Tag Archives: Champaign Urbana

My Third Birthday in California Or, I Went to Chicago?!

7 Aug

My first birthday in California I spent in Malibu. It was kind of romantic. I was in love with California if not the person I spent it with.  I’m still in love with California.  Last year I celebrated my birthday in Santa Monica with Nicolle and her daughter Katrina:

birtHDAY 2014 N, K, ME AT WATER GRILL

And a few days  later with–of course,  my son Noah. And with–of course, Ben Affleck. Noah spotted Ben across the room at The Hungry Cat Restaurant. When I told Noah (aspiring actor) to  “go over there and strike up a conversation with Ben,” Noah said “That’s more your kind of move than mine, Mom.” So I made my move. Ben’s agent tolerated it. And Noah took a picture.

birthday 2014 Noah licking lips in Hungry Catbirthday 2014 Ben and me(Please understand, Dear Reader, that I didn’t realize when I coerced Ben into this photo that he was cheating on Jennifer with the nanny.)

ANYWAY, after last year’s celebration, this year looked like it might not stand a chance of being so interesting.  So, I booked a ticket to Chicago to see my dearest, oldest friends. Given how kind they have been to  me through thick and thin, I’d have say they are more family than friends.  (And there’s the fact that except for Noah, I have no family, so I gotta call somebody family!) After a day of teaching English as a Second Language, I got on a plane and landed in O’Hare late at night, and found the Blue Line:

birthday 2015 arrival blue line

Loving the culture shock of taking REAL public transportation, I called Susanna, whom I’ve known since I was 5–and whose birthday we were also celebrating–and told her I’d be at Logan Square in about 30 minutes.

birthday 2015 arrival at Suz's stop

I got off  the train, and the air was humid and there were guys playing chess and flirtatiously calling to women walking by. It was urban in a way that is only Chicago. I LOVE CHICAGO, I thought. I used to think about moving there.

birthday 2015 suz and rise and cocktailsSusanna, or “Suz” as I’ve always called her, and her husband Russ picked me up, took me to their house on Montana Street–where I’ve probably slept 15 times,  and Suz made a killer cocktail and we toasted and laughed at nothing and then all fell asleep within minutes. It so felt like family.  In the morning I was happy to see Max, one of their sons, who is just a year or two younger than Noah.  I’ve known Max since he was in diapers. He was reading Updike.

Birthday 2015 Max readingThen Max and Suz and I took a walk. Their street is pure Chicago.

birthday 2015 Montana streetI felt a strange homecoming.  Chicago is not my hometown, but I’ve spent so much time there, growing up in Champaign-Urbana (two and a half hours away.)  I grew up the daughter of Audrey–my single mother who loved the Art Institute and Oak Street Beach and the Chicago Symphony. We drove up often. And I’ve visited my friends there countless times. Suz and Max and I kept walking, and ended up at a Farmer’s Market, almost next to the Lake.

birthday 2015 me in front of old lamp postbirthday 2015 farmer's marketI realized I’d been missing the MidWest, where there is green grass,  people buying jam, and those big-shouldered buildings overseeing the lake.

birthday 2015 lake and skyline

And then I went paddle-boarding with Suz.

Birthday 2015 paddle board with suzI remembered being in camp with her in Wisconsin one summer. We both loved the lake. She was better with the cold. She was better with the horses. And better with the spiders. Maybe that’s why she’s a world- renowned  doctor?

And then it was time to meet Nicolle, and Howie and Sue, my other great Urbana friends! We met at a beautiful hotel restaurant, and the food was subtle, and it was like old times but better– because we’re older and more subtle.

Birthday 2015 suz and howie

That’s Suz and Howie.reunion me pointing finger at Sue

That’s Howie’s wife Sue and me. Howie’s like my brother. Sue is my sister.

Birthday 2015 girls in the dark

And there’s Nicolle–my California and Chicago sistah, me, Sue, and Suz.

The next morning I flew home. A few days later,  got to celebrate with Noah. And that was so so sweet.Birthday 2015 Noah and mom at Boiling Crab

And then I had dinner with another Urbana sister (once upon a time babysitter!) Peggy, and newer sister, Carol.

Birthday 2015 Carol and Peggy

Peggy and I used to eat Popcorn on Pennsylvania Avenue. And to celebrate my birthday we did again.

birthday 2015 Peggy and me popcorn better

Though there was no Ben Affleck, there was a mysterious stranger.

Birthday 2015 Kirsten and Rex

Well, actually  more like new friend.

My third birthday in and out of California. Still not quite here, Dear Reader. But Close. And I’m glad I went home for the day I was born.

birthday photo with momThank you, Audrey, for this life!

 

 

 

Reunion Communion: A Homecoming Go Around, Come Around (Jiggity Jig)

8 Aug

My house and yard

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” That’s what my mom would say when we pulled into the 208 Pennsylvania Avenue driveway–returning from Chicago, or camping in the Indiana Dunes or, more exotically, Mexico and Europe. It was Mom’s way of saying that was so much fun and NOW: back to real life. Landing in the Champaign-Urbana airport, I said the phrase under my breath with a question: Been away from home a long time, what will this be?  Last time I’d been to Central Illinois was five years ago– to attend a high school reunion, which I was doing again. Back in 1999,  I’d driven down from Chicago with Suz, a friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. This time I was flying from LAX alone, and–needless to say–landing in the airport alone.

The last time I was in the Central Illinois airport alone was fifteen years ago. I was flying in to visit my mom, who’d not been feeling well. She said she’d be there to pick me up, but she wasn’t. And that was because, it turned out, she’d died. At home, in the kitchen. I found that out right here, when my mom’s friend Sherry called the airport information desk, trying to reach me:

reunion willard information deskI’m guessing the information desk staff  doesn’t too often have to deliver the kind of information that Sherry had for me, so they didn’t know what to do with me–sobbing and wailing and so forth. I didn’t know what to do with me. A nice woman put me in a back office, watched me shake,  gave me a glass of water. Then Sherry picked me up and explained that that afternoon she’d stopped by 208 Pennsylvania to say hello to my mother Audrey, and found her body; Audrey had had a heart attack. If Sherry hadn’t happened to stop by, I’d have been the one to find my mom. Sherry saved me from that. Fifteen years later I still grieve and feel some disbelief. Without  Goodbye, it’s hard to be convinced someone is really gone.

After landing, I made my way through the tiny deserted airport, trying to not remember. Friends were picking me up; they’d be there soon. But I got a text saying they were delayed. I didn’t want to wait even the half an hour that would bring their arrival. This is not an airport with cabs waiting outside. This is an airport with soybean fields waiting outside, the air sweet with manure and prairie grass, buzzing with locusts.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportI found the number of a cab company and called it; they said they’d  be there in twenty. I didn’t even want to wait that long. My eyes were already hot and brimming. Then another text: HOWIE AND SUE ARE ON THEIR WAY! These were other dear friends  driving down to reunion from Chicago. My original ride friends must have called Howie and Sue to see if they were close to the airport. Next text: KIR, HOLD ON, IT’S HOWIE AND SUE. WE’RE FIVE MINUTES AWAY. And then these dear people pulled up and we sped away. “You saved me!” I exclaimed. To Howie and Sue that might have seemed like overstatement,  but  I’m not known for understatement (Like mother, like daughter).

First stop was Timpone’s, a restaurant that’s been around for two decades at least. Here are some people I’ve known for a long time:

reunion dinner at Timpone'sYep, that’s Natasha, my Beverly Hills neighbor. . .what’s she doing there?! Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Natasha of my blog is Nicolle of my actual life. There’s a shocker.

Next stop, Bunny’s–a Dive bar, where Howie held court with the ladies.

reunion Howard, Laura, Sue, EdithAnd Sue and I held our own court. reunion me pointing finger at SueSue tolerates my dictatorial approach by laughing in my face. Works for both of us. We once spent a weekend at a Restore Yourself kind of spa where we smuggled in Fritos and vodka. But that’s another story.

I spent the night with Nicolle at her brother-in-law’s house. Rusty’s home is beautiful, his backyard is beautiful, and he’s starting a new life, bravely and beautifully. He and Howie and Sue and Nicolle and I had breakfast on his back porch. What’s with the hat, Howie?reunion Sue, Howard, Rusty on porchI felt incredibly peaceful. Later, I walked around town to remind myself where I came from. It didn’t take long. Here’s my photo poem, entitled, “Home Again, Home Again, Ode to Central Illinois”:

reunion silosreunion round barnreunion seaboat mac n cheeseAnd then, the final stanza of the poem, “208 Pennsylvania” where I lived for 18 years:reunion my house porchI walked up the driveway and snapped this shot of the porch. The bannisters were new,  but it looked like the same porch swing that my mom and I had sat on many a night, swinging slowly back and forth, our feet sliding on the planks of wood as we listened to the locusts whirring and considered the good, bad, and ugly in our lives.  A man came out the side door. I had sold him the house; he seemed to remember me. “Hi,” I said, “I’m Audrey’s daughter. Is that her swing?” “Yeah. It’s funny you are here tonight because we are replacing it tomorrow.”

Then I went back to Rusty’s house, and Nicolle and I prepped for the reunion dinner/ dance as if we were 14 again. Oh God, really?!  I’d like to think that the stakes weren’t like they were when we were 14 when we were desperately in need of confirmation that we were desirable and dateable. We’ve learned by now that neither of those categories matter as much  as we had thought. . .nevertheless, we primped. So much so, that we walked in late. We conformed to what one might say about Midwestern girls who move to L.A. and love glamour a little too much. (Oh well!)

The night was filled with nostalgia, hilarity, dancing, warm re-connections.  Best of all, it included my mom’s friend Sherry, who was being honored by our class, as she was also a teacher at Urbana High School for many years. This is me, Sherry, Suz:

reunion me, Sherry, Suz

And then the night got wild and crazy in the way that middle-aged Midwesterners  get crazy. Here’s my photo collage (REO Speedwagon as background):

reunion suz and Jeff at table, Mark and Matt behindreunion Jim, Tyke, Andyreunion Annette and Andysuz and Andy at Houlihan'sYeah, that guy with the lavender tie gets around, but he’s allowed to because he makes the whole reunion happen. Without Andy, there’d be about twenty of us wearing overalls sitting in a cornfield drinking moonshine and singing Kansas songs. Kudos, Andy!!! And Suz–well there’s a woman who has it all because she does it all: a doctor who is internationally known in her field, a great mother, wife, friend. (And she rocks the key lime dress like nobody’s business.) She and I share a birthday…once upon a time we had our 18th together and it went from a 35-person guest list to a turn out of well o ver a hundred. At 208 Pennsylvania. This didn’t go over well with my mom. But that’s another story.

I finally got back to Rusty’s house  at 4 am, feeling like a teenager except that I am SO not. The next day I spent with Sherry, driving around and seeing the sights, including a garden in Busey Woods, where my mom used to birdwatch. There is a bench commemorating her–Audrey Wasson Curley (middle column, about six names down.)

reunion mom's bench placard

Sherry told me that my mom would be proud of me. I don’t  know if that’s right, but it doesn’t matter because I loved hearing it from Sherry, whom I’ve known since I was ten. And back when I was a student in her Senior English class, Sherry said that my journal entries were fun to read. This is a woman I love and respect, and who sits on a couch with the elegance of Dorothy Parker.

reunion Sherry in hotel

Around noon, Sherry dropped me off at the airport, just as she’d once picked me up there. What goes around, comes around. This is a new phase, I thought.

So that, Dear Reader, is my recount of the recent return home. Framed by  a fifteen-year cycle of loss, reunion, and being alone in the airport of my prairie heart.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportJiggity jig.