Trip to Bountiful Madison

(June 21, 2015) The conference started on Monday but I drove to Madison two days early since my brother, Kent, had promised me a boat ride. Turned out, he was leaving for a fishing trip on Sunday and the boat was already out of the water. Instead, I got a different kind of ride that meandered unexpectedly, jolting me from past memories to present realities.

Kent and Tami gave me a tour of parts of Madison I’d never seen. We first visited Williamson Street (known to locals as “the Willies”). A throw-back to the 1960’s and featured in local magazines as THE place to live, it was touted as a friendly, walking neighborhood where people actually greeted each other as they passed on the street. Filled with unusual, even quirky shops we’d turned down a side street looking for a parking spot. Lined with small, older homes filled with personality, we’d realized too late it was a “bikes only street.” Feeling guilty, driving very slow.

We had dinner at an eclectic night spot, an old tavern and grill with a new age kind of name that started with an A. I had the most unusual grilled cheese sandwich ever, filled with a kitchen sink of vegetables and sundry foodstuffs. Some I couldn’t even identify.

Then, on to an impromptu stop at the Crystal Corner Bar for a drink (three, as it turned out). It was an out of body experience as I was transported back to my old college days at the B & B Tap in Oshkosh. Tami returned from the ladies room to report there was a chalk board on the door of one of the stalls. It was decorated with drawings of penises.

We asked the bar mistress where the chalk was so we could add something; she said the chalk always seemed to disappear. No further explanation. Just a shrug. Caught up in the mood, I almost bought a Crystal Corner Bar t-shirt. Almost.

On Sunday, my sister Karla and I visited Mom’s old house to see how the new owners were getting on with their renovations. Karla said: “Mom would hate this!” I’m just surprised they didn’t raze the whole thing and start over. The entire first floor had been gutted with all the windows either boarded up or covered in plastic. So it was impossible to see in. The day before, Kent was able to see a little because he’s tall enough to peek through the glass slat at the top of the door.

The front porch, now without the screens and shabby furniture, seemed smaller. We’d often gathered there as a family and knew when there’d been a touchdown due to cheers wafting through the air from Camp Randall. Now a screened-in porch or sun room was being added which took up most of the back yard. Mom’s flower and vegetable garden had been covered over by progress.

The entire second floor had been taken off and then replaced with a larger version. The roof was now covered with the same blue plastic sheets I’ve seen shrouding cars following those massive freeway pileups. An upstairs master suite was being planned according to the building permit taped to the front window. It also listed a family room in the basement. Big plans. I scattered the remainder of Mom’s ashes where her old garden had been.

“There you go, Mom,” I said. “Now you can keep an eye on things.” Maybe she’ll put a hex on it, I thought. Nosey next door neighbor filled us in. And in. And in. I got into the car to give Karla a reason to excuse herself.

He followed her from the yard, then the curb, into the street. When he noticed her new car, he asked if that’s what she’d spent her inheritance on. After Karla’s non-committal response, we pulled way.

“Jerk,” I said quietly.

Afterward, we went to the Laurel Tavern just like Mom and Dad used to do. But we drove instead of walking and reminisced how they’d often stroll down there on Friday night for a fish fry, bragging that the walk proved they were staying in shape.

As we waited for our lunch, we visualized Mom and Dad sitting in a booth across the room, Dad with his beer and Mom with her cup of coffee. We tipped our glasses to them. In my imagination, Dad, the outgoing one, acknowledged us with a tilt of his glass and I could see Mom’s coy grin.

It’s strange to come to town and no longer have a place to go. I guess I truly am an orphan now. Maybe seeing the house gave me the closure so many people insist I must have. I’d always come early and stayed late each year when I attended this same week-long conference. It was a chance to catch up and get some one-on-one time, free of distractions from several siblings and multiple grandchildren.

Mom and Dad are now gone and the house is on its way to a fabulous, new life. I’ve always wondered if once parents are gone will siblings continue to see each other. Will we resolve the misunderstandings that every family endures? Will we get together? My bet is that some will and some won’t. Time will tell.



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