Illustrated by Charlene Baldridge
The green grows right up to the train windows once the elevated gets to Wilmette, and I ride clear to the end of the line, exiting through the tiny station that's existed since my childhood. The Linden Pharmacy, where I stopped for phosphates on the way home from school, is still there; but the train doesn't stop at Isabella any more.
Two blocks up, I hang a left, passing all the houses I walked by on the way to Central-Stolp School more than 50 years ago.
It's a wonder I survived childhood. Mom and dad never bought me a bicycle they were afraid I'd get hit by a car. So I roller-skated to school and I read a book while doing so.
As I once again walk streets vivid in memory, I want to stop in front of each house, unfold my chair, and sketch. But I can't pause. I'm headed home.
Greenleaf. Maple. Laurel. And this can't be Isabella! It's just a narrow lane. The tracks that used to cross the street are gated off now because the CTA runs under the road. They've even built a new bridge over the drainage canal.
The canal banks, simply weed-covered when I was a child, are a tangle of trees and brush all the way down to the green water. How many times were my shoes covered with slime from climbing down the path that meandered along the water's edge?
The only sounds are the wind moving limbs and leaves, the scolding of squirrels as I pass, and the songs of birds. The trees I used to climb at the National College of Education are gone, a new building in their place. Gone as well is the playground with the old milk wagon where Donny Weldon pulled down my panties.
"Did he touch you? Down there? ... between your legs?" mother asked.
"No," I said.
Did I lie to save him? I can't remember. It was so long ago. Does it matter now?
Off Isabella, I walk down Girard, past the house where my best friend, Kay, lived. There are two "new" houses to the north, where the vacant lot used to be. And, oh, the alley seems so narrow! I pass a man using a leaf-blower. He turns it off and nods.
It's a lovely, crisp fall day, and as I turn south on Garrison, the tears begin, and me without a tissue.
I take a seat on the low wall in front of Gilmore's old house and sketch #103, each brick a memory.
Wilmette 223 used to ring the house on Garrison Street. Perhaps, if I lift the receiver, a familiar voice will say "Number, please," and I may yet be connected.