Lamoine Village


“Time it was

And what a time it was

It was …

A time of innocence

A time of confidences.”

“Bookends” – Simon and Garfunkel

I admit it. Barely a day goes by without my tuning in to HGTV’s House Hunters, a voyeuristic show that invites viewers to trail after buyers through three potential properties. I love snooping through homes and mocking the buyers’ conversations. The house hunters who drive me nuts are the young couples whose must-haves lists know no bounds. Double sinks in the master bath, granite countertops, hardwood floors, and four bedrooms are essentials. No crown molding? No man cave? No his-and-her walk-in closets? As if! One millennial woman once wailed, “I could not live with those brass light fixtures?” Really?

I got to thinking about our first apartment this week when we reconnected with our first next door neighbors, Jim and Willy. We hadn’t seen them for decades, but we’ve kept in touch through newsy Christmas cards and photos, so we started in right where we’d left off, catching up and reminiscing. Willy told us that she’d heard that our first home, Lamoine Village, had been demolished, so I googled it when we got home. Yep, the old place had been emptied out, and, although I couldn’t find out if it had been torn down, that was the plan in 2011. Imagine, tearing it down! Was it really that old? In 1970, Lamoine Village was the brand new married student housing complex at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Two weeks after our wedding, we moved in to our apartment. Everything was clean and shiny; our dream-come-true.



Our door opened into a living room with an alcove which was just big enough for the little table and four chairs we’d bought at an auction for thirty-five dollars – a steal! We walked through the galley kitchen – fridge, sink, and stove– to get to the bedroom and the bathroom. No microwave, of course. No one had even heard of them yet.

Gray asbestos tile covered the floor, so we bought a gold shag rug to make it cozier. Our couch, hidden under a hound’s-tooth check throw, came from a second hand store. Two faded orange swivel chairs, cast-offs from a friend’s mother, added to our seating. Mike crafted our entertainment center – cinder blocks spray-painted blue, with wood planks to hold our black-and-white TV, a couple of objets d’art – maybe a beer stein and a Blue Nun bottle. Two unframed sketches of our honeymoon spot, St. Louis, Missouri, added a dash of artistic flair to the wall over the couch. In the bedroom, our clothes were tucked into two old chests painted bright blue.

Soundproof? No. We learned never to say anything in the bathroom that shared a vent with our neighbors. On one side, the frisky couple liked to play naked hide and seek with the lights off, and we heard their squealing laughter through the vent. On the other side, the nightly bickering of the newlyweds next door came through the thin bedroom wall loud and clear, and we were privy to TMI.

I learned to cook in the narrow kitchen, propping up my red-and-white-checked cookbook on the Formica. I concocted tuna noodle casseroles, sloppy joes, and Appian Way pizza mixes on a cafeteria tray-sized counter. One night, we splurged on a steak, and I put it in the broiler while Mike was in the bathroom shaving after his shower. Suddenly flames burst from the broiler. I shrieked for help. Wearing only shaving cream, Mike came to the rescue.

“Close the oven door!”

Flames shot out of the burners.

“Open the door! Throw water on it!” I flapped a wet dish towel at the flames, but the fire persisted. Mike yanked the fire extinguisher from the wall and sprayed, covering everything with white foam. No steak dinner that night, but at least Mike didn’t have to escape out the back window with only his Mennen to keep him covered.

We shared laundry facilities with everyone in the building, which had no common interior hallway, just a cement walk lined by a metal fence. I bundled up to brave the elements and dragged the laundry bag, detergent, and quarters down the walk and a flight of stairs, hoping against hope that I’d find an idle washer.

We Lamoine Villagers never went out to dinner, not on our budgets. Once in a while Jim and Willy had us over for Spamboats, a tasty concoction of Span, Velveeta, and Miracle Whip spread open-faced on buns and toasted. On weekends we invited friends over for mai-tais and chip dip made from Lipton’s onion soup mix and played raucous games of Charade into the wee hours. If it was warm enough, we dragged chairs out to the walkway in front of our doors, had a couple beers, and enjoyed our view of the Lamoine River.

We moved on after two years, as did most of our friends. Life has been good to us, and sometimes I look around and marvel at our granite countertops and his-and-her sinks. I feel a bit of pity for those House Hunters whippersnappers who demand amenities out the wazoo. Since they’ve never set up plastic snack trays to serve their company, that ginormous quartz peninsula with wine fridge must seem ho-hum.






Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

“Winter is nature’s way of saying, “Up yours.” – Robert Byrne

Last Monday night, a.k.a. Juno Eve, WFLA Channel 8 Tampa (“We’re 8 on your side.”) led off their evening news with the impending storm on the East Coast. The local weatherman could hardly contain his self-satisfied smirk as he predicted two or three feet of snow, gale force winds, impassable roads, power outages, and general winter misery. Then he and the anchor chuckled over the misfortunes of those poor saps who didn’t live in Florida. I wanted to slap them both.

I know winter, and it’s nothing to smirk about. New England is still reeling after last week’s pile-on. Right now, Chicago is buried under eighteen inches of snow, spoiling Super Bowl parties. Then the storm heads east to dump even more on the already-buried folks there. Not funny. No fun.

Of course, lots of people like winter — its bracing chill, the fluffy white stuff blanketing the lawn. I am not one of them. I have had my fill.

Like all Chicago kids, my sibs and I trudged through knee-deep snow to and from school, including the trip home for lunch. No one’s mom drove us to and fro in a heated car, since no moms had cars. No plows ever came down our street, and the ruts made by cars stayed there until after St. Patrick’s Day. In high school, we Queen of Peace girls in our plaid skirts and saddle shoes waited for the bus while the stinging needles of winter wind turned our bare legs into icy blocks of purple. On Christmas break during my freshman year of college, I broke an elbow when my feet flew out from under me on the iced-over street in front of my house.

Ah, winter! I’ve faced its obstacles every year, gritting my teeth, enduring, not enjoying.

I’ve crept along icy roads, my frigid fingers clutching the steering wheel, passing cars in ditches and hoping I wouldn’t meet a similar fate. I’ve jammed squirming toddlers into snow suits and wrestled preschoolers into their boots. I’ve fruitlessly scoured the aisles of Target for replacement mittens amidst the Easter basket displays. I’ve crossed windswept grocery store parking lots to stock up on essentials when frantic weathermen warned of approaching doom. I’ve been over-prepared at times, underdressed at others.

I know what frozen snot feels like, and ears that throb with cold. I’ve hunched my shoulders to ward off arctic winds ripping down my collar. I’ve blasted a car’s defroster in futile attempts to keep ice from coating a windshield. I’ve stepped in freezing slush, lost my footing, and landed in gray sidewalk vichyssoise. I’ve hoisted shovelfuls, some light and fluffy, and some dense and leaden, off the driveway. I’ve carped at my kids to shovel and to keep their hats on. I’ve layered up when my classroom’s windows barely contained the arctic winds outside. My family and I once spent the night on the basement floor of an Adair, Iowa church when a late February blizzard forced us off the road. I wear a scar across my eyebrow, because on one December 26 my car slid in snow and smacked into a car in the oncoming lane.

Any day away from the meanness of Old Man Winter is a good one for me. To my kindred spirits who are winter loathers like me, I wish you were here. Really, I do. You won’t hear a “neener-neener” out of me. Smirking at winter sufferers is not nice.