Monday, October 15, 2012

Walking their old streets

The recent passing of my dear Great-Aunt Marion took me last weekend to Aurora, IL, the town where both of my maternal grandparents were born.  Although it was a solemn occasion that brought us all there, it was a great weekend for many reasons.  I traveled with my grandparents, my mom and my uncle - we flew together, drove together, stayed in the same hotel, ate and drank together.  Regardless of the occasion, when my extended family gets together it leads to multi-generational guffaws.  And I got a very personal tour of our family history.

For some reason, I had never before been to Aurora.  But I really wanted to have Grandma and Grandpa show me around.  The actual house where such-and-such happened isn't particularly meaningful to me.  But the showing of the houses is.  The experience of hearing them recall events and people, as the streets remind them of various goings-on.  Every corner held a memory for Grandma or Grandpa or both of them - here was where she went to kindergarten, there is his childhood church, here's their first apartment after they were married. 

The art deco Paramount Theatre, downtown Aurora
Aurora itself is a neat little town (actually now it's a fairly large town), situated on the lovely Fox River.  The river itself set up many of the stories: by splitting the town into the East Side and the West Side, it created rivalries (as well as some sort of phantom difference).  When my grandparents lived there, Aurora was home to a great deal of manufacturing, a laughable number of bakeries and a surprising frequency of the name Herman Harms.  Also, apparently back then newlyweds sought their parents' approval before deciding where to move.

Aunt Marion's service was very nice, and reminiscing with family afterwards was a comfort and a pleasure - every outburst of laughter reminded us all of her.  We drank manhattans in her honor, we admired photographs, we wished she were there in the house she loved.  It was a great weekend for many reasons.

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