The new year started with a trip, up early and onto a flight to Chicago, bound for a party with cousins and friends at Cousin Jim’s house in suburban Arlington Heights. Landed early, and sat in the terminal for awhile (I was renting a car for a day, 24 hours and 29 minutes, and wanted to get the most out of it on January 2), then in the new car-rental facility. Picked up a Hertz rollerskate, and was soon motoring through Des Plaines, a familiar suburb, then onto U.S. Highway 14 northwest toward Jim’s.
A new year normally makes people look forward, and while I did that I also looked backward, way back to childhood, and memories of many trips – often at Christmas and New Year’s – to visit kin on both parents’ sides. I connected the car sound system to my iPhone and played “The Traveling Kind” by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, a favorite tune that helped me think back. We often took Highway 14 between the home of Aunt Mildred (one of my dad’s two sisters), Uncle Walter, and my gloomy paternal grandma. More on them in a moment. Past Mount Prospect, I glanced to the right and saw the mortuary where we began to say goodbye to Jim’s parents, Aunt Sally and Uncle Bapper (that was how my brother Jim first pronounced “Joseph”).
In no time I was hugging Jim and Michaela. We had a good yak before the party started, me helping a bit in the kitchen. Michaela is a superb cook and host, and the tables were groaning with snacks. Friends and neighbors were invited, but I spent most of the afternoon catching up with the four of five Jim’s siblings who live nearby (John, the youngest, is in Texas): Bob, Mike, Lisa, and Donna. Jim, Michaela, and I yakked some more after the party ended. And we were all asleep by nine. A good first day of 2020.
Was up early, more time to chat in the kitchen, then drove east to another familiar suburb, Glenview, for breakfast with Cousin Larry and wife Judy. Larry, who I sometimes call Lorenzo, is a first cousin once removed – born 1937, he’s the youngest child of my maternal grandfather’s youngest sister, Alice. When he opened the door, he kissed me; that’s what Italian men do! We hopped in my car and drove to a swell breakfast spot nearby, for a big breakfast and a catch-up; it had been two years, so there was plenty of news on both sides. They are fine people, and I just wish I had connected with them earlier, instead of 2010. Lorenzo grew up on the same street as my mother, and in fact his dad bought my grandfather Jim’s grocery in the late 1940s. Whew!
Back at their house, I hugged and kissed them both, patted their dog Blackie, and peeled off. My watch said there was time for one more place from the past, so I drove south and east to Lowell Avenue in the Sauganash neighborhood, parking right in front of Aunt Mil’s and Walter’s house. I closed my eyes and was immediately back in their kitchen, maybe 1957 or ’61. The circular fluorescent ceiling light was buzzing, as were my parents, Mil, and Walt. They were smoking, drinking, and laughing. It was always a happy time there. I opened my eyes and looked left, across the street, to the embankment that once held a railway branch line, now a bike trail. Back in the 1950s, I was afraid of the steam locomotives that chugged past, pulling freight and commuter trains. Memories.
Drove back to O’Hare and dropped the car. Looked at my watch, time to see one more person. Walked up the stairs above the American Airlines check-in counters, and found a former colleague, Franco Tedeschi, who is now VP of the O’Hare hub. I surprised him, and we could only chat for a minute, but it was good to see him. He’s got a big job. Flew home, put the dogs on leashes. A good start to the New Year.