A Week-end I’ll Never Forget
At first glance, this is a picture of a group of friends meeting for pizza in Rantoul, IL. It is this and so much more. It also happens to be the featured picture in Monical’s Pizza advertising for September 2017. We look awesome, but there is something much more special about this gathering of loving friends. We continue to care about one another, we know one another’s stories and in fact, are a part of one another’s stories. Get your coupons HERE
In 1977 around the time of high school graduation and after 18 years, I moved away from Illinois. In many ways I lost contact with my friends, and in what I believe is a miracle, we found one another with the aid of technology-specifically Facebook.
Let the Party Begin...
We met Friday night 7-7-17 of course, for an evening at Esquire Lounge a Champaign pub. Plenty of loud laughter and tight hugs were all around in the hope of making up for decades. It was great to see people who I usually only see online. I say 'it was great' because no words really describe it enough.
Life Before, During & After November 17, 2013
We caught up on our lives before and since the tornado tragedy of 11-17-13. A EF 3 tornado tore through our little 1 mile wide town and left piles of debris where there had once been homes and generations of lives. My stomach continues to roll when I think about Margie’s disturbing story though. Her home was in the pathway of the EF 3 tornado, and she managed to survive in her basement as the rubble of her childhood home crumbled over her head. Her survival is nothing short of a miracle. I found this YouTube video showing the 'day after.'
I was in Texas, but when I heard the words ‘Gifford, Illinois’ and ‘devastating tornado’ on the national news, I stood still as the room spun. I remember holding a glass of water in my hands and hearing the glass shatter on the floor but it sounded like it was in another part of the house and not at my feet. I felt similarly as I listened to their stories of survival, triumph and yes, miracle survivals. How close we came to not having our moment, and it wasn’t lost on any of us.
Nobody wanted to go home until we promised to show up for the Saturday evening gathering. I got back to my hotel around 2am and couldn’t sleep. The night’s conversations and emotions left me wide eyed with a predominant feeling of how good it feels to love and be loved from the very core. I thought about my life in TX, and how our everyday life looks completely different when we dare to look at it from a distance.
I’m on a Mission from God
After a few hours of sleep, I drove about 3 hours south to visit my Godparents in another small Illinois town called Albers. I missed seeing them, and looked forward to catching up and recalling stories of my childhood. My Godparents had 5 boys, and with my 2 brothers, this meant I was one girl in a group with 7 boys, and it was a happy time for all of us! I knew my Godmother had some memory problems, because she repeated herself during our phone calls but didn’t realize the severity of her dementia. She repeatedly asked me, “Did I show you enough love when you were growing up? Did you know how much I loved you?” and with each question, my heart broke a little more.
Alzheimer's Disease Doesn't Play Favorites
After a wonderful afternoon visiting with two of their sons and driving by our old home, it was time to get back to the evening reunion festivities. The irony of how dementia has touched my own life over the last year as I write Just See Me-Sacred Stories from the Other Side of Dementia did not go unnoticed. I was overwhelmed with competing emotions, I decided to crank up the 70s music, sing along and let those tears of joy and sorrow streamed down my face. I remember thinking of the Blues Brothers and how they referred to their mission as a ‘Mission from God’ and this is how I felt.
We gathered up Saturday night for more reminiscing and looked through our year books mostly laughing at each other. I remember the how much we loved our yearbook 40 years ago and how easily they literally flew away in the tornado. A few people with very big hearts brought their old yearbooks and gave them to those from Gifford who lost their’s forever. We stayed up until 3 am talking and still we weren’t ready for the weekend to end.
It's Not Over Yet
My flight didn’t leave until Sunday afternoon, so we made plans to meet at Monical’s Pizza in Rantoul.
Maureen and I worked at Monical’s Pizza when we were 16 years old. I may have started when I was 15 following my father’s heart attack, but I’m not sure. I worked at Country Health Care and Rehab on the weekends and made pizza during the week. We took turns making pizzas and waiting the tables. These are the days juke boxes played music and our tips were coins in a jar. Any paper money tips made us giddy with excitement. One of us counted the coins at the end of the night and split them up. I learned to throw pizza dough and our manager, who I believe was the owner, taught me to make pizzas. I didn’t like cheese, so even putting my hands in it (remember I was 16!) made me gag, but I wanted to go to college and was therefore highly motivated to make some cash. Our friends would come in after the ball games and play ‘Slow Ride’ by Fog Cat as if to let us know they were there.
In Case You Don't Remember Slow Ride
For those of you too young to know this awesome song, and those of you whose memories need a little shove, here you go: Slow Ride
So we gathered Sunday for the last few hours of my visit. Penny missed church to join us, but I reassured her she would spend the day at the church of loving friends. She tells me, ‘You finish your book, Carmen. We are watching you." My mother died of Alzheimer’s and it’s like you’re doing something for her too.” I can only nod in affirmation at this point, because the tears are bubbling up. Oh yes, Penny, your mother and Margie’s father will be honored in Just See Me-Love Still Lives Here. Your loving energy will be there too.
A topped off the afternoon with a drive around Gifford and then caught my plane back to TX. The tears were uncontrollable then, and even now as I write this because I feel quite certain our story isn’t finished.
Carmen Talks Love-Facebook Live 9-5-17