Month: July 2015

A Painting of Memory

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I lived in the company of ghosts. I know now that they were ghosts. But I also know that they were indeed company.

The house where the vapors lurked has 9 main rooms, not counting baths and laundry and storage and closets. Of those nine rooms, I inhabited five. I used only one of the three baths, one of the 6 closets, none of the storage areas.

A small room off the main part of the basement had clearly been designed for cold storage when the house was built in 1914. The wooden door at its entrance was at least four inches thick, the door of a vault. An ancient Frigidaire ice box still sits inside, its bottom compartment open and yawning, appearing expectant for the ice man to make his daily rounds, lugging the enormous block of ice that would keep the perishable foods cold and fresh for the next 24 hours.

The storage room has built-in shelves that run along two sides. In one corner of the shelves, the Lionel trains from my childhood lay in their original boxes. People have told me that the old boxes are often as valuable, or even more valuable, then the Lionel trains themselves. This matters not at all, as far as I’m concerned. Their value lay in the fact that playing with the trains, as they wound around our Christmas tree each year of my childhood, was the only time my father ever got down on the floor, on his hands and knees, and smiled the whole time.

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On the other side of the shelves, the HO trains from my ex-husband’s childhood lay in boxes that had been neatly labeled, and packed, and shipped to us by his mother. Of his three siblings, we had been designated The Keepers of the Trains. I asked him if he wanted the trains when our marriage ended. I asked him several times. He always said yes; but he never came and got them. Eventually he moved far away, with the trains still in their neatly-packed boxes, shipped to us at great expense from his parents’ house in West Virginia.

So many things were just like this – the shards and shreds of a life gone by. Like all people who marry, we came from two separate families, and we joined together to make our own new family. I became the Keeper of the Trains, a role I chose freely, without burden or regret – because I understood that there may come a time when someone would want those trains.

I lived among closets filled with the history of others, because any of the things within them might be needed at any time. Or perhaps the rooms themselves might be needed, as they have been many, many times as my children – and several of their roommates, and friends, and significant others, and spouses – needed a place to live, to call home.

They will not need this again from me.

It is more likely, in fact, that the time could come when I am moving towards my twilight, that I might need sanctuary from them.

I rattled around a great deal of space, in case I might be needed.

In my new home, I have three closets which are not even full. Both of the train have been given to my children, and hundreds of the other things we brought from our old families and collected with our new one.

I lived in the company of ghosts. I know now that they were ghosts. But I also know that they were indeed company.

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Photographs by Richard Nickel

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Tragically Unhip, Tales from Logan Square

Subject re-opening of the Logan Theater, owner Mark Fishman renovated the  theatre with a soft opening on March 17 2012. CCB Life.

I said to my daughter, “Once I’ve been out and about in my new hood for a while, such as we are now, I begin to feel like I am inappropriately un-dyed, un-pierced, and un-inked.”

She looked around the cafe for a minute and said, “Well, not everyone is dyed.” Then she added, as if this were sure to make me feel better somehow, “but everyone is also about 30 years younger than you are.”

I have done it. I have gotten myself moved out of my home of 32 years in the suburb/small town/social experiment by the lake known as Evanston; and I have relocated to a lovely apartment in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. The move was, and still is, a roller coaster combination of wrenching myself away and fleeing with unfettered glee. I said to my friend the other day: “it’s kind of like when you break up with someone after a long-term relationship, and you know that person is totally not right for you. So even though you don’t miss them, there are things that you miss about being in a relationship.

I have begun a new relationship, and feel all the thrill and trepidation and mystery and hope that entails. Here’s the thing: Logan Square does indeed have its share of hipsters, meaning street corners filled with plaid shirts, one pant leg rolled up, huge sunglasses, ink sleeves, ink calves, top knots, and forgodssake, little babies in strollers wearing fedora hats. I am an open-minded and tolerant person, but that is just wrong. Babies are supposed to wear giant, floppy, silly sunhats while they are still too young to protest, not giant sunglasses and fucking fedoras.

Another thing that requires an adjustment on my part is the beard situation. A high percentage of men walking around are sporting extremely long, scraggly, Duck-Dynasty worthy facial hair. In other words, they look very much like my son did when he walked out of the woods and into my sobbing arms after his 5-month backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail. His sister, who hiked the Trail with him, looked fit and pink-cheeked and aglow with good health. My son, on the other hand, was doing an outstanding impression of a starving, homeless person – an impression that was greatly enhanced by the beard and the fact that mice had been chewing holes in his stocking cap, not to mention his frightening thinness.

It required a great deal of will to restrain myself from my desire to force feed him continually for the next couple of months while he returned to his normal size. Anyway, this is a problem now because I’ve clearly developed a weird association in my mind between long, scraggly beards and starving. I know it’s not cool when I run into my next-door neighbor (on his bike, all inked up, beard wafting in the breeze) and mention to him that I just got back from the grocery store if he’d like me to dig out a few cookies.

I, as it turns out, am tragically unhip.

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