21 October 2006

Details, I Want Details

Well, it has been a week without posting here. For those who keep track, I have been busy on the political side of my world, http://www.ranting-rev.blogspot.com/ because the election and other stuff is such a rich vein to mine these days.

Still, I owe you faithful onlookers a synopsis of the last week. Let me tell you about my anniversary, as that was the occasion of my tantrum in the last post.

I was miffed that morning, as the rain and snow spat down. I tried to feel flattered that the earliest snow on record came for my anniversary, but was relieved that it did not spoil our trip. We went to Chicago for the day. That’s where we were married, and there was one soul left from that day (the former wife of one of the officiants, now deceased sadly) with whom we have stayed in touch. We agreed to meet up in the afternoon, visit the chapel in the church where it all began, and have a celebrative piece of cake.

The weather got better the further from GR we got. South of Benton Harbor the sky cleared. In Chicago it was sunny but quite cold and windy. We were glad to have our winter coats on. After arriving in Hyde Park, and finding a parking place, now much harder than thirty years ago, we enjoyed a lunch at a familiar haunt from those days (actually a new location for an old haunt. The Medici brought their old booths with many a carved initial, as well as their old menu now supplemented, from a smaller place across the street from out first apartment to a digger place three blocks west.)

Then we walked for almost two hours up and down streets we knew as well as our faces back then. Mostly it was familiar, and I pondered the power of durability on our souls. Why is it that stability is so consoling, even when we know it is not ultimately so? Yet I could feel it, enjoy it, and got a sense of peace from seeing things that I remembered. Yes we walked past our old apartment house, noted that the place looked pretty good, new windows had been installed in appeared. Some things had changed of course, the Medici was elsewhere as I mentioned. A new cafĂ©, the Florian was there in its stead. To balance the change, a bookstore from the block where the Medici went moved down into the block where the Medici was. That was sad as O’Gara’s was known for its corpulent long haired cat that basked in the great window among the books. We have a picture of it snoozing away back then.

Powell’s, yes, the used book dealer also in Portland, was still right across the street. Modest by comparison, it was and still is quite enormous for a local store. And it still puts useless books out to give away. Many volumes in my theological library came from that benevolence.

We passed beneath the old IC tracks, now the Metra system for trains. Old murals we knew have peeled almost beyond recognition. We noted the place where years ago we stood alone to wave at HRH Prince Charles as he came by on a tour. Trolling along we noted the 55th street Point, a promontory on the Lake Michigan where runners and sun bathers go – although it was empty in this cold. We enjoyed the familiar looks of large apartment houses (now mostly university housing) called Windermere and Flamingo and such. This area briefly approached the style of the more opulent gold coast just north of the Miracle Mile. You can see vestiges of it in the names and architectural details.

Then we strolled back under the IC/Metra, through shopping areas where we spent our meager dollars, made sure our memory was not playing false with us, and surprised that places like Mellow Yellow and Ribs & Bibs were still at it. The blight of cell phone stores was apparent here, and yet they did not significantly change the feeling. We zigged and zagged down streets, looking for homes we visited back then, appreciating the domestic building styles – shingle, queen ann, english tudor, mock wright – and ended up about four miles later at our car to retrieve our camera and other bits before heading to the chapel.

Arriving at my seminary, where we held the reception back then, much more has changed. Not just students, but the building shows evidence of new ways and means in its task. Enough, though, has stayed put that I could find the library and the washroom. We found our friend, now a staffer at the school, and after a short conversation repaired to the church and chapel.

Here I must digress a bit, despite this lengthy post. The chapel is a wing of a neo-gothic structure built as the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. The Chapel may be the oldest part, and it still serves as the convening place for seminary services each week. It can hold maybe 100 easily, more broad than wide, in the flamboyant gothic style favored by academic types. The back was open to the church which is a few steps below. Last week the carpet was being replaced so that it was less than pristine, but we did not care.

What mattered was that it was still there, and we briefly stood on the spot we stood to get married and where we had our picture taken before.


On that day two friends served as officiants, one ordained who signed the license and the other in training like me. Both named Al - Alfred and Albert respectively. Alfred is Japanese American - and serves in the clergy of a Japanese faith that grew out of Shinto, so I guess we were married by a reformed Shinto priest. Albert was a Mainiac, who when he came to Chicago came with wife, two chidlren, widowed mother and her mother as well. It was almost the northeast version of the Beverly Hillbillies, down to the rocking chair for granny. They were as out of their element as Alfred was in his. Somehow I had gotten close to both. Alfred is still thriving in LA where he came from. Albert turned up with diabetes a few eyars later and died from hypoglycemia.

On that day about 100 people, mostly seminary folks were there, as I mentioned before. Afterward, we repaired to the seminary social room, an elegant place where wine and canapes were all we served, presented by students who volunteered for the occasion. Somewhere in the midst both our fathers approachd us at the same time with a cork in hand, to remember the occasion. We still have the corks but not the fathers.

Our wededing night was a dinner at a snooty restaurant and returning to our apartment for the night. We had to leave the next day, not on a honeymoon I am afraid. That would wait for 17 years. No, we went to Kalamazoo where I would perform the ceremony for my brother and his new wife.

Back to the present now, Wendy brought the pictures from the first day with us, which our friends enjoyed very much. That she was wearing the same dress was no a small pleasure for her. I could not wear my wedding suit today, in my case because it would be too big. Age had changed us both, of course. Of the two of us, I had grown up and old the most.

Then we visited the columbarium below the sanctuary, where some old friends are now reposing – former husband and his family in the case of our friend Nan; infant daughter of her current husband, in the case of Jim; the gay black man who was the church organist and took his life back then; scholars and members and names with faces.

Finally, we sat down in a parlor now named for a man I worked for one year, a colleague and among the most interesting and difficult people I have known, and shared a sip of champagne and a slice of cake. It was perfect, as the day was crowded with memory and could not have stood a boisterous reunion with more.

We hurried back to the car to get ahead of the rush hour, almost succeeding. Our trip was slightly longer because there was traffic to contend with, but it did not last very long. North of Benton Harbor it clouded up. East of Holland it began to precipitate again. This time I felt little umbrage. We went to the restaurant we planned on, enjoyed a slightly too expensive meal, and got home by 10 p.m.

Rare is the day that is preponderantly pleasant. Most are good overall, but there are enough moments of frustration or annoyance to interrupt the flow of joy. This day, despite its cool beginning, opened into a true passage of grace. Shorn of deadlines, tasks, measurements of adequacy or the drive of urgency, it was about twelve hours of delight. I really should make sure it is not another 30 years before it happens again.

More on Saturday, the day after, next time. At this rate, though, I should never catch up.

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