For My Eyes Only

Coffe and journals
private, secrets thoughts

Keeping a travel journal has been a life-long habit for me.  The pandemic has, however, not halted this delightful occupation. In fact, many times in my life I have kept a journal for weeks or months at a time whether I was traveling or not.

Typewriter w "Diary"
Photo by Marcus Winkler

Journaling is a pastime we often associate with another era, a slower-paced time. The diarists of the past give us fascinating insights into personal life in the centuries before our own.

Now, however, the pace of life may seem too hectic for journal keeping. With all the social media out there, aren’t we leaving enough of a record for the generations that follow us?  Who has time to sit down and actually hand write words into a blank notebook? It is my guess that most of the

Journals in bookstore
Photo by Tezzerah

beautifully bound journals that book stores and gift shops sell are received with gratitude, then sit on a shelf for an indeterminate period of time before being shipped off to a thrift store.

 

Yet, for me, it was in the years when I had the least amount of “free” time that I was the most prolific journal writer. One whole summer I journaled when I first woke in the morning before I even ran to the bathroom (I could never do that today!). I sincerely believe that journaling saved the integrity of my intimate relationships as well as my sanity. https://journey.cloud/journaling-benefits

an alternative life

When I examine what famous diarists say about journaling, I find a close resonance with my own experience. http://navigator-business-optimizer.com/2018/12/10-famous-journal-keepers-inspire-journaling/.

Girl in front of fireplace
Photo by Marco Paulo Prado

Noted essayist of the late 20th century, Susan Sontag wrote, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Sontag#Nonfiction  Like Sontag, I often tried to create a better world through constructing it on the page. In my journal from 1987, I recorded my final struggle to find a program tailored to the way our Johnny learned so that he could be “normal,” rather than labeled “disabled.”

gaining perspective

Unlike the diaries of Samuel Pepys, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Pepys, English diarist of the 17th century, who provided us with such a wonderful eyewitness account of the historical events of his time, my journals more closely resemble those of Franz Kafka.

Silhouette and journals
Photo by Recovery Ministries

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/6150947-tageb-cher-von-kafka.  He highlighted the perspective on can gain from keeping a journal. “We may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Following the crash of 2008 and the loss of our life savings, I see myself meet the challenge of a drastic change in lifestyle not necessarily with dignity, but with a certain amount of courage.  I wrote, “I hate the ‘camping out’ at the homes of others. Yet, that’s what Jesus expected his disciples to do – go and depend on the hospitality of others. . . In a way it is a witness that allows others to practice the virtue of generosity.”

never mind the stumbles

Like Virginia Wolfe, I write as an avocation and like her, I enjoy the freedom that journal logging allows. Wolfe says, “The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do, I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus must lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.” https://lithub.com/essential-writing-advice-from-virginia-woolf/.

It’s a fun way to compose. Where else but on a page, I wrote only for myself could I write as ridiculous a sentence as, “I think I’m going to have to be very disciplined about everything in the weeks to come. I’ve made too many commitments, none of which can be dropped. So, I need to find a way to accomplish them all. It need not be forever – just for the next eight months, sort of like being pregnant – except that I feel like I’m giving birth to quadruplets!” I’m so glad I didn’t have to edit that for any publication.

illusion of acceptance

Wolfe enjoyed the creative freedom of journaling, Anais Nin found acceptance

Candle and journal
Photo by Naemi Jimenez

in her diary. “Writing for a hostile world discouraged me. Writing for the diary gave me the illusion of a warm ambiance I needed to flower in.” https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/09/20/anais-nin-on-writing-1947/

My journals are my confidants. I share with them feelings and thoughts that I don’t dare reveal to another human being. They are my rehearsal stage for relationships. Before making important decisions or taking significant actions, I assess them on the pages of my journal. My mother, famous for pithy sayings, always proclaimed, “If you can’t say anything good about someone, don’t say anything at all.”  Sometimes, biting our tongue is difficult and putting the complaint on paper helps. One of Love’s best Lessons is knowing what not to say.

sometimes sensational

As much as I rejoice that my journals are not for public publication, they still entertain me. Oscar Wilde once claimed, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/oscar-wilde-writing-quotes-slideshare

Somewhat the opposite is true for me. Cooped up in my own office/bedroom on a rainy November day in Portland, Oregon, I delight in reading, “Today, Nancy hired a driver she met in the street and while it rained all day, that didn’t stop our adventures as we drove up into the hills of Bali to visit charming

Rice paddies
Photo by Sam Bayle

villages, each of which specialized in a different ancient art from woodcarving to silver jewelry making.” In an instant, I’m back on those steamy mountain roads as our jeep rolls back almost as far as it inches forward. We get out in mud up to our ankles.  The driver enlists the help of several village boys to free the jeep from the mud. Soaked, but happy, we hop back in and are off to the next amazing turn in the road. Without my journal, I might have forgotten that wondrous moment.

 

inspire wisdom

Ralph Waldo Emerson kept diaries for fifty years. https://www.azquotes.com/author/4490-Ralph_Waldo_Emerson/tag/writing  These tomes are filled with nuggets of wisdom. If he hadn’t written less, what he did write might be less inspiring works. A willingness to write regularly and frequency develops a habit of reflection, he believed, that expands the mind and can lend itself to the expression of profound truth.

I hear him. Everyday life is filled with thoughts about what we are to eat, drink,

Dog and journal
Photo by Alexandra Lammerink

and wear. We engage in ongoing conversations with others to work out the logistics of the home/work life balance and individual relationships.  Ordinary discourse doesn’t often lend itself to deep contemplation. But journal keeping does. It can give each of us an “Emerson moment.” That’s the theory anyway. In pursuing my own journals, however, I have not uncovered such a moment. Some important love lessons, yes. Profound wisdom, maybe not.

resistant rearrangers

I fit, perhaps, more into the Joan Didion mold. Didion writes, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” https://fs.blog/2013/12/keeping-a-notebook/ There I hear an echo. Many, if not most pages of my journals, reveal struggles, fears, and challenges. Such a perspective comes back around to Sontag.  “Rearrangers of things” try to recreate, make over, or undo. Such attempts fill my pages in my diaries, mostly in the form of promises to have fewer expectations of others and more of myself.

Gratitude journal
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson

So bad was this habit that five years ago, I began keep a “gratitude journal.”  It’s not the only one I keep, but along with any other recording I do, this little purple, bond book requires that at the end of the day, I log one thing for which I was grateful that day. Sometimes, I’m really stretching, such as “Discovered ‘Yukon Vet on TV with Evelyn; much better than teen comedies.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Oakley,_Yukon_Vet  Other entries smack of complaints in disguise, “So glad Nancy encouraged me to swim laps in the pool today. Always enjoy it more than I think I will.” This journal, if nothing else, is good for a reality check.

fahrenheit 451

Are these diaries and journals just for me? Will I burn them before I die? Hard

Piles of journals
Photo by Julia Joppien

to think of all of that going up in flames and yet, weren’t they for my eyes alone. Henry David Thoreau thought otherwise. He claimed, “Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal?” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/11/what-thoreau-saw/540615/  Thoreau makes an interesting point, but I think he mistakes journals for memoirs. The life narrative I wish to share with future generations unfolds in my memoir, which, while honest, is not all revealing. The musings of my diaries really do need to be buried with me.

the good place

As you read, you read a journal of sorts. That’s how blogs originated. People began sharing the thoughts they had formerly casually record in leather-bound or paperback lined notebooks online instead. The first blogs were “bio” + “logs.” Now blogging is an industry. Most blogs intended to inform or to sell. The fragile connection to journaling has grown tentative. https://themeisle.com/blog/history-of-blogging/  For me, though, writing this blog conforms to John Steinbeck’s dictum about journals.

Journaling in a coffee shop
Photo by Tyler Nix

“In writing,” Steinbeck noted, “habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently, there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established.” https://www.theexaminedlife.org/the-freedom-and-energy-of-discipline/  Because this blog is a promise not just to myself, but to those I hope will read it each week, it provides the writing discipline of which Steinbeck speaks. By establishing writing as a strong habit of mine, it sets in motion the wheels that turn my other creative endeavors. http://navigator-business-optimizer.com/2018/12/10-famous-journal-keepers-inspire-journaling/

Do you keep a diary or a journal?  What do you most like to record in it?  How frequently do you entries?  Let’s compare notes.

“The happy-go-lucky Anne laughs, gives a flippant reply, shrugs her shoulders and pretends she doesn’t give a darn. The quiet Anne reacts in just the opposite way. If I’m being completely honest, I’ll have to admit that it does matter to me, that I’m trying very hard to change myself, but that I’m always up against a more powerful enemy.”  https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/anne-frank-writes-her-last-diary-entry

Anne Frank's Diary
Photo by Dessidre Fleming

 

Some Like It Hot

Palm trees at sunset
irreconciable differences

Coming in not quite sweating, but pretty warm from my morning

Cat in red blanket
Photo by Francesco Ungaro

walk on a recent morning I opened our front door to a blast of heat.  My beloved sat on the living room couch, cuddled under a blanket with a space heater going full blast.  It was July 8. I just shook my head.  I knew better than to be flabbergasted. Our incompatibility about what constitutes a comfortable, livable temperature is well over fifty years in the making.

This discordance is drastic enough to almost fall into the Person typing on computercategory of irresoluble differences, but not quite. One lesson love has taught us is that in truly committed relationships “for better, for worse” sometimes means “for hotter, for colder.”  This irreconcilability rears its menacing head both at home and abroad. During this time of enforced seclusion, Jay  keeps warm in the overheated (my definition) living room while I work at my desk in our frigid (his definition) bedroom. I leave the windows wide open. We have discovered this is a difference shared by many couples. Most, like Jay and I, have found ways to live with it.

which way to go?

The topic, however, always gets laid on the table whenever we

Beach Resort
Photo by Claudia Altamimi

plan a trip. It is no exaggeration to say that for Jay, any place without palm trees isn’t worth the money and effort it  takes to get there. I have a much broader range of dream destinations. Hot beaches falls to the bottom of the list. Various compromises over the years have led to three ways of solving this vacation conundrum.

every sunset a celebration

The first of these is the time-honored “separate vacation.” For us, that took a very special form. For over a decade, every February, Jay would head to Florida to help his retired mother celebrate her birthday, which coincided closely with the President’s Day holiday. (Her actual birthday was February 12.  All through her childhood, it coincided with Lincoln’s Birthday, a national holiday and a day off school.  She did not take well to that date being clumped together with Washington’s birthday.) Having shaken off the wintry blasts and slushy snow of Chicago, Jay reveled in Florida’s balmy winter.  He and his mother packed their suitcases in his car, headed out the driveway of her condo building, flipped a coin and headed in the direction indicated by the toss.

Street in Key West
Photo by Brian Urso

Often, they ended up in Key West,  at the very tip of the chain of islands off the southern tip of Florida. There they could enjoy not just pleasantly warm weather, but fantastic sunsets and an amazing night life – a passion his mom didn’t have many other opportunities to indulge. Among Key West’s many bars, they had favorite haunts they returned to year after year. There, they drank a lot of margaritas. While sharing stories with friends they’d never see again, they listened to the Jazz Age music they both adored. In other years, they visited the west coast of Florida or went to Disney World.  One year they even ended up in New Orleans – a story I’ll have to let him tell you sometime.

some like it cold

Where was I? In Minnesota.  I took advantage of his escape to the south to visit my sister, Mary Beth Welter. She lived in a rambling Craftsman-style home in old St. Paul, just a few blocks away from the elegant Summit Avenue. Many years it was as cold as twelve below zero.  I loved it.  Minnesotans know how to deal with cold, snow and ice.  They revel in it. In fact, if I got lucky, I landed in the Elephant ice sculptureTwin Cities in time for Winter Carnival, the northern version of Mardi Gras. That meant more fun than we could possibly take advantage of.  There were bar-stool ski races, a giant snow slide, the Minnesota State snow sculpting competition, polar plunges, a snow maze and snow mountain play area.  Best of all was the fabulous King Boreas Grand Day Parade that we could walk to from her home.

bread and chocolate

But it didn’t have to be winter carnival time for me to enjoy being in a city that embraced the cold. Just fitting myself into the rhythms of a family other than my own was a respite.  I woke before everyone and bundled myself in layers of warm clothes. I slipped out the front and hiked the half mile past Coffee cake and coffeedozens of Craftsman Style bungalows, each one unique.  My destination was the steamy bakery, Bread and Chocolate. There I settled into my favorite corner chair to enjoy dark, strong coffee and pastries so mouth-watering I get hungry just writing about them.

I remained at the bakery, alternating between watching the morning crowd and reading a novel for an hour or so. Once I felt certain my nieces and nephew were off to school, I ordered fresh pastries – chocolate croissants for me and pecan rolls for her.  On the way back I walked down Grand Avenue, strolling past shops specializing in everything from kites to jewelry.

Store fronts
Photo by Becca Dilley

My visits signaled a break of sorts for my sister as well.  She ran a daycare center in her home. By the time, I arrived back at her home, the four children she cared for had arrived. Their parent had taken off for work and the kids were settled into morning activities.  Beth and I could enjoy a long chat over coffee, a change from her usual day-long toddler conversations. Then, weather permitting – and in

Plowing snow in St. Paul
Photo by Caroline Yang

Minnesota that is a very broad range – we took the toddlers to the park. After lunch, they settled down for nap time, giving us time for another cozy sister-to sister chat.

families are forever

Around three-thirty, Beth’s four children streamed in from school, shedding boots, mittens, scarves, and jackets in a stream across the living and dining room. Chaos reigned until the daycare kids were picked up by their parents after work. During that time, I escaped to the snug upstairs enclosed porch that served as a guest bedroom to read, nap or call Jay. When the front door closed after the last daycare family, I returned to the kitchen to help prepare dinner, a lively affair at which the Welter children vied with one Green Mill pizzeriaanother to grab their parents’ attention.  On my last night there, we would all go out to the Green Mill for pizza.  A Chicagoan never admits that anywhere else in the world has better pizza than the Windy City. But I really enjoyed every bite of every Green Mill Il Primo, I was privileged to share with my sister and her family.

absence makes the heart grow fonder

The next day I boarded the Empire Builder at the train station for the seven-hour journey back to Chicago.  Traveling by train was one of the top perks of the trip for me. I loved having breakfast along the Mississippi River and often shared that meal with people from outside the States. I arrived home, relaxed and refueled. At home I was the engine and the energy that kept that engine going.  Having an opportunity to spend a week where I had simply been a passenger was, for me, as refreshing as a trip to a luxury resort.

Jay and I were always thrilled to see each other on Sunday.  A week apart was more than enough.  He had had his palm tree fever somewhat relieved.  I had been energized by my foray into the frozen tundra.  Time to get back to “normal,” whatever that was.

That’s one way we dealt with our differences over what constituted an ideal getaway.  Other blogs will let you in on some more solutions we discovered.

Christ Taylor explores interesting ways that other couples have solved this problem in his article, “See You in Two Weeks.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-money-travel-couples/se

Winter Carnival
Photo by Ethan Hu

“People are learning that it’s OK to rewrite the rules of marriage for their own needs, and not just do what their grandparents did. It’s a gift my husband gives me, to be able to fly solo once in a while.” Iris Krasnow, The Secret Lives of Wives.

When have you and a dear one clashed on where to go for a getaway?  How did you solve the conundrum? I’d really like to know.

Journey to Another Time

Mackinac Bridge
Any time but this one

Life can be a grind. That has always been the case, but it’s even more true as the entire world lives through a pandemic. At a time like this, simply fleeing the boundaries of our own place may not feel like enough of a respite. Why not, we might ask ourselves, abscond to another time?

Somewhere in Time PosterThe protagonists of such books as Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson(https://www.abebooks.com/BID-TIME-RETURN/30207059856/bd?cm_ ),which may ring more bells for you as the film, Somewhere in Time, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, and The Lake House by David Auburn ( Remember Keanna Reeves and Sandra Bullock?) actually break the time barrier.

the real brigadoon

This is what my family and I did for fifteen summers. Well, we didn’t leave the twentieth century.  We vacationed on Mackinac Island. At the point where the two peninsula that make up the state of Michigan meet, sits a 4.5-acre island, which rises steeply on all sides to a 900-foot

Mackinac Island
Photo by Aaron Burden

pinnacle. It is also entirely car-free, and has been since 1898 — only horses and bicycles are allowed, giving the place a laid-back vibe. And for me, living without gas-engine traffic of any kind, turned my stay on Mackinac into a trip to another time. It slowed everything down. https://www.mymichiganbeach.com/mackinac

The island can only be reached by boat. For my family that meant taking the ferry that ran almost continuously during the days and evenings. A valet drove our minivan to storage while we wheeled our bikes and dragged our suitcases aboard. Also, loaded for us were the boxes of groceries we had purchased in Mackinac City. Island groceries were expensive and sparse. Settled aboard, I climbed to the third deck and stood at the bow. As the boat sped across the strait the cool north winds played havoc with my hair and my spirits lifted. I squinted my eyes to catch a minuscule glimpse of Gallery House, the cottage that would be our home for the next three weeks. And then the ferry rounded the island and the harbor jam-packed with sailboats appeared. Behind them white-frame buildings, set in higher and higher rows, formed a gleaming welcome on three sides.Harbor with sailboats

brave old world

From the moment I wheeled my bike down the ramp, I was forced to accept that the blueprint for how I usually planned my days could not structure my next three weeks.  Rather, I literally lived the pace of another time, a time before my grandmothers had been born.

Just to start, the ‘cottage’ (on Mackinac Island even very grand mansions are referred to as “cottages.”) where we would be living was near the top of the island and a couple miles beyond the harbor town. Getting our suitcases and groceries to the house meant hiring a horse drawn wagon. I stood guard over our belongings and our kids while Jay headed to the street to hail a wagon driver.  If we were lucky, it didn’t take too long.  But it always seemed to take long enough for the children to spot the ice-cream vendor. Mackinac like many other American tourist destination is “famous” for its fudge, but it’s extremely creamy ice-cream is every bit as delicious.

a friend of a friend is a friend indeed

The first year we arrived we had had no idea what to expect in terms of our accommodations.  One of Jay’s business associates, Len’s wife worked with a woman who had recently inherited her uncle’s place on the island. She rented it out for most of the summer. Len and his wife Sue couldn’t afford the rent on their own and asked if we’d consider sharing. We decided to give it a chance.

From the directions, I originally thought we’d be staying close to the town. Sue said to let the lorry driver know we were staying at the Gallery House in the Annex.  He would know where that was. I pictured a house somehow attached to one of the many art galleries in town.  But once we were all seated on the benches at the front of the wagon, our horses clip-clopped right past all the Front Street buildings and turned to go up the hill.  They trotted past a beautiful golf course. As we arrived at the entrance to the Grand Hotel with its 660-foot porch, a guard stopped us.  The driver explained we were on our way to the Gallery House and the guard waved us through.  Jay and I looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders.  This was interesting.Grand Hotel Mackinac Island

beyond grandeur

The kids loved the hotel and spotted its swimming pool.  I disappointed them. “No, we’re not staying here.” I didn’t know at that point that passes to the hotel pool came with our cottage. Just past the porch of the hotel, the road rose steeply. To the left a sheer drop to Lake Huron far below and on the left stately gleaming white Victorian mansions with wide-sweeping verandas sat on spacious lawns – the cottages of the West Bluff, summer homes of wealthy Detroit and Chicago families. When we turned away from the bluff, we could see that each cottage had not a garage, but a stable and the horsey smell that had assaulted our nostrils the minute we stepped off the ferry became stronger yet. Another left turn took us down a gravel road between more lovely homes, though not as grand as those on the West Bluff. Many of these were half-hidden by tall oaks. Then the driver swung the wagon to the right once more and stopped.

In the middle of an enormous expanse of deep green grass stood a yellow clapboard house. Its proportions were more modest than those of most of the abodes we had gone by, but its lines were charming. A screened-in porch, scattered with wicker furniture, ran around three sides of the house. Rising narrowly from the porch roof, four deep eaves defined the second story. “Here you are,” the driver said. “The Gallery House on MackinacHouse.”

The children scrambled down from the wagon and ran across the lawn. As Jay, the driver and I unloaded box after suitcase after bag onto the ground, I could hear the sound of the children’s footsteps pounding on wooden floor boards. Shouts of, “This one’s mine,” alert me to bedroom claims. I felt like my whole body was smiling. I stopped unloading and gave Jay a hug. “Looks like we’re home,” I said.

time for everything

Our days fell into a restorative rhythm. Family members rose anytime they wished in the mornings and fetched their own breakfast from the large pantry just off the kitchen. Always a lark, I was the first one out of bed, settled happily on the front porch with a book and a cup of coffee at least an hour before the stairs creaked with the sounds of anyone else’s footsteps. Jay alternated between sleeping through breakfast and rising quite early to meet friends at the Grand Hotel golf course for an early game. Having discovered the passes to the swimming pool, the kids most often biked down to the hotel in the morning. Sometimes, however, they biked into town to the stables to rent horses to ride the back roads of the island. I spread my time out over biking, shopping and exploring the museums.

By ordinance, no Mackinac restaurants or shops could be franchises of chains, so eating out was a pleasurable adventure.  Whether we ate lunch or dinner at the cottage or at one of the dozens of “eating places,” as Kristy had called restaurants since toddler days, depended on whether the fleet was in or not.

yo ho ho

The three weeks, which we spent on Mackinac each summer, coincided

Spinnackers flying
Photo by seaknoting.com

with the “Mac”. “The Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac … is one of the world’s largest annual offshore races, drawing top-notch sailing talent from around America and the world. Known as ‘The Mac’ to everyone in the region, the 333-statute mile (289 nautical mile) the race typically starts each July just off Chicago’s Navy Pier and finishes at Mackinac Island, Michigan.” (https://www.cycracetomackinac.com/news/article/chicago-yacht-club-announces-cancellation-of-2020-race-to-mackinac) {The race was called off this year for the first time in one hundred years.  The last time it was called off was 1920 due to pressures of World War I.)

It was a glorious time to be on the island. The last of the race, we gathered in town in front of the yacht club tent, where the race was

being monitored. Watching the boats come flying in for the final stretch of the race was heart-thumping. Almost always, the yachts unfurled

their spinnakers, the large three-cornered sail, set forward of the mainsail, bulging and full, running before the wind as they passed under the Mackinac Bridge. The harbor filled with boat after boat. Hundreds of weary, but elated, sailors filled the streets and taverns of the town. Walking down Front Street was a stroll through the dioramas of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean.

Guys in a bar
Photo by Emery Meyer

Most decisively it was a time to eat “at home.” We saved our dinners out for the quieter days when the sailors took their boats to other harbors.

nothing lasts forever

When our three weeks on the island came to an end, we packed reluctantly. Thoroughly accustomed to “island time,” we envied the wealthy families for whom this was a summer-long experience. We never adjusted easily to being home again.  The sounds and pace of the twentieth century are jarring when encountered overnight. We did, of course, acclimate to automobile traffic, alarm clocks, and work timetables. We could fine-tune our sensibilities by comforting ourselves with the promise that next summer would come.  And next summer would bring a return to another time.

If you could travel to any time you chose, when would it be?

Time travel
Photo by Andy Beales

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint – it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.”
Steven Moffat

https://www.radiotimes.com/news/tv/2020-02-15/steven-moffat-time-travellers-wife-doctor-who/

Lake Cabin Allure

Lake in Woods
one way to escape
Person holding map in auto
Photo by Taras Zaluzhnyi

During June, the month when we traditionally break our routines, venture away from our familiar abodes, and explore new territory, I’ve been blogging on the theme of escape. More specifically I’ve been reminiscing about long ago getaways to destination near and far.  The weeks and weeks of “social distancing” and “sheltering at home” that are my present reality lend a luster to these past adventures they may not have held at the time.

In this week devoted to commemorating fathers (because surely a single day doesn’t suffice), memories of my father, John De Jager, fuse effortlessly with thoughts of escape from the everyday. My dad loved a good road trip.  I could write an entire memoir about those vacations to all parts of the United States and Canada. This blog, however, is focused on the years after I met Jay Ward, my husband and the Love Lessons I learned in the decades of our relationship.

the ultimate getaway

The two narratives merge not on a road trip, but at Dad’s Cabin. A tiny one

Cabin by water
Photo by Taylor Simpson

bedroom, clapboard cottage, it sat under enormous pine trees on a small ridge overlooking Devil’s Lake in Webster, Wisconsin. Despite its diminutive size, there were many nights when as many as ten folks slept under its roof.   Built in the 1940s as one in a cluster of cabins rented out by the week, the cabin had few amenities when my father acquired it.

Given our penchant for hitting the road at the drop of a hat, Jay and I set out for northwest Wisconsin to investigate Dad’s new purchase the weekend after he bought it in 1967. He warned us we’d find it primitive.  That whetted our appetite.  It would be an adventure as well as a chance to shake off the doldrums of the urban grind.

For once, we contented ourselves with sticking to the main highways and followed Interstate 95 until we headed north at Eau Claire.  As our Blue Fiat Spider sped down the exit ramp, we turned to each other and grinned – new territory!

the other real world
Cows in fields
Photo by Jan Babora

Promising sights greeted us as we veered north. The road curved up and over hills, sometimes lined with giant conifers and at other place giving sweeping views of wide valleys covered with a checkerboard of fields. Urban dwellers to our core, the only crop we could identity with any surety were the tall, waving stalks of corn, but we soaked up the diverse colors, shapes and sizes of other plantings and made random guesses – soybeans? Broccoli? Rice? Wheat?  Yes, that’s right, we had no idea what wheat, that stable of our daily diet, looked like as it grew in a field.  Farm fields were fairylands to us, enchanted places from which came the bounty that appeared on the shelves of our friendly grocery.  We knew, of course, that it involved hours of hard work rather than waving magic wands. That didn’t stop it from being a marvel to our eyes.

A little past noon, just outside the small town of Rice Lake we pulled up to the speaker at a drive-in and ordered our meal to go.  We had noted that the road periodically offered a wayside, a small turnout with a picnic table next to a parking space, often in conjunction with the historical markers of which we had become so fond. Less than ten minutes out of town, we are our meal at a table that felt like it was on the top of the world. Farms fields, scattered woods, and small lakes splashed the scene with a variety of blues, greens, yellows and browns.

much less traveled

We turned into a windy, rutted road a mile outside Webster about two hours

later. Periodically dirt driveways broke off from the road. Worn wooden signs

Car on dark dirt road
Photo by Haris Suljic

nailed to leaning posts marked most of them, but it was getting toward evening and the heavy overhang of leafy trees made it hard to read the lettering. Finally, we saw it. 8999 Devil’s Lake Road and turned in. Our car pitched forward down a steep incline. “Whoa,” Jay exclaimed and slammed on the brakes. He then slowly inched his foot off them to let the car slide forward. The drive ended at a slightly wider spot, bordered by tall oaks.

I pulled a flashlight from the glove compartment and we followed a stone path to a rusty-colored wood cabin.  It sat in darkness, but just beyond the sun was slipping behind the far shore of the lake. Brilliant oranges, golds, and reds streamed across the sky and bounced back off the surface of the water. We hurried to get a better look and tried our luck walking one step at a time onto the rickety dock.  It held, and we held each other.  In flat, crowded Chicago, sunsets were not easy to come by.

amenities not included
Single light bulb
Photo by Akshay Paatil

The dusk settled in and we went back to search for the key to the cabin, left in a flower pot. Pushing through the door, I groped for a light switch, found it, and flipped it.  A single bulb hanging from the rafters lit the interior just well enough that we wouldn’t bump into the furnishings. These were meager in the extreme. A large round oak table stood under the light. Four chairs surrounded it. A big stone fireplace covered most of the far wall with two battered, upholstered chairs squeezed in on either side of it. A low archway led into a minute room just past one of the chairs, a gold, nubby piece. Four strides took me over, but I needed the flashlight to see the bed which filled the space.

“Look at this,” Jay called. Back in the main room, he was pointing to the ornate, iron stove, which I was relieved to see had a pilot light glowing in the middle.  But, wait. Where was the sink?

Cooking on antique stove
Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

“There’s no kitchen sink,” I told him unnecessarily.

“Got that,” he nodded.  “Your dad said we get water from the pump and heat it up on the stove for washing the dishes.”

“Oh, my gosh, I feel like I’m on ‘Little House on the Prairie.’”

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t have electric lights and gas stoves.”

“Well, you know what I mean.”

conquering the pump

“Yah, just teasing.  Better get some water.  You’ll have to hold the flashlight for me.”

The rusty pump was anchored in a cement block to the side of the cabin. A bucket sat under the spout. Jay grabbed the handle, raised it high in the air, and yanked it down. Nothing. I panicked a little.  Were we going to be without water? He tried again. Same result. “It must be broken,” he said.  “We’ll have to call your dad tomorrow and let him know.”

Outdoor water pump
Photo by Fikri Rasyid

If you’re giggling or murmuring, “City slickers,” at this point, you have good cause.  Sure enough when we called my dad the next morning from the drugstore in Webster, we could almost see him shake his head in disgust as he told us, “You have to prime the pump first.” And then he had to explain what “priming” was.

No running water inside also meant, of course, no bathroom.  We availed ourselves of the outhouse with as much grace as possible.  We should have known after all.  In any case, the dozens of National Geographics that dad had stored there at least made the trip educational.

been there, done that!

When we headed back to Chicago on Sunday evening, we were different people than the couple who had headed up the road on Friday. The transformation was subtle and not immediately apparent, but real just the same. After that time, we took ordinary life less for granted and more for the blessing it was. But we also trusted ourselves more than ever to get through tough things together with grace, humility and humor.

Outhouse
Photo by Dan Meyers

Over that summer, my dad and brothers worked long hours at Devil’s Lake to modernize and expand the cabin. My mother had a grand time hitting the thrift stores so that she could “doll it up.”

north by northwest

Over the next forty years, Jay and I and our children made many treks to the cabin. No place equaled it for bringing family together.  The sandy beach and shallow shore allowed even very small children to play there safely.  But the lake was also big enough and deep enough for adults and bigger kids to enjoy boating, fishing and water sports. And in the evenings, all ages gathered around the big table to play games, enjoy the crackle of the fireplace and be grateful for the gift of family.

What was your best way to reconnect with family once you were an adult and living away from home?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Campfire at lake

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum   https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/178037-i-believe-that-what-we-become-depends-on-what-our

We’re Out of Here!

Auto on open road
Bali beach
Photo by Cassie Gallego
taking chances

We’re beginning to take chances. Throughout the country, folks, who have carefully sequestered themselves within their own homes for the last three months, are dipping their toes in the shallows of social life.  Indeed, some are high diving into the deep end of the pool. But the splash as they hit the water causes ripples of alarm. Most people are content right now to simply test the waters in some tentative way.  Sometimes this means a trip to the doctor’s office. There are also people returning to reopened churches. For my daughter and her family, it means literally getting back in the water.

I watched enviously yesterday as they packed up their camping gear and secured their large bright yellow raft to the back of their SUV. They were going rafting, their favorite fair weather activity. State parks and boat ramps

River rafting
Photo by Cynthia Andres

reopened. The weather brightened. And their small family was out of here! Being among the vulnerable elders of the nation, my husband and I are not quite ready to join them. That goes very much against the grain for us.

on the road

Hitting the road  at least a few times a year has characterized our entire married life. In fact, it began before Jay and I married. The roads we choose are not necessarily the ones less chosen. In fact, some of journeys include popular tourist spots, which present an oft repeated irony – naturally beautiful spaces where most of the attractions are entirely artificial – each aspect a dimension of escape.

Such destinations are often derided by sophisticated travelers, but for us, inveterate road trippers, they were as enriching as a trip abroad. A road trip is essentially a trip “from,” not a trip “to.” While we almost always have an endpoint in mind, we mostly road trip to leave something behind — the ordinary rhythm of daily life, a job that’s gotten to be a bit of a grind, or even the over familiarity of friends and family and our home space. These trips also serve us times to renew our committed relationship, a time when Love’s Lessons can be savored and enhanced through long hours of intimate, private conversation not usually possible in the busy hustle of everyday life.

a long way home

Jay and I took our first road trip during spring break of Jay’s senior year at Notre Dame. It was a thirteen-hour journey from Chicago to St. Paul. If you know anything about Midwest American geography, you realize, barring a blizzard, the 400-mile journey by auto between those two cities ought to take between seven and eight and a half hours. Certainly, my parents who were waiting to meet the new important guy in my life, expected our trip to took that long and began to mildly panic after ten hours.

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue OxHad we focused our attention on simply arriving in the Twin Cities, we would have taken the fastest roads and made the least number of stops possible. But, since, without acknowledging it even to ourselves, we had set off on a road trip, we quickly became bored with commercialism and heavy traffic of the main route and veered off onto a series of county back roads that meandered rather than headed toward the Minnesota border.  While we rambled, we stopped frequently.  We pulled over and read every historical marker along the way.  At the base of a ranger station, we parked and climbed to the top. Spotting a gigantic statue of Paul Bunyan, we climbed out, took each other’s photo and enjoyed a lumberjack breakfast at the restaurant of the same name, a place where everyone ate family style at long picnic tables.

let’s try this again

It never occurred to us to look for a phone booth and check in. Our own little bubble of surreality disconnected from where we’d been and where we were going. At journey’s end, we apologized profusely to my worried parents, but weren’t truly sorry.   In our mind’s eye churned the plans for the next “adventure.” Let’s get back to the Wisconsin Dells, we told each other, determined to make it soon.

We got our chance the first summer of our marriage. I had finally been at my job long enough to accrue a few vacation days, and Jay was taking the summer off to study for the bar. Two days after law school graduation, we once again pointed the trunk of our Volkswagen Beetle northwest and headed out.

What is a dell?

According to most English dictionaries, a dell is “a tiny valley in a wooded area, tucked away from the rest of civilization.” https://www.yourdictionary.com/dell

The area in the middle of the state of Wisconsin called the Dells only fits that Wisconsin Dellsdefinition if one stretches the meaning beyond recognition. In part because the English word usually comes from a German root whereas the Dells of the Wisconsin River derived their name from the French word “dalles,” meaning slab-like rocks. An 1892 photograph of those rocks began the pilgrimage that now draws millions of visitors every year to a 5-mile gorge on the Wisconsin River, noted for the beauty of its unique Cambrian sandstone rock formations and tributary canyons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dells_of_the_Wisconsin_River

This natural phenomenon is lovely to see, but most likely would not keep thousands of visitors coming back every year.  Over the course of the last one hundred years, however, human endeavor has added attractions and enticements galore that lure the tourists and make this mildly interesting natural beauty a “must see.”

it’s over over there

Duck amphibious vehicleIt all began with the Ducks – not the aquatic bird, but the DUKW, an amphibious truck that leapt off the drawing board in 1942 and greatly contributed to the Allied landings in Europe during World War II. Over 21,000 were built. When the war was over, just like the other returning troops, they needed jobs. Some made their way to the middle of Wisconsin.

In 1946, the world’s first Duck tour was launched. The amphibious trucks take on passengers at a landing on the Wisconsin River and proceed downriver to Lake Delton. They climb over sand bars, traverse over four miles of otherwise unnavigable river, allowing their passengers an up-close view of the unique beauty of the actual “dells” themselves.  https://www.wisconsinducktours.com/

Watch them in action: https://youtu.be/62n0hUZadm0

For a fun, quirky look at working on these big water “birds,” check out Jason Albert’s memoir blog https://themorningnews.org/article/down-and-out-in-a-repurposed-troop-carrier.

tourist trap? Yes, so what?

The opportunity to take that up-close and personal ride through the Dells appealed to Jay and me, but just as enticing was the chance to stay in a motel with actual indoor swimming pool. (Because the first water park opened in the Dells in 1989, it was only more recently that it became the Water Park Capital of the World.)

Trying a different cuisine for every meal added to the novelty as did our trip to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum.  Finally, of course, we amused ourselves for hours trying our luck at the indoor arcades and buying useless objects at the souvenir shops. We wallowed in having no schedule and pretended to have no budget. We lived a few days in La-La Land and found it good.

apples to oranges
Eiffel tower
Photo by Adrien xpir

Years after that road trip, I climbed the Eiffel Tower and I basked on the beaches of Bali, two of the world’s top ten destinations. Did they outshine the Wisconsin Dells? Of course.  Did I have more fun? It would be like comparing apples to oranges. Back in the 1960s, Jay and I accepted the offer of a time out of time closer at hand. For us, such getaways came to be a regular part of life’s rhythm, a way to retain our sanity in this crazy world.  Honeymoons are not once in a lifetime events.  They bear repeating again and again.  Our relationship deserves that kind of consideration.

pandemic’s shadow

Thus, it’s one of the harsher realities of living through the pandemic as vulnerable seniors that honeymoons are on hold for us.  We love our home garden, but I sure could go for a DUKW ride right now.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/635007616186926291/?d=t&mt=login

 

 

DeJa Vu All Over Again

Riot and fire

This week we hear from a guest blogger.

IT’S DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN!

Those were the words from a famous comedian from yesteryear. I think it was Red Skelton. (It was actually Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees[jdw]) I hadn’t heard them for years, but they’ve haunted my mind for the last week. I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

The year was 1968. The month was April. The date was the 4th. I was an Assistant State’s Attorney for Cook County, Illinois. I was working on trial row in the felony trial division of the office. The near west side of the City of Chicago was up in flames from the rioting there.

ready or not

There were about 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys in Cook County. They all Blind Justiceworked hard. Maybe about 100 of them worked in the Criminal Courts. They worked really hard. They were on the firing line every morning. They were buried in cases all piled up waiting for trial. You never knew which ones would be continued to another date, or result in a negotiate plea of guilty, or actually go to trial when the judge told the bailiff to “call up the jury – we’re going to trial right now as scheduled”. It was hard on the State’s Attorneys and hard on their spouses. Working late was part of the deal. You had to get ready for anything by 9:00 am the next morning.

please don’t forget

Because I often worked late, my wife decided to take a trip to see her family in Minnesota so I could catch up with my preparation for trials. Hopefully then, we could have some time together when she got back to Chicago. The deal was I would pick her up at the airport when she got back and we would go out and celebrate our reunion. She said that all I had to do was make sure that Champagne was fed. Champagne was our cat and the proud new mother of five kittens. She said Champagne would take care of feeding the kittens. I told her have a good time with the family and say Hi! for me and I’ll see you in a week. Well, that’s my version. She claims she said to make sure Champagne was fed and be sure to clean out the cat box every night. I don’t remember that cat box part at all.

So off she goes to Minnesota and I’m working to midnight every night sorting out the cases that should be settled and preparing for trial on those that would probably be going to trial. I was really looking forward to picking her up and us having a night out together without murders, armed robberies and burglaries to be worrying about.

“We’re going downtown!”

But it was not to be. A big case broke that night and State’ Attorney, John Stamos grabbed me and said, “we’re goin’ downtown”! 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys and he grabs me. On our special date night! He starts yellin’ at people and called for a car to take us downtown immediately as we took off for the elevator of the Criminal Courts Building on the West Side of Chicago. I quickly raced to get into the elevator before the doors closed.

It was a big deal that out of 400 Assistant State’s Attorneys he picked me to go with him on this big case. But it was my date night! I promised her we’d go out, and, I’d had a week to clear my calendar for our date. Career big case with the boss man, or date night with my wife on return from her trip that was specifically meant to be our special night out? Telling her I was busy was not going to fly. Career or marriage? I pick —Marriage!

can this marriage be saved?

I tell him, as he’s chasing cars off the road driving downtown at well over the speed limit, that my wife is flying in from Minnesota that night and I have to pick her up at the airport. “Which airport?” he says. “Midway” I tell him. He grabs the police radio and shouts into it “Get me Flannigan and Flynn”. They are State’s Attorney’ Police Officers. (He’s got his own police department).

“What airline? “What flight number?” “ What time does it arrive?” I figure he’s testing me to see if I’m telling the truth so I give him the airline, the flight number and the arrival time after which he then shouts into the police radio and tells the operator to have Flannigan and Flynn meet the plane and take my wife into custody. Then he says to me “Where do you live?” I say Rogers Park. He stares at me and says “that’s a large area for Flannigan and Flynn to search. I mean what is your home address?” Oh! So I give him my address.

He then gives it to the police radio and says “have Flannigan and Flynn take the wife off the plane and take her home in the squad and don’t leave her until she is safely in the house and tell her you are on special assignment to me as of right now and we have no idea as to when you will be home because of this crisis and it may be days before she sees you again but Flannigan and Flynn will take care of you so we know you are safe.” I’m thinking of telling him “but its date night” but I think again, and keep my mouth shut. Chicken!

a slightly different perspective
Plane at gate
Photo by Erik McLean

Let’s look at it from my wife’s point of view. She has given me a whole week to swim thru all the murders, armed robberies, burglaries and other miscellaneous felonies I could handle and get them behind me so we could have a date night upon her return from Minneapolis. But instead of me meeting her at the gate, the plane lands and the captain announces that, “because of a police action, all passengers on board should stay in their seats until the police have taken a passenger off the plane!”

arrest the wife???

Whereupon Flannigan and Flynn come on the plane and come down the aisle to seat 28C where the stewardess points her finger and says “that’s her!” Flannigan says, “Are you Mrs. Ward?” She softly says “Yes” and Flannigan says “you will have to come with us.” Without further word, he helps her out of her seat, grabs the bag she says is her overhead bag and tells Flynn, “OK, let’s go.” With Flynn up front clearing the way and Flannigan protecting the rear, they escort Mrs. Ward off the plane, down the ramp to the gate and past all the people who had gathered to see what criminals they were taking into custody.

i’m going to kill him!

Meantime, Mrs. Ward is wondering what’s going on? She’s not entirely sure but she is pretty sure that somehow it’s my doing because, among all the airline passengers staring at her as she was being escorted to the squad car, she noticed that I was not there to meet her, like I promised. She didn’t know if something had happened to me, or, if she was going to “make” something happen to me because I had promised her that I’d be there and I wasn’t.

I was probably working late and skipping our negotiated date night out. Whereupon Flannigan says “Your husband says he’s sorry he can’t be here to pick you up but he and State’s Attorney Stamos are going to be working late tonight and so he sent us to pick you up and get you home safely.” So, finally she gets it. “I could kill him!” Flannigan and Flynn were protecting her husband from her!

breaking and entering

When they get her home, Flynn asks her for her key so he can open the door for her. She looks in her purse and realizes that she didn’t bring the key because her husband was going to be there to pick her up. So, she had left her key behind in the key drawer. At this point she’s ready to have Flannigan and Flynn commandeer a plane and to fly her back to Minnesota, permanently. She tells the cops she doesn’t have the key. They tell her their orders are to keep her in their custody until she is safely in her apartment. They ask her if any of her neighbors have a key. She says no.

Now Flannigan and Flynn have wives that are making dinner for them too and they get in trouble if they are late.  So Flannigan figures that the only thing between him getting home on time for dinner is getting Mrs. Ward safely in her apartment. So, he takes out his gun and breaks the kitchen window, unlocks the window, opens it and crawls in over the sink.

it gets even worse
kittens
Photo by Zetong Li

He notices immediately that something’s not right. The odor is overpowering. Is it a gas leak? No. Worse. He makes for the front door, opens it and rushes out into the fresh air. Mrs. Ward gets a whiff, takes a step back and says ‘the cat box!” “I told him all he had to do was feed the cat and clean the cat box!” Was that too complicated?”

So, to make a short story longer, he had his facts and she had her facts, just like most contested criminal cases. That’s what judges and juries are for. But we decided that day, April 4, 1968, that we didn’t need judges and juries, we just needed a date night every week even though we were already married.

Date night this week is Thursday, same as it was on April 4, 1968, the day that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing on a balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The day I promised my bride I would be there for her. And I wasn’t, I couldn’t, and finally, I shouldn’t have been there. I had a job to do.

city on fire

I was swept away by events way out of my control. All the law enforcement authorities were sending their bosses and top aides downtown to Chicago Police Headquarters at 11th and State. The Mayor’s Office, The Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the US Army and I don’t know how any other people wouldn’t be having dinner at home with their wives that night and for many nights thereafter.

By eight o’clock that evening I was high up in Police Headquarters looking down over the West Side of the City. It was burning out of control. Stores and businesses were being looted. It was chaos. All these governmental leaders were breaking down into smaller groups to handle problems on issues with which they had some expertise. The West Side politicians were trying to get their people to calm down and get off the streets so the fire trucks could get through to put out the fires that were burning down their neighborhoods.

this has to stop

Our assignment was to sit down with the leaders in the African-American community to work out a way to bring a halt to the shooting, the fires, and the looting. Stamos was particularly concerned because firemen were being shot as they tried to put out the fires. He understood that Dr. King’s assassination was nothing less than an outrage, but felt that right at the moment the heart of the problem was: “Nobody in Chicago murdered Dr. King; the people and merchants on the West Side who’s homes and business’s are burning are also African American. Attempting to murder firemen, who were risking their lives, trying to keep the community from burning to the ground, would never be condoned by Dr. King.” He warned the community leaders that anyone caught attacking police or fire officials trying to do their job would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

His passion was terrifying. It broke up the meeting.

aftermath

I don’t exactly know what happened after that. But the shooting at the firemen did stop shortly after that. The remaining fires were put out, but much of the  West Side looked like a war zone. The city would rebuild, just like it did in the years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. But, like then, it would take years to accomplish.

Following the riots,  my courtroom cases were stacked up higher than ever.  My week-long sprint while my wife was away did not give me the hoped-for relief. But we came out of the incident with the tradition of having Thursday night  as date night every week, a tradition we still honor a half-century later.

For me the story of that day is a national tragedy, a love story, a comedy and a horror film of chaos and hell. That day was April 4th, 1968.

deja vu

As I write this, it is Tuesday, June 1, 2020. As I write this, the stores of the charming City of Minneapolis are shattered and the stores themselves are ablaze. The contents of those stores no longer hang on their racks but are now scattering down the streets in all directions in the arms of the mob. The destruction of Minneapolis particularly hits my wife and myself. Jule’s family still lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, Minneapolis’s sister city. They are a beautiful cities.

Is it possible that the theft of those inventories of goods and the destruction of those stores on top of a prolonged pandemic will mean the death of the Twin Cities our family knows and loves? Will it ever come back? The events of April 4th, 1968 were fifty-two years ago. Is it possible that nothing has changed? Will it ever change? Maybe we will have to give it another half century to find out.

Jay Ward

Normal Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Castel in tropics
Just an intermission?
Marque re. CoVid
Photo by Nick Bolton

When impact of the present pandemic hit home, the “new normal” became the big new buzz phrase.  Way back in February, many anticipated a couple of weeks of “shelter at home” and then back to “normal.” But here it is summer. And normal still eludes us.

If we are honest, we admit that even when social distancing loosens up and most businesses are no longer shuttered, our day-to-day reality will be significantly altered.  “Normal” will evade definition. We began 2020 in a place to which we can never return. Hence – the “New Normal.”

unsettling times

The cataclysmic sweep of CoVid-19 across our entire world has caused the idea of normal to appear to be an illusion of sorts. It may be that this is the year in which the word “normal” disappears from our vocabulary.

This is my second go round with a norm-shattering communal hurricane. It comes almost exactly fifty years after the first one, the year 1969.

My personal life altered overnight when, without medical rhyme or reason, five years of infertility ended. I conceived a child and gave birth to a baby girl. But my return to a traditional trajectory of womanhood played out against a backdrop of political and cultural turmoil that packed into a single year enough counter-cultural phenomena to fill a century.

Photo by Jay Wennington

The world in which my daughter celebrated her first birthday was not the world into which she had been born. The earthquake that was 1969 produced a “new normal” that meant she and I grew up in the same geographic location, but in alien lands.

Because of my youth, I welcomed the changes with open arms. The brave new world excited me. Throwing off the shackles of centuries of prejudice liberated my soul. I rejoiced for my children. At the same time, I celebrated at a distance. Being the mother of an infant daughter meant my immediate struggles were of a more mundane nature.

every kind of revolution

While David Reuben’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask shocked many, it became an instant best seller, which made it possible for the next generation to have a healthier and more realistic attitude toward sexual intimacy. For Jay and I, it provided a guide to a subject forbidden to Catholics – birth control. It took family planning out of the murky shadows into the clear light of reason. We could not know at the time that in making “more rational” decisions about when to have our children, we had also paved the way to interior religious freedom, a more profound transformation.

This clash of conservative and liberal ideologies resounded in multiple assemblies in 1969. Jay and I, mired in domesticity, became armchair activists. The summer before Jay had joined the protesters as they marched from Lincoln Park to the Democratic Convention. Two years before I had walked the street as a striker, demanding better more equitable pay for country employees. In 1969, we watched as others took up the pickets. Live television coverage of the tumultuous events of that year brought war, protest, and riot into our living room.

out in space

We witnessed inspiring moments such as when we jammed into a

Amstrong on the moon
Photo by History HD

neighbor’s tiny apartment living room with about twenty young parents and almost as many babies, all eyes glued to the fourteen-inch screen as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of moon. There was absolute silence in the room.  Even the little ones hushed their voices as he recited, “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”  And we believed it too. We grew up listening to space adventures on the radio and following space heroes in the comic books.  In some ways it’s hard to believe that “Star Wars” is still a fantasy.

playing to the herds and the nerds

With less pride, but no less excitement, we tuned into Woodstock, that glorious fiasco that ripped the curtain off any hope that the old order

crowds at Woodstock
Photo by Markus Spiske

could stand. We tuned in to hear the music, but stayed glued to the tube by scenes of “debauchery.” It would take months before the full story of what happened when 300,000 music fanatics showed up instead of the expected 50,000.  But one of the inevitable results was the same as one being anticipated in our present predicament – more babies.

The cultural shift did not limit itself to the “hippies” milling around on a dairy farm in upstate New York. Right in the heart of New York City itself earlier that summer, Oh, Calcutta had opened on Broadway. Since

Live Nude Marque
Photo by Alex Haney

full-frontal nudity was central to this production, it did not appear on our television screens, but we read about it in the Chicago Tribune, and discussed it with friends over beers on the common patio of our apartment complex.  In those days of “never trust anyone over thirty,” the general consensus among us was that censoring the play was an abuse of power. On the other hand, none of us was quite ready to shell out for the tickets when it came to Chicago.

waging peace

Of all the grand events that took place that year, the one that moved me the most was the Moratorium against the Vietnam War that swelled up in the Autumn. Sitting home while the protestors marched in cities around the world tore at our souls. Two million Americans of all ages and backgrounds took to the streets and assembled in churches, schools and meeting halls. Dr. Spock broke out of his persona as the optimistic childcare expert to address the rally in Washington. That more than anything made me realize that all those people were marching, protesting, demonstrating to protest the sweet baby in my arms. But I couldn’t bring myself to take her into the streets.

I couldn’t convince Jay to go. He held that as an Assistant State’s Attorney he was an official representative of law and order. That status forbade his participation. So, even at the domestic level skirmishes between the old order and the new played out. I feel certain ours was not the only household to witness such a divide. Love for us triumphed over political difference. We refocused even more intently on building a good life for our daughter.

Rob Kilpatrick’s enlightening and entertaining book, 1969:The Year Everything Changed, http://(https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6139711-1969) cover the immense scope of the  sweeping changes that zipped through every aspect of human life that year. Then as now committed, however, loving relationships thrived, families grew and prospered, hearts broke, elders passed on, and in a thousand other ways everyday life moved steadfast as the rising and setting of the sun.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before;

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3&version=NIV

Flowers at sunrise
Photo by Olga Filonenko

There are many important events from that year that I haven’t room to include.  What do you remember about 1969?  How did it influence your life? Or was there another year that changed “everything” for you?

 

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Never Doubt, Spring Will Come

Lighthouse on frozen beach
It’s Not the Cold That Bothers Me
Elsa on cake
Photo by Raychan

Long before the animated film, Frozen, took the world by storm, I frequently claimed, “Being cold doesn’t bother me.” Tropical climes have never called to me. Summer has always been my least favorite season, the best part about it is that’s it is just a season, not a year-round condition.

Winter’s shoulder seasons, Spring and Fall, delight my senses and my heart. But, ah Winter itself! I still get a childlike thrill from the first snowfall in late autumn.  Snowy days call to me to abandon my indoor tasks and go for a walk. Snow days close the schools and become spontaneous holidays for everyone with enough to see that earth is calling a halt, begging her children to slow down.

The magic works for me every year until February when suddenly some inner busybody gets going and whines, “Enough, already, what happened to the sun.”  The reality hits that winter with its chilly winds and bleak skies, its slushy, dirty piles of old snow or puddles of sloppy, umber mud will hold sway for another month. I begin to resent my friend for being a hog, for demanding more than his share of the year.

Let’s Get Out of Here
Boots in mud puddle
Photo by Daiga Ellaby

And the yearning to “leave it all behind” takes over as it has every February since the early years of my marriage. Before we became parents, Jay and I invented a yearly ritual that we dubbed, “Looking for Spring.”  This trek was motivated by the simplistic notion that places farther south than our Chicago home had to be warmer, and, therefore, must welcome spring before it arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan. We both worked for the county, so we’d grab Lincoln’s Birthday or Washington’s Birthday (they were two separate holidays in Illinois in our early married years), take one or two vacation days, and a weekend, and start driving south, determined to keep going until we “found” Spring.

This quest was necessarily a purely personal endeavor because it’s close to impossible to find a consensus on just what constitutes Spring and when it begins. We had no clear-cut definition in our heads. Our hearts, we knew, would tell us when we crested a horizon and found Spring waiting on the other side. Usually, this meant true color of some kind – not grey or brown shades. It

yellow flowers in field
Photo by Kumiko Shimizu

could be the sight of a hill of daffodils or crocuses or just the almost neon green covering a newly budding tree. Bright colors were not the only signifiers.  Softness was the other. Winter edges are crisp, clean, dark.  Spring spreads a haze over the landscape, a light dusting, a young girl slipping a frothy gauze dress over bare limbs.

Let’s Dream

An easier world by far to navigate than the slush and snow we’d left behind, it assuaged us, making our thoughts and feeling more pliable, expanding our possibilities. Our conversations as we sped along were dream dialogues.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic, we speculated, to be always on the road, never quite knowing what the next bend would reveal? We blocked out different scenarios.  We focused often on the possibility that once Jay graduated from law school, he would apply to the diplomatic core.

1950s family dinner
Photo by Museums Victoris

When Jay had been in high school, his father had been offered a position in Saudi Arabia.  The possibility of moving to such an exotic location thrilled Jay and he urged his dad to seriously consider the move.  He spent many a family dinner mounting his arguments, trying to engage his sibling in his excitement so that they too would campaign for this “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. All to no avail.

His mother would have been horrified to move to another state, let alone another country.  Her life was tightly bound to that of her parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Her family had lived in Chicago for three generations and were pillars of Chicago’s Irish Catholic bastion. Life away from that community was unthinkable.  Also, she had heard how women were treated, or so she said, in the Middle East.  None of that for her, thank you very much.

Now that Jay found himself plodding along the expected path – albeit as a

Building with lots of nations' flags
Photo by Oleh Aleinyk

lawyer, not a doctor – he chafed at the confinement.  If his Dad couldn’t break loose, maybe he could.  I couldn’t help but foster those dreams.  I had never meant to fall in love in college.  In my best-case scenario (girlhood dream, that is), if I married at all, it would be after age thirty.  In the meantime, I would travel the world as a foreign correspondent for some, as yet unnamed news service.  In high school and college, I narrowed down those travel dreams to places where the first language was my beloved French, which would I dreamed make it possible to span the globe as I worked.

Love, however, is one of those life events that happen while you are making other plans. Jay had come into my life and once he was there, I couldn’t imagine life without him.  My hopes of becoming a journalist had been set aside, but being a diplomat’s wife sounded like a close runner-up.

So, we talked, dreamed, drove and somewhere in Kentucky or Tennessee, we would finally find Spring. Checking into a cheap motel that accepted animals (Champagne, our tabby cat traveled with us.), we’d settled down for a few days to breathe in as much warm air and flower perfume as possible before turning around and heading back to our hometown, where flora remained frozen until late March.

Reality Check

By the time, the first crocuses and daffodils appeared outside our Chicago window, we’d forgotten our southern dreams. Studies and work absorbed our daily grind, and once again the fear that we’d remain forever infertile sidetracked our blither imagination.

What notions grab you when Spring Fever takes hold?  Please share it right here in the blog.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
― Mark Twain

Mountain Spring
Photo by Mak

‘Til Death Do Us Part

Woman smoking by window
“And the two shall become one flesh”

As a young bride, naive and overly sentimental, this quote meant that once married, Jay and I would no longer be two separate people, but a new being, a couple melded into a relationship so intricate that we would be, if not literally one individual, then emotionally, at least, one being.

My thinking was an eery, contemporary twist on the words of an ancient prophet.   In his as in most ancient cultures, a person’s identity was inextricably entwined with that of their extended family, the clan. Individuality, as we understand it, fell outside the common perception. Rather, each person existed at all times in relation to others, most importantly to the other members of their family.

Large Indian Family
Photo by Martin Adams

Those families were extensive.  A given household consisted of many sons of a single patriarch living within one compound with their wives and children. All of them were of “one flesh.” The same blood ran in all their veins. Within the extended family, every choice was meant to benefit all because they were “one.”

When a man and woman married, the family recognized the wife as now one of the family, one of their “flesh.” And thus, she and her husband became one flesh, members of the same family unit with all its inherent obligations and benefits – and enemies.

Modern Daydreams

As you’ve undoubted guessed, the impressionable twenty-two-year-old woman in my wedding photos had no inkling of this erudite interpretation.  I believed that being married would cure loneliness.  After all, I was “one flesh” with another person.  He would be in some sense with me all the time.

Holding on
Photo by Brooke Cagle

I wasn’t unaware, of course, that work would keep us apart several hours of every weekday, and that in the mid-twentieth century this separation also meant no communication.   In addition during the first two years of our union, we were both in school.  Attending class, studying and commuting added to our time apart.

I had failed, however, to calculate that this schedule would mean endless days during we might not share even one meal. The only time we often “spent together” was in bed – and most of that sleeping. And even if I had more accurately gauged how few hours we would actually spend interacting with one another, I was much too young and inexperienced to evaluate ahead of the fact how utterly forlorn I would feel.  I couldn’t realize that the existential bliss of being married could not override the actuality of my isolation.

Long Lonely evenings

Evenings were the worst. Coming into a quiet, dark and empty apartment, I’d stand, hand on the door to the front hall closet, unwilling to shed my jacket.  I wanted more than anything to turn around and head back out. But in those early days, I had nowhere to go.  I had left my friends behind first in high school and then at St. Mary’s.  Because I worked toward my bachelor’s degree by piling up credits attending several different city universities on various evenings, I had no chance to make new friends. My day job as a caseworker for a foster care agency took me all over Chicago but didn’t offer opportunities to build relationships with co-workers.

woman on kitchen floor
Photo by Radu Florin

In those pre-Starbucks days, hanging out at a coffee shop wasn’t an option and it absolutely never occurred to me to head to a bar. Looking back, I wonder why, and the only reason that pops into my head is I had never known anyone who hung out in taverns or bars.  Growing up I’d only eaten in a restaurant a handful of times.  In college, there had been girls that “got away” with faking an I.D. to go barhopping – at least, I’d heard about them.  I didn’t know them.  No, I didn’t barhop because I was a “good girl.” To do so was simply out of my skill set.

But coming home to an empty place was also well out of my range of experience. I grew up in a home that was the antithesis of empty. My mother stopped working outside the house when I was born and remained a stay-at-home mom until my youngest sibling went to high school twenty-nine years later.  In those years, especially as a pre-teen, I yearned for solitude, something I could only find by hiding on the old glider behind the big coal-burning furnace in our dungeon-like basement.

At college, the only time I spent by myself was in the toilet stall – and that doesn’t really count because it was a communal bathroom with several stalls, a row of showers, and two bathtubs.  The rest of the time, whether working in the dining room, going to classes, or heading for mixers at Notre Dame, other girls surrounded me.

Votive lights, statue in chapel
Photo by Josh Applegate

Going to the chapel was the only way I could get some “alone” time.  Of course, I wouldn’t be the only one there, but, at least, each of us withdrew to a quiet corner to pray. Yet, although never alone, I was often lonesome.  Part of a big community, but belonging to no one person.

Now I was married, a life state I expected would rid me of lonesomeness.  At last, I thought, I’d be living with one person for whom I’d be the first priority and with whom I could do everything.  Instead, evening after evening I walked into an empty living room and then wandered into a cold kitchen, lost in dreams about the delicious, mouth-watering meals we would have together someday – when we were done with school  -when we could start a family.

feline rescue

But those days were a long way off. So, I  chose a slightly modified route to comforting companionship.

girl and cat
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

I adopted a kitten.  Here was one dream I could actually make happen.  I’d never been allowed to have a cat because my mother loathed them.  I never knew why.  But this, I realized, gazing around the small apartment was my very own home.  I could make the rules.  I ruled that Jule could have a cat.  And she did.

It wasn’t a perfect answer.  I still had a lot to learn about overcoming loneliness, but my little grey tabby, Champagne, helped a lot.  She gave me someone to care for.  She took me out of myself when Jay wasn’t home.  And when he was home, she delighted us both.  Nurturing her together activated the true process of “becoming one flesh.” Her life and being were equally precious to both of us.  To  love someone else equally and together was one of the most important Lessons that Love taught us.

Feeling lonely in a relationship or in a crowd is a common human experience.  How have you coped when this happened to you? Let us know.

Being alone is very difficult.” – Yoko Ono