Friday, June 15, 2012

Champaign, Illinois


When Cathy and I dropped out of college, we rented the second floor of a white clapboard house, and sent our monthly check to Chicago where our landlord was serving time in prison as a slumlord.

We lived on peanut m&ms, dinner dates, and whatever anybody else brought around. Cathy was the resourceful one. I had more boyfriends, but she had more skills. Poetry and cooking, just to keep the list manageable. I’d ask someone or other, as a by the way and since you’re coming here anyway, can you pick up a couple of things, like bacon and a loaf of bread.

Cathy could steam bacon, make toast. I’d never done either in my life. One day she pulled some bottles and bags out of our ancient refrigerator and defrosted it. Which seemed so utterly strange -- teetering on the occult, or dangerously adult.

It was the year of re-invention; my parents had officially stopped speaking to me. I had it in writing. They sent a letter, contacting me to say they were contacting me to say they would no longer be contacting me. They said, “This will hurt us more than it hurts you. “I daresay,” I said, tossing the letter to Cathy.

It was an unusually hot summer, and Cathy and I sweated for awhile on the second floor of the clapboard house, until a carpenter who worked where I worked borrowed, permanently, an air conditioner from an empty apartment. I think it was a present for my 18th birthday.

Much of my time was spent with men and boys. Some boys could be men at 22, or men could be boys at 26. Cars made a difference. And other things as well, of course, though I didn’t give it all that much thought. I just knew I liked the boys more. And I remember them all, boys and men, in a way or not, that is to say, some better than others.

But mostly I remember Cathy. And her dog Star who followed my dog Bru everywhere, like he was a god or something. And Bru did the best he could by Star, or I assume that’s what he was up to. You could never tell with Bru. He’d wander off for days, and then return. Sometimes with a collar, which he’d manage to shrug off in an hour or two.

Often Cathy and I would leave this house, in our opposite directions, and come back with stories about a trip to Bloomington, or Carbondale, a horse ranch in Indiana. Maybe we amped it up a little.

“Keith and I hopped a freight train to Lexington.”

“Hahaha, no you didn’t.”

“No, we didn’t.”

We’d set up our Panasonic speakers on the front porch on Green Street and blast Tom Waits and Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac.

(Years later, Cathy and I hooked up again, by email. “The neighbors must have hated us!” she wrote. This was a revelation -- We had neighbors?)

That’s what I remember best. Cathy and me and the dogs and the front porch. In summer, at night, when the prairie wind came out to play, blew our hair this way and that, and cooled the forehead.

We weren’t stupid. We knew three things for sure: That handsome men and boys were a dime a dozen, life was just as light as a feather, and summer lasts forever.

“So what did you do?”

“Keith’s friend drove us up to Kankakee, then we hitched a ride to Normal.”

41 comments:

  1. Nice memories, creative imaginations, loyal friends.....sweet post!.

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  2. I love the rhythm of this and how you wrap it up, with the hitched ride to Normal.

    Great reminiscence.

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  3. I'm with Virginia, on this one. You do tell the most interesting stories!

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  4. Parents who employed the hard line huh? My 18th summer was a long road trip - spent in a car my parents bought to get me to return home.

    love the nostalgia - can feel the breeze

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  5. Tom Waits, Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac. I've long known we were both there but now I'm thinking we were there at the same time. Lyndal and I blasted our stereo from the porch in Urbana, though.

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  6. Been to Champaign. They think too highly of themselves, with their college and whatnot. Been to Normal. It sorta is. The handsome men and boys are fun, but they are not keepers. At 18 I'd already escaped my idiot parents by a couple of years and was married shortly thereafter. Your stories are exciting. Mine are boring, but it works for me.

    And how the hell did you and Petrea both escape the excitement of downstate Illinois to land in California?

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  7. Another boring life here!

    One of the things I miss from SoCal are the warm breezes on warm summer nights...

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  8. LBAC: Life Before Air conditioning.
    I think it was more intense with more smells, more sounds, and maybe more memories. And I know summer nights in the Midwest are like no other. I looked Champaign up on the map, it's in close proximity to everywhere, you had so many choices.

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  9. I like that you thought you needed (or she needed?) to amp it up.

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  10. That's a great story! Thoughtful reminiscence of those days of living creatively and fearlessly (although not always wisely, in some cases). I remember summer nights like that; lightning bugs, smell of rain, and beginning in August, cicadas buzzing amid the frog chorus.

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  11. Wow, what a story. Such vivid details! As much as social media has its place, I so much prefer a real story like this to a tweet or FB entry: Hot in Champaign; hanging w/ Cathy on porch, Waits blaring. Cath made toast & bacon 4 dinner. Meeting boys later. Drove to Normal w/ Keith.

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  12. Can't believe your parents disowned you by letter! But I guess they had enough other children. Were your siblings all really well behaved?

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  13. love the flow and details of the story! Which reminds me of a hot summer night when I was about 18....humnn, I'm thinking a large glass of lemonade and the laptop is in order this afternoon to spark me to write about my summer too! Thanks for the push!

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  15. You write so beautifully. I am certain that reading this will prove to be the highlight of my day.

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  16. I've been thinking about the letter, wondering why they sent it, wondering if you kept it. I once wanted to send such a letter myself but never did, to my relief.

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  17. I didn't send my son such a letter, I put him on a Greyhound and sent him to the family farm in Arkansas. I'm sure it was a lot easier than having to admit defeat.

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  18. Young, free, and on the loose. Maybe life gets better than that. If so, though, it has escaped my notice.

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  19. I love your posts about your past. That first sentence - that you dropped out of college - begins a much more interesting journey than I took. I take it that's why your parents contacted you to let you know they were contacting you about not contacting you anymore? You sure know how to spin a tale.

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  20. Great story. Good, old-fashioned catholic guilt kept me in the "good daughter" column so my stories are pretty boring. Then in my mid-20s I broke ties, changed jobs, traveled and never looked back. I did eventually end up in Normal, but finally I was ready to be there.

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  21. I like to read a good story and you write so well, Karin!
    I have been having reminiscence of my young days too, and I have been trying to write about them...

    Have a good Sunday!

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  22. Some of you have promised stories. I'll hold you to it.

    Don't you think every persons ordinary seems extraordinary to someone else?

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  23. Hmm, missing an apostrophe. But I have the flu. Which is extraordinary, because ordinarily I'm never sick.

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  24. Summer flu. Blah. Sorry you're sick. What do you need?

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  26. Umm . . . how do make toast without a toaster? Anybody?

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  27. Missed an entire paragraph the other day . . . better wi-fi, and more exercise needed.

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  28. Oven, toaster oven, or over the open stovetop flame like a marshmallow (which is also an excellent way to fix a hot dog).

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  29. Ah... another person taking their chance at a 'normal' life. We do have stories.

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  30. Love it--dime a dozen, eh? Wish it were always so---

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  31. Wish I could make my prose MOVE the way yours does. I like this a LOT--it's sort of my country, after all. I'm also with Bellis--would like more on the parent-teen relationship that's behind the letter.

    “occult” and “adult”—fascinating rhyme . . .

    Feel better.

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  32. Mighty kind, Banjo. (As for the letter a few have mentioned, it was just another seal on my independence.)

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  33. I went to Europe for a year after two years of university, traveling and working odd jobs. I'm positive it never, ever occurred to my parents to disown me. There's so much more in your story than independence.

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  34. Great post! I tried to hitchhike to Normal, it's such a long trip and I never made it....

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  35. How the hell did you get your parents to stop contact with you? What a thing of beauty.

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