Creature Comforts in the Key City

Scenes from a visit to my childhood home in Dubuque, Iowa

It was a gratifying return to the United States: a few days of affection and rest in my childhood home of Dubuque, Iowa. Dad and Kelly greeted me in blustery Rockford, Illinois and we drove the beautiful stretch through Terrapin Ridge to the icy Mississippi River Valley, my old stomping grounds.

After six months rambling in South America it felt good to be back with family. It was easy to adapt to non-Latino life — I found respite in simple things like hot showers, speaking English, brushing my teeth with tap water, and slumbering deeply under heavy blankets and winter’s darkness and silence.

I was treated like royalty: Dad carefully planned each meal of home-cooked fare and kept up lively topics of conversation about politics, history, academia, my travels and the wider world. We kicked back with bottles of Leinies, discussed articles from the New York Times and The Nation, and laughed in a tavern drinking pints while the snow flurried wildly outside.

Each night I fell asleep with freight trains sounding in the distance. I awoke to Dad waiting for me with a smile and a cup of coffee. I was warm and content and cared for.

While I’ve lived more than half my life away from Dubuque, it’s probably where I’m most rooted and will always find homey comfort. It is safe and familiar, where things are measured and known, my reactions predictable and my memories stored away securely.

I spent an afternoon cleaning up old papers, sorting through the blurred places and faces from elementary school, junior high, high school. Wistful feelings surface: compunction, gladness, ambiguity.

I guess that’s the key to going home: delighting in the nostalgia while accepting the ambivalence.

My childhood’s home I see again,
        And sadden with the view;
And still, as memory crowds my brain,
        There’s pleasure in it too.

— Abraham Lincoln

Stoked on the Seventies

Stoked on the 70′s

I’ve been thinking of the 1970’s lately, not exactly sure why.  Although I was born in the 60’s (albeit in the final 3 weeks), the 1970’s was my first real decade.  I was a youngster, too young for much of the fun and frenzy but not too young to miss its new vibe.  This was the decade in which I became aware of the world:  the music, the television, the politics, the people, the fads, the crises, the cultural tensions.  The chaos of the sixties spilled into this decade: Watergate, ‘Nam, gas shortages, ERA, nuclear weapons proliferation, airplane hijackings and conflict in the Middle East… tumultuous times indeed.

But as a kid what I remember the most was the popular culture: America’s glittering face and glowing body during these years, those soaring sounds on the radio, bold fabrics scratching our skin, heavy cars in the streets, extravagant colors ablaze on toys, television and t-shirts, a powerful exhale for equality (now voiced by women and gays), the unsettling and seductive sexual revolution, a new concern for protecting our environment, our patriotism on display at the nation’s bicentennial birthday bash.

There was a collective energy and emotion during these years that I find myself yearning for lately.  Yes, the 1970’s were in many ways hard years and there was a lot of silliness too.  But despite the insecurity and disruption, America was beaming.

Today I see none of that express enthusiasm, America is bitterly divided and the toxic politics of “No We Can’t” rule the day.

Maybe that’s why the 1970’s are on my mind; I want that smile to return.

Back in the day...