Hello dear readers, it has been a while since I’ve posted! I’ve been hip deep in various publication projects related to work, and they’ve drained much of whatever writing energies I’ve had this summer. But with another academic year about to begin, I’d be remiss if I didn’t write something to mark it.
Here in Boston, the arrival of thousands of college students during late August and early September is an annual ritual. Here’s what the Boston Globe had to say about it this morning:
This late-summer ritual, the return of tens of thousands of college students to more than 50 area schools, replenishes Boston and infuses it with youth. The transformation is hard to miss. Boston traffic backs up and horns blare as families double-park to unload; the city’s shops and restaurants bustle with new activity; the Esplanade fills with joggers and bikers.
Boston, the country’s ultimate college town, is back.
The so-called “college experience” — that of going off to school, usually starting with a year (or three or four) of living in a residence hall — became a standard middle class aspiration during the last half of the 20th century. It holds this status today, too, even in the face of rising costs of higher education and a shaky economy.
And so in college towns big and small, the students are returning in droves. For those of us who enjoy seasons, this is a harbinger of fall, which in New England is our best time of the year weather-wise.
And fast forwarding…
Among the pieces of advice I want to share with today’s college students is this: If you work on it and are fortunate, you can start building some lifelong friendships.
Every five years, our Valparaiso University study abroad group holds a reunion to catch up with one another and to exchange increasingly exaggerated and dramatic stories from our semester together in England. Many of us manage to see each other on other occasions as well.
We met in Chicago earlier this summer. Our gathering was a little smaller than usual because of a tangle of family and personal schedule conflicts, but we had a wonderful time nonetheless. A photo of most of this year’s attendees appears below.
Sometimes it’s just the way things work out: A group of 20 or so people are tossed together for a term overseas, and many of the bonds created and strengthened during that time ripen into lasting friendships. True, the “college experience” should be about learning, growing, and preparing for the rest of life. And if it includes the forging of friendships that endure, well then, that’s an awesome thing indeed.
This fall, I’ll be revisiting Valparaiso University when I return to campus for homecoming (35th year) and an extended stay to do some work on my writing projects. I’m fortunate to have a research sabbatical this semester, and so I arranged to do a “visiting scholar in residence” arrangement at VU, whereby I’ll be camping out in the library with my laptop and research materials for a few weeks.
This also will give me another opportunity to connect with some of my VU classmates. I look forward to writing about this visit later this fall.
Given my frequent bouts of nostalgia, I thought I’d delve way back into my boyhood to trace how this has been a natural state of affairs for me. Indeed, while we often associate nostalgia with memories of people, events, and experiences of long ago, I recall having these feelings as early as my grade school years.
In fact, my original bouts of nostalgia were grounded in family trips to see relatives in Hawaii, when my brother Jeff and I were very young. These visits occurred every few years, and they created lasting memories. When one of the local Chicago area TV stations would run episodes of “Hawaii Calls,” a syndicated travel program that included many of the touristy Hawaiian songs we learned during our visits, I would find myself holding back tears over memories of our own travels to the Aloha State — memories that may have been only a year old!
By the time I entered my teen years, and proceeding into my college days, nostalgia was a natural, common state for me. During those years I also discovered my penchant for historical nostalgia, that is, feeling a very emotional connection to defined stretches of the past that preceded my arrival. America’s “Roaring Twenties” constituted the first such period to capture my fascination. No doubt that my enjoyment of history is fueled by this energetic tie.
As I alluded to above, like many, I associate memories with music. My nostalgic episodes, real and historic, typically have strong musical connections. It’s appropriate that I would link in this post a couple of classics from Don Ho, one of the iconic performers of popular Hawaiian songs. Both were favorites during our visits to Hawaii many years ago.
I made an extended weekend trip to northwest Indiana for a long overdue visit with friends and family, one filled with both nostalgia for the past and appreciation for enduring friendships renewed.
Concededly, I am positively masochistic when it comes to self-inflicted nostalgia. During much of this trip, I had my rental car radio tuned to an oldies station that played songs mostly from the late 70s through early 80s. Like many, I associate old Top 40 songs with memories of earlier days, so I basically had a series of mental videos going through my head, prompted by whatever was on the air.
I put the nostalgia machine on overdrive when I had some time to kill before heading off to O’Hare Airport. I decided to spend a few hours driving around to old haunts.
It started with a visit to our early boyhood home in small-town Griffith, Indiana, where my brother Jeff and I spent our early years with our parents. I had not been there in many decades. I was stunned to see a cozy little block with a narrow street. In my memories of being five years old, it is a big, humongous block with a wide street!
I also stopped at the Hammond, Indiana house that was home for most of my childhood through teen years. No real surprises there…it and the surrounding homes were much more as I had remembered them.
For some odd reason I wanted to revisit the sites of jobs I had worked before moving to New York for law school in 1982. During several college summers and holiday periods, as well as an interim year between finishing college and leaving for law school, I worked for Ribordy Drugs, a local drugstore chain that once had a couple of dozen stores dotting northwest Indiana.
It was standard low-paid retail store work, unloading delivery trucks, tagging merchandise, and stocking shelves. Although I grumbled about it at times, I now look back and realize that those experiences helped me to develop a work ethic.
When I graduated from Valparaiso in 1981, I intended to take an interim year before moving on to law school. Alas, so-called “professional” jobs were not in large supply for new graduates in recession-burdened Northwest Indiana. So I ended up returning to Ribordy Drugs, this time working at its new warehouse-style store, a local precursor of the big box chain stores that now dominate the retail outlets in the area. I worked there more-or-less full-time, while also doing some part-time reporting for a local community newspaper.
It was not the most exciting year of my life, but because I was filing my law school applications, it was filled with anticipation. My original plan was to head to the west coast, but when an acceptance letter from New York University arrived in the mail, I knew that I wanted to go there. In August 1982, I would leave for NYU and the Big Apple.
But let me get back to people. The photo above is from a mini-reunion last Friday of college friends from Valparaiso University and assorted family members. The company of Hilda, Mark, Brad, Don, Maggie, Dave, Dorothy, Jim, Elena, Abby, and Matt made for a most enjoyable evening. The many smiling faces in the photo were more than snapshot poses. We were laughing a lot, unearthing stories from back in the day and sharing news of the latest goings-on in our lives.
At my motel, I also bumped into another group of VU alums holding their own little reunion, including friends Sheralynn (and a most articulate contributor to a running e-mail exchange about the suspense series 24 when it aired) and Rachelle (fellow study abroad participant). Their sorority was doing a kind of Chicagoland summer reunion caravan that concluded with a visit to their alma mater. Getting to see them was an unexpected treat.
The next day, I drove to Hammond, where I joined with my brother Jeff and old friends Mark and Karen for a meal at the House of Pizza, a restaurant than enjoys legendary status for its uniquely excellent thin crust pizza. Mark and I have been friends going waaaay back to the 3rd grade. And all four of us have been going to House of Pizza since we were kids. Sharing a meal at one of Chicagoland’s many superb pizza places has become a sort of tradition during visits there.
I then met up for a visit with my long-time friend Katherine (going back to high school), who first took me to the local Community Veteran’s Memorial, featuring some very well done historical exhibits and timelines. We then went to one of the local casinos (none of which were around when I grew up there), where we enjoyed a first-rate meal and won $10 playing the nickel slots. (I cannot recall the last time I was in a casino. What a surreal world onto itself.)
So here’s the lesson, especially for us nostalgia freaks: Old haunts are what they are, places of days gone by. It may be meaningful to revisit them, but they are of the past. When it comes to people, however, it’s about the present. The relationships built over the years may have their roots in long ago, but when they remain vibrant, and thankfully stripped of
our my early immaturities (er, at least some of them), that is a pretty cool thing.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I grew up in the northwest Indiana city of Hammond, a small (est. pop. 100,000) working class city. We lived in a neighborhood known as Woodmar, which had something of a suburban look and feel. During the 60s and early 70s, it was a relatively safe and secure place to grow up. Parents didn’t have to worry too much about kids being out on their own, even during the early evening hours.
During grade school, a good bicycle was the primary means of attaining a degree of youthful independence, at least when it came to getting around the neighborhood on your own and meeting up with friends. Among the many brands available, the basic, one speed Schwinn Sting-ray was a popular choice. It was simple, sturdy, and easy to control. A big step beyond a child’s starter bike, it could move pretty fast when powered by an energetic grade schooler.
For me, the Sting-ray was my ticket to exploring the neighborhood beyond our immediate block. I could ride to friends’ homes, the parkway, our grade school, or even the shopping center. The bike had enough giddy up in it that in some areas I could ride (carefully) on the streets, rather than sticking exclusively to the sidewalks.
I’ll stop short of trying to paint this as an idyllic childhood, because I was bored at times and felt lonely on occasion as well. Part of me yearned for something more, even if I didn’t know quite what it might look like back then.
But such feelings are hardly unique among kids (or adults, for that matter). Overall I am fortunate to have happy memories of hopping on my bike to ride around the neighborhood.
As some of you know, I’ve been writing a professional blog, Minding the Workplace, for over six years. A lot of the material is heavier stuff, looking at employee relations, workplace bullying, employment law, psychological health at work, and so on. But on occasion I’ve written pieces with a lighter touch that may be of interest to readers here. I thought I’d dig into the archives of that blog and share a few of them:
Taking stock at midlife: Time for reading assignments? (2014) — “So, in the absence of these colleges for 40-year-olds (and beyond), how can we think and reflect upon our lives to date, our lives right now, and our lives to come? For those who, like me, sometimes turn to good books for guidance, let me introduce a thick anthology, Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (2006), co-edited by Mark R. Schwehn & Dorothy C. Bass, both of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater.”
What now, not what if (2013) — “Currently stored on my DVR are a PBS program and a National Geographic docudrama about President Kennedy, both produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Although I’m a devotee of history, I have a feeling that I won’t be watching them….That lesson was reinforced to me in Stephen King’s 2011 time travel epic, 11/22/63, which takes us back to the years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy.”
The perils and pleasures of nostalgia, even about work?! (2013) — I get especially nostalgic about two work experiences. The first was my initial year as a Legal Aid lawyer in Manhattan, following my graduation from NYU’s law school….My second nostalgic focus: Returning to NYU after six years of legal practice as an instructor in its innovative first-year Lawyering Program….Both clusters of memories, however, gloss over the fact that I was years away from discovering my true passions as a teacher, scholar, and advocate. I was clueless about a lot of things, and not exactly on the leading edge of emotional maturity.”
August 1982: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (2012) — “This month, I find myself particularly nostalgic over events of 30 years ago, when I moved from Hammond, Indiana to New York City to begin law school at New York University, located in the heart of Greenwich Village. This was a pretty big deal for me. Although I had benefited greatly from a semester abroad in England during college at Valparaiso University, I was far from worldly and had never been to New York City before applying to NYU….Within a few days of my arrival, I would start classes in Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, on the southwest corner of Washington Square….”
Collegiate reflections: Studying the liberal arts (2012); Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) — “With Commencement season coming to a close at colleges and universities across the nation, I beg my readers’ indulgence as I use a short series of posts to reflect upon my own collegiate experience….”
Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some books to guide toward good transitions (2012) — As we turn the calendar to a New Year, I wanted to gather together some recommended titles for those who are engaged in or contemplating a major work or personal transition….If you’re in the midst of big changes, these books may prove a worthy investment in terms of your livelihood and well-being. I hope you find them helpful.
Does life begin at 46? (2010) — “Conventional wisdom, according to research, is wrong. True, we start off our adulthoods pretty happy and become increasingly disenchanted as middle age approaches. However, our outlook then gets better as we age. The Economist cites research studies to back up its proposition, overcoming the presumption that this is more Boomer-inspired babble about how 60 is the new 40.”
Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010) — “Dreams die hard is something of an old chestnut, but having entered the heart of midlife, I am thankful that this often is true. I think especially of creative energies waiting to be tapped and unleashed, perhaps after some of life’s other priorities and responsibilities have been addressed, and pursued with the benefit of experience and maturity. Two long-time friends come to mind when I ponder this. Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a friend from college days at Valparaiso University (Indiana) who is the author of historical novels for young adults. Mark Mybeck is a friend going back to grade school in Hammond, Indiana, whose band, Nomad Planets, is creating a niche for itself in the Greater Chicagoland indie rock scene.”
Over the years I have come to especially enjoy short trips to visit friends and family. These brief sojourns often turn out to be pauses that refresh, wonderful little mini-vacations. Such was the case over the weekend with a quick trip to Chicago.
On Friday, however, it appeared that this particular visit might never get off the ground. An unhappy worker allegedly set fire to the Air Traffic Control Center near O’Hare Airport, crippling the nation’s passenger aviation system. After my flight was cancelled, I was able to grab the last seat on the only JetBlue flight going from Boston to Chicago that day, arriving late at night.
By Saturday morning I was at my friends Don and Sharon’s condo in downtown Chicago, enjoying breakfast with them, their youngest son Thomas (a newly minted Eagle Scout — congrats Thomas!), and long-time friends Kathy and Rachelle. Don, Kathy, Rachelle, and I went to college together, including a memorable semester abroad in England, and Sharon has patiently endured our reminiscences for decades.
Properly fortified, we explored the downtown area, starting with a terrific boat tour on the Chicago River, replete with a very knowledgeable docent who shared stories about the city’s remarkable architecture.
The tour featured lots of memorable vistas. Chicago has long been famous for its architectural history and variety, and over the past few decades its skyline has become truly spectacular.
After more sightseeing, some shopping, and a lot of healthy walking, we finished our day with a fine dinner at a downtown restaurant.
Sunday started with a short walk around Chicago’s Millennium Park, including a pitstop at the very cool bean sculpture.
Our socializing concluded with a visit to a favorite childhood destination, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I was delighted to see that its famous model train display — my absolute favorite exhibit as a kid — had undergone a thorough upgrade.
And speaking of trains, here’s the real deal, the famous Pioneer Zephyr, which during the 1930s epitomized modern train travel.
The history geek in me loved checking out the U-505, a German submarine captured by the Americans during the Second World War. There’s an exciting story behind its capture, which you can read about here. The WWII theme of our visit also included a very well done OmniMax film about D-Day.
A side benefit of our museum visit was that I missed the Chicago Bears blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers at nearly Soldier Field. However, later that afternoon, a lot of Bears fans, dressed in their team jerseys, milled about the streets, looking understandably morose.
For dinner, I met up with my brother Jeff, who lives in nearby Glen Ellyn, Illinois, for a deep dish pizza at Medici’s, a popular eatery in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Jeff also happens to be a wizard at computers, and he gave me some good advice on how to upgrade my Internet security practices. The pizza was pretty excellent too.
In addition to greatly enjoying the company of my friends and brother, what struck me was the way in which Chicago has become a world-class city, in its very own big and brawny sort of way. When I spent a summer there working for a large law firm in 1984 (here’s the story of that time!), Chicago seemed old and tired. Today, although the city certainly faces its share of challenges, its downtown feels vibrant and alive.
Among American cities, Frank Sinatra performed signature anthems about only two of them, New York and Chicago. Here’s his “Chicago,” as no one else can sing it:
What are your favorite childhood eateries? Maybe a restaurant that served the best comfort foods? Or perhaps a place that was designated for special meals with your family?
One of my favorites is still around: Miner-Dunn Hamburgers in Highland, Indiana. It’s an old fashioned, diner style family restaurant that specializes in delicious varieties of burgers. The Miner-Dunn hamburger is pressed thin and wide before being grilled and then served on a big soft bun, with various toppings of your choosing. The platter comes with fries and — in a unique and tasty twist — a small cup of orange sherbet to top things off. (Of course, their desserts are good as well.)
Growing up, Miner-Dunn was a favorite family destination. Once we got our driver’s licenses, it became an occasional nighttime or after game hangout as well. During my occasional visits back to Northwest Indiana, I’ve made pilgrimages there to enjoy the good food, which remains very reasonably priced to boot.
Miner-Dunn has been around since 1932, and from what I can tell, they haven’t overly tinkered with recipes that work for them. Just writing this post is making me hungry…
I also realized that I have posted photos of two favorite burger places going back to years past in successive posts. Talk about being a meathead.
Last night I viewed a 1937 movie by Leo McCarey, Make Way for Tomorrow. It is a hidden classic, one of the most moving films I’ve ever watched. Here’s how the Criterion Collection describes it:
Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow is one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, an enormously moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, aging, and the generation gap. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi headline a cast of incomparable character actors, starring as an elderly couple who must move in with their grown children after the bank takes their home, yet end up separated and subject to their offspring’s selfish whims. An inspiration for Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Make Way for Tomorrow is among American cinema’s purest tearjerkers, all the way to its unflinching ending, which McCarey refused to change despite studio pressure.
Lead actors Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play Barkley and Lucy Cooper, the elderly couple who lose their home during the Depression. None of their five children are willing or able to take in both of them, so they must live apart with different offspring, several hundred miles away from each other. Family tensions arise, as both are seen as something of an inconvenience. In the meantime, Barkley and Lucy miss each other dearly.
Through the first two-thirds of the movie, I wasn’t sure I would end up agreeing with its “tearjerker” label. But during the last three scenes, which take place in New York City, I understood fully why Orson Welles said that Make Way for Tomorrow “could make a stone cry.”
Moore and Bondi didn’t win any awards for Make Way for Tomorrow. Of the popular movie performers of the era, they were well-regarded actors but were not considered stars. (Bondi is better known for playing Ma Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.) However, make no mistake about them: Their performances were masterful, and Bondi, especially, was heartbreakingly brilliant in this role.
A film for our times
Make Way for Tomorrow is much more than a classic old movie. It is wholly relevant to the challenging times in which we live.
The Great Recession and other setbacks have caused so many families to take in other family members. Our aging population has created hard caregiving decisions about where an elderly parent or relative might live. The movie reminds us that these questions, and the family dilemmas that come with them, are hardly new.
Make Way for Tomorrow is powerfully effective at getting us to look at life through the eyes of Barkley and Lucy. For those of us who have not reached senior status, it puts us in their shoes — and teaches us some important lessons in the process.
Beulah Bondi, it turns out, graduated in 1916 from Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater! According to Dr. Richard Baepler’s history of the University, Flame of Faith, Lamp of Learning (2001), Bondi was “a leader in campus performance activities” and “participated in the lively theatre program.” Also, schoolmate Lowell Thomas, who would achieve considerable fame as a journalist and chronicler of the life of Lawrence of Arabia, “recalled that [Bondi’s] residence was a center of campus social activity.”
I watched the Criterion edition of the film. Criterion films are pricier than normal DVD movies, but they are beautifully produced and packaged with extras that enhance a viewer’s enjoyment and understanding of the movie. They typically include a booklet of essays about the featured film. I confess that Criterion editions are one of my consumer weaknesses, and periodically I hunt down the best prices I can find for them or wait for a sale at my local Barnes & Noble.