Cultivating the Poison Ivy Trail
This is poison ivy.
It thrives on Mt. Muchmore. I didn’t know that until recently and don’t even want to guess at the karmic implications. College friend, John Kortas, took me on a tour of my crop when he visited in mid-August. Now I know precisely where and how I got my first
In the neighbor’s burm, Memorial Day weekend, playing the gardener.
How is it that farming in Illinois and Wisconsin I never had occasion to wrestle the three-leafed beast before? Good luck I guess. Clean living? Those lovely raised rashes are unforgettable – for a looooong time. Six weeks give or take a day or two. I wore long sleeves—in 100 degree heat. You can’t bandage it. And, no one wants to see your battle scars. Note to self: Get the lawn boy to do the extermination.
Firsts, Lasts, and Seconds
I stayed close to home over Memorial Day anticipating an exhausting June—my cousin, Mary’s wedding and son, Philip’s birthday; Grandma’s 95th birthday; and the wedding of grad cohort favorite, Trishatini Hernandez.
First: Trip to Kokomo
Sporting my festive ivy rash, I made my first trip to Wisconsin on June 6. The 8-hour trip is not one I relish, but, cousin Mary, sent me a book on cd. Pearl Buck’s IMPERIAL WOMAN was so engaging I took the wrong interstate out of Indianapolis and wound up in Kokomo, Indiana at midnight (1.5 hours off course). The only thing I knew about Kokomo before stumbling on to it was that it was in a Beach Boy’s song. Got a room at a discount due to the late hour and was lucky enough to reside next to the party room. They showed up drunk about 2pm—two hours after I crashed. Did I want to call, Brad, the small and shy — the lone guardian of the Day’s Inn? No. But after 45 minutes and the promise of no sleep at all for $57, I did call. “Brad, there are party people next door and they slam doors, laugh loudly, and yell. I’m the last to put the kabosh on a good time, but I have 5-7 hours of driving ahead of me in 4 hours. Help!” Did I expect this to make a difference? No. But bless his heart, 5 minutes later I heard Brad, the small and meek, knock on the neighbor’s door. “If you continue making noise, you will have to leave.” Short. Sweet. To the point. Did I expect the animals to pay heed to Brad the Meek? No. But they did. Maybe it’s a Kokomo thing.
The nice thing about getting lost in Indiana is finding yourself on miles of country roads with large fields separating hamlets lost in time. Peaceful. Off the millennial grid. Best of all, I was headed to Dog in the Hole Studios in Verona—home of Bea and John Neal. A favorite retreat. The Neal compound is a self-contained resort—a studio, acres of prairie and forest with groomed paths, a pool, and birds, especially Baltimore Orioles. The conversation is intelligent, witty, and thought-provoking—at times, even a little stupid (we can’t help ourselves). We fix the
world, each other, and then try to forget everything but the most beautiful aspects of southern Wisconsin that stare at you from every window in the house.
Love—The Second Time Around
I adore my cousin Mary. She is hysterical, sarcastic, and real. She has the heart of a lion and is resilient to the core. We share the Belgian black humor. Without a thought and she will bare her soul and unabashedly share her most humiliating and painful experiences to save you from feeling like you’re the only one limping.
Mary deserved a great life partner and finally found him — the second time around. Oh, to have a guy look at me the way Kevin looks at Mary. After considerable wrangling with the Catholic Church, they picked up each other’s baggage and headed toward the altar June 9. In a world where many question whether marriage has
ha become an outdated convention, the emotional and fervent oaths made by two mid-lifers in front of middle-aged brother’s dabbing their eyes gave one pause for hope. Their children participated. The priest had a personality. I sang. Mary looked radiant. Kevin
looked proud. They both looked sweet, vulnerable, and trusting. For a twisted minute, I thought of Sundance and Butch crouching at the edge of the cliff looking over to the river far below.
“What’s the matter?” Butch asked. “I can’t swim,” Sundance replied. With a raucous laugh, Butch responded, “Hell, the fall will probably kill you.” And, they jumped. And so did Mary and Kevin. Just like Butch and Sundance, I expect them to survive the fall.
Philip and a Last Lunch
Can I be the mother of a 26-year-old?! My oldest has now arrived at the first age of enlightenment. Or at least that is what I’ve believed since I was there. Watching myself and others through that 26th year has reinforced for me that you just start “getting” things at that age. Before then, you think you are smart. You certainly talk smart. You put things together easily and quickly—but, you don’t have the experiences that tell you what you can’t observe. How it all fits together in your noggin. I see Philip getting to that place and I am both grateful and sad. Some of that knowledge comes at a steep price. He is learning resilience and that is a tough lesson.
Without Thomas, Philip’s birthday was a small and quiet celebration. He chose Buffalo Wild Wings for the birthday feast and we went to see “The Avengers.” It was a good day that spread into the weekend where he handsomely served as my +1 at Mary’s wedding. A great date.
Many miles were logged between the Kokomo fiasco and Mary’s wedding in Wausau. No matter how intense the travel back home, I never miss an opportunity to see my Mom and Grandma Pierick when I come back. Grandma loves to see Mom and, on this visit, I planned a rendezvous at Culvers in Verona. It’s funny, some of the most pivotal moments of your life are ones of which you are oblivious at the time. As chance would have it, this would be my last lunch with Grandma. We talked about my X-Factor experience and I
brought up the subject of her old beaus. She enjoyed talking about a man who flirted with her once when she was working on Willie St. at St. Vinnie’s. After his visit, he stepped across the street to the Crystal Corner Bar where, unbeknownst to him, he sat next to Grandpa and talked about the “dish” he met next door. “Did Grandpa hit him?” I asked. “No. He knew who she belonged to,” she smiled. On the way home, she told me that she was having more bad days than good. She said dialysis had taken her appetite. Tired. She looked tired. As I drove off, she stood by the door and waved until we could not see each other as she always did. Two days later she went into the hospital for the last time. For what it’s worth, there is some peace in knowing that I never missed a chance to see her.
The Road Less Travelled
Listening to IMPERIAL WOMAN on the way back to Cincinnati, I thought about Pearl Buck’s life in China far away from her roots in the states. As I travelled through northern Illinois, I thought about the friends she left behind or lost along the way. When I saw the exit for Genoa, my car drove itself down the ramp. For the next hour, I tried to find Cloverleaf Farms. In second grade, my best friend, Cindy White and her family moved there from the Geneva area where we met in school. She was my first best friend and, after she moved, I remember her coming to visit for a few days and me visiting her at Cloverleaf. To indulge a friendship in that way was unusual for my parents. It was a long drive from LaFox to Genoa.
We wrote to each other for a few years, but lost track later. Her Dad name is John White. I can’t imagine trying to wade through the long list of White’s to find the family. I drove and drove around and around. Stopped in a horse business, but they’d only been around 8 years.
On another country road, an old timer chatted me up a bit. He thought he might know the farm and headed me off northwest. I never found it. Wound up in Belvidere and knew I needed to head back to Ohio. Some other time I will hunt for Cloverleaf Farm, Cindy White, and much more.