Tag Archives: friends

More old friends, and some new – day 6

It would have been obvious 2 months ago when the trip was a current affair which day of the week it was, hence the use of numbered days in the post titles on the blog.  But now, it has occurred to me that not even I am clear on the flow of the days.  So I looked it up.  Day 6 was a Friday.  We left Houston on Sunday, day 1.  So far, we’re talking 5 nights away from home, and only one day away from arriving at the furthest point on this trip: Chicago.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Bourbonnais.  I had recently found one of my piano and French students from way back on Facebook and he told us that if we were in need of lodging, his girlfriend worked at the hotel and could probably hook us up with a room.  Our plans to find a place to stay weren’t panning out, so we ended up taking them up on the offer.  It was a treat to have a few nights where we could wind down as a family and just enjoy each other’s company.  Thank you Frankie and Megan!  Let me just throw in also that I’ve stayed in a few hotels in my lifetime, and when it comes to breakfast, the Hampton Inn is doing something right.  That’s enough for repeat business as far as I’m concerned!

After the breakfast feast, we went driving around town, taking in more sights that utterly bored the kids: our second home, the duplex where Lavinia was born, the McDonald’s we would walk to for hot fudge Sundaes when Ophélia was still in a stroller, the area where we took Ophélia trick-or-treating for the first time, dressed up as an adorable Christmas present with armholes that wouldn’t allow her to drop her arms.  Poor thing, but she was really cute!  And we also dropped in on our friends-from-way-back John (the most amazing chiropractor in the world) and Savannah, whose kids Jessica used to nanny and are now all grown up.  I wanted to snap a picture of a local Mexican restaurant chain called Taco Johns for our Houston friends (Houstonians tend to be very proud of their Tex-Mex), just because of their tag-line, something like: “Best West-Mex in town” or something or other.  This may shock some of my Texan friends, but mexican food in the North is pretty darn good, as I recall!

The day was more of the same old feeling of familiarity mixed with the unmistakable marks of change.  It’s been years since we’ve been back and so much of the area hasn’t changed a bit.  And yet, much of it has changed.

We had a wonderful time reconnecting with the Henning family, the owners and teachers of “Dance in the Light” ballet studio.  They were very interested in hearing about all that has been going on in our lives, and what’s just over the horizon.  And we loved hearing about all of their stories as well, as we had some catching up to do with Ruth and her 3 daughters, all of whom we got to know through their instruction at the studio.

We wrapped up the day by meeting our amazing friends Thom and Rhonda, and Soleil and her fiancé Rich, at Monical’s pizza, perhaps the most popular pizza chain in the area.  Jessica taught the owner’s daughters voice lessons way back when.  The local Monical’s tradition is to color your pizza with French and Ranch dressings.  They actually bring both dressings to the table in squirt bottles, and though I once mocked and disdained the mere thought of such an odd and unrefined custom, I eventually tried it and discovered that it was way more tasty than I expected.  I can be a real snob.  But I’m open-minded.  You should definitely try it too!  It was a wonderful evening of reconnection and our kids and their kids running around and being super-cute.

And then we crashed in our hotel beds, looking forward to our first day back in Chicago!

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Day 4: New friends, Old Friends and Krispy Kreme

Many weeks later, I’m finally making the time to continue the Martin-Weber Chicago trip saga.  Oh, dear memory, don’t fail me!

In the last post, I mentioned that our friends owed their limited mosquito population to the abundance of tree frogs inhabiting the lavish local forests.  We were tempted to implement the same method in Houston.  But a draught will do the trick too.  Not much rain this year, so not many mosquitoes either.  But of course it comes at a cost.  Wildfires.  Not in Houston so far, but widespread throughout Texas.  God help those fighting the fires, and those who are in the path of the wind-driven inferno.  And please send us rain.

After our late night catching up with Don and Becky, it was a lazy morning, and then a wonderful day of rest in their comfortable home.  We did go out in the afternoon to meet a friend for the first time at Barnes & Noble, which was the perfect opportunity to pick up a few books for the kids too.  They had already read through the pile of books they had brought from home.

In the evening, Becky had arranged for all of us to get together with the worship team from their church for an impromptu worship jam session.  Deciding to walk to the church, we had to brave a field of weeds and wild grasses which reached up past my knees, and even higher on my girls!  It was a real feat of bravery after the jam session when it was dark and the critters were more active!  I carried Evangeline both directions.  Chasing after baby frogs proved to be very entertaining for our 18 month old, Cosette.  We love that she is as-0f-yet completely fearless of bugs and critters, a notion that goes against the very fiber of her parents’ being.

The evening started with pizza, and Don, the most devoted hot sauce aficionado I know, inspired me to drizzle some of his special sauce on my pizza slices.  So good!  I get tired of the simplicity of my girls’ taste when it comes to pizza.  Uninspiring plain cheese pizza.  But, drip some spicy sauciness on it, and it takes on a whole new life!  Thank you, Don, for reminding me that sometimes, what you need in life is a bit more spice!

The kids ran off to play “peg-your-neighbor-with-a-light-weight-ball,” a game that is surprisingly addicting once you give it a try.  I tore myself away from it to join the grown-ups on the stage, and while the kids continued to get along great with their new friends, Becky got us going on her guitar with old favorites we did back in our Illinois days.  Don took his position on the drums, Jessica grabbed a mic, I was steered to a keyboard (the acoustic piano was a bit removed from the rest of the group), and the rest of the party jumped on other mics and a bass guitar.  In no time, we were jamming like we’d been doing it for years.  It was such a great way to get a bit closer to God and each other.  This went on for some time and Jessica and I got to share a couple of our hymn arrangements as well, and when everyone felt that it was time to wrap it up, we had the opportunity to make a brief presentation about our mission work in France.  Thank you Becky for your spontaneity – we really enjoyed that memorable evening.

Evangeline and Cosette hanging with new friends in the church pulpit!

Driving around in Southern Illinois, and even Eastern Missouri, something about the landscape, the hills, rolling waves of green trees and yellow fields, and a difference in architecture – with seemingly more personality, stronger, darker, older – all these things and more combined together to strike a familiar chord inside me.  A comforting, nostalgic, stilling melody that whispered “home” to my soul.   I hadn’t been sure anymore, but there was no doubt left: we are Northerners.

I’m not sure why I originally included Krispy Kreme in the title of this post, because I don’t think we had any doughnuts that day, but do I really need an excuse to mention utter perfection again?


Day 3: Devastation and Delight

Yesterday, after a disappointing free breakfast at the motel – am I just getting old? – we left Miami, OK around 10:30 a.m.  Twenty or so miles later, we stopped at the Welcome Center in Missouri to pick up some pamphlets, thinking maybe we’d stop to take in some local Missouri sights on the way to St. Louis.  I stayed in the car with the girls while Jessica ran in.  A long while later, Jessica runs back out and says that she’d talked with a man who offered to help her who happened to be from a local town called Joplin.  Joplin, Missouri, does that ring a bell?

Just a couple of months ago, Joplin, MO, was hit by a massive tornado.  The man at the Welcome Center knows the area well, and offered to tell Jessica which was the best path to take to see the damage inflicted by the tornado.  Jessica saw a learning opportunity for the girls – not necessarily schooling as much as life lesson – and accepted the offer.  The man then picked up a pamphlet with a small map on the back and drew little arrows with his ball-point pen to indicate the route we should take.  Once Jessica was back in the car, it didn’t take long for us to decide that this was more important than visiting a museum or visiting some interesting caverns (way out of our price-range, as it turned out).  And so we explained what was about to happen to the girls while we drove the few miles to the exit where we were to start our personalized tour.

No amount of explanation could have prepared us, any of us, for the devastation that we saw.  Sure, we saw some images in the news, but they are nothing like seeing the real thing.  At first, we drove down a charming, winding road flanked by green grass and trees.  Then a few houses dotted the side of the road, and we entered a completely normal residential area.  And then everything changed.  It was like a scene from an apocalyptic movie.  On the left side of the road, nothing noteworthy.  But on the right, it was carnage.  Half of the houses we saw were moderately to greatly damaged, roofs caved in or gone, and something like an empty field in the background.  It wasn’t until we followed another arrow or two that we saw the true devastation of the town.  That empty field looked more like a battlefield: most of the houses were razed to the ground.  Only the occasional partial house was left, with words spray-painted on whatever remnant of wall there was, like “Gas Off” and “We’re All OK” which, instead of being the joyful testimony of lives spared, to me attested more to the fact that so many others weren’t “OK.”  All that was left of one house was its chimney.  There were heaps of debris, as big as a house, or two houses, sometimes sorted by material-type like the demolishers are doing to our neighborhood school – only their demolition was planned.  Apparently the twister was 3/4 mile wide and made a 6 mile long path.  When the tornado warning sounded, the local hospital had 24 minutes before the beast slammed into it.  Windows blown in, walls crumbling, patients dragged outside by the wind, everyone bloody, and back-up generators damaged so that the lights went out and stayed out.

I was shocked to see how much debris was still present on site, and that volunteer clean-up crews were still gathering pieces of debris by the armful as we drove by.  I thought that after 2 months, it would all look ruggedly clean.  It goes to show just how massive the destruction was.  One third of the town, from what I gather.  And yet, there were signs of new life.  The bare trees, sentinels watching over the ravaged landscape, stripped of leaves and all but the largest of their branches, are sprouting new leaves – a strange sight, as the leaves have nowhere else to grow but right on the tree trunk itself.  And construction has started in spots, the empty shells of new houses erected, future walls, future homes.  Over 115 dead.  But I haven’t seen a number for how many people are now homeless, jobless, widowed, orphaned.  In the end, no one in Joplin was spared.  Everyone has been hit and rattled to the core.  It was a moving experience for me to drive through the ravaged town of Joplin, to consider the deep wounds not only of the landscape but especially of the people of Joplin.  I will never hear of another tornado strike with apathy again.  If your church is looking for a way to make a difference this summer, or this fall, consider helping out in Joplin.

If you are interested in reading more about the tornado that hit Joplin, the New York Times has a good one here.  I don’t have any pictures to offer, but there are plenty online if you do a simple search.

I don’t have a good segue to lead into the rest of the day.  After searching in vain for a rest area or some sort of park that would work for lunch, we gave up, exited and parked in a Taco Bell parking lot, under a tree, with a grassy area just beyond the curb.  It wasn’t too hot in the shade, and it was only after Evangeline freaked out over her fear of ants and we explained to her that fire ants don’t live this far North, that I realized I could take my shoes off.  And so I did, and enjoyed the feel of the soft green grass under foot.  The grass up North is not the same as the grass in Houston or in Florida, where my grandparents lived and where Jessica grew up.  Northern grass (I’m sure it has a better real name) is so soft that it’s a real delight to sink your toes into – especially compared to St. Augustine grass!

In the evening, we finally arrived at our friends’ house, Don and Becky Long, just North of St. Louis, just across the Mississippi in Illinois.  We did stop for Krispy Kreme doughnuts right before arriving.  Having missed our chance in Dallas, we didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.  And just as we walked into the store, the “HOT” sign came on and we got ours right off the moving contraption – hot, soft, and melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness!

We then spent a wonderful evening with our old friends, Don and Becky, reminiscing and catching up on all that has and is going on in our lives.  It is a blessing to reconnect with friends and feel like nothing in the relationship has changed, that even after nine years you can pick things up right where they left off.  It was a beautiful night that none of us wanted to have end, but that we finally cut off at 3:00 a.m. so that we’d get at least a few hours of sleep.

For the girls it was an evening of hard playing, discovering the joys of an unfinished basement used as a giant playroom, and observing, giggling over and catching frogs.  We noticed a distinct lack of mosquitoes, to which our friends replied that it was probably because of all the tree frogs they had.  The frog chorus was loud and lasted a good long while.  Jessica and I think we might just have to bring some back to Houston with us.  We’d rather have an abundance of frogs over mosquitoes any day!