Hanging Out in Rockford: Old times, new times—part one

I am having coffee at Gerlinde’s Water Street Café on Thursday morning when my friend Greg, who sells furniture at Rockford Furniture, hands me a note. It is from an old schoolmate of mine named Barb Blank (now Taube). He was on his way back from San Diego, and he met her on the bus coming back to Rockford. She is returning to Rockford to attend the 40th reunion of the Harlem High School class of 1963. I think it is written on a page torn from a Reader’s Digest. She has told him a story about me and a couple of my friends following her home from school in the sixth grade. Joe Sinkiawic was our principal. You probably remember him better as the former mayor of Loves Park. I remember he called us all in to the office and read us the riot act. I remember him saying that his first reaction was, “not these boys”. He was very upset with us. We had lost his trust. We followed her home because she was so cute. We couldn’t help it. I guess we told the principal that we kissed her, but I guess we really didn’t. At least she told Greg we didn’t. She probably knows whether we did or not. I knew that one of the guys was Todd Shipley; we were almost inseparable. I thought the other one was Jimmy Green, but it turns out to have been Don Arenz. We were pretty thick pals at the time, too. The note contains a local telephone number where she will be staying and an offer to visit while she is in town. I decide to give her a call. Her brother Paul answers the phone. (I had forgotten until that moment that she had a brother Paul.) He says that she is out and will return my call when she comes back to his house. Then he tells me that he reads my column in The Rock River Times. Later that evening, she returns my phone call. I am sitting in the downtown Rose. It is noisy, and I move to the back room to talk. We reminisce, and she reminds me that she played the clarinet, and I have a flash of playing the trumpet in the eighth grade at Hamilton Junior High and her sitting just ahead of me and to the right. My waitress Jenn is listening to the conversation with great delight. I ask when the high school reunion is, and she says it is Saturday night. I tell her that I will attend if it is still possible. She says it is supposed to be very casual because it is at Lino’s and that all I have to do is call and tell them that there will be another person. (For some unknown reason, though, I think that she says Nunzio’s.) I wonder what she will look like after all these years. On Saturday, I drive out to CherryVale to buy a new dress shirt at Marshall Field’s. I confidently tell the clerk my size, having been measured for my tux for the Red Ball the week previous. I neglect to try it on. There it is, that try it on thing again. I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. I guess I should have taken Elisha along—she would have made me try it on. About 5 o’clock, I start to prepare for the event. I call Nunzio’s to add a reservation, and they act like I have green hair. Frantically, I search through the wastebasket for the note from Barb so I can call her at her brother’s. The boys have emptied the wastebasket, and the note no longer exists. I call information for her brother’s phone number, but no luck. Then I call an old classmate, Gary Maitland (I lived with Gary and his family when my mother was in the mental hospital when I was about 12 years old), and he tells me it is at Lino’s. Thank God. Then it is time to get dressed, so I unwrap my new shirt. The sleeves only come to the middle of my wrist, and I cannot button the collar. Frantically, I search my closet for a shirt I can wear. Finally, I find one I had forgotten about. Then I have to iron it at the last minute. When I get to Lino’s, the place is packed. There is something going on in every room, and hordes of young girls in long dresses are waiting in line. The hostess directs me to the lower level, where the reunion is taking place. I wander around meeting old classmates. We all make jokes about reading each other’s nametags and about having to get our close-up glasses out to do so. I bump into Steve Kuhn, former president of Machesney Park, and I see Gary Maitland. And then there she is, the most beautiful, and youngest-looking person in the room, my old classmate Barb, and I am really glad I came to the reunion. Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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