Tuesday, August 5, 2008

going back

I drove out to visit my mom this past weekend with the kids.
It hasn't happened much this year because she lives way out in the middle of nowhere, Illinois. Specifically near Henry, La Salle and Peru. It's about 135 miles from door to door, and with gas prices hovering at $4.25 per gallon, frequent visits haven't been in the cards this summer.
She's retired and living in a nice house on a lakeshore. It's quiet and tranquil there and we all had a good time over the weekend.

It seems every time I visit her, the late night conversations roll around to her life with my dad, or times we were all younger. She'll usually bring me up to date on old friends she's heard from since we last spoke. Friends of my parents that I knew when I was a child. Sometimes there's bad news. An age-related illness, or even a death.
At one point during this visit my mom pulled out some DVDs she had been burning, old slides and home movies transferred onto a format that will keep them preserved. Miles and Dwynna wanted to see some of them, so we took a visual tour of my parents life from roughly 1956 to 1964. There were pictures of my older sisters as toddlers, and me when I was an infant, to age 3.
I found myself sucked into a vortex of old memories and nostalgia.
It's fine, because most of those memories are fond, but I'm also reminded of the passing of time and how quickly it does fly, ..and it's bittersweet at best. I want to be present as much as possible and enjoy it with my children, while they're young. While I'm still young.
I enjoy looking back less as I get older.

Bolingbrook.
It's where it all goes back to, for me. It's where I lived until I was 13. It's not really the same little village I drive past now, when I head south on I55. The Bolingbrook that I lived in was comprised entirely of 2 small tract-home subdivisions, directly off of I55 & rt 53. Our house in 'Colonial Village' was built new in 1962, a sprawling split-level ranch that cost a whopping $12,000. ($99 down).
My dad was only 27 years old, my mom 25. They were dirt poor, naive, scared shitless. But they were young, hopeful, and much in love.
And they were absolutely thrilled to be able to buy a brand new house for themselves and their 3 kids.

Our neighborhood was surrounded by meadows, farm land and corn fields. Briarcliff Road connected Colonial Village and Westbury (the other subdivision just West of Rt 53) and would eventually be the address of Bolingbrook's first Catholic church, first grade school, first 7-11, Fire station, and police station.

It was, for all intents and purposes, 'Main Street'.

We had one grocery store, a little candy shop, and a barber shop.
Movies? There was the Tivoli in nearby Downer's Grove, or during the nice weather the Bel-Air Drive In on Rt. 53 in Romeoville (another aspiring township). But we had no real shopping, restaurants, or entertainment.

Over the years my dad was both a fireman and policeman for the village. For his initiation into the fire department the other guys in the troop dyed him blue. It was small-town stuff, and they'd even be clowns in the annual parades, but everybody took it seriously enough. There were plenty of times when the short-wave transmitter would kick on, announcing the location of a fire, and calling my dad away from dinner. It never even occurred to me to worry about him. He was my dad. He could handle anything.
Apparently the village of Bolingbrook thought so too. He went on to serve as Police and Fire commissioner until we moved in 1974. Both of my parents were involved in community activities. They were very close friends with the town's Mayor and his wife. Bob and Pat had kids too, and we'd get together often.

Back then it was the kind of place where kids could roam far, free, and feel safe. There were no 'bad' or even 'affluent' areas. Neighbors were friendly and barbecued together and their kids played together. At age 9 we could jump on our bikes and be gone all day, or go out after dinner on a summer night and stay out 'til 10 pm.
Of course Halloween was insane. No parental supervision whatsoever. Swarms of kids festooned in their cheap Ben Cooper or Collegeville costumes, raping and pillaging the entirety of the subdivision.
Halloween was rivaled only by Christmas, and all the local 'House Decorating' competition.
It was glorious and delightfully tacky.

As I got a little older I came to know the significance of Bolingbrook's location. Specifically, that it was built where old Rt. 66 ended and became the new Interstate 55. Part of it would pick up again further North near LaGrange, but the corner where I55 and 66 merged was its historic ending, and home to a well-known truck stop. A Welco that had been there since the old days. It was here that my truck-driving grandfather would sometimes meet my mom and I for breakfast or lunch.
The Welco was literally across frontage road from our house, and my mom and I would run across the Southbound lanes of I55 to get there on foot.

By 1970 Bolingbrook had been an incorporated township for 5 years and had a population of 7000. And by the time the village approved the construction of the "Old Chicago" mall/indoor amusement park in '73, Bolingbrook had become too much for my parents. Old Chicago was part of it, but my parents were already itching for a better home and a greener location. That would end up being Channahon, near Joliet, and we did move there in June of 1974.

On my way back into the city earlier today I stopped off in Bolingbrook and took a drive through my old neighborhood. Funny how little it's changed compared to the suburban sprawl that is now Bolingbrook (with its Ikea, McMansions, and country club).
Most of the houses look about the same. The trees were bigger, and that's about it. I could almost smell the clorine from my parents above ground pool as I drove past our old house.
Of course, it's now the 'oldest' part of town, and somewhat weathered with almost 50 years passed.

It was nice to troll through the streets of my childhood and drink it in, ..but I could sense that if I had parked and taken some time to walk through it all, time would've collapsed in that uncanny way that it does.
It happens on occasion and it's different than deja vu. My memory deals them strong and vivid. Decades vanish in a blink, and I find myself standing there, much older. Everything else has changed and everyone has moved on. I feel ancient and somehow detached from everything for a moment. But certainly not emotionally. A myriad nuance lingers that's deeply sublime.
It's a sense of presence that hits me like a tidal wave. And though it's almost painful, there is something so delicious that I can't help but revel in it.

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