Since my parents passed away in the mid-1990s, my return visits to my hometown of Green Bay, WI are tied to special events rather than happenstance occurrences. With a class reunion looming, I made plans with two St. Joseph Academy high school friends to attend the event together and didn’t initially give much thought to maximizing my time there. But as the weekend approached, it seemed right to think about, and perhaps visit, some of the landmarks from childhood.
After all the research and thinking I’d already done for Anne on Fire, I decided to let the weekend unfold on its own rather than attempt to orchestrate anything.
As Barbie, Teresa and I hit Highway I-43 for the drive north, the largest and most beautiful rainbow appeared ahead of us (see photo above), symbolically beckoning us forth, or at the very least giving us a very good feeling about the weekend. (For meaning on rainbows, see: http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2008/08/what-do-rainbows-mean.html and http://www.buzzle.com/articles/colors-of-the-rainbow-and-their-meaning.html) . Our feeling was right on the money: Green Bay had changed and expanded since our high school days but our connections to each other felt as if no time had passed.
On Saturday, we did some errands and then drove by the old neighborhood. I hopped out of the car and took a picture of my old house at 519 Spring Street (above) and then we headed out of the city to visit Teresa’s parents for lunch. For our entire childhood, Teresa and I lived across the street from one another, frequent refugees in each other’s houses and intertwined in the storylines of growing up. Her parents had long since moved from the St. James neighborhood we shared and we pulled up to a cozy brown ranch with an enormous garden next to it. The table was set for lunch and after a tour of the garden (and some choice pickings from the remaining harvest) we settled in to catch up and break bread.
As lunch neared its close, Teresa’s dad turned and sincerely asked, “Now Annie, tell us what you are doing with yourself.” After telling of husband and kids, I mentioned my Anne on Fire pursuits hoping they might have a remembrance or two to share. I watched Teresa’s mom nodding and then she said, “I do remember how hard it was on your mother. There was one day when I went across the street to visit and she told me she had just received a call from the Service League. Just the day before I had received one as well and of course with all the kids I had, there was no time for me to be volunteering for other things but they must have been calling some of the neighborhood women. After what had happened with you, there was of course no way your mother could have joined and she told them that. They wanted her to know however that they were very busy because they were regularly visiting you in the hospital. Well, your mother was about as mad as I’ve ever seen her. ‘Gwen,’ she said ‘How could they? If they really wanted to be of service, why wouldn’t they come to my home and watch my other two children so that I could visit my own daughter in the hospital?””
She continued, “Annie, I think your mother had a lot of stories like this. There were things she wished people could have or would have done to help. But in that day and time, we didn’t say what we wanted. We accepted what was there. I know there were many people who were there for her and we all tried to help her as much as we could.”
We talked some more about what they knew about the accident. I wondered how many other friends and neighbors in Green Bay had bits and pieces of the story like Teresa’s parents did. It meant so much to have these details, to hear their recollections; to fill in the context I had been seeking. I wondered too why some people like Teresa’s parents were so forthcoming and others so resistant. I wondered if I had enough stories and if not, where to probe for more.
With warm hugs and muddy shoes from the garden visit, we pulled out of the driveway and returned to our reunion adventure. I squeezed in time to see my brother coach his son in a kiddie football game and visit with my sister and sister-in-law. When my sister Susie invited me to church on Sunday, I met them at our old parish, St. John the Evangelist, before driving back to Chicago.
Everything about the visit felt right — the warmth of a small town, the ease of going from Point A to Point B and the connections with the people gathered there that weekend. Even my own Anne on Fire story felt right, that things happened just as I’d been told they did, that people knew, remembered and cared. If you let it happen, you can always be home.
- Green Bay Has Ugliest Groupies And Other Stories Of Depravity (totalpackers.com)