Today is opening day, except it is not exactly “opening day,” since the Cubs play on the west coast, and the game does not start until nine o’clock tonight. It seems like I have waited a million winters for baseball to begin again. And today, or tonight, the wait will end.
She didn’t even know about Happy Joe’s, much less the older boys’ tradition of cashing in their arcade winnings for hundreds of the best melty butter mints that cost one ticket each. Though she had been to Galena once for her Grandma’s funeral, she didn’t know it’s best secrets. She didn’t know this city like I did, and she certainly didn’t know it like Dan did. When our daughter said she wanted to visit the town where Dan grew up (and which had been the site of many Ihm family gatherings over the years, well before this child became part of our family), I was eager to make it happen for her.
He was most everything that I wasn’t, and it didn’t take long for me to love him. On the day we met, Dan was doing ballet leaps in the streets of DeKalb as we made our way to the Eagles Club which now, from what I understand, might be a swingers club. We went there at the blind matchmaking request of a mutual friend, to see a band and, perhaps in the back of my mind, to forge a future, if it were to be. That night, I started looking for signs.
We packed the Toyota with our five youngest children, our overnight bags, and the hope that there would be some magic left to share with a little girl who we wanted so desperately to carve into our hearts.
I think it was early summer the first time Dan took me home to meet his mom and to see the town where he grew up. We visited the Kandy Kitchen, and he took me to dinner at The Kingston Inn where he had worked as a singing waiter during high school and college summers. I wondered, then, what our future would hold.
The children each chose a bag of sweets and stood at the fudge bar where we, too, had waited to pay for our candy some twenty-seven years before. The sun was warm and bright, almost summer weather for the end of March. We walked a block or two further, past some vaguely familiar shops which beckoned passers by with samples of popcorn, displays of glistening crystals, and the season’s first iced latte. We stopped to get a photo of the “Tokyo House,” the restaurant which now occupies the space where Dan had entertained townies and tourists.
Standing with two of my nine children, high on top of a hill in Illinois, I wondered how I had arrived there, barely recognizable under a mop of dreaded hair and fifteen-turned-to-almost -thirty extra pounds of emotional eating, looking out at the same town that had brought me my love. The children were having a great time at Happy Joe’s. The girls spent their arcade tickets on butter mints, just as our older boys had done years before. The little boys watched the train circle the dining room as they sat in the booth and ate pizza, just as our older boys had done years before. In their youth and innocence, this was their Galena. And it was just as beautiful as mine.
The sign which once hung outside the Kingston Inn now graces, in quite a weathered state, the wall in our family room. I happened upon the sign when friend who had known the restaurant’s owner offered it for sale. This, like so many other things, was meant to be. It was a true sign, a reminder that those experiences that have been meaningful will find their way back.
My dad is solely responsible for inspiring my love of baseball. Tomorrow, he will have his pacemaker replaced; the signs are there that tell him the time has come. We wait for it, and the time comes. We look back, and it has been the blink of an eye. Inside this window of time is so much to share, so much to look forward to, and so much to pass along.
A new season is here, and with it comes the promise of a long summer of our best game, the treasures of passing on our stories to our little ones, and, of course, some treats from our favorite candy store to savor for just a while longer.