For the nearly nine years I lived in Los Angeles, I pined for home. Of course I missed my family and friends back in Chicago. But I also missed summer thunderstorms and fireflies. (Chicagoans call them lightning bugs.) I missed block parties and reliable public transportation. I missed the change of seasons, and I recalled my mother admonishing us, “Get outside! It’s a beautiful day!” In L.A., every day is a beautiful day.
I missed deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and Fannie May candies. But most of all, I missed the down home friendliness of Chicagoans. Where I lived in L.A., residents did not mow their own lawns or trim their own bushes. Kids did not run back and forth across the street to play with the neighbor kids. And, of course, there was no snow to shovel.
When my husband, two kids and I moved back to Chicago in 1997, I was determined to relive my fondest memories. But White Castle hamburgers just didn’t taste the same. And when my husband and I took the kids to our favorite hotdog joint in the city, I found the place dirty and disgusting. Maybe my former enjoyment of the place had been influenced by alcohol and being in love. And when the first good summer storm hit, my kids and I were terrified, not thrilled. I was starting to agree with the title of the Thomas Wolfe book You Can’t Go Home Again.
But that summer, I did get a taste of the simple pleasures I remembered from my childhood. Around the corner from our house was the public pool, and the kids and I spent countless hours there swimming, getting out of the pool for “rest period,” and eating ice cream sandwiches at the snack bar. In our neighborhood, kids really did run back and forth across the quiet street to play with each other. And at dusk, I noticed lightning bugs starting to glow in our front yard. So I grabbed the kids and a glass jar with holes poked into the lid so that we could go out and catch the bugs as they lit up the lawn.
One afternoon I got the idea to recreate a childhood memory by taking the kids downtown to visit Buckingham Fountain, which sits majestically overlooking Lake Michigan. As a child, I went there countless times with my family of 13, who made the most of any activities that were free. We would run around the fountain until dark and then ooh and aah at the spectacular light show. My husband warned me not to get my hopes up with my “vision thing,” as he calls it when I get nostalgic. And my kids whined during the long car ride in traffic on the always busy Eisenhower (aka the Ike) Expressway. By the time I parked the car and we walked through Grant Park to the fountain, I was feeling discouraged.
But when the kids saw the fountain, they exuberantly ran around and around it until I got dizzy watching them. My son was undeterred by the low metal fence that surrounds the fountain to discourage people from getting too close. So I spent a lot of time grabbing him and keeping him from jumping in the fountain. But the real magic happened at dusk. To the tune of lively classical music, the water began to leap and dance and the lights changed colors from orange to deep red to blue to deepest indigo. My kids oohed and aahed, and I knew I was home again.