The new year began with an ice storm. I’ve seen worse. Ones that caused power outages for a week with everything in the refrigerator melting and sodden, lots of candles, flashlights, layers of clothing and four feet of water in the basement. After a crazy long extended warm spell I was okay with this, looking at it as an opportunity to take some cool ice photos and stay indoors.
Today, however, I woke to the news that in addition to the 140 Republican representatives in the U.S. House there are now a dozen plus U.S. senators who are going along with our mad king’s insistence that our national election was stolen from him, despite his having lost by more than seven million votes. His pathological mental disorder has bewitched millions of supporters. The politicians are another matter. Except for a few acolytes who are remarkably stupid and uneducated in the matter of democracy, I view the rest as cynical gameplayers positioning themselves as the heirs apparent to the legions of ignorant, selfish citizens who apparently wouldn’t recognize an autocratic coup attempt unless they were personally locked up. I’ve been furious and stewing all day. I don’t believe this movement has any legitimacy, but the turmoil and division sown by this loser who will ultimately be facing criminal charges is the new politics, not just the ugly underbelly of this society.
Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, during many anti-war and civil rights demonstrations in which I participated, there would be plenty of jeering hecklers whose favorite slogan was “America, love it or leave it.” Their version of patriotism versus mine. I’m willing to admit that after the past four years, getting out of here has made being an ex-pat sound more and more tempting. Not that I can actually go anywhere in the midst of a global pandemic. Nor am I certain that anyone wants spare Americans. New Zealand is a long swim away. After a sour day of choking on my fury, feeling ineffectual and not accomplishing much of anything, I finally thought of a way out of here. A little time travel works. So back I went to the fall of 1984.
Making a baby took Michael and me more time than we’d anticipated. We’d been together for seven years when we started trying and felt truly ready. But it didn’t happen. Our doctor suggested we stop worrying about it, take a vacation, and come back to see him after a few months. After a relaxing trip to Colorado, we returned home and shortly thereafter we got lucky. We canceled all the fertility treatment appointments and waited to get through the uncertain first trimester. I remember how nervous I was because I was never nauseous. Both my mom and older sister talked about being unable to eat and throwing up all the time. Given my robust appetite and about one second of wooziness, coupled with my parents’ superstitions and comments like, “if you prepare too early, you’ll curse the baby,” I was pretty anxious during my first trimester. After that time passed, and I felt as safe as anyone whose life is about to get very different, I was all in as a mother. I read everything about babies and child rearing and thought a lot about what I did and didn’t want to do as a mom. Our baby girl was born in late August, 1981. I was thirty and immediately totally obsessed with this little thing.
Michael was thrilled to be a dad, especially because he came from a family which lacked deep connection and intimacy. We decided that we weren’t going to let being parents change our lifestyle but rather, that we’d fit our little nugget into everything we did. After some fiascos which were entertaining in retrospect but nerve wracking in real time, we realized that were some places a baby just didn’t fit. In addition, after almost ten years of being just us, we thankfully recognized that we needed time alone to just be with each other and recharge our relationship. After the first year or so, we got weekly babysitters, and even better, were lucky enough to see my parents on a regular basis, where they eagerly lapped up all the time they could get with our highly entertaining, impish kid.
The one hurdle we couldn’t leap, most especially me, was spending a night away from her. I couldn’t understand how people could have a kid and then almost immediately leave the awesome responsibility of its care to someone else. I marveled at those people who could just pick up and leave for a weekend without fear or guilt. I also felt pretty superior to all of them in my devotion to mine, if I’m being honest. Eventually, though, after countless nights of being up with the winner of the double ear infection contest, and being shoved to the edge of the bed, I was desperate for alone time with Michael and some uninterrupted sleep.
Finally, in October of 1984 when our baby was already three, we planned a trip to Galena, Illinois, a quaint historic town a short distance from the Mississippi River. We drove up to Chicago to leave baby precious with my parents. Driving away, I was riddled with anxiety about her feeling alone and abandoned. Nothing like a little projection. One of life’s pitfalls. After about an hour’s drive, we made a pit stop, an excuse for me to call my girl with reassurances that I wasn’t really out of touch. She was so busy playing, she barely said a word to me. So off we went, slipping back into the familiar groove of just us two.
We stayed at the Aldrich Guest House which was both lovely and intimidating. Our previous travels were a mixture of camping and motels which were very private. The cost of this place was way beyond our normal budget. Sitting around a breakfast table with people who actually stayed in these accommodations on a regular basis gave us an impostor-ish feeling. That part actually turned out to be just fine, as both of us could manage small talk with strangers. And I did get a recipe for delicious buttermilk/raisin bran muffins that were a family hit for many years.
Our room was a little harder to relate to with its elaborate brass version of a Louis XIV canopy bed, lace-trimmed sheets and a turndown service which included fancy chocolate truffles on our pillows with a side table of coffee, tea and biscuits as a bedtime snack. We were surrounded by beautiful antiques and were sure we’d either break something or shred the bedding.
Cedar Bluffs were just down the road from the Mississippi River and a few which made for a lovely stroll and view. The Galena River ran right through the middle of town – we crossed a walking bridge to get from our residential area to the beautifully preserved downtown area with its quaint shops, its touristy ones and a remarkable number of historic restaurants, many of which were ethnic and had been around for years.
We wandered, schedule-less for the first time in years. We spent a lot of time in cheese and wine shops, tasting our way through lunch as a way to get more time sightseeing, and as preparation for gorging ourselves at dinner. One night we ate outside in an Italian rooftop cafe called Vinny Vannuci’s, with soft candlelight and lots of chianti. I hadn’t been muddle headed in a long time. After one more unnecessary call to my parents, we swooned our way back to the canopy bed where we stayed for a long time.
We hit all the history museums including the home of Ulysses S. Grant whose hometown was Galena. Lots of pottery shops and art galleries find their way to towns like this which draw tourists who are likely to spend discretionary income on one of a kind creations. Many places were packed with drool worthy items. I was drawn into a jewelry store filled with local designs and antiques. I couldn’t take my eyes off this blue topaz ring in a setting straight out of the late nineteenth century. But baubles weren’t on the to-do or to-buy list. Our second night we had dinner at some crowded place where the wait staff burst into operatic arias as they delivered your meal. Average food but an unusual experience.
We trekked around through town one more day, checking out old houses, an ancient jail and generally being aimless. I feel like that trip was a demarcation point of sorts, a reminder of what our life had been and an adjustment to the notion that one day, post-child or even children, we’d go back to this type of living again. A re-set. And a good one.
We checked out of the Aldrich Guest House and into the dingier more affordable Grant Hills Motel where we felt more comfortable. One more kidless night which we took full advantage of before heading back to life which would be the norm for years to come. We were happy and sated in every way, our kid had a great time with my folks and all was good.
Regular life was quickly re-established and soon the winter holidays were upon us. One night, Michael, the gift master, shoved a little box across the table at me. I recognized the name of the jewelry store which had the ring I coveted.
I was utterly baffled. We were together the whole time. How could he possibly have gotten this for me? I opened the box and found myself staring at a ring I’d never seen before. He’d written down the name of the store and after returning home, had called the owner and described what was not the blue topaz, but instead this antique amethyst which he’d immediately purchased, received by mail and hidden until late December. I was so moved by his impossible sweetness that it was years before I told him I’d wanted something else. Of course I no longer did. I’ve been wearing this ring for over 36 years now. He surprised me with several more rings throughout our life but this one has layers of meaning. I don’t expect to ever remove it. Not while I’m breathing.
Well, that worked. While I dug out my photos and composed this, my blood pressure dropped and I was distracted from politics even though more madness erupted from the day’s news cycle. I’ll come up with another good memory for tomorrow.