As I promised you on Saturday, I have a bit of autobiographical revelation to share, inspired by and inspiring chapter 4 from The Book of Seasons. I hope I don’t embarrass anybody, including myself, with this.
I feel that like my brother David on his website I should attach appropriate music for this post because writing it made me think of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” (I also like this link) appropriately, although the order is reversed. I discuss a lover first and then my best friend after.
or two new characters from real life
Although she never suffered such a problem as a water balloon prank in bed, a girlfriend who was attending Coe College did return me to the Hotel Allison roughly two years after my student teaching experience. I haven’t shared any information about this relationship really, but it was her who inspired the girlfriend character here in The Book of Seasons and also the split. We had started dating the summer after my first year of teaching (she’s the girl of the bicentennial summer romance I have mentioned earlier), and once she started to college in the fall, I went to visit her in Cedar Rapids as often as I could the following year. (Sadly, I even took sick days to drive up to see her during the week, especially in the spring of ‘77, one time driving north out of Ft. Madison as my principal, whom I had just called an hour or so earlier, was driving into school southwards. Fortunately, over my three-and-a-half decades in education, I abused the sick days almost not at all.) The Allison, although I am sure she thought I was deranged to stay there, provided me with a place to stay on our weekend visits (except for one weekend when my father asked me to drive his massive motorhome to Cedar Rapids for reasons I do not currently remember, but I do remember driving the huge thing all over the city Friday night and Saturday and Saturday night, discovering all kinds of streets and ways about town).
I was staff-reduced from my position in the Ft. Madison school district in March or April of 1977. Although I tried to fight the dismissal with the school board, I found myself on unemployment (a sad revenge on the district, but one I was too foolishly noble—or simple—to maintain for the entire summer; I quit taking unemployment once I found the position in Andrew) and looking for a new job. At this remove, I am pretty sure I chose to take the job in Andrew partly because of its proximity to Cedar Rapids and Coe College. Unfortunately for me, we only shared a few weekends together in the fall of ‘77. On my birthday in November that year we talked on the telephone and she broke up with me—Happy Birthday, indeed! (I have some poems arising from that incident; I am not sure if they’re worth posting.) So you can see that breakup behind the narrator’s unhappiness in the story.
I think what got the girlfriend character into the story at all, however, was the fact that she and I got back together at her instigation later —in November 1979, which is probably when I started work on chapter 4. By then she had switched schools to somewhere in Indiana, and I continued my habit of visiting at least a couple of times on weekends. Unfortunately, I can also remember fixing a pump pot of an early version of a Snowy Evening to drink in my blue van while I drove. On one visit in the winter, Interstate 74, once I crossed from Illinois into Indiana, was pretty icy. My blue Ford van rode high and light, and at one point about midnight or 1:00 AM, I hit a patch of black ice and went spinning end for end down my two lanes of the freeway. I don’t really know how, but I ended up not in the ditch and not overturned but facing the right way and drove on. She came with me to the faculty Christmas party in ‘79 (I can remember a long drive down Highway 61 to Ft. Madison and back), but I think we had broken up again well before summer in 1980.
If you clicked the link on mentioning a summer romance above, the poem I accidentally posted a long time ago has her in mind as the addressed audience. I guess I can now post some of the other verse from her era(s) in my life, as I have with the longtime girlfriend from my college years.
It’s nice to have treasured memories…
now a source for a trickster
I should probably also acknowledge that the character of Wakdjunkaga, as I imagined him thirty years ago and more, owes less to the me that I have become than it does to some of the characteristics and anecdotes of my lifelong friend, Kevin Wiley, whom I realize I have strangely not mentioned in the blog until now. We met during my sophomore year in high school, once my family had moved from Olivet, Michigan, to Mt. Pleasant. Our drama director, Mrs. Marilyn Vincent, invited me—timid, shy and awkward youth that I was—to run the sound for the winter high school theater production, The Miracle Worker, and Kevin, inheriting the job from his older brothers, was running the lights. It was the start of both our lives in theater and also how we met. Later on, Kevin spent two years at Iowa Wesleyan before moving on to the University of Iowa. We had both majored in theater, but he took it seriously, striving for a Masters in Design, and worked for twenty years in regional theater (boy, did I envy him that career).
It really isn’t fair to Kevin to pair him in a post with a lady who really only endured in my life for a year or two, but I guess that’s the difference between lovers and friends (besides gender in this case and probably just about everything). In writing, I just realized we have been friends for forty years. Astonishing (that the past has crept so far back into the past without my notice; I wonder, however, briefly, how few are interested in my reacquisitions of material and memories from the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties). Enough of that… for now.
In high school, Kevin didn’t live all that far from my house at 307 E. Green St. (and when he and his wife Dawn moved back to Mt. P in the Nineties, he wound up buying his parents’ home on Warren St.), so we got to know each other walking home from rehearsals. “Haven’t seen ya at the prayer meetin’ lately,” was an early shared joke referring to his Presbyterian minister (who interestingly became my minister when I followed the college-era girlfriend to her church, and who became influential on my thinking and values—as he did on most of the youth in Mt Pleasant in my high school and college years).
Kevin, especially once he journeyed on to the U of I, developed a wild side that colors Wakdjunkaga’s personality. I did have him in mind as I tried to think of what to write about that character, although they really are nothing alike—even today. And several stories of his adventures with his dorm friends in Iowa City hide behind anecdotes about Wak. Our freewheeling discussions over the decades have ranged as widely and far as humanly conceivable, I believe, although possibly the stress and necessity of real-life mundanity have taken a greater hold in the last fifteen years than either of us would actually like (we each probably talk about work and health/medications too much of late—at least I do).
Janet and I are going to be seeing him and his wife this weekend, so it seems appropriate to talk about him today. He and Dawn deserve far more space than this, and maybe someday I’ll grant it to each of them (if it’s not too embarrassing to get mentioned by name here, as I have avoided doing for most people except Janet).
So there’s the autobiographical revelations, actually more about others than about me. But then it’s the others in our life who make us who we are.