Tuesday, April 27, 2010

June Bugs: Sioux Falls 1960

In my mind, this was at home in Sioux Falls in the summer, but really it could have been at my cousin's house outside of Arlington, or in the Black Hills or at a cabin along Lake Ponsett. Not sure, really. But, it was in South Dakota.
Anyway, it was long into the summer, a prairie/plains summer--which means hot and humid, up in the 100's late July/early August summer. Hot. Sunny. Burnt. And it was night time. And we had no air-conditioning. No A/C. I never, never used it until Iowa City in the late 70's, really. Twenty years with no A/C. (Okay, enough about A/C.) Another anyway: It was early evening/night and we had all the windows open, the kitchen door open so that there were only screens. Maybe we were cooking something--Mother cooking something--and we hung out in the kitchen with all the bright sharp lights blaring, the back porch light beaming, we kids--five of us, ten if my cousins were there--were running in and out, playing, no shirts or shoes, kids, and at the screen door, at the kitchen screen window tons of June Bugs flew in.
I'm talking the screens almost covered with big fat hard-shelled insects, buzzing buzzing flitting and sticking to the screen. Man, there were a lot of June Bugs. It was repulsive and fascinating at the same time. It was memorable but normal at the same time. This was how South Dakota was. All these June Bugs covering the screens at night in a hot dog-day South Dakota summer and we were all just little kids, yelling and laughing and doing good dumb kid things, our parents still young but no one knowing that, many years to come but no one knew that, and those insects zizzing and zagging and blanketing the screens of our house.
I still remember that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Change In The Weather: Fort Lauderdale 1996

So, we had moved from Illinois to South Florida. We'd lived at the Riverside Hotel from May into July, then we found a house to rent in Victoria Park. Fru went to work at SunTrust Bank, on Las Olas downtown, while I stayed home with the girls--ages five and three--until my classes started at FIU. First Daughter started kindergarten at VSY in the neighborhood, Second Daughter stayed home and my Grad School classes were in the evenings.
And what I recall is that that first late fall and into winter I really enjoyed the weather. I'd drive down to Miami with my windows down--sometimes taking A1A along the beach--and just purely enjoy the warmth, the salty breeze, the fact that I could have my windows down (despite the humidity).
I mean, that's one of the reasons we moved to Florida, wasn't it? The weather? the winter weather? I'd lived in Florida before, had spent much time in the Keys, but, still, I could dig the warmth and the sunshine. We were still connected to the midwest, to it's sense of geography, its flora and fauna, its climate and temperatures. That was our template for viewing things, so our surroundings were still new and fresh and tropically exotic. We--I, as I drove back and forth to FIU--were tangibly conscious of what we had and what we were missing. We knew what the weather was like back "home". And when the cool days of our first winter in Fort Lauderdale came, Fru and I would get out the lawn chairs and just sit out in the yard at night, enjoying the low temps of 60 or even the "cold" 50 degree weather. Ahh.
And it was like that for maybe the first two or three years--this knowledge of what we weren't experiencing during the fall and winter, in October or February or even March (I always disliked March weather up north). But eventually that faded away. Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, became home. Warm sunny winters became our new norm. Fifty degrees really did become cold.
And now, some fourteen years later, rarely can i conjure up that thrill for a warm winter day. I mean, I enjoy it, but no longer do I have that innate comparison to what's going on in Illinois or Iowa or Montana, to what people in New York or even Tennessee, or even the panhandle of Florida are experiencing. It's not even unusual for me to lose track of the rest of the nation's weather. It can be January, but in my mind it's warm everywhere--I think that, sure, someone in Chicago is outside in their shirt and shorts grilling some fresh fish just like me. Why wouldn't they be?
I miss the change in weather. I really do. It's exotic to me to go back to Iowa during the winter and--not just see snow--but to have to wear a coat, to be able to wear long sleeves and socks, to see trees without leaves, to walk on hard soil--that kind of thing.
Yet, the weather patterns are engraved in me down here. I know summer's great heavy rains and humidity, the sorrow of September when you're tired of the wet heat and Hurricane Season, the slight change of things come October, that wondrous first cold snap of winter (fifty degrees!) and then the shift into spring come February. These are subtle seasons, but real seasons and I know them well.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Feat of Strength & The Barroom Booth: Champaign 1988

This was when I spent the summer in Champaign working concrete. I really liked Champaign back then. I had not really lived in the midwest for quite a spell and I enjoyed my time in Illinois. Some of the nicest people I have ever met lived in Champaign back in 1988. I'm sure some of the nicest people in the country still live there now. Despite my own personal misgivings, it's a nice town. A good town. One that I wish more towns were like, sometimes.
Anyway, it was some evening after a day of work and we--the gang, Doug, Kurt Strube (Kurt--pronounced "Strew-bee"--has one of those names that I just have to give the last name), Elroy, maybe Steve or "Foot" (the train-riding hobo guy who liked to be called that)--were at a bar. Pia's. On Springfield, I believe. The west side of town . . . So, we were there drinking copious beers after a hot hot tired day of slinging concrete and pulling concrete and puddling concrete and finishing concrete and talking concrete and thinking concrete. We sat in a booth in the side room where the dart boards and such were and--for whatever reason--some roughhousing ensued.
What was it about? I have no idea. But we began to push each other over something or another. Leroy was across the table and I was pushing him. Kurt was next to me, on the inside of the booth, and he began to press me. He used his arms and his thigh to try and push me out of the booth. But I resisted. He pushed and pushed, but I didn't even nudge in the opposite direction. I held him at bay, then pushed him, forcing him towards the wall. And then, it was over. It was just joking around, but it was also a show. A show of strength I guess (and thus a show--ultimately among males--of dominance).
"You're strong," Kurt said.
Kurt, though not a big guy, was a concrete worker from way back. A good worker. Strong.
"I was bracing against the wall and I still couldn't move you," he said.
To be honest, I knew that. To be honest, yes, it made me feel good.
I did feel good.

What made me think of this is that I weighed myself today. Came in at 220 pounds. Now, to me, my ideal weight is 195. But, I can carry 200 with no problem--I'd settle for 200. But 220! Ouch. I realize this sounds very self-referential or just self-boring, but you know I used to work construction, I worked concrete and landscaping and house painting jobs. I was physical. I haven't done that in so many years. And while I don't think of myself as old, I'm not young. So, this is not good. So, am I ready to settle in with a heavy weight, little exercise and be comfortable each day? I mean, I see this type, all around me, with men my age. I mean: be moderately healthy and moderately lazy and eat a good dang meal. But, am I ready for that?
Or do I want to be the guy who can still push Kurt Strube into the wall from a barroom booth at Pia's in Champaign, Illinois?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Birth Day #1: Champaign 1991

It wasn't all that long after moving from Montana that Fru became pregnant. She had just started a controller's job at her old bank and I was doing landscape work. I remember how shocked I was, how I asked her to take the little store-bought test twice. I mean, we'd planned to start a family. She had gone off the pill. But we were under the impression that it would take a while.
It took me a while to adjust to her pregnancy. Og course, it took Fru the whole nine months to keep readjusting to it. But she loved being pregnant and I loved that she was happy--and I was happy--and we waited and watched for our first baby.
(In many ways it all seemed unreal. I was never the marriage/baby kind of a guy, not until I met Fru, so the idea that we would have a child was strange to me. Babies were for TV and movies, for relatives and strangers. But, I was also fascinated. I was anticipating fatherhood, though I had no complete concept what it meant. [Though this is not entirely true in the sense that, obviously, Fru and I had discussed having children, had agreed on it and tried--it just came a tad sooner than I thought it would, besides the fact that having a child is something you have to experience to understand the enormity and deep pleasure of it.])
Then came the day. Our first daughter was early, actually. I know Fru woke up very early, then woke me later to tell me she was having contractions. Okay. She wasn'T nervous and I wasn't nervous. We called her sister and father to tell them. (I'm trying to remember if this was when I was writing a screenplay and had to fax it to L.A. that same exact day and had to go do that before we went to the hospital, or if that was when Second Daughter was born.) We had been to see the doctor at his clinic, we had been to Lamaze classes and watched videos, read books, talked to people, so we thought we were ready. We were ready.
Eventually we got in the car and drove. Fru's contractions were picking up, so she felt more comfortable riding in the seat backwards. Champaign is a small town--the hospital, Covenant, was in Urbana--so I didn't worry about driving slow with her not in a seat belt and sitting on her knees backwards in the passenger seat. Okay. But there was another problem: it turned out we didn't know where the hospital was.
In my mind, I knew where the place was. But it turned out that that was Carl Hospital, which was near Covenant. Now, this was Fru's town (her hometown is Chicago, but she grew up in Champaign by age 13 or so), so I assumed she knew where the dang hospital was. But she couldn't tell me. (Oh yeah, she was wearing this big, billowy t-shirt that had a big elephant imprinted on it--I don't know where she got it, but that's what she wore.) So, I was driving down these small roads looking for the hospital while Fru sat backwards having contractions wearing her big elephant t-shirt.
Eventually we pulled over and asked some very surprised people walking on the sidewalk where the heck Covenant Hospital was. Luckily, they knew.
So, off we went.
Wheeling Fru into the elevator the person coming out was her pediatrician. He was surprised to see us, as she was not due for a few more days or a week. "Not you?" he said--he'd just delivered an early baby. "Yes," Fru said, smiling. "Okay, I'll see you soon then." And up we went and they gave us a nice room and nurses came and eventually the doctor came and then we went to another room and then it was push push push, good good good, here comes the head, it's a girl, cry cry cry. ohmygods etcetc and I was holding my daughter.
And Fru got to hold her too.
Then there was a move to another room, our new first baby being taken to the room with other babies. The staying, the people visiting, our baby being brought into the room for feeding and care. I mean, it's so strange and wonderful: You have a baby! What do I do with this baby? You love the baby.
So, Fru and I loved the baby.
After a slight delay--she wouldn't eat much and wouldn't pee in her diaper--we took her home.
We had a crib set up--I said we were ready--and other things we were told we needed and then we got our brand new baby to sleep and we went to sleep and then "WHAAAAA" the baby wakes up and we feed her. Sleep and "WHAAAAAA" wake and so on.
But, the baby is ours. She is sweet and smells sweet and is a joy to hold and she is ours, Fru's and mine.
And we love the baby.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Garden: Champaign 1995

Since I was a kid, I liked growing things. I liked trees and bushes and flowers, I liked fruits and vegetables. I liked gardens. My father was a plant person, a back yard gardener. Nothing huge or overtly anal, just your regular vegetable garden, maybe some vine fruit, and lots of trees and flowering bushes. I'm about the same (or was): nothing fancy or overdone, just a nice patch of vegetables and plants for the yard.
It was in Champaign--the second time around, when my kids were little--that I had my greatest garden. My only garden, really.
Champaign has world-class soil. I mean dark, rich earthwormypoop soil. It's fine and black, no rocks, and you can grow about anything in it without much effort. We were on Miller Street then. First Daughter was a three or four years old, Second Daughter was only one or two and I had worked at Agriseed in Savoy, a genetic crop lab, where they had given me all sorts of seeds because, each year, the employees there planted a big garden out in the land they owned. So, that's what got me going with my garden.
That first year I had broccoli and onions and garlic, kale and spinach and corn, bell peppers, jalapenos, red chili peppers, eggplant, leeks, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes tomatoes tomatoes. I mean, I did care for those plants and they grew huge and abundant. We ate a lot of fresh veggies and I still recall having the girls pick them with me. And over the subsequent time--by 1995--I had it down pat, growing two seasons of spinach and kale along with lots of peppers, broccoli, carrots, leeks and such. I also grew giant sunflowers: huge Russian sunflowers that would get to be seven feet tall or more, with wide Frisbee-sized disks for flowers that i would let turn to seed and which the birds and squirrels came to eat up in the fall. I also let groups of wildflowers grow in the back yard, so that there was a mowed path between patches of black-eyed Susans or daisies or whatnot. The girls would go out and play among them. And there was a big blackberry vine that I let grow in the corner, so we had fresh blackberries at times . . . That was good. I miss that garden. I don't miss too much about Champaign, but the garden definitely is one thing.
I don't have a garden anymore. Oh, I've got tons of plants, trees, vines, year round flowers, I've had citrus trees and an avocado, coconuts and pineapple plants. Banana plants. But I haven't had a good old fashioned vegetable garden. I tried for a bit, but south Florida is not the same as Iowa or Illinois. It's kind of an old fashioned seasonal thing as well.
But, we'll see. maybe I'll try again. Or, maybe, I'll again live in a place where a summer garden will grow.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Picking Raspberries: Vancouver 1966

I think it was Mike Gust who found the raspberry patch. I'm not sure how, because the raspberries grew on a hillside quite a ways from our neighborhood. We rode our bikes to go get them.
It was Oldest Brother, Second Oldest Brother, mike Gust and I that went, with me being the little kid. And it did seem--to my mind then and even to my recollection now--like a very long trip to go gather the berries. We had taken pails and jumped on our bikes and rode and rode, along roadsides with cars and past intersections with cars and to the hillside where we dropped our bikes into the dirt along the roadside and made our way into the tangle of sticker-vine raspberry bushes. And there were tons of them, big and ripe, and we quickly filled our buckets. We also got scratches. Then we rode all the way back to our house on Enid Avenue.
We compared our gatherings, rinsed them all with water from our hose, sat out on the picnic table and removed any extra stems or leaves or thorns, then someone went inside and got bowls and the carton of milk and we ate raspberries with milk in the sun in our back yard.
But the thing is, I doubt that we ever even asked permission to go do this. In those days, we just went out of the house on weekends or summer days and did whatever crossed our minds, whatever we were capable of with our limited resources and unlimited imagination. So, we had that freedom. And, I wonder, how many towns are there any more that would just let raspberries grow wild along a hillside? How many kids have a childhood where they could just take off and find such a treasure without being driven there, without supervision, without having to pay some entry fee and sign some disclosure form to pick raspberries?
Ah. I sound like an old man. But with each generation, with each crowding of our world and development of our world, much is lost. I'm sure my parents saw it--simpler times, more free times--when comparing their childhoods to ours, just as I see it comparing mine to my children's. But things are gained as well: health and safety, other adventures not available. Still, there must be or have been a point where something becomes irretrievably lost, where the new urban/urbane childhood cannot match the one where nature was still prominent, where the need for safety has undermined the innocence and freedom of yore . . .
(Oh, just using a word like "yore" makes me feel old, makes me feel like a complaining codger.)
But, this has always been such. My complaints/thoughts are much much older than I am, older than this country I live in. Better to just remember that day in Vancouver, Washington, when we picked wild raspberries and ate them with milk.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

First Xmas Return: Champaign 1996

We had moved to Fort Lauderdale in the spring of 1996. In May, I think. By the mid-summer we had found a house to rent in Victoria Park and were moved in. By the end of August we'd made friends, First Daughter had started kindergarten at VSY and I was in classes at FIU's graduate writing program. We felt good, Fru and I, our little family settled into our slice of South Florida.
But, Fru wanted to go "home" for Xmas.
Well. Okay. I mean, I wasn't too keen on it. I would have been happy with just a small nuclear Xmas in our rented house, but, she had come all the way down to Florida for me and she was working full time and how could I say "No"? I couldn't. Besides, I liked Fru's family. I liked Xmas in Champaign on the whole. So, we drove up there when the time came.
And it was nice enough. We stayed at Fru's father's place. I saw people I'd known and went out and around with them a bit. But something was nagging at me the whole while. And I knew what it was one evening as I ran around with Fru's sister's husband (her brother-in-law and therefore, I guess my brother-in-law--Dan--who I always got along with the best and who gave me work now and then). Dan and I were out one night, I think we went to the Tumble Inn, and were coming back with Dan always taking the side streets to get around and it was dark and cold-frozen, the streets were empty of people and there was snow blowing. Little wisps of snow looking like fog being blown by a frigid wind across the steppes of Champaign. And I felt a great dread. I felt like I had not gone away and was still living in that town and that--even if it was true that we had moved and had settled in Fort Lauderdale--I would be coming back to live there again soon.
Okay. Champaign is a nice town. It's no different than many of the Iowa towns I like. But, as I've said, I had mixed feelings about that place and spent six years there, most of those six years spent trying to get out. And I had gotten out. But then I was back. Back in town during the desperate winter months and I felt like I was desperate, too.
But, it wasn't so. Because Xmas came and went and we packed up our Volvo and I pulled out of her father's driveway and we--Fru, First Daughter, Second Daughter and I--hit Interstate 57 with snow on the ground and drove south: Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia.
We drove home.