The summer that I turned twelve, Liz and I were forced to go to Chicago to see our father. I say forced because neither of us wanted to go see him. Why would we have any desire to go and see the man who irreparably tore us and our family apart by killing our mother? Even at that young age, I felt the terrible injustice of my father having spent less than five years in prison, when my mother was gone forever. I'm sure that Liz also carried a great deal of anger, some of which was directed to me in the absence of a better target. So, although we felt angry and betrayed at being sent on this journey, we ended up getting on a plane to Chicago. While we were in Chicago, we stayed with our Aunt Rosemary, the sister of our guardian, Bill. She was kind enough to take us in for the several days that we were there and actually took us around to do some fun things. I remember going to Marshall Field's and being able to afford a few little things, but I also remember them having a bikini on sale for ninety-odd dollars! On sale! I was stunned.
We also went to Brookfield Zoo and saw all sorts of animals, but the memory of one of them still sticks with me. There was a female gorilla who had just given birth. The area inside the building where the mother and baby could be viewed was a crush of people. Somehow, possibly because mother gorilla was sitting on a ledge, I managed to get a wonderful view of the mother and baby interacting. The mother was completely unaware of the crowd. All of her attention was on her tiny baby. Mama sat in a sort of cross-legged position on her ledge, cradling her little one in her arms. She rocked back and forth, just like a human mother, and touched her baby's face. She almost looked like she was smiling as she stroked the tiny face or brushed away the occasional fly. It was enough to bring tears to the eyes of the most hardhearted person, so of course I found it amazing and beautiful and touching. And of all of the creatures that we saw that day, the mother and baby left the most lasting impression.
Although it was stressful, seeing our father was not as awful as I had expected it to be. He seemed to have lost some of his stature, which makes lots of sense. I was a lot taller than I had been at the age of seven, so of course his head didn't seem to reach the sky any more. And his mannerisms and interactions with others didn't impress me. Seeing him kiss women's hands just seemed like a pathetic affectation to me. If I had been older, perhaps I would have seen it as a bit of Old-World charm, but I was so full of anger that I couldn't possibly have found charm in anything he said or did. I found him, instead, to be a bit desperate, phony, and pathetic. And I am not sure if feeling that way in those days is something I should be ashamed of, or something that I can chalk up to his previous actions and my inexperience in life. Maybe some day I will know.
Another part of the trip involved seeing my sister Margit again. Margit was a bit of a hippie-chick, and had recently gotten married to her first husband, Gary, who ended up being an entomologist and the father of my niece Johanna. We spent a night at Margit and Gary's, and the following day we went fishing (I caught and released a sizeable turtle). But the night that we spent at Margit's was full of laughter. Gary went to bed and we three sisters, and Margit's puppy, stayed up rather late and had lots of fun. Margit had a waterbed (no frame, just lying on the floor) covered with a comforter that had a huge peace sign on it, along with the word LOVE, a wedding gift from our brother, John. She and Gary had just filled it with water from the garden hose, and that was where we hung out that evening.
Margit pulled out a bottle of dandelion wine, something that I had never seen or even heard of before. I thought it was cool to see wine that was yellow instead of the usual variations of whites and reds. Let me pause now to say something that I feel is important to share. We were born into a family with the more traditional European attitudes toward alcohol and drinking. Heck, when I was just a little kidlet, my father would amuse himself by pouring a glass of beer in the kitchen and saying loudly, "Oh, no! I just poured myself a glass of beer, but now I have to go to the bathroom!" I would giggle, and as soon as I saw the bathroom door shut, I would drink some of the beer. He would come back with a smile on his face, faking that he was upset, and then drink his beer. Then when I went to my new family, I was often allowed to taste wine, or mixed drinks if we went out for a special occasion. Because of that, drinking held no special excitement for me. When I reached the drinking age, I didn't go wild like a lot of the kids I knew. Nor did I ever feel the need to try and get away with underage drinking. It held no mystery or excitement because I had already tasted it, and it had not been a big deal.
So Margit didn't hesitate at all to pour each of us a glass of dandelion wine. Or even another. We laughed and jumped up and down on the waterbed, the first time Liz and I had ever seen one. I don't think we were intoxicated, just relaxed and giggly. Then Liz and I were given the honor of spending the night in the new waterbed. We thought we were so cool! It turned out that we were not so cool, but just cold. The bed had been filled using the garden hose, after all. Even with the comforter wrapped tightly around us, we felt like we were freezing to death all night long. For once in our lives, Liz was glad to have me sharing the bed with her. We huddled together all night long, trying to survive the night by sharing our body heat. Somehow we managed to get some sleep, and were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, as the old saying goes, for the fishing trip the next day.
All in all, although the trip wasn't the happiest one, it had some fabulous moments. My father lost some of his power to make me frightened. I saw some amazing animals, and fell in love with the beauty of animal motherhood. And I really enjoyed the dandelion wine!