“I know things can really get rough when you go it alone
Don’t go thinking you gotta be tough, to play like a stone.”
“Simple Song,” The Shins
Toni and I left Chicago for Philadelphia last Wednesday during a snowstorm (what else?), causing our flight to be two hours late in taking off. We drove our Budget rental car to Ambler and after checking in at the Mariott Courtyard had steak sandwiches at Giuseppe’s. We were just finishing when Leelee Minehart, the first of 15 high school classmates arrived for a mini-reunion. I had personally called Eleanor Smith, Virginia Lange, Wayne Wylie, Bruce Allen, and Marianne Tambourino, and they had contacted others. Biggest surprises were Judy Jenkins, my first girlfriend, whom I hadn’t seen since her wedding in 1962, and Ed Piszek, my buddy in ninth grade who transferred to a private school the following year. When I went to greet him, he was telling Wayne Wylie that he and I liked the same girl in sixth grade, Judy Jenkins, never dreaming Judy, looking great, was across the room. Every time someone entered the big room we had taken over, Wayne would say, “I’m warning you. Jimmy Lane is going to hug you.” Eddie had memories of playing basketball at my place and my mother coming out with cookies and milk, which we’d take to a room above the garage. We were teammates on a Babe Ruth League team coached by Ron Hawthorne’s dad. We’d drive him crazy with our antics. When I mentioned where I lived, Leslie Boone, still young looking for her age, said she and her husband camped at Dunes State Park for a week on their way to Alaska. Toni and Leelee’s husband Bob, a Math professor, were the only spouses there and enjoyed each other’s company while the rest of us reminisced and got caught up.
Someone brought copies of a 1992 Ambler Gazette article by Betty Quigley that recounted “simpler days” going to Fort Washington elementary school. She mentioned fifth grade teacher MJulia Bytheway, jovial janitor Arthur Bimson, dance teacher Mrs. Surgner, and substitute cook Murtle Bates. There was a reference to the 12-hole Pinetown Golf Course, Harry Wentz’s turkey farm, Kirk’s store (where I purchased blueberry Tasty Pies for 12 cents each), and Howard Johnson’s, where people went for ice cream after dates (located, incidentally, where Giuseppe’s now stands). She also mentioned the Memorial Day parade that I participated in as a Cub Scout; one year, brat that I was, I refused to look at my dad as he was taking a home movie of the event.
Thursday we had dinner at Chili’s next to our hotel with nephew Kyle, his dad Bob, and Kyle’s 10 month-old daughter Serena (a doll). During the day I had found a copy of “Zoo” by James Patterson, who had recently donated a million dollars to support independent bookstores. I can see why he’s a bestselling author. In “Zoo” animals, both domestic and wild, begin attacking humans due to their sense of smell being triggered by pollution and radiation in the air. Before the weekend was done I finished it and Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana,” a hilarious Cold War satire.
Friday my oldest friend, Terry Jenkins, and wife Gayle, came to the hotel and then Terry and I took off on a tour of our old neighborhood. A young couple had recently purchased and fixed up his old place, and my house looked much improved since I’d last seen it. As we passed by homes our friends had lived in, old memories sparked anecdotes, some new, others we’ve told each other before. Pam and Wally Illingworth’s dad, for instance, had a gruff exterior but brought large meat bones home from Arnold’s Market, where he worked, that he gave the Jenkins dog Taffy, when she’d venture onto his property. Terry was driving slowly past the Bates house when a guy pulled along side and rolled down his window. Rather than be suspicious of us, he had stopped to get his mail and informed us that Ray’s brother Rene Bates still lived in the house where he grew up. Ray always wanted to drive racing cars (he headed a NASCAR mechanic team and last year was in a bad accident from which he is still recovering).
Back at the hotel, we consumed a six-pack of Yuengling beer and then went to an Indian restaurant. Terry couldn’t believe Judy had come to Giuseppe’s, but Leelee really had worked on her, saying if she could come from Jersey Judy could come the 20 miles or so. Terry still works at a gift shop they own in new Hope and told stories about folks who come in to look at wedding invitations they handle, a source of income threatened by internet sites and Evites. About the time we were to call it a night Phil and Delia arrived, having driven for 12 hours from Wyoming, Michigan.
The wedding of nephew Chad and bride Krista Della Polla took place at a Catholic Church in Havertown, near where “Silver Linings Playbook” was filmed. Parked out front was the biggest limousine I’ve ever seen. We exchanged hugs with numerous relatives, including Toni’s brother Tom and wife Cheryl. In the wedding party were niece Alanna’s two young kids and Chad’s brother Brent, the best man. Alanna sang numerous songs throughout the service from above, next to the organist. The reception was at historic William Penn Inn in Ambler, and everything was first class, from the ample hors d’oeuvres and steak dinner to the cookies, cake and chocolate covered strawberries. While the bride’s family was Italian and the groom’s Polish and Irish, the only indication was a medley of Italian songs before dinner and one ethnic line dance. It was nice to see an open lesbian couple and an African American guy who was with one of the bridesmaids. A couple generations ago, that would have created a real stir. I sat next to one of Krista’s relatives who is from Baltimore and an Orioles and Ravens fan. Guest Heather Shafter has been interviewing an 87 year-old activist and wanted pointers on how to organize it and find a publisher after hearing that I was an oral historian. She took down my email address, and I’m hoping she remembers to contact me. I danced to a dozen or more songs, mostly electronic music but also Johnny B. Goode and a couple Motown numbers.
The wedding party was staying at the Mariott, and at breakfast we had a nice chat with my god-daughter Cristin and her husband Tom, as well as Brent and his wife Jessica, who is eight months pregnant (at the reception he pulled a chair to the edge of the dance floor and boogied while she sat). Chad thanked us all for coming, especially Phil, who, someone told him, looked like actor Matthew Broderick. As for the past three days I had an omelet cooked special for me plus fruit, juice, bacon, potatoes, muffin, and a yogurt for later. We bade good-bye to Phil and Delia and trusted GPS to get us to the airport. I didn’t panic when we ended at a deserted intersection and soon found airport signs. Inside the terminal we split a quite good Philly steak and then found our flight delayed and ultimately cancelled. On Toni’s urging I ran to United’s Help station and we got on a U.S. Air flight just an hour later. Phew!!!! Our limo driver Sammy picked us up 15 minutes after we reached O’Hare’s exit doors, and we were home by 9:30.
On the way to IU Northwest I heard “Simple Song” by The Shins and, once in a parking space, lingered in my car to hear the last verse of “Bargain” by The Who. Beth LaDuke had pulled in near me and said she’d also listened on WXRT to the same song.
Some 200 emails awaited me Monday at the Archives, almost all junk, but including jpegs of photos from Vietnam that Jim Fowble’s son David forwarded to me. At the History office were three copies of “City of the Century,” my compensation for reviewing a manuscript from IU Press, plus a review copy of Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets.” Along with my review, the NWI Times is planning a feature on Anne that will probably include information about IU denying her tenure. As Anne put it in a recent Facebook message: “It makes me inexpressibly sad that Indiana University Northwest, which I long to have proudly promote my book at this turning point in my life, instead turns its back on me, my work, and my students. We will all survive -- we do that -- but this month could have played out differently. . .” I second that emotion. As if to mock her achievement the university announced upcoming Women’s History Month events with no mention of Anne, even though the Celebrating Our Students Research Conference and the Clothesline Project Exhibit owe their original existence to her efforts. I passed the clothesline t-shirts on the way to lunch. One read: “1 in 4 no more: Boys are victims, too.”
In the cafeteria Michelle Stokely talked about how the Republicans are attempting to deal with the issue of same-sex marriage. At the annual CPAC event Rand Paul won the straw poll after speaking about ways to attract young voters who share some of his old man’s libertarian ideas. Old-line GOP jerkoffs have bounced on him for attacking NSA spying, opposing interventionism abroad (the Ukraine might be better off if Crimea became part of Russia again, he argued), and advocating lighter sentences for those convicted of violating drug laws and restoration of their right to vote after they served their time. He even met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss possible decriminalization of marijuana.
Historian David Parnell spoke at the Chalk and Talk event sponsored by Chris Young’s CISTL center. His topic was “Perspectives on Barbarians: From Research to the Classroom.” Among the attendees was an adjunct named Jerry Hall and a student majoring in Anthropology and minoring in History who is taking an Independent Studies class with Parnell. Diana Chen-lin drew parallels and contrasts between how Romans and Chinese regarded barbarians, and Chris Young, whose current interest is public memory, mentioned China’s Great Wall and Hadrian’s Wall built by Romans in the north of England.
In the afternoon I made some notes in preparation for my History Book Club talk on “The House on Mango Street.” In order to place the book in historical context I’ll mention that Latinos were pretty much invisible Americans until the 1960s, and I’ll briefly mention my efforts to document the Hispanic experience in Northwest Indiana.