So why, then? They are asked that question often. A couple who had devoted their entire lives together restoring enormous houses and filling them with extended families of rather remarkable complexity and number removed themselves from the epi-center of their startled progeny’s universe and struck off on their solitary quest. They patched up and painted up the old family manse, sold it, got rid of a lot of mahogany furniture, bid farewell to their children and their children’s children and headed 2000 miles east. No illusions about the weather. Both of them grew up in the Midwest.
Memory laced with hyperbole was illusory enough. During her college years in Dubuque, she was often invited to spend holiday breaks with Chicago friends, Joannie and Val, as her Dakota family was a day-long non-air-conditioned and/or sporadically heated bus trip away. Urbane Chicago boyfriends squired this small town girl around the big city, romancing her with night-life glamour, impressing her with public square disputations, dazzling her with the scope and scape of a splendid architectural environment poised on the shores of a lake as vast as an ocean. Chicago had seduced her at a young age, and time had not diminished the ardor.
He, as a pre-teen boy on his bicycle or on the 7 cent trolley, had explored and savored the enormous town: a pastiche of fascinations available to a midwestern mid-century kid, unrestricted by the fears that nowadays limit a youngster’s world view to glimpses through the back seat windows of a SUV. Perhaps a recollected freedom beckoned a gentleman who had spent too many hours in a cubicle at Boeing.
They are alike in many affective ways, not completely explained by a marriage of many years. Neither really spends much time ruminating the past. Each had eschewed High School and College reunions and, while remaining in touch with a few old friends, neither participated in the sorority/fraternity bonhomie integral to the lives of many of their contemporaries. Nevertheless, it was figments of youthful immersion in post-war Chicago: earthy,diverse, exploding with art and literary energy that drew them: grandparents, great-grand-parents, even, to pack up and begin all over again.
Having passed the age of Social Security eligibility; having lived, really, several lives in several cities and several houses; having seen the infants, the toddlers, the teen-agers, once ill at ease in their pliant skins turn into people nearly incomprehensible in their adult angst, they came to realize that they, themselves, were not yet though living. They were ready for a new chapter; a new adventure.
They met in Southern California: divorcees with young children. They were introduced by someone he had known at York High School in Elmhurst who was dating a friend of hers- a fellow teacher also named Mary. Early on in their relationship, they recognized a common ground. He had lived in the Chicago area from the age of eleven through his senior year at the University of Illinois, which had a two-year campus at Navy Pier. His Chicago was a place of three-flats, unique jobs- cleaning Ovaltine drums, for instance- and The Museum of Science and Industry. Her Chicago was June Christy at Mr. Kelly’s, the Art Institute and a poetry reading by e e cummings. His parents still lived in a western suburb, so once in a while, she had the opportunity to visit her Chicago. Mr. Kelly’s was no more, but The Art Institute was still a wonder. Back in Washington, they talked about Chicago; subscribed to The Chicago Magazine and continued to fantasize spending some quality time in Chicago.