In August of 1978, the Rice family moved from Dyer, Indiana to Buffalo Grove, Illinois. More accurately, three of the Rices moved to Buffalo Grove: my mother, my brother & me. The fourth – a fella named Al – stayed in Indiana.
Al was my father, for eleven years; then he wasn’t. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The last time I spoke with Al was…1984? 1985? He’s remarried & living in a small town in southern Indiana, halfway between Bloomington and Louisville. He turned seventy-one last year, so I imagine he’s retired now.
I have his address. Perhaps this year I’ll send him a birthday card.
The formerly-of-Indiana Rices made their new home in an apartment complex just behind the Plaza Verde shopping center, just down the street from Buffalo Grove High School: building #4, apartment #301.
I filched the mailbox tag, the day we moved out (and still have it, thirty-five years later); it reads
…because that’s what women did in 1978, so as not to advertise their woman living alone status. (It didn’t work, because men in 1978 used their full names.)
The east entrance to the apartment complex, facing Arlington Heights Road, passed between a pair of retention basins / flood-control ponds / excuses to add a lake-view surcharge to rents on that side of the building. Ducks swam there. Canada geese used to stop there. And, in the fall of 1978, a small animal of some kind – a muskrat? – dug a burrow into the bank of the north pond, and moved in.
In those days, I walked to school – we lived much too close to school to get bus service – and my preferred route took me past the north pond. I often saw the mystery creature, head just barely above water, swimming busily around.
I didn’t give it a name. Perhaps I should have.
The winter of 1978–79 stands as one of the worst on record, with eighty-nine inches of snow falling between November and March. I didn’t mind it much at the time – I walked everywhere, and didn’t have to shovel any snow myself – but, thinking back on it now I feel bad for my mother: she had to drive in it, to Northbrook and back, five days a week.
A few months in, there was so much snow on the ground that pushing it to the edge of the parking lots wasn’t working any more; somebody had the bright idea of dumping it in the retention basins.
Poor critter, it had nowhere left to swim. I assumed, through the rest of the winter, that it was hibernating, or digging tunnels through the snowpack, but – alas – it was not. When spring finally came and the glaciers receded, I found it, lying dead on the ground, flattened by the snow.