I realized what at first had bothered me was mostly a matter of class consciousness in my 11-year-old mind. I at first conceived of Franklin School as a come-down academically and socially.

The year before the transfer I had started working, delivering newspapers, which brought me into daily contact with older boys from a rough downtown neighborhood, and they lost little time in knocking down my disdainful attitude with fists and boots and sticks. Gross physical violence was something I understood perfectly, having had a complete education in that at home. It was more useful than you might think, incidentally.

Somehow these lessons helped me break the ice and make friends at school, and by the time 7th grade started I thought Franklin was the bee's knees. All through high school, I felt a closer kinship with my Franklin friends than with my former Columbia ones, which I suppose is not really that surprising.

The Franklin building looks pretty much the same as always, though the playground now has a very high chain-link fence around it (ugly as hell; all it needs is razor wire to make it look like a prison). But what astounded me was to see cars parked on it; I didn't find out what that was all about, but it certainly makes a small playground smaller, which can't be a good thing.

In 1952, my mom and stepfather got married, which brought me to my final Peoria address, 214 University Ave. That house is still there, basically in the same shape -- not too bad, not too good.

I forget now exactly how far it was from Peoria High, a couple miles anyway, but because for the last two years at PHS I was going to school very early so I could practice the piano, I walked it a lot of times, arriving at 5:00 a.m. and entering via the boiler room, having obtained permission to do this and to use the first-rate instrument in the auditorium before school started. To this day people tease me about trudging to high school: "Yeah, yeah, I suppose through heavy snow and uphill both ways, right?"

I have many fond memories of that period. Things were more stable at home (most of the time). It was a particularly busy, concentrated couple years. When I was 16, I quit delivering newspapers and started working as a copy boy for the morning paper, The Peoria Star. The job was 6:00-10:00, six nights a week, for $.90/hour. The weekly take-home was $16.20, which funded everything except shelter and at-home meals: my music lessons, scores, books, movies, clothes, trips to Chicago for concerts and so forth.

The schedule was pretty demanding, seldom allowing for more than six hours sleep a night, often less. But at that age, it didn't seem necessary and I had long been used to early rising. The job gave me a high degree of independence and probably kept me out of the sorts of trouble teenagers often fall into. Besides, it made music lessons possible, which was not just the main thing, it was the whole thing, and extremely fulfilling.

As for Peoria High itself, there was a group tour during the reunion, but because I had checked the school out during my 1977 trip, I didn't go this time. In 1977 I thought PHS was beginning to decay rather noticeably. It seems to be in approximately the same shape now. As there's talk of closing it soon, I guess that will mark the end of an era, our era. I forgot to ask what will happen to the kids who go there now if our alma mater ceases to exist. Steve Shively informed me of the interesting historical fact that our school was the first high school in the country built west of the Alleghenies.

Parks
During the summers I lived on McClure, I quite often directed my little bare feet, tough as leather and usually filthy, straight up McClure to Glen Oak Park, exactly a mile away. There I would hang out at the zoo, try to talk with the lions and bears, eat ice-cream cones, play on the playground and scamper around on the wooded pathways in the hills on the north side of the park. One time I was completely astounded to see a deer that was not in a zoo enclosure. I was sure it was Bambi.

I rather suspect that nowadays no sub-teen kid would get to wander around on their own unaccompanied by an adult, lest the parents get hauled into court for neglect. I thought of it as anything but; to me it was marvelous freedom.

Both the hilly, forested aspect and my later interest in tennis were far better served by Bradley Park than by Glen Oak. I wasn't aware until this trip that I-74 had sliced Laura Bradley's magnificent legacy in two, which is surely a great pity.

It was chiefly the tennis courts I wanted to visit at Bradley, because they were the scene of a major transformation in my life, one in which Lou Rittschof played a decisive role.

Tennis
Lou and I were in 6th grade together at Franklin, but it was really the next year that we became close friends, going everywhere together, doing everything together. His dad was the head chemist at Hiram Walker, a little aloof and sometimes quite strict, but he had a wry sense of humor. Lou's mom was warm, friendly and affectionate, though she too could be strict. I liked Lou's parents, even idealized them. It was obvious they liked me too, probably because I had impeccable manners around adults (my mother's doing). For me the three Rittschofs (Lou was an only child) were a model family, and normalcy of that sort was notably absent in my own home life.

It was only years later that I realized how severely my life's experiences up to this time had distorted my senses of personal and social dynamics. The litany of negative consequences was long: wariness, distrust, insecurity, aggressiveness, emotional and physical violence, and above all, enormous but mostly repressed anger.

It wasn't all negative, of course. I did well academically. I had learned how to work and work hard in the real world, as well as to appreciate issues associated with being self-supporting. I enjoyed an unusually high degree of independence and self-sufficiency. I was creative, mechanically adept and organized at any number of things: of necessity, domestic chores including cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, as well as hobbies like building model airplanes and trains, fixing broken toys and appliances, bicycles especially, and so on.

I think that in a good many boyhood friendships, one kid is a kind of leader or mentoring character while the other kid is an apprentice or hero-worshiping character. In most athletic matters, Lou had natural talent I clearly lacked, although I was a very good swimmer, while he was not graceful in the water. But in any endeavor that involved strength, I was a distant second, a real ectomorph to his mesomorph.

Between 7th and 8th grade, Lou suggested we should play tennis. "I don't know how," I said, my misgivings fed by recalling what a dud I was at hitting a baseball. "I don't know how either," he said, "but we can get lessons at Bradley Park." Thus began one important sea change leading to my adult persona, the enjoyment of active sport. We were 13 and recently post-pubertal, a big factor in how our bodies would soon develop. Although I would remain thin -- to this day, glad to say -- I would get substantially stronger in the next couple years. Taller, too; I grew five inches from age 17 to 19.

Although I didn't know it until three years afterward, Lou Rittschof died of a heart attack in his sleep a week before Christmas in 1996; he would have been 62 three weeks later. In 2000 I had sent a card and a note at the time of what would have been his 65th birthday and a few weeks later got a note from his widow, Silvin (we'd met at the 10th PHS reunion), telling me he was gone. It wasn't that I was unfamiliar with death and grief, but this was different: too wrong, too valuable, too intimately inside my own skin, to be true. The Lou Rittschof part of my emotional being simply shut down.

In the more than three years since, I still hadn't managed to grieve properly, to face up to having lost a major piece of myself. I expect it will go on a long time yet, maybe to the end of my days, but it started at last that Friday morning in Bradley Park, while I was standing in the pouring rain in the middle of the deserted tennis courts where we used to play so long ago.

The tennis pro at Bradley was a huge grizzly guy named Bob Black, a born teacher and an ardent lover of the game, tough as a coach but endlessly patient, even affectionate in the sense of being visibly pleased and generous with praise when we got our strokes right or exchanged an exciting volley. We made fast progress, I would say. For sure we put a lot of time into it, almost every day, three hours most mornings and again most afternoons. And I think it gave us confidence that we knew Bob was always watching out for and correcting our errors.

In view of the fact that I now start to feel ill when the mercury reaches 85, it's a miracle to me we survived those blazing, steam-bath Peoria summers, out there on a hot surface, with no shade, constantly running, jumping, swinging the racket as hard as we could, stopping and turning on a dime, sweating buckets, hour after hour. We did drink a lot of water.

As I stood there alone, more than a half-century later, my mind replayed the ringing sounds of the good strokes and the dull thuds of the bad ones, the unremitting, pulsating heat, the pungent smells, the endless hours in the bright sun, the aching of ever stronger muscles, the weariness of blistered, burning feet, the deep tans, the rivers of sweat, and ohmygod, such boundless, limitless freedom and joy, such easy lightness of being, as I had never before known. Until I tasted the salt, I didn't distinguish the tears from the rain running down my face, but then the flood gates opened for real.

I feel so honored to be able to remember and to pay respect and tribute to my now absent and sorely missed childhood chum, to bless him long after the fact for all the joys and love our friendship brought me, and most of all for the lasting effects, which have stood me in good stead ever since: he released me from a prison of violent reactions to life and taught me that there could be real trust between people, that not everyone is treacherous or hurtful. By direct example I learned that sport can absorb almost any amount of rage, channeling it into productive outlets instead of festering like a wound kept open.

There's much more to the story, of course, but a completely unforeseen consequence of the class reunion is that at last I'm in touch with that part of me that grieves for him. I will celebrate his gentle being with hymns to the angels as long as I may live.

E. Informal group gathering Oct. 3
I hope it won't be too disappointing, but I don't recall a lot of the detail about this first official event, other than walking around chit-chatting with scads of people. The dinner was held at the Weaver Ridge Golf Club, which as far as I know did not exist 50 years ago. It's a very pretty place, to be sure.

The main thing I do recall is sitting next to Marshall Dawson at dinner. At school I knew who he was, but that's all. One thing our remarkable conversation brought home to me, extrapolating from my own impressions, was that many, maybe most of us probably missed out on something valuable, back then, by not knowing each other better. What I discovered at the reunion was that inside Marshall there is an unrealized musician. I hope he won't be embarrassed by my telling part of his story.

A year ago he was at death's door, gravely ill with liver failure. It's well known that there is a critical shortage of organs suitable for transplant, but at almost the last possible moment, one that was right for him became available and the transplant surgery took place.

As a result the fellow I barely remembered as tall and very quiet back then was now sitting next to me, an upright, erect gentleman with a shock of silver hair, a soft voice, and a most engaging way of smiling, with a twinkle in his eye.

By chance I know the doctor who heads the transplant unit at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals, and he had told me the anti-rejection medication regime for post-op transplant patients is sometimes very difficult. Marshall looked pretty darn healthy, though, so I ventured to ask him how it's been. He had one episode of rejection fairly early on, got through it, and things have been pretty good since, he told me.

But then he said (perhaps not quite an exact quote), "You know, Jess, I have no idea how much longer I'll live, but I do know that right now I am just so happy, so full of joy to be here." "How wonderful," I thought to myself. He continued, "I've realized now what I really want from life, and if there is a next time. I want to play the guitar, maybe not necessarily real well, but well enough to be a country and western singer."

I was thunderstruck; the instant he said it I realized I was being allowed to look directly into a beautiful soul. I felt sure -- I can't explain how -- this dream was right for him and that if it happened he would be a great star, for it shows in his eyes that he has endless stories of the heart to tell, and that is after all the central core of country music. I bet anything Marshall was a cowboy in an earlier life. I'm sure some of the songs in him are lonely ones and some are sad ones, but they are all about living and life's blessings, and ultimately uplifting.

This may sound New-Agey and a bit strange or even silly, but the fact is that innerly, Marshall Dawson is and always was a country and western singer. I would love to have known him at PHS and now regret that I didn't. Surely I could have, so why didn't I?

This sort of a story has a built-in moral, and for me it was big part of the total reunion experience: what else did I miss, 50 years ago, with my fractured sense of self, my largely defensive view of others, my skewed sense of the world as it was then? How much of that 18-year-old's foolish blindness remains to this day, despite -- you may rest assured -- prodigious efforts to understand both our common predicament and our unique, necessarily biased personal interpretations of the human experience? If my own case is any indication, quite a lot, which is to say, way too much.

F. Sight-seeing Oct. 4
As a small boy, I spent part of most summers in Wisconsin. The family would climb into our Chevie and head out Knoxville -- a brick highway in those days -- bound for Janesville or Baraboo or Milwaukee, places where one of my mom's two sisters lived. Aunt Irma and Uncle Dick had two boys, one a few months younger than I and another three years older, my sister's age.

The year I was 5, it was Baraboo, about 40 miles north of Madison. As it happens, Baraboo is just north of the terminal moraine, the southernmost advance of the last ice sheet. One feature of the moraine is that it created the most popular of Wisconsin's tourist destinations, Devil's Lake State Park, and it was in that still pristine lake that I learned to swim.

My mother's father, who died two years before I was born, had been a highly successful entrepreneur, and at one time had kept a big apartment on Riverside Drive in New York City and a summer "cottage" (of a mere 14 rooms!) on Long Island Sound, in or near the Hamptons (I was never sure which).

One result of this luxury existence was that my mom was a strong swimmer -- she regularly swam out to the breakwater and back before breakfast, a mile or more in the chilly waters of the Sound. She was therefore well equipped, in the not so frigid, crystal waters of Devil's Lake, to teach me how to swim. I took to it so naturally that it never occurred to me to think of it as a sport; for me, it was more nearly like rebirth, a new way to be, which incidentally is how I still feel about being in the water.

In Peoria, swimming meant indoors at the YMCA downtown, while swimming outdoors meant a long bus trip across the Cedar St. bridge, past Caterpillar, to the pool in East Peoria. Then the city opened a new pool near Woodruff High School and from then until the advent of tennis in my life in I all but lived at that pool every summer.

Continuing the odyssey of revisiting places where I'd grown up, I made an effort to see this pool again, but didn't find it and was later told by someone that it was gone. I noted in passing that that whole neighborhood, including the high school, had seen better days.

When I lived on the edge of it, in or very near the neighborhoods where my paper routes were, downtown Peoria was very different from its present configuration. Basically, there's no longer any significant retail business there, now relocated to malls differing only in varying degrees of newness from malls you'd see anywhere else. Homogeneity is the modern ethic: be alike and above all, consume. Conformity was a force when we were kids too, but nothing like so ubiquitous as today's.

Some things downtown haven't changed; the bar where my dad lost more than one weekend is still there, but I didn't venture in to see whether it still reeks of stale cigaret smoke and staler yet beer, as it did when I delivered the day's papers there. There are refurbished and remodeled things, like the formerly very grungy Water St., where I used to catch the Rock Island Rocket bound for Chicago for Sunday afternoon concerts. The area is now known as Riverfront, whatever that is. There are new things too: a large glassy Civic Center, apparently the main venue for performing arts.

The most surprising thing about downtown Peoria was that it was almost completely deserted on a bright Saturday morning. No pedestrians, virtually no vehicles, no hubbub, everything inert and unused, perhaps with potential but with nothing happening, like waiting for a signal to start living, but no signal arrives.

G. Formal group gathering Oct. 4
I'm pretty sure it had been 57 or 58 years since the last time I was at the Mt. Hawley Country Club, where the formal (i.e., dressing up for cocktails and dinner) event of the reunion weekend was held. It was then and still is a very beautiful place.

From ages 5 to 10, my constant friend (and regular opponent in kid battles) was Jill Knoblock (now McNulty), who lived around the corner on Linn. Her dad was a successful attorney (one of the first to practice on a contingent-fee basis, she told me during the reunion). The Knoblocks, who loved golf, belonged to Mt. Hawley. As a result, I was frequently along when Jill went swimming at the club. Always a water-baby, I loved that pool. The clubhouse is now quite different, but when I parked my car Saturday evening I found, to my surprise and delight, that the pool seemed exactly as I remembered it so long ago. Oh lord, I had a lot of fun there.

Somehow I never realized before that a few steps from the pool, where the Mt. Hawley clubhouse now sits perched on the very edge of the escarpment, there is a great view out over the broad valley of the Illinois River, an absolutely spectacular panoramic vista!

One of the more important parts of the evening's schedule was a group photo session, brilliantly organized by the Carrigans and expertly executed by the photographer and his staff. Bleachers had been set up on a grassy area next to the clubhouse, and soon 100+ of us were lined up on them in rows, facing out over the valley just a couple minutes after sunset. Such wonderful light! Even more impressive, a mere two hours later, each of us who'd ordered a copy of the photo had a first-rate 8x10 color print in their hands.

The banquet was all right. I don't normally eat that kind of food -- rich, laden with fat and salt, but once in a while I suppose my arteries can stand it. The table centerpieces were done with some care, I thought: very tall, slender vases with orchids at the top, enough to provide something festive without becoming an obstacle to conversation with a person directly opposite.

The main thing was the conversation. I had the good fortune to sit next to Marilyn Gamlin (now Breiding), whom I had often dated in high school, and who delighted me by having read my web-site account of life since. She is as outgoing, sunny and cheerful now as she was 50 years ago. I think if we lived closer together -- she's in the Chicago area and widowed a few years ago -- we might see a lot more of each other. One of my little dilemmas in Madison's cultural life is finding people to go with me to concerts. As a fellow musician, she would be a great companion.

There was a program of sorts, featuring joke gifts and a visit from members of the current PHS band, who played some of the old school songs. They were, of course, babies, relatively speaking. Then, after more conversation and milling about, it was all over.

H. Peoria the place, then and now
My two tours of the town included Moss Avenue, Grand View Drive and Detweiler Drive, places with mansions and modern architecture of a conservative sort. In my Peoria period I had always been in awe of these huge establishments, rather in the way the movies of that time created the idea of glamor in palatial surroundings. I wanted to see if echoes of those older attitudes remained, all these years later. The answer is no, the romantic part is gone, supplanted by an appreciation of their more lasting significance.

Apart from having forgotten many of them, these houses looked about the same. Moss Avenue, though, seems to be in the midst of refurbishment, especially on the north side of the street. It's a street with considerable distinguished architecture, including one of Frank Lloyd Wright's best houses, which this time I had the wit to photograph.

The nicest thing about these places, in my opinion, is that there is so much variety among them, which is in stark contrast to new large houses now being built everywhere in the country; no matter where you are, there is a sameness to them. When we were kids, one bought a house, a unique home; today's new houses are "models" selected from "product lines" designed by software that responds to "needs" as expressed by "market analysis" of "lifestyles" and "profiles" of "customers" ("clients" if someone with a degree in architecture was involved).

I suppose every generation finds current developments somewhat awful or discouraging, but the homogeneity of so much of modern life seems to me about on the same level as a McDonald's Happy Meal as contrasted to meals prepared by masters of the cooking art.

I didn't check, but I suspect new upscale subdivisions being fleshed out around Peoria are essentially indistinguishable from those being built around Madison. I refer to this process as "Austinization" because 80 percent or more of present-day Austin has been built since 1970. On the other hand, Peoria is roughly the same size it was when I lived there, though I was told it was a little bigger until manufacturing went offshore.

All in all, I found some comfort in revisiting parts of Peoria that had changed little or not at all in half a century. To the extent that our youth experiences put in place patterns and modalities that end up shaping our whole lives, such reviews are a reminder of where we come from, a foundation on which everything that comes later rests.

For me, what came after was (and continues to be) amazing and wonderful beyond anything I ever dreamed of as a kid. Whatever Peoria was then, it was the crucible in which whatever I'm made of was first forged, and I certainly do not regret a bit of it. At the same time, I also had the feeling that this visit to Peoria was giving me some kind of closure on my early life, affording me an opportunity to integrate that past with this present in its more or less final form.

Along with the surprise and joy of being alive and healthy after 60, my long life rich in fulfillment and accomplishments, I grieve for those who are gone, and also empathize with those who are have lost childhood sweethearts, spouses, life partners and just plain friends they really cared for. If there was a single crowning feature of our reunion, it was the discovery -- a mixture of happy and sad -- that there's much more to each of us, to all of us, than we could possibly have realized 50 years ago.

I. The trip home
I decided to leave as soon as I woke up Sunday morning, so I packed before going to bed. It was about 5:00 when I pulled out of the Crossroads parking lot, went right down War Memorial to Knoxville and turned left. The old route to Wisconsin of my youth, then Rte. 88, now Rte. 40, heads more or less straight north to the top of the state. It happened to be a morning with a very nice sunrise, which I photographed across the rural flats of Illinois.

When I reached the hills of southwestern Wisconsin, I gave myself over to the simple but rewarding pleasure of driving the twisty roads I know like the back of my hand, on one of those perfect mornings of sun and clean air, the blaze of fall yellow, orange and red a harbinger of yet another winter to come. I was home by 9:00.

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