Sunday, July 7, 2013

Say Good-by to Bloomington Part V: People

I left my home town of Bloomington, Indiana in 1968, and because a few years later my relationship with my father, who remained there until his death in 2001, was severed, and my mother moved back to Puerto Rico around the same time, I have rarely returned. Busy with other things over the last four-and-a-half decades, I stewarded few friendships with those who contributed to my formative years. As I've grown older, and closer to and more aware of my own mortality, like many of my cohort I've become increasingly motivated to re-examine the foundations of my life. Indeed, in spite of the many other pleasures and treats along the way, the main purpose of the "Say Good-bye" trip was to have one more moment with the most elderly among those of such importance to me and my family.

I timed the trip to coincide with the visit of my dear friend LCB, who now lives in Texas, to see her mother KBB. LCB's lively intelligence and humor come directly from her still-beautiful mother. KBB, now 86 and suffering from inevitable physical decline, is able to live in her own home, with daily visits from care-givers and friends, and LCB's dedicated attentions from afar. As a teenager I was often in the B household, and was impressed by LCB's parents' strictness, although the admonitions were always calmly and firmly delivered, if not always so palatably to the teenaged LCB. In any case, LCB is a beautiful successful grown woman, and all the limitations imposed on her have long since been understood and forgiven.  Although now-a-days KBB does tend to lose track of time and sometimes gets the details of her stories rearranged a little, she always recognizes family and friends, and though it's been seven years since she last saw me, she fully knows how I fit into her daughter's life. KBB has long been an important local social historian and still has much to contribute to the history of Bloomington.We spent several delightful hours last April reviewing photos I took at the Eiteljorg Museum (which, as it happens, I first visited some years ago with LCB and KBB) and talking about old and new Bloomington.
In 7th grade, at about the time LCB and I originally crossed paths, I also met the first man who was to become important in my life outside my family, MWG. As I remember it, we met in dog obedience school, where I took my German shepherd and MWG's family attended with their two enormous Saint Bernards. However, as he remembers it, we met at school, most notably in the principal's office following an escapade in the cafeteria that involved squirting ketchup on another kid's collection of nickles. In spite of that early brush with delinquency, MWG carved out for himself a durable and interesting career in the Astronomy Department at I.U.. In any case, as children we quickly became good buddies, spending many hours together playing with the dogs, riding his neighbor's horses, roller-skating at the rink, and eventually, when we could find a little privacy, investigating the thrilling new experience of pubescent sexuality.  MWG's parents had been friends of my parents, and I grew very fond of them as I got to know them too. His father, PHG, is a renowned professor emeritus in one of Indiana University's best-known departments, and was always warm and kind to me. His mother, AWG, a free spirit known for knitting beautiful unwearably scratchy mohair sweaters, got around in a tiny Austin-Healey Sprite and, more loftily, in a tiny single-engine plane she piloted herself. She has been gone some years now, but MWG lives a few doors down from his father, who is in his mid-90s and also in possession of his memories, even of his son's friends from so long ago. While it has been only about 30 years since I last saw MWG, I  had not seen his father in nearly 50 years. Half a century has wreaked tremendous physical changes, but I would have recognized both him and his son anywhere. After an hour of chatting at home, we headed off for a leisurely dinner in Nashville, where in spite of PHG's unreliable hearing, we chatted on for several more hours. Some friendships are meant to last even more than a half a lifetime.
Eager to set me on the path of financial independence even when I was barely in my teens, I met my parents' professorial colleague JRK when my father offered my baby-sitting services to him and his wife. I wasn't cut out to care for children, and my path to a career quickly veered off in other directions, but JRK remained a loyal friend to my mother after my parents divorced in the early 1970s. In fact he and my mother exchanged letters which he submitted in to the Indiana University Archives along with his more scholarly papers when he down-sized to a retirement home only a couple of years ago. I.U. kindly provided me photocopies, in which are recorded many gossipy details that have helped me reconstruct my mother's activities and reactions to events both personal and more global at various points between the early 1960s and 2005 when she died. JRK visited my mother at her home in Florida as the now grown-up object of my sitting efforts lived in the same area as she; in the last photo I have of her she is sitting across a restaurant table from her long-time friend. He mourned her death and I have kept in touch with him out of appreciation of his devotion to my Mother, and because he still misses her and I can fill that gap, at least on a fleeting basis, when I visit.


  1. It is amazing how when we visit long ago friends like you have done, that we can just pick up where we left off. And how the older folk do appreciate a visit if we can take the time.

  2. Your absolutely correct about reaching a certain age and then looking back in retrospect. Old friends and places mean so much more...