Oak Park, Illinois was in the news recently. The village (yes, this city of 60,000 is, by law, a village) authorities managed to prevent a Lane Bryant store from opening in trendy shopping area at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. The story was featured on the Today show some weeks ago with all the righteous indignation that upscale New Yorkers could manage.
Kathleen and I lived in Oak Park for eight years--from 1981 to 1989. We didn't live in the trendy part of town, but in the apartment corridor of Washington Boulevard. Two of our three children were born there. (Our daughter Sarah was born at West Suburban hospital about the time Alice Cooper's daughter Calico was born there. Cooper's father-in-law was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Oak Park. Honest. We never saw Cooper, though.)
In the late spring of 1989, Anne and Sarah were five and four years old respectively, and Kathleen was pregnant with our son James. As often as I could, I'd take the girls to a park so Kathleen could get some well-deserved rest. My favorite place was Rehm Park. It had a conservatory which had some amazing plants, incluting a century plant which had bloomed that winter. (It's called a century plant because that's how often it blooms.) There was a a little railroad in the park-very narrow guage--on which children could ride on handcars. And there was a large sandbox, which the girls liked more than all the other attractions.
I was at the sandbox one day when a young woman struck up a conversation with me. She had three small children with her. Kathleen and I were reading a lot of detective fiction in those days, and I may have had a Rex Stout book with me. In a few minutes we were having a fascinating discussion of the mystery genre--of Stout, Doyle, Christie, Sayers, and others. She was too young to remember the television series, "The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes," but she said her father had talked about it. I told her about Max Carrados, the blind detective, and Dr. Thorndyke, the detective who held both law and medical degrees. I don't know how long we talked. There was nothing remotely sexual in this interchange--neither of our spouses had anything to worry about. It was just some intelligent conversation, and I wondered whether she was starved for it.
Kathleen had actually met this woman I'll call Rachel, at Rehm Park, and had a similar conversation about fictional detectives. A couple Kathleen had met through a preschool knew Rachel. They loved Rachel, but couldn't stand her husband. He was a lawyer, and apparently fulfilled all the stereotypes of the lawyer jokes. They were reluctant to have a get-together because Rachel's husband was just too unbearable.
In August of 1989, I accepted an offer to be Amtrak ticket agent in Elkhart, Indiana. Over the years we've lost track of our Oak Park friends. But I still think about Rachel, and our conversation in the sandbox. I hope that her husband has proved worthy of her, and that she's been privy to more intelligent conversation.