Getting from Saint Paul to Kalamazoo-ooo-ooo ain’t easy. But “I gotta gal in Kalamazoo,” as the old song goes–my friend Chris who was my new baby coach once upon a time, until life swept us apart. Now it’s bringing us together. For the second year in a row, I’m on my way to Kalamazoo and Chris.
Fly to Midway Airport, take a CTA elevated train downtown among the skyscrapers, then with four hours to spare, visit the Art Institute, with a stop for a veggie sandwich and a Starbucks cup that sloshes gently in my hand as I trundle along. It’s a warm midday The streets heading directly toward or from huge Lake Michigan are in shade. Those paralleling the lake in sun. It’s not far, and soon I’m mounting the steps toward the huge grey lions which I remember from childhood.
We took the train from Charleston, South Carolina, to Cincinnati, changed for Chicago, changed for Minneapolis, changed for Wapeton, and Papa Max’s house in North Dakota. Then too we had a long layover in Chicago: visiting the Museum of Science and Industry and the lions at the Art Institute. Among my earliest memories of travel. Now, heading toward Chris and Kalamazoo feels like a visit into the past.
In Union Station, crowded against the glass doors, I chat with a stylish white woman who’s meeting up with her husband and children in Grand Rapids. Seated below us is a lanky African American man with a cute baby eating cheerios out of a plastic bag. “Hard working doing it alone,” he admits. I’m suddenly alert: this young man is raising this toddler by himself!? We board the train and this odd couple take a double seat at a diagonal and back. When I turn my head I glimpse the baby sleeping on its father’s chest. When it wakes up, it’s talky in that almost-making-sense way that kids have before they actually do.
So interested to psyche them them out, I have trouble reading Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Then there’s a man with two canes trying to get into his big bag sprawled on the floor. He asks me to reach in for his shaving kit. I paw around and he gruffly corrects, “Not that, not that.” Oh, oh, I think: accepting help from a strange white woman is hard for this aging white man. (Heck, we’re both aging, but I have no canes.)
No wonder after the first rush of arrival, I’m fagged. The next day, Chris and I drive out to big Lake Michigan, heading to a lake house that belongs to her ex. Years ago when we were both in our first marriages, we stayed there together. Then it was closer to the lake, before the water level rose so high the house had to be moved back into the trees. I had forgotten the trees. Immense oaks and beeches and maples towering above us as we amble along a path up to the road and back. These are the famous sand dunes, which I heard about on the train but was almost too distracted to take in. Nothing like the little humps of sand along my childhood southern Atlantic. These dunes rise high as Chicago’s steel and glass towers.
After our walk, we settle into a gazebo, chatting, snacking, reading. Soon we stretch out on adjacent lounge chairs, after lifting up the cushions to shoo out huge crickets. The air is alive with the rustle of leaves. We’re too high to hear the lake lapping, but the water stretches blue and almost waveless to a quiet horizon.
We sleep so deeply that when I open my eyes, I have no idea where I am, gazing into pale blue edged with green. It is a moment of infinity. Then I turn my head and Chris and I continue stitching all those lost years forward to the present. We are both very happy.