The old park

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: This is a post I started writing last summer, then forgot about for months. I finally got around to finishing it this week ...)

The summer of 2013 was something else.

I always lament that summer zips by too quickly, but this one really was atypical. We'd been so busy that I don't know where the days went. I barely wrote anything that wasn't work-related. June was a haze of  the boys' sports and thinking we'll get to all that fun summer stuff ... only to not get to as much of it when it suddenly became July. I didn't get a lot of freelance work in June, then got blessedly but unbelievably overwhelmed with projects over the last month. Our air conditioning went out during the hottest week of the year. All of a sudden it was vacation.

I parked the car on the corner of Oriole and Gregory and walked across the street to the park near the northwest playground. Growing up, I never seemed to hang out at this playground, instead preferring the one by the basketball courts and Diamond 1. This playground has already changed since the last time we were here -- the equipment has been upgraded from the upgrade that occurred sometime in the late 1980s. The sky is overcast, but I don't think it's going to rain again anytime soon.

I've already written about how vacation was just nuts. The boys had a blast, and Lori and I had fun, too, but it was all a blur. I barreled through so much freelance work during the trip that it dominated my thoughts even when I wasn't writing. This wasn't work I felt I could turn down, especially as I was establishing myself as a contract writer/editor, and I was paying for vacation as I was working through it. Getting so much all at once was just a fluke of timing. Nevertheless, by the time we got back to Chicago from Northern Wisconsin, the overcast skies matched my mood and my energy level.

I cut across diamonds 6 and 7, taking some pictures along the way. The diamonds face each other, and I remember one pee-wee game on Diamond 7 happening while a makeup game on the clearly inferior (but now upgraded) Diamond 6 was occurring, and coaches pondering if the center fielders should wear a batting helmet. I find the path that follows the south end of the park toward Bryn Mawr Avenue and Diamond 5. The first summer after figuring out my big bicycle, I would ride around the sidewalks of the big park and imagine these paths were expressways and interchanges.

Probably, I was just feeling sorry for myself. Sorry for no reason -- I have it so much better than other people, other dads, other families. I found out during this trip that a good friend was having marital troubles with a relationship that began in the mid-1980s. So I endured one less-than-stellar vacation? It happens, right? Why was I so bummed out?

I head toward the field house, past the outdoor basketball hoops I spent so much time on when I was 10 and 11. This park used to have two outdoor courts -- one here and one near the tennis courts that only had 9-foot-baskets. I played games at that other one but never practiced there on my own; it seemed pointless to shoot around on a basket that I wouldn't normally do during games. I entered the field house and looked around. This was such a multi-purpose facility and not just a gym. We once played Dungeons and Dragons here; I remember at least one neighborhood Christmas party here as well.

Vacation means much to me, but so does coming back to Chicago every year. There's something here I can't quite recapture every time I return -- something I'm trying to absorb that I just feel will propel me to the goals I have. Mind you, I don't want to live here again, but the memories here carry a power to them, a power I wish I could harness. With this trip not living up to expectations, the specter of those memories seemed to exert an ever greater pull.

We had relatives that lived almost next to one of the edges of the park on Oleander. I walk past the tennis courts and sit on a bench near that side of the park and call my mother in Texas. This was her neighborhood, too, for some of her life. The relatives had since died, which I think I knew. Intermittent drizzle has begun. I keep snapping pictures and taking it all in.

On the final late afternoon of our trip, I drove myself, and only myself, to Oriole Park. I have visited here before as an adult -- even once with the boys -- but this time, I needed some time alone. Maybe it was melancholy, maybe nostalgia, maybe just a quick fix to my gray mood, but for whatever the reason, this was the place I was drawn to -- the park I spent so many hours and days playing at in my youth. I only spent about a half-hour there, and 15 minutes were on the phone with my mom. But that was enough time for a bit of catharsis. Did I find that magic spark I've been seeking? No, but I'm glad I went anyhow. I drove back to my father's house for the last hours of vacation.

Here is Diamond 2. The girl I felt my first crush for lived on the alley that bordered this field; they had a swimming pool, and I always tried to catch a glimpse through the fence to hopefully see her, but I never did -- the fence was too tall and gap-less. I tripled with the bases loaded during a game on this diamond, then got beaned bad on the elbow, which was so traumatic it eventually drove me from wanting to play baseball. I played pick-up football with my friends in the outfields here, and played lob league in almost every diamond in this park. I sledded down that hill in winter, practiced golf beyond left field in Diamond 3, and walked from a far parking spot to the field house with my father one March night to see my sisters' gymnastics performance, looking at the stars along the way.

As much as I want to incorporate all these memories and experiences into everything I do today, I don't think I'll ever quite recapture what I felt. I'll keep trying, listening to the music I listened to, watching the things I watched, playing the games I played, visiting the places I visited. And maybe one day it will intersect with my life today and result in a superhuman burst of creativity. Yet, I'm really starting to wonder if that day will ever come.

I walk back to the car, awash in the memories I know will inevitably fade again. It was so long ago.

And there's the one thing I can't change yet can't completely accept: It was so long ago.



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