Attended my Class Reunion back in Marinette Wisconsin this month. Marinette Wisconsin and it's sister city Menominee Michigan lie just across the Menominee River from each other, as anyone who has read my book Maggie Ryan knows.
Marinette has a wonderful neighborhood on the shores of Green Bay, which is really an inlet of Lake Michigan between the Wisconsin/Upper Michigan shoreline and the Sturgeon Bay Peninsula. That neighborhood is Menekaunee - described by those of us who love it as "A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem". It is known in Ripley's Believe It or Not as having more bars and churches per block than any city its size in the U.S.
Menekaunee was the place I always wished I lived - so much more interesting than just plain Marinette. Many of my closest friends lived there and I had plenty of sleep overs there during my high school years. It became home to Maggie Kelly before she became Maggie Ryan. Maggie's father Patrick is, as all of my friends know, patterned after my beloved father, the first person that people talk to me about when they see me after an absence of many years.
Like Patrick Kelly, my father was a bartender at a place called The Red Brick. It still does business today. Like Maggie, I did my homework in a booth in the bar after school. And to this day, bar rooms seem like home to me, especially bars that are not trendy - no big screen tv's blaring every sport in the world. Just down home places where patrons drink Bud, play darts and listen to the juke box - no I PODS allowed. Nothing against I PODS. Got one myself. Play it incessently. When I'm not drinking Bud in a Menekaunee bar.
I never knew why Menekaunee, which was not a town, but just a neighborhood, had its own name until I did some research for Maggie. Then I learned, after all of these years, that Menekaunee was the first home of the Menominee Indian Tribe. How fitting, I thought, since the hero of the book and Maggie's one true love is a Menominee Joseph Dodge. How did I know to write that?
My home since 1974 has been Los Angeles and I admit to loving it. I live just steps away from the Glendale Narrows - one of the few sections of the L.A. River that has a natural bottom, not lined with concrete. Because of that, we have islands that are home to so many birds. When I ride my horse, I see Blue Herons, Egrets, families of colorful ducks. And the Park is full of Parrots - bright green and incredibly vocal. That little stretch of River is a stand in for the vast waters of Lake Michigan where I grew up. I love the water, which is why you will find some kind of water on the cover of every book I publish.
I have strayed far from my original topic which is Class Reunions. Perhaps I was just lucky to grow up at the right time - When I visited the Blog set up especially for my class mates in anticipation of our reunion - when I saw us in our baby dolls at slumber parties, and swimming at the gravel pit - Why, when we had Lake Michigan at our back door? - when I saw our class pictures - my daughter says "You all looked like you were 30 when you were 18 - maybe it was the hair do's and the angora sweaters.
I was teary with nostalgia. Forget any sophistication you might have picked up from living in a "big city". I was home again.
My Message - If you are invited to attend a high school class reunion - you can go home again. But probably not if you are under 50.