restricted access 11. Our Town, Good Night
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Eleven Our Town, Good Night I held up the blue leather miniskirt, considering. I’d squeezed myself into it exactly once, on that first trip to New Orleans. No amount of nostalgia could justify keeping it—and besides, I hadn’t grown any thinner in the past seven years. Maybe one of my skinny friends or neighbors would appreciate it. No telling who would show up for our moving sale. I moved on to the kids’ stuff. I gently smoothed out the white and navy sailor suit, size 2T. Both boys had worn it, though I could picture Nate more clearly, from the big-eyed photo of him taken when Steve’s mother remarried. I set the little sailor suit aside, imagining I might pass it on to a grandchild someday. And all those miniature sweaters, hand knit by both my mother and Steve’s, with the lumps and mismatched arms that always made us laugh—I couldn’t let those go, either. The pile of worn out t-shirts, on the other hand, I tossed into the sale box. Then I pulled one back out. I gazed at the boys’ Little League uniforms, white fading to yellow , with grass stains on the knees. Then I picked up my father’s baseball bat, dark with age, from his freshman year in college. My mother had passed it along to me after he died. Even though I was less sports-minded than anyone else in the family, I’d become the wistful keeper of these remnants of the past. I’d been even younger when my mother gave me the six-inch standing brass crucifix that had belonged to her own mother, just after she died. My Slovenian grandma considered me the most religious of the grandchildren, my mother told me. I had my doubts about that, though I probably did qualify as the most serious. I’d never known what to do with that crucifix, a primitive symbol in the eyes of my parents—who’d evolved into casual Unitarians, rather proud to have acquired a Jewish son-in-law. So I’d kept it in a special wicker box, along with a few other treasures, including a tiny silver baby rattle, marked with my own deep teeth marks. I’d been 124 Our Town, Good Night 125 a restless, colicky baby who cried more than slept, my mother reminded me, when Alec turned out to be exactly the same way. I moved on to the stuffed animals—a more cheerful business, but with their own kind of emotional weight.The boys might laugh at my attachment to their baby clothes, but they shared my affection for their plush army of cats—along with bears, dogs, lambs, bunnies, chicks, a big vulture, and little dancing men on a string. The collection even included a limp-limbed pink bear from my own childhood, grown pale and anorexic after one too many passes through the wash. The entire stuffed menagerie, just like our two live cats, would be accompanying us to California. Along with whatever else we decided to pack up for the movers. Steve had finally found a new position—in the San Francisco Bay Area. We never expected to end up on the West Coast. But then Steve’s former principal at the Lab School invited him to apply for an administrative position she’d just created at the small private school she now ran—in California, near Berkeley. I had two reactions. Mostly this: It was too far away, beyond the boundaries we’d set up for Steve’s job search, and as far from Chicago as you could get. We barely knew a soul out there. But then I had another thought: Short of moving to Louisiana, I couldn’t imagine a better Cajun-zydeco music community. And my teacher Danny Poullard was at the very center of the Bay Area scene. Not long after we learned about the California possibility, Danny and his brother Edward came to Chicago, to play at the annual weekend festival at Folkore Village in Wisconsin. We had arranged for them to perform for an assembly at Steve’s school—along with Sheryl and Russell Cormier, who had ended up in town at the same time. I was struggling emotionally, distressed at the thought of uprooting our family and starting over in a new place—but I felt this crazy little pocket of hope, when I imagined living near Danny. As...


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