My mom passed away in June of 2012 and the first thing I wanted to do after we went to the funeral home to make arrangements, was to drive past the house I grew up in. I stopped for a few minutes at the end of the driveway on North Michigan Avenue, my memories taking me to another time.
I grew up a middle class girl in Belleville, Illinois. Belleville was and is a little town just east and across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. I say was and is a little town because even though the boundaries are reaching further and further to the east, the town has still retained its old world charm. There’s a square in the middle of downtown that my friends and I used to drive around over and over again every Friday and Saturday night during my teen years. Belleville is of German heritage, even though the name is French. Downtown has always been the place to be. Beer and brat festivals. Chili cookoffs. Parades march through the downtown lined with shops, bars and restaurants. The look is nothing special, but the atmosphere reflects old time Americana where folks were happy with the smaller things in life.
I grew up on the east side of town in a middle class neighborhood where families put down roots and never left. When I was a kid my house on North Michigan Avenue seemed so huge. The steps leading to the basement seemed so scary and steep. The kitchen and living room blended together with the dining area separating them. The basement was cool on a hot summer day and a great place to gather with my friends.
And speaking of friends, there were lots of kids in our neighborhood and we would stay out until dark playing kickball, whiffle ball, tag, kick the can, and a host of other outside games. Our parents would gather at one of the houses and drink beer and talk. In the summer we’d play all day with a few breaks in between. Sweaty kids, laughing, playing and arguing until our parents called us home. Those memories make me smile.
However, during teenage years, it was in my room where I spent hours. I’d turn on the record player and sing into a hairbrush while looking into the mirror, fixing hair and outfit — Everything just right. There were other times where I just turned on the music and read. I suppose, as I look back, my room was a place I could be me with all those growing up thoughts and dreams. I could be anything in that room with the three white walls and one red. Black, red and White shag carpeting, and crazy black and white curtains and bedspread. I picked the colors and design. My room. My expression. My place.
I left home at 18 and the years have flown by. I remember before we moved mom to an assisted living home I walked through the house, pieces of memories popping into each room. I also had to laugh when I walked down those stairs to the basement. They seemed so small. It’s funny how life changes the way we look at things.
My memories, sitting at the bottom of our driveway on North Michigan Avenue, took me to everything that happened in that house in my childhood. That day, I remembered the good times, the simpler times. That day I gave thanks for middle class neighborhoods. I gave thanks.