1975 - 1977
How could I have come back from Italy feeling on top of the world, feeling as if all my dreams had been fulfilled, and suddenly feel empty? During that blissful sojourn from March through June of 1975 I had managed to fall in love with a married man in Rome. We had a brief idlyllic romance that lept across borders--through Italy, Greece, Germany, Holland and Brussels. Now back in Chicago, I tried to pick up the thread of my life. Suddenly a void that I had never known before gaped open in my life. My Chicago life--which before I left for Italy had seemed rich and varied--now seemed humble, stunted.
Adventures in Paradise: The Schooner Tiki
We started in San Juan, visited Old San Juan for a day—so romantic—Old San Juan. From there we flew to Beef Island in the BVI, then took a taxi to Road Town, Tortola, where we boarded Tiki that night. What a week’s sail that was! More things went wrong on that cruise than any other. The Tiki (originally named Pilgrim) was designed & built by Alden in 1932. In 1934, the schooner finished a 40,000 mile voyage which appeared in the August 1937 issue of National Geographic magazine. Renamed Tiki, it was the setting for the 91 episode of the TV series Adventures in Paradise. In 1976, the yacht was taken over by the Seven Seas Sailing Club of New York and sailed in Operation Sail for the Bicentennial of Declaration of Independence, where Bob and I would see it.
When we arrived at the dock in Road Town, the Tiki looked forlorn, with only a single light bulb dangling down over the deck. The generator was dead. There was no fuel. There was a hole in the deck. There were no provisions. The Seven Seas Sailing Club of New York had failed to send any money. The crew had never sailed on this ship before, not even the captain, a stranger to the Caribbean. Only Lucien, the first mate, from one of the islands, knew the route. The other crew, Calvin, and his girl friend Theresa, (taken on as the “cook”) had obviously never seen a tall ship. But, not to worry! The Captain had brought his girl friend, Peggy, so he wasn’t unhappy.
Most of the passengers were from a college in upstate New York, following Ed (a college counselor who loved sailing) and Wendel Hickey (a biologist), who were going to show the students the ropes, and were determined they would have a great time. The students included Debby (Ed’s daughter—she got a gangrenous foot during the trip), Connie and Ross, Jim (a folk singer), Pat, Steve, Mary Lou, Jane, and Dale. Ed and Wendel were not going to let anything ruin their vacation. They.set about labeling all the lines at all the belaying pins and kept the focus on the ship and off our problems, not even appearing to notice them, to keep the students spirits high.
The two remaining passengers were a couple from New York, Linda and Chris, who had seen the same ad for the Tiki in New York magazine that we had. They were appalled when Calvin showed us how to drop a bucket over the side with a rope to get water to take down below to empty the heads. The students thought it was a lark and most of us went along. Linda and Chris jumped ship at the first resort, where they would have more opportunity to wear their resort attire.
After spending the night of December 30 in Road Town waiting for money which never arrived, the captain bought groceries out of his own pocket and we finally sailed. Our first stop was Norman Island where we anchored about 4 p.m, snorkeling a bit and later dancing the limbo on board. The limbo seems to be a favorite dance for sailors.
New Years’ Eve we spent at the Last Resort listening to Tony Snell, the owner/entertainer, dancing until midnight. On returning to the Tiki, we learned that a shirring pin had broken on the motorboat, which was out of gas. Calvin had to buy gas out of his own pocket and was none too happy. The boat leaked as well. It became a game.
On January 1 Ed was eager to begin a real day of sailing lessons for his students. But the Captain planned otherwise. We would motor over to nearby Virgin Gorda, anchor among the many boats already there. Ed contented himself with pointing out all the different classes of boats at anchor. We all craned to read their names. There was the Harvey Gammage (a topsail schooner—we would sail on her another time); the 83-foot staysail schooner Queen of Sheba . After wandering through the giant boulders of the Baths at Virgin Gorda, we motored over to Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, where we discovered that the three-masted schooner Flying Cloud was up on a reef! (There is now a different Flying Cloud in his fleet.)
This was the kind of thing that happened in those days, when Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, run by Mike Burke of Miami, bought beautiful tall ships and ran them as party boats. The ship’s crew had gone ashore on New Year’s Eve and had left the ship to ride over its anchor. The wind had changed, and the boat had drifted onto a reef. The tug Elsbeth with hausers attached to the Flying Cloud, hauled back and forth to drag it off the reef, without success. The next day, January 2, as we were still in Spanish Town, we watched as the tug continued to struggle to fee the Cloud. Eventually we left and sailed to Gorda Sound, passing Maverick off our starboard bow. We reached Gorda Sound around sunset and, as Lucien warned us there was a reef, we anchored off the resort, Drake’s Anchorage on Mosquito Island, where after a visit to the resort, we spent the night.
On January 3. we sailed a bit then settled at anchor at the Bitter End—a very nice place, which the New York couple decided was much nicer than the Tiki, so they disembarked. On January 4, Sunday, we sailed in the morning, then anchored in the afternoon in a spot where we could find a lot of conchs. We gathered so many conchs that we had them for dinner. Our biologists cut one open and laid it out on deck, explaining its innards to us. Conch in red sauce over vermicelli—not the best thing to eat before bed, even after going into the Bitter End for drinks. January 5 we were up early had a downwind sail to Cane Garden Bay. Ed was happy that we at last had a whole day of sailing.
Our Tiki cruise over, we took a ferry to St. Thomas, stayed there for a few days (at the romantic Hotel 1829-- our favorite). On our last day, we took the 20 minute ferry from Red Hook to Cruz Bay on St. John’s for a lazy day of snorkeling and lying on the beach at the nearby Caneel Bay Resort, away from the bustle of St. Thomas.
Oh, yes, I had much to tell Hans. I was trying to make him fill that hole in my heart; he was someone to live for, to confide in—the Listener, the Other.
Over the break when classes ended in May, I set about fixing up my condo. I began by stripping the woodwork in my bedroom, staining and varnishing it. I wallpapered the bathroom with a bamboo patterned foil and added a shower curtain with a bamboo pattern. In my perpetual search for more storage space, I bought a wall unit. I then spent four days on a thorough house-cleaning before the summer session.
Bicentennial in New York--Parade of Sail
Summer classes had barely begun when it was time for the biggest celebration of 1976—the Bicentennial. Bob wanted to go to New York for the holiday. There was to be a Parade of Sail—tall ships from all over the world would come to New York to help us celebrate our bicentennial. We stayed in the Tudor Hotel.
After the parade we could visit them along at their berths along the wharfs. There were souvenir programs identifying all the different types and ships in the parade, and we memorized which were full-rigged barks and which were only barkentines. We studied the different sail configurations. We visited all the ships and photographed them. I have photos, but there are so many online that I pass over the opportunity to add mine.
To avoid feeling sorry for myself, I threw myself into various projects that summer of 1976. It took many things to fill that void. Nature had always offered consolation. I began to take an interest in prairies and prairie restoration. Bob was an outdoor person and loved camping and visiting nature centers and preserves. Thus I learned about Illinois prairies and the efforts underway to restore them. The Gensburg-Markham prairie was the main one that we visited. It is one of the four Indian Boundary Prairies—with Sundrop, Dropseed, Paintbrush. At the time they were under the care of a few naturalists from Northeastern Illinois U., mainly Bob Betz and Ron Panzer, along with Karl Bartel. (For more information about these prairies which are managed now by the Nature Conservancy, see http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/illinois/preserves/art1119.html
The next Thursday August 12, riding my bike along the lakefront, I passed by 3 black teenagers. They jumped me, knocked me down and grabbed my Raleigh bike. I clung on for dear life until they began beating me over the head with a bat. I suddenly realized that they could crack open my skull, all because of my bike, so I let them have it and limped over toward Lake Shore Drive, where a driver stopped and took me to the emergency room at the University of Chicago Hospital. I had a huge bruise on my head, a black eye, and a gash on my left knee. After a long wait, I was admitted, my head was x-rayed and, thank God, there was no fracture or even concussion. But my knee had to be sewn up, and in the process, the surgeon trimmed off some of the cartilage which had been damaged. Bob came to the hospital and picked me up, and the next day, I assume I went to teach as usual, with a bandaged leg and head.
When the Republican Convention was in Kansas City at the Kemper Auditorium the following week, I wanted to watch it, of course. But after having had my head almost cracked open, as I listened to these patriots singing “East Side, West Side”, re-enacting rituals of an ideal united America, it all seemed like such a farce. They seemed like innocents at a senior prom, as if they believed that all those childish rituals were still in effect in society. They kept talking about our freedoms and the enemies of freedom—as if the Democrats were the enemies of freedom. To me it seemed that the enemies of our freedom were in our streets, ready to whack us over the head, to club us to death. The enemies of our freedom were ignorant youths in our midst ready to split our skulls. Ignorance was the greatest enemy of freedom, but no one mentioned that.
Travels and Sails
After classes finished at the end of August, Bob and I went camping in Michigan for a long week at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, which we had loved the year before. Bob had a large comfortable tent; we had our sleeping bags and cooking gear and took along our bikes. We went to the ranger’s campfire lectures, rode our bikes to the beach, climbed Sleeping Bear dune, hiked, visited Interlocken. We broke up our camp on Thursday and drove to St. Ignace to see the site where Pere Marquette landed—a wigwam marks the spot. We took a ferry across to Mackinac Island, bringing only our bikes and a back pack each. We stayed overnight there, and went through the English Fort Mackinac, where we viewed Doctor Beaumont’s account of the digestive process. French-Canadian voyageur Alexis St. Martin had suffered a shotgun wound to his abdomen in 1822. Dr. William Beaumont, who was stationed at Fort Mackinac, treated St. Martin and studied the digestive process for years through St. Martin’s wound, which never completely healed. These groundbreaking experiments are the basis of modern knowledge of the digestive system.
We were back in time to watch the finish of the Tri-State race, the annual Labor Day weekend 3-day race from Chicago to St. Joseph, Michigan (Friday nite), St. Joe to Michigan City (Sunday), and Michigan City to Chicago (Monday). Because of where I lived, cliff-dwelling beside the lake, we could often see the boats sailing back, heading for downtown Chicago.
Sometimes I felt sad because my life offered so many pleasures, and yet he couldn't share them with me, except through my letters.
Classes began September 13, my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, with all four of my classes back to back in the morning, if I could arrange that. The prairie meetings continued. We got permission to begin plantings and enjoyed planning the tall grasses and wild flowers that might grow there. Paul lent me his book, Prairie, Swell and Swale, and I began acquiring a collection of books about prairies and wildflowers, and photographing prairie flowers and grasses.
In October Bob wanted to show me his home town, Houghton, Michigan, in the height of the fall colors. We drove there the second weekend of October, in time for the annual homecoming at Michigan Tech, which he had attended. Besides the usual Homecoming Queen and football game, there is a Hobo Parade, featuring cars that can barely run, thanks to some customizing by the students. The students are also dressed in their worst clothes to go along with the theme. Other Homecoming activities include a cardboard boat race, three-legged race, clothing strip relay, and a tailgate party before the big game. It was wonderfully silly.
Another project of mine (to fill the void) was an Humanities Honor Sequence, an interdisciplinary program modeled on the humanities course that I had taken in college. I gathered a few other professors, Beverly Adamczyk from Art, Jim Pareiko from philosophy and another from history, and we set about conjuring up a two-year humanities program covering arrt, history, philosophy, and literature chronologically. We held meetings after classes and eventually got the program set to begin in 1977. It attracted some good students, but not enough to make it viable, and it folded after the second year. Students were more interested in getting degrees to get jobs and in learning something that would enrich their lives.
Keeping busy was essential to fill the void. Novembers were dependably busy. I went as usual to the Midwest Modern Language Association meeting (in St. Louis) one weekend, to many operas, even inviting my dear Sr. Mary Immaculate to come from St. Mary's to see Mussorsky’s Khovantchina at Lyric Opera. She had looked up the story and history, and prepared much more than I ever do for an opera. Then there was Thanksgiving; my parents came up for that, and Bob joined us at my place for dinner.
Christmas in Kansas City
Family helped me fill the void, of course. Growing up among a large family has been one of the chief joys and supports of my life. At Christmas I usually flew to Kansas City as soon as classes were out to join the growing family there. Mother was always happy to see me in the beginning but couldn’t wait for me to leave. I loved running around to visit the different families, while staying with Mother and Dad at the Regency Apartments on the Plaza. (They had decided the taxes in Johnson County were getting too high, they had sold the big contemporary house on Seneca Road that Dad had built in Mission Hills and moved to a rental at the Regency in 1968 or 69.) Dad had just retired (at 70), and Joe had begun his own firm. Their different family lives I will write about more at length in the next chapter Family Matters, but I am writing about Christmas here, because I always came back feeling happy.
Christmas Eve we went to Carol and Bob's. As it was a fast day, supper was always clam chowder. Then Bob put on his venerable Santa suit and disappeared and before long “Santa” showed up in the homes all the families of friends and neighbors who had asked him to stop by. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” and the children were in ecstasy. Finally he finished making the rounds—Millers were his last stop--and the children could get down to business. They always had packages galore—mostly clothes, and they rotated opening in succession—Sean, Therese, Matt, Marie. Carol seemed to buy all the practical things they needed and put them in wrappings under the tree. The kids made it a game, shouting with mock delight as yet another pair of sox or underwear appeared, from, guess where? "The Warehouse Club!" they all shouted. I thought it was hilarious. Mother couldn’t take the noise. Opening could take hours. Who could keep track of all the things they received? We were lucky to leave by midnight, it seemed.
Christmas morning, we went to Visitation’s earliest Mass, where we usually saw and sat with the Connors in the front rows, and after Mass stopped to greet Dick and Bernadette Miller (Bob’s brother) and all their children, and the many other families that belonged to the parish. Afterwards, we usually had breakfast at the Coffee Shop at the Alameda (later the Ritz) on the Plaza, where we were sometime joined by other family members.
Next stop was Madison Street, where we gave presents to Joe and Pat and their children. Novelty was the keynote at Shaughnessys. I was amazed at all the unusual books, toys and games Pat found. I saw the first Rubic Cube there, and the first David Macaulay book, Cathedral (1973). I could have stayed there all day, looking through their new art and design and travel and architectural history books. I guess their house was my favorite for stimulating my creativity. Pat and Joe spent the afternoon visiting the neighbors, and if I lingered, I often saw the Canes, the Embrys, the Regans, the Hollands, the Blonds, the Kennards on the rounds of the open houses in Roanoke.
In the afternoons, Mother and Dad and I headed to the Connors. Kathleen and Dick had by then taken over the big family Christmas feast. Mother and Dad’s apartment did not have sufficient space around the table for the growing family, but Kathleen did. There were always wonderful things to eat set out around on tables in the Connor living room. Dick was offering everyone a drink. We could smell the turkey in the oven. Mother took her famous green bean casserole, rolls, possibly a pie out to the kitchen. Carol would bring something. Kathleen provided the turkey and dressing, salad and everything else. Kathleen has always been very organized. (Actually, all of us are—perhaps Mother made us that way.) She sets her table days ahead, and sets out her serving dishes on the buffet, with labels for what each will contain.
The Connors celebrated Christmas along simpler, old-fashioned lines. They drew names each year and exchanged presents with a “Chris Cringle.” Gifts were limited to $25 top, possibly raised to $50 over the years as the lawn care business grew profitable for the boys. "Santa" knew just what each needed—a new sweater and jacket and pair of slacks from Jack Henry’s for each boy. A new sweater/skirt for Mary Kate. Mother liked it there. It was quiet and there was nice Christmas music. They were well-behaved--no shrieks. One of the children might play a Christmas carol on the piano. Dick’s mother Gertrude, his sister Marjory--a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet, she died early, alas-- brother Bunky and wife Maria and their children, and sister Pat and Mansour Naime and their children would stop and sometimes stay for dinner.
Carol and Bob always took their children to Christmas brunch at the home of one of Bob’s family—usually Mary Anne (Hense). There the many Miller, Hense and Roult cousins played together. By five, Carol and Bob were at Connors, and the wait began for the Shaughnessys. There were mutters and comments from Kathleen, who had everything ready to set out, and nods of agreement from Carol, but we all knew Joe could get away with it, for he was Mother's favorite.
Finally the Shaughnessys came, and dinner could begin. Adults sat at the long dining room table, beautifully decorated, as was her whole house. The younger children sat in the breakfast room and the older at extra tables wherever there was space. There was always a toddler who was accommodated in the high chair in the kitchen. In the later years, Mother would say she was cold, as the Connors kept the temperature in the 60's. We were all used to it and wore sweaters and jackets. Mother also complained that the room was too dark; candles and low lighting were simply not enough. But the adults had wonderful discussions over the dining room table, and this tradition has continued to this day, with the children replacing their parents as the adults. After dinner, friends of the older children would stop by too. That was what was wonderful about Christmas in Kansas City. Everyone visited, and I could keep up with all the families at one time.
Over the years, on visits to Kansas City, I have migrated, from Mother and Dad's, to Pat and Joe's, then for many years to Carol's, and then to Kathleen's, depending on who had room. Kathleen even calls one room her "B and B."
After Christmas, Bob and I left the next day for the Caribbean again. This time we were back on the Maverick with Captain George Sloan (or was it Stove, or Stone?) It was the same wonderful Maverick, but we missed Captain Jack’s playfulness. George was excessively worried about expenses; Jack had never let his business intrude into our pleasure.
When classes began again in January, I was gradually moving out of any Black lit courses and asked to teach classes in popular literature and women’s literature, more my field. I loved setting up new courses, because it enabled me to learn a lot of new works. I actually hated teaching the same things again and again, as I had begun to do in Black lit. I lose interest in going over the same material again and again. It’s not like we were performing it—which would be different. I loved doing the popular lit course—and modeled my course on Cawelti’s class at the U of Chicago, dividing the term into the different genres: westerns, science fiction, detective stories. I set up a syllabus for women’s literature and actually taught it several times. But mostly I taught composition. Teaching at Chicago State did not really help fill that damned void, and I didn't get much return from my investment there.
I was feeling pretty depressed, actually. I had been keeping journals on and off for many years and wrote a lot when I felt sad, analyzing and lecturing myself. “Stop finding fault with yourself and others. Enjoy the moment. Seize the day! Don’t always be despising or minimizing whatever you’re doing because it isn’t more glamorous or more significant.” I told myself to be like Therese of Lisieux, one of my earliest saints (whose name I had taken for Confirmation). When she heard the music luring her, she did not envy those who were enjoying the waltzes. She felt privileged to be within the convent walls instead, possessing God within. That worked for a time, but then the sadness returned.
One consolation was Chicago State’s Olympic sized swimming pool. I began swimming over the noon break, when there was open swimming for faculty. Twenty laps each noon helped a lot. Writing poetry offered a way of exorcising my demons, or at least expressing them.
The lady drops days into her purse.
My demons torture me:
I am possessed by demons who drive me
Who will exorcise my demons?
In addition to classes, meetings continued on both of my projects--the Prairie restoration (Tuesday evenings) and the Honors’ Program (Monday or Wednesday afternoons). Meanwhile, my usual round of cultural events continued—concerts at Orchestra Hall or Music of the Baroque; plays at Goodman; lectures at the Field Museum on King Tut (this was the year of the first huge King Tut show); movies, and an occasional opera, as well as dinner parties with friends. The English Department was quite social in the 70’s.
It was a satisfactory life—filled with interesting projects and activities that I could relate to Hans, whose absence I still felt. I wasn’t getting enough from him to fill the void. Activities were my way of convincing him--and myself, that I was happy without him.
But my life was to change radically, after a phone call from my mother.