Something Wonderful Coming


ImageYou never knew the full story. How I knew you were coming.

It was New Year’s Eve. Two weeks or so before I ventured out under the frozen stars of a Wisconsin sky. From that bone-smacking wind-whipped cold into the chocolate chip cookie baking warmth of your kitchen. Linda Ronstadt singing “Lovesick Blues.” And then to the radiance of your smile I said, “I was just in the neighborhood . . .”

Likely you thought that’s where it started. All those years ago.

But it was two weeks before that New Year’s Eve, when the notion first wound its way inside me like the smell of a wood fire burning, holding back the coldest winter night. The notion that something was coming. Something big. That woodsmoke notion was not a passing thought. It settled in and stayed the night. And what a night!

To have a New Year’s Eve, like grown-ups spend New Year’s Eve. My first. That first time you do something you believe is just about as cool as cool can be. You have arrived. You’ve got the story all planned to tell before it even happens. Because you’re that sure that what you’ve got planned is the best.

See, for me, at that time in Chicago, there simply was no better place to be than The Earl of Old Town. Add to that, the fact that it was New Years Eve. And if that wasn’t cool enough, Steve Goodman was the featured act. Me and a pal, going to the late show.

It was a good story before it even happened.

Standing in the foot stomping line on windswept Wells Street, waiting for the show to start. My pal and I would be counting down the last seconds of the year with Steve Goodman. As we waited for the early show to end so that we could go in, it started to snow.

With the soft snow swirling down across the lights of the icy winter city, we trooped inside the Earl and took our seats; it was like sitting down in the living room of that guy from the neighborhood who we had always wanted to be.

The stage was a tiny riser, the bar along the opposite wall. Tables clustered tightly around, like there was really just one table. We were sitting right in back of Nancy Goodman, Steve’s wife. Told ourselves we were now on “salt-passing terms” with Steve Goodman’s wife. And outside, the snow, a soft reminder of just how warm it was in this living room tonight.

As the bouncing bundle of laconic joy that was Steve Goodman sang, I started to feel that notion. Something big was coming. I had no idea what it was. But it was big.

Wide-eyed, held tight by the show. Those days in Chicago, there was Steve Goodman and Bonnie Koloc and John Prine. If you were there, they used their musical gifts to paint pictures, to take you to places only reached by imagination. The three of them, good beyond belief.

Goodman finished. My pal and I trudged off into the still falling snow, back to his place. Me on the couch alone, still with this notion. That something big was coming.

The next day, brilliant blue-sky-bright morning, when it really hit hard. We were tramping through the snow in Lincoln Park on New Year’s morning, with the place to ourselves. Past the new neighborhood restaurant, RJ Grunts. Just about to walk inside the grounds of the Lincoln Park Zoo.

That notion spoke like the very voice of winter itself. It said; “Your life is going to change. It’s going to change big. There will be something beyond what you’d ever imagined. You don’t know what it is and you don’t know when. But you are growing up now. And there will be a change.”

I remember going from the blue frozen morning into the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Stepping from the arctic into the tropics, a green wet jungle. A miracle when you think about it. How do you go from frigid cold to the beating heart jungle in just a few steps? And having the “plant zoo” as we called it, all to ourselves?

What happened after the Lincoln Park conservatory, the dripping green leaves against the glass that shielded them from the deep blue freeze of the day—I draw a blank. Up to Wisconsin must have happened. I was a college student. I had classes to take. I don’t remember what they were. I remember only two weeks later in the very dead of January venturing outside into the dark and ending up in your kitchen.

The part of the story that you know, too.

Then there was that lifetime. 20 years. Until your garden in Berkeley. Blue ceramic mugs of coffee for a carefully planned half hour visit. Tiptoeing past the closed door where your partner and new son slept in. If I remember right, maybe we said we’ll check in again, when we hit 60. If we all make it that long.

That might happen, but in case it doesn’t…this will have to do. I thought you should know the rest of the story. The part that happened just before we became us.

I wanted you to know what I knew. I want you to know that I remember, after those cookies came out of the oven in that two-weeks-after-New-Year’s kitchen, we walked on to the campus through the cold. Holding hands. And that’s when that notion that something was just about to happen…

Came true.

Growing up.

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