“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 take off two hours late. I drove our Honda rental car from Budget to Ambler and, after checking in at the Marriott Courtyard, had a steak sandwich at Giuseppe’s on Bethlehem Pike. We were just finishing when Leelee Minehart arrived, the first of 15 high school classmates gathering 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 from sixth to ninth grade (and son of the founder of Mrs. Paul’s frozen foods), who transferred to a private school the following year. When I went to greet him, he was telling Wayne Wylie, “Jimmy and I liked the same girl in sixth grade, Judy Jenkins,” never dreaming Judy, looking great, was across the room.
Every time someone entered Giuseppe’s big room we had taken over, Wayne would say, “I’m warning you. Jimmy Lane is going to hug you.” True enough, and why not? Nobody recoiled from my embrace. Eddie remembered playing basketball at my place at 209 Fort Washington Avenue and my mom coming out with cookies and milk, which we’d take to a room above the garage. Babe Ruth League teammates, we’d drive Coach Hawthorne (Ronnie’s dad) crazy with our antics. When I mentioned where I lived, Leslie Boone, still young looking for a septuagenarian, said she and her husband camped at Dunes State Park for a week on the way to Alaska. Toni and Leelee’s husband Bob, a Math professor, were the lone spouses and enjoyed each other’s company while the rest of us reminisced and got caught up on the latest news and gossip.
Leelee brought copies of a 1992 Ambler Gazette article by Betty Quigley that recounted “simpler days” in elementary school. She mentioned fifth grade instructor and choir director Julia Bytheway, jovial janitor Arthur Bimson, dance teacher Mrs. Surgner, and substitute cook Murtle Bates. She referenced 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 Restaurant, where we’d take dates for ice cream and located, incidentally, where Giuseppe’s now stands. She also mentioned the Memorial Day parade. A Cub Scout, one year, brat that I was, I refused to look my dad’s way as he was making a home movie of the event.
Thursday at Chili’s we met nephew Kyle, his dad Bob, and Kyle’s 10 month-old daughter Serena (a doll), whom we played with by the hotel fireplace afterwards. In the tiny lobby library was a copy of “Zoo” by James Patterson, who recently donated a million dollars to support independent bookstores. In his 2012 bestseller animals, both domestic and wild, begin attacking humans, their sense of smell magnified exponentially by air pollution and cell phone radiation. I also finished Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana,” a hilarious and deftly rendered Cold War satire, and added it to Marriott’s collection, along with a Chief Joseph bookmark.
Friday with my oldest friend Terry Jenkins I took off on a tour of our old neighborhood. A young couple had recently fixed up his old place but apparently removed our favorite climbing tree from the front yard. 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 but are fun repeating. 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, for the Jenkins dog Taffy, when she’d venture onto his property; Taffy would bark at him until he produced a bone. Terry was driving slowly past the Bates house when a guy pulled along side and rolled down his window. He had stopped to get his mail and, after we explained ourselves, informed us that Ray’s brother Rene Bates still lived there. Ray always wanted to drive racing cars, came to head up a NASCAR mechanic team, and last year was in a bad accident from which he is still recovering).
Back at the hotel, we joined Toni and Gayle, consumed a six-pack of Yuengling, and then gorged at an Indian restaurant. Terry couldn’t believe Judy had come to Giuseppe’s, but Leelee really had worked on her, asserting if she could travel from Jersey Judy could come the 20 miles or so. Terry still works at his New Hope gift shop. They handle wedding invitations, a source of income threatened by internet sites and Evites. About the time we were calling it a night, Phil and Delia arrived, 12 hours after departing from Wyoming, Michigan. I joined them in the hot tub.
Nephew Chad and Krista Della Polla’s wedding took place at a Roman Catholic Church in Havertown, where “Silver Linings Playbook” was filmed. Parked out front was the biggest limousine I’ve ever seen. We exchanged hugs with Toni’s brother Tom and wife Cheryl, good folks whom we don’t see often enough. In the wedding party were niece Alanna’s two young kids and Chad’s brother Brent, the best man. Alanna sang throughout the service from an alcove high above, next to the organist. The priest seemed like a decent man, a far cry from the Polish prelate who ruled the roost at St. Adelbert’s, when Toni and I got married in 1965.
At historic William Penn Inn in Ambler, everything about the reception was first class, from the ample hors d’oeuvres and steak dinner to the cookies, cake and chocolate covered strawberries. The bride’s family was Italian and the groom’s Polish and Irish, but the only nod to ethnic customs was a medley of Italian songs before dinner and a dance where people held hands and formed a circle around Chad and Krista – no polka for Toni and brother Tommy to dance to. A couple generations ago, the sight of a lesbian couple and an African American guy with a bridesmaid would have created a real stir. I sat next to one of Krista’s uncles who grew up in Baltimore and is an Orioles and Ravens fan. Learning that I was an oral historian, Heather Shafter told me about interviewing 87 year-old peace activist Libby Frank and wanted pointers on how to organize it and find a publisher. I told her about working on Roy Dominguez’s autobiography. “Steel Closets” and Anne Balay’s tenure case came up, and Heather hopes to attend Anne’s Philadelphia book event in June. I danced to a dozen songs, mostly electronic music but also, thankfully, “Johnny B. Goode” and the Motown number “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Chad, finding love at age 35, looked extremely happy.
The wedding party was staying at the Mariott; at breakfast we had a nice chat with my god-daughter Kristin and husband Tom, as well as Brent and Jessica, eight months pregnant (at the reception he pulled a chair to the edge of the dance floor and boogied with her while she stayed seated). Chad thanked us all for coming, especially Phil. Someone told Chad that Phil looked like Matthew Broderick in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” As had been the case for the past three days I had an omelet, a fruit combo of grapefruit and mandarin orange slices, juice, bacon, potatoes, muffin, and a yogurt for later.
Rand Paul won the CPAC straw poll after delineating ways Republicans might attract young voters who share some of his old man’s libertarian ideas. Old-line GOP jerkoffs have pounced 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 drug law violators and restoration of their voting rights after they served their time. He even met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss possible decriminalization of marijuana.
We bade good-bye to Phil and Delia and trusted GPS to guide us to the airport. I didn’t panic when we ended at a deserted intersection and with Toni’s help soon spotted airport signs. Inside the terminal we split a quite good Philly steak and then suffered through our flight being delayed and ultimately cancelled. On Toni’s urging I ran to United’s Help station and got us on a U.S. Air flight just an hour later. Phew!!!! The long walk left Toni out of breathe for several minutes. Seated next to me on the flight was a Danish au pair returning to Copenhagen, I told her about our day there after attending an oral history conference in Sweden and that I’d written a book about Jacob A. Riis, who hailed from Ribe, Denmark.
Limo driver Sammy picked us up in an SUV 15 minutes after we reached O’Hare’s exit doors and got to talking about a politician who rode with him recently whom I loathe but he found affable. One time I took copies of my World War II Steel Shavings to an American Legion Hall to sell for five dollars. Nobody was buying it although members readily shelled out five bucks for raffle tickets. Lake County boss John Krupa, who had said despicable things about Mayor Hatcher, bought a dozen copies, most of which he raffled off. His gesture led to other veterans lining up to buy copies.
We were home by 9:30. The condo was still standing, with electricity and cold beer in the fridge, a welcome sight.
On the way to IU Northwest Monday I heard “Simple Song” by The Shins. Once in a parking space, I lingered 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, whose chorus goes, “I’d call that a bargain, the best I ever had. The best I ever had.” Crossing the campus, as we approached Hawthorn I took Beth’s hand for just a second to thank her for being there for me after I got the news that IUN wanted to disassociate from Steel Shavings after 40 years due to my defending Anne Balay.
Jim Fowble with future wife's name on helmet and on right
200 emails awaited me Monday at the Archives, almost all junk with a few notable exceptions. Jim Fowble’s son David forwarded photos of Jim in Vietnam 44 years ago, and Ron Osgood provided me with an update on his Vietnam War Project. He’s been to Vietnam four times since 2010 and interviewed veterans who fought with the NLF and PAVN, excerpts of which he now has on his awesome website. Heather Shafter from Chad’s wedding reception asked my to be a Facebook friend; I gladly complied.
At the History office were three copies of “City of the Century,” compensation for reviewing an IU Press manuscript about housing in East Chicago, plus a review copy of Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets.” Along with my review, a NWI Times feature will probably include information about IU denying Anne tenure. As she put it in a 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 such upcoming Women’s History Month events as the Celebrating Our Students Research Conference and the Clothesline Project Exhibit that owe their original existence to Anne. One clothesline t-shirt I passed on the way to lunch read: “1 in 4 no more: Boys are victims, too.”
Historian David Parnell spoke at Monday’s Chalk and Talk event sponsored by Chris Young’s CISTL center. The topic: “Perspectives on Barbarians: From Research to the Classroom.” I met adjunct Jerry Hall, a University of Chicago PhD of eminent qualifications to be a full-time lecturer. If I were History Department chair, I’d push for it as well as a replacement position for Chris. A student majoring in Anthropology and minoring in History impressed us all. Diana Chen-lin drew parallels and contrasts between how Romans and Chinese regarded barbarians. 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.
Anne Balay was my guest at Gino’s for my History Book Club talk on “The House on Mango Street.” I had “Steel Closets” with me and introduced Anne as the author of the best Region history of steelworkers since Richard Dorson’s “Land of the Millrats.” I placed “Mango Street” in historical context, mentioning that Latinos were pretty much invisible Americans until the 1960s, when Caesar Chavez’s valiant fight against grape growers captured the attention of the nation. I discussed how Jesse Villalpando formed the Latino Historical Society, dedicated to documenting the Hispanic experience in Northwest Indiana, and how that led to my publishing Louis Vasquez’s autobiography as well as such books as “Forging a Community” (with Edward Escobar), “Maria’s Journey,” and “Valor.” During the discussion of “Mango Street” I mentioned that most men in the book come off poorly but two memorable characters were Louie’s cousin who gave neighborhood kids a ride in a stolen car, and Geraldo, an illegal alien killed in a hit-and-run accident far from his loved ones in Mexico. An old woman who complained that the neighborhood was going down hill reminded me of visiting a former storeowner in Toni’s old Polish neighborhood in Philadelphia, who had the same lament, even though hardworking immigrants seemed to be keeping Port Richmond viable.
When I compared “Mango Street” to Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” Joy Anderson, who grew up in Indiana Harbor, nodded her head in agreement and praised the book for providing a role model to young girls who, like Sandra Cisneros, might be pressured into getting married and having babies rather than following their dreams. Joe Gomeztagle recounted his family experiences as immigrants and was interested to meet Anne and pleased that his friend Roy Dominguez was representing her. A couple people had also read Jacqueline Woodson’s “A House You Pass on the Way,” and I pointed out that complaints about Anne’s having assigned it in a Children’s Lit class were used by her department chair as part of the case against her. I passed around my review copy of “Steel Closets,” and members were very impressed. Anne could have sold several but has already given away her one copy (more are on the way) to one of the 40 narrators she ran into at Flamingo’s.
Discussing required reading in high school, both Ken Anderson and I mentioned “Silas Marner,” “Red Badge of Courage,” and “A Tale of Two Cities” (thank heavens for classic comics – I’d never have gotten through the Dickens original). Anne said she wouldn’t even assign those books to college students. By the time Joe Gomeztagle was in school, he read “Catcher in the Rye” and “Of Mice and Men.” Someone else had “Lord of the Rings,” not the most uplifting portrayal of young people to say the least. It was a good evening although a few members had trouble regarding “Mango Street” as a history book. Home by 9:15, I looked through five days worth of mail, which included a touching birthday card from Miranda, who called me “the best grandpa I could ever ask for” and added, “You mean the world to me!” She’s “the best-est,” as I often tell her when she calls me “the best.”