My Grandpa, called Pop by my mom. He died when I was 2 1/2 of cancer. He was quite young, only 52. I used to go visit him in the afternoon. I would put the big Chicago phone book on the scales to make a stool for myself, and tell him of my day. He never followed rules. He was suspended from high school in his junior year, so he applied and got into the University of Michigan and went there instead. Everyone idolized him.
My grandparents moved from Chicago to Marengo during the Depression, after my grandpa’s advertising business failed. At first he taught English at the local high school, but after he was fired (for giving everyone in his Shakespeare class an A), he started a magazine for salesmen called “Yourself.” It was so successful that my grandma continued to publish it as a reprint for years and years after he died. Their house is one of my earliest memories. My cousin and I used to play in the library, which had two desks facing each other, one for Grandpa and one for Gramma. They were both writers, though the work I ever read of my gramma’s were her lectures to the Women’s Club.
That’s my mother who has her head stuck in the icebox. And I’m not sure what my dad and Gramma were doing. Certainly neither one of them ever cooked, and Daddy never even washed dishes. Since that’s Uncle Louis on the floor, my Aunt Mamie must have taken this picture. Everyone is so smiley, the martinis must have already been poured.
My parent’s built their first house with a V.A. loan. It was on the edge of town, on a street called Willow Road, with other small new houses. When I was three the milkman drove over my tricycle and crushed it. I was sad and guilty too, as I’d left it in the driveway, although I’d been told many times not to do that. The milkman felt so bad that he brought me one of his kids’ bikes the next time he came to our house. This made me feel even worse. The bike wasn’t as nice as my old one, and he had many children and was even poorer than us. All I could think of was that now one of his kids didn’t have a bike.
I hadn’t been back to Marengo since I was 7, and when my brother and I drove into the downtown, I recognized it. So little had changed in 30 years that I recalled how Daddy and I used to walk downtown to the drugstore on Sunday mornings to get the Chicago Tribune and a Golden book for me. Although I couldn’t read, I knew exactly which books we owned, and which one I wanted that week.
This is Shady Lane Farm, which was a supper club on the road to Belvedere. It was the height of sophistication in 1953. My parents used to go there on Saturday nights with their friends. I can't imagine what sort of entertainment there was. Most of the their friends either worked for Arnold Engineering, or were the town doctors and lawyers. It was quite soon after the war, and everyone just wanted to get back to normal life. My dad and mom met when he was at Northwestern on the G.I. bill, and she was a working girl; one of the few women her age who hadn’t married an officer during the war. Shady Lane is abandoned now.
By the time I was thirteen, we’d lived in 5 different states, 7 different towns and and 10 different houses. I’ve spent most of my adult life in New Jersey, but I still think of Marengo, Illinois as my home town.
Published on Aug 1, 2012