Saturday, December 26, 2015

Our Beach

We cancelled cable a few weeks ago.
At first the kids were distraught. 
Distraught as in "NOOOOO!"
But we were paying so much money and we would flip through the Direct TV directory and find that there was absolute nothing on that interested us. 
So, Chad called and cancelled. 
The first few days, the girls didn't even seem to notice the tv. 
They played in their room. 
They played in the dining room. 
They played Minecraft on their iPad. 
They played piano without any coaxing from me. 
They realized, without even knowing it, that they didn't even need that tv. 
What they needed was each other. 
There was still arguing amongst the two sisters. 
That's not going to ever go away. 
Needing "things" got me thinking about my last post
And about the homeless who lived at the lake when we resided in Chicago.
And about a specific homeless man whose name I never knew...

Chad and I lived a block and a half from Lake Michigan when we had an apartment in Chicago. 
The neighborhood was East Rogers Park.
The beach was Loyola Beach. 
Named for Loyola University that shared the neighborhood. 
It was a very expansive beach. 
But secluded enough to be more of a community type beach as opposed to a tourist type beach. 
Tourist beaches in Chicago amount to Oak Street Beach and North Ave Beach. 
Those that sit along Lake Shore Drive and are shadowed by skyscrapers. 
Our beach was at the far northeastern end of the city. 
Loyola Beach is where Zoe started walking. 
And eating sand. 
Where our dog Madison loved to run unleashed in the surf.
He didn't like water, he would only wade in up to his ankles. 
But he dug digging holes in the soft, pebbly sand. 

This beach became "our" beach. 
I'm sure many people in the neighborhood felt the same way about it as we did. 
We went to the beach in every season. 
When it was finally hot enough to swim at the end of July. 
And when it was frozen over during January, the wind biting at our noses. 

It was always so beautiful. 
After the September 11th attacks, I remember being at the beach. 
Looking up into a planeless sky. 
One of the fun things about Loyola Beach and our apartment was that we were under a circling flight path for O'Hare airport. 
We saw many planes over the years, but in the weeks following 9/11, the air was vacant. 
Ghostly quiet. 
All we heard were the gulls cawing at one another. 
And once, a rare fighter jet high above the clouds that we could hear, but not see. 
I was on the beach when the fighter jet was heard on September 12th. 
A man who lived in an apartment with a great view of the lake came running out to me. 
He had heard the jet as well. 
He was terrified. 
"Did you hear that?!" He exclaimed. 
"I thought that planes weren't allowed to fly!"
I suggested it was probably the military, up so high we couldn't see them through the clouds. 
That they were keeping us safe.
He agreed and hurried back into the safety of his home. 
Right back to CNN, I suppose. 

During warm weather, the park and beach were alive with people. 
People would drag their charcoal grills to the grass. 
Kids would be riding their bikes. 
Hula hoops were twisting around waists. 
Boxing matches were seen. 
East Rogers Park had a large Bosnian refugee population. 
Those fleeing Slobodan Milosevic during his terror found Chicago to be a welcoming home. 
These children flocked to my dog, seeing him as a safe friend. 
Ice cream vendors whose carts were on bicycles pedaled around ringing their bells to announce their frozen goods.
Hare Krishnas who had a temple in our neighborhood would sing and dance down the sidewalks. 
Lifeguards in boats kept those in the lake safe. 
And the homeless sat amongst the crowds. 
You didn't know who they were during the busy afternoons. 
Unless you were one of those that came to the beach early each morning like I did. 

Madison loved spending his mornings speeding around in the green grass. 
Smelling amazing things left on the ground.
I enjoyed the quiet, the most noise coming from the waves of Lake Michigan hitting the rocky shoreline.  
The homeless would be there tucked under blankets beneath trees or on the many benches. 
If Madison ventured over to see what the pile on the grass was, a quick whistle from my mouth would steer him away. 
As they awoke from their sleep, which was probably never a peaceful sleep, they would go about their morning routines. 
Some brushed their teeth at the drinking fountains. 
Some gathered what few possessions that they had and started walking around the neighborhood. 
One man in particular always stood out to me. 
I saw him most days sitting on a park bench. 
A bench just inside the confines of the park boundaries where my street ended and the park began. 
He was a heavy set guy and once it became cold outside, I never saw him at the bench. 
But on warm days, he was there. 
Gray hair that I always thought may have been dark blonde in earlier years. 
In a shirt that was always too small. 
With shoes on his feet that were barely hanging on. 
My dog Madison rarely walked on a leash while at the park. 
If the police were doing their daily drive through, I would snap his leash onto his collar. 
But on most days, Madison just glided down the open park paths next to me. 
He never went up to anyone. 
Never got into anyone's business. 
Whenever we passed the homeless man in the too small shirt, he always said "I like your dog."
And Madison would go up to him. 
And he would pet the spotted dog and smile. 
We would chat about something. 
The weather. 
Madison's good dog manners. 
Then we would say goodbye and I would continue my walk. 
Anytime we saw him, the same conversations would commence. 
He never asked for anything. 
I never offered anything. 
We were just two people living within this huge city having a talk in a park. 
Being acknowledged by someone, I think, was what he wanted most of all. 
It's what kept him coming back. 
Watching life and being able to still interact in life. 
I'm sure he needed what most of us take for granted. 
But, contact with a dog and a lady on warm days in the park helped ease things for a few minutes. 
It would help me if I were in his shoes. 
Our beach was his beach too. 
What we all need in life is to feel purposeful. 
And if that alone means being able to have meaningful, coherent conversations with strangers in a park...
that can be more than enough. 

1 comment:

  1. We ditched cable two years ago and don't miss it. Sweet story about the life and memories of your beach! Have a great 2016!