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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Illinois: "Don't Miss" tour uninterrupted

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Illinois: "Don't Miss" tour uninterrupted

The driveway is a circle going around a tree, and the house next to it is roughly a right angle. The side door is to the north, and straight ahead to the east is the main entrance. Now, truthfully it's usually the side door we use, which leads to the laundry room and the kitchen and a guest room where my parents always stayed on our visits, none of those small rooms being much to look at. But the main entrance is a different matter.

The two large doors open to a narrow hallway, one stair down and to the east of which is the living room, a big square room with much furniture (including an elegant wood-and-glass coffee table) which despite the name doesn't look lived in at all. At the end of the living room (still east) is a window the length of the room (though in several panes), from which you can see down and to the east into the patio. Down and to the east of that is the rest of the backyard, where squirrels try to steal food from birds on the many trees and deer pass by every morning wearing tracking collars. At the edge of the backyard (still east) is a sudden cliff. Down that cliff and to the east is Lake Michigan, which goes on and on as far as the eye can see. That's what you'd see straight in front of you, upon entering my grandparents' house.

(I am writing these words into a small notepad with a pen, both of which I brought with me from Israel. I'm hunched over the side of the coffee table, my head a few inches from the paper and my right leg under the table. The lake is a beautiful shade of teal today, and there are just a few leaves still on the trees.)

The location of the house, I've realized, accounts for more of the appeal than I'd realized. Almost all the windows face east, where no matter how hard you look you won't see a hint of civilization. It's like this is the only house in the world.

Most of the rooms are modestly sized, at least by the extravagant standards of America. There are narrow hallways and staircases, a smallish kitchen and dining room, and one tiny bathroom where all the walls are mirrors. It's not like those houses where it takes longer to get from one room to the next than it ought to, just because the owners like seeing lots of empty space. But there is a big exception to this rule, and that's the basement. The basement is downright enormous.

There's a pool table there, which was regularly in use when my cousins and their cousins were over for Shabbat. (I've improved tremendously, though perhaps that's not saying much.) And that's just a little corner of the room. There are three brown poles holding up the ceiling, of the sort that just beg you to run around them until you get dizzy. One of the poles is in a very inconvenient spot, where it prevents any pool shots of a particular angle. The room also has two ancient arcade machines that don't work anymore, and an ancient TV connected to a working Nintendo 64 which has only one game (Mario Kart 64). Random pieces of furniture are scattered through the room, some of which are meant to be there and the rest moved there from upstairs on the real estate agent's recommendation in order to make those rooms seem bigger. And by the north wall is the piano, which (I imagine) hasn't been touched since last I was here.

My grandparents were afraid they'd have to tune it, but to my ears it sounded great. It has a very timid sound to it, and the more bombastic things I play in the bass sound a bit false on it! On the other hand, all dissonance is unusually palatable on it, and the more new-age stuff sounds really cool and ethereal. The third piece I ever composed, I made specifically for this piano.

Right over the TV but one floor up is my room. I had my choice of room, and there are nicer ones, but there was never any question that I was sleeping there. The room actually has two beds, two desks, two closets, etc., but there's a divider that closes to split it into two separate rooms. Way back when we were little kids, Benjy would get the north side and I'd get the south side. Now the north side has a laptop computer in it, but that's not my side. Mine is the side with the 8-Track player. The drawers have photos my Uncle Perry took, developed downstairs in what used to be a dark room but is now a bathroom. The shelves I remember being filled with books, but now they're all empty. (The real estate agent's recommendation.) And as it turns out, by the wall there's a pad of the most perfectly-sized paper for what I've planned, which has just been sitting there unused for years.

The bedrooms are right to the south of the main entrance, but they're hidden from view behind a wall, which I think is pretty clever design. You only see the hallway by turning around the corner. If you go down that hallway in the other direction, it leads to the kitchen and the dining room and the den.

I'm not spending much time in the den this trip, because it's the room with the TV, but when everyone was over they were spending most of their time there for the same reason. (This actually worked out pretty nicely; I didn't particularly want to see them.) There's a fireplace there, which I might not have ever noticed before even though it's very prominent because I don't notice much of anything unless I'm looking. The wall the fireplace is on is covered in hand-cut stones, which does seem like the sort of thing that would go around a fireplace, no? My grandfather pointed out the quality of the "miter work" done there, and I don't even know what that means but apparently that was the first thing he noticed when he first saw the house back in the 1950s and it greatly impressed him. "That's fine craftsmanship!", he told me. "They don't make 'em like that anymore."

At the corner of the den is a door that leads out to the backyard. Right outside that is my grandfather's grill, which has enough of an awning over it that he wouldn't get wet in the rain, but it still gets awfully cold out there. The backyard technically goes all the way around to the front of the house on both sides, with a forest to the north too thick (and on terrain too uneven) to walk through. In the northeast corner of the yard is a path through the trees which is steep and narrow and goes on for longer than you'd think, passing a small stream to end up at the beach. The beach is usually boring, but that path is awesome. At every step I see how far it goes down to my left and my right, and it seems like there are lots of interesting spots to sit in down there, but of course it's much too dangerous to go to any of them because the ground is slippery and it's all really high up. So I look, and try to picture what the area would look like from there.

I was waiting for more than a week for snow. The forecasters said there'd be snow for Thanksgiving, but there wasn't. Each morning I looked out my window to the east and was disappointed anew. But then one morning I looked out and everything was white. I took a shower and had breakfast before going out, which was a mistake. By the time I got out there it was already drying up. I quickly but carefully went down the path to the lake, because I'd never seen a snow-covered beach before. And what a sight it was! The waves to the left, the snow to the right. The snow ended abruptly at the random curves where waves hit, so there was a clear division between sand and snow. And that went on ahead off into the distance, where there was smoke coming up from the ground for some reason I couldn't discern. Up above the sun just barely shone through the thick clouds. I stood there and looked for a while, trying to burn the image into my head.



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