Family In Three Parts: Skateboarding, Abortion and Jesus

Family In Three Parts: Skateboarding, Abortion and Jesus

 Part 1 Skateboarding

In high school a new boy arrived at the Jersey Shore from California with a skateboard. Someone made them for all of us using old roller skates and plywood. We skateboarded Skateboarding in New York City, 1960s (19)downhill in forbidden cemeteries until dark. It was the 1960s. Skateboards were outlawed, not because they were dangerous but because they were unknown, not a part of the mainstream and somehow subversive. We hid them in car trunks and behind
old tires in the garage. None of us had standard-issue parents so we formed our own family. Our family stuck together, laughed a lot and listened to each other. The police chased us out of the graveyards, creating a deeper bond of secrecy and protection. We vowed to call each other, not our parents, if we ended up in the police station. Later on, one did, with a bale of marijuana. He didn’t call. He went to jail. Another drank too many beers, drove himself  into a telephone pole and died.

Part 2  Abortion

I thought I should have an abortion. The boy I loved said I had to decide on my own. If I kept the baby we’d marry. If not, he’d never be able to see me again. How could a 20-year-old college student know that? He had more confidence than I, seemed less emotional, but had the same love for beer and the beach and rock & roll. She wasn’t hard to find, this illegal woman in Newark, NJ. When you reached a certain age in the ‘60s, everybody knew someone who knew someone. I drove alone.The three-story house had a small front porch. I climbed the wooden stairs, knocked on the rattling screen door. She answered and asked my name. Nothing came into my mind. Nothing came out of my mouth. She suggested I come back when I’m ready, but “don’t wait too long.” I drove to the boy and we started a family.

Part 3  Jesus

The poet pastor wandered around church saying hello to people with his Shrek voice, usually on his way to and from the courtyard. Sneaking cigarettes. I saw him frequently at the bar in a neighborhood restaurant. Sneaking scotch. As a former drinker and smoker myself, I had th-2a familial attachment to him. When a spiritual crisis befell me, I found him outside, lurking among the Gothic arches of the colonnade. I told him I have  something serious to discuss.  

“Sure, how ‘bout this afternoon?”

Tears got in the way of explaining myself any further until later, in his office. 

“I don’t believe in the Resurrection anymore,” I confessed.  

“Huh? Most people don’t even think about this stuff, Rrregan,” he confessed.  

“Do I have to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus to be a Christian?” I asked.  

“Well, it’s the main tenet of our faith,” I thought he exclaimed, but he probably just said.  

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Wait it out!” He definitely exclaimed.

“You will always be in the church family no matter what you believe. Just. Wait. It. Out.”

Ghosts of Navy Pier

My son Joe and I bought sneaker roller skates from a typical Chicago hustler at the Dearborn Garden Walk street festival in early summer 1977. They were a novelty—yellow canvas shoes attached to shock-absorbent, sound-proof neoprene wheels. We lived in nearby Sandburg Village and skated home that day carrying our shoes.

IMG_0170
Joe Kelly, 10, on Roller Skates

The rest of the summer and into the fall, after school and work and on weekends, we’d skate around the Near North side and downtown Chicago, charting the smoothest sidewalks, the longest ride, uphill climbs and downhill coasts.

One October day we skated over to Lake Michigan’s Navy Pier. Built in 1916, Navy Pier has been used as a cargo hub, a military base, college campus, convention center, recreation center and wedding pavilion. Before its retrofit, the watery concrete jetty hosted Chicago Fest and the International Art Expo. That day in 1977 when Joe and I were skating around, the deserted mile-long slab of steely smelling cement shouldered two low-slung cargo sheds divided down the middle by a midway for tractor trailers. A few joggers who’d parked their cars in the lot in front of the pier were trotting out and back along the sun-drenched lake side, a perfect 2-mile run.

We chose the leeward route, the interior midway, because we noticed half-opened doors to the cargo sheds, though no workers were in sight.

“Let’s go look inside.” I said to Joe.

Gregarious ring-billed gulls hawked insects on the wing overhead. Otherwise, the place

IMG_0171
Joe Kelly, 11, on Skateboard

was noiseless. We skated off to a half-opened articulated overhead door, bent under and slid through. Our squinty eyes adjusted to the shadowy warehouse. Row after row of two-story high floats showcased Dumbo, clowns popping out of train cars, horses hanging over barn doors, dragons, Charlie Brown and Lucy, castles and fairies, Santa’s sleigh and reindeers and Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe with her big-headed children clinging to the side.

“Whoa-ho!” said Joe, “this is where they store the parade floats!”

We skated under dragon’s fire and around angels’ wings farther and farther into the semi-dark. It was the year of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, movies that put head-trip phantasms in our everyday journeys. The bang of an unseen door slamming shut whooshed life into the moribund creatures. The two of us tacked on our skates and sailed back through the outsized flatbeds into the light to shake off the spirits of our fright.

I once heard the old parade floats got dumped into the defunct Riverview Amusement Park, and I hope that’s true. It’d be a perfect graveyard for the ghouls on parade.

Joe took up skateboarding the next spring when he was 11 and rolled around his own
Chicago with his friends. I dumped my skates for a bicycle and I often pedal around the modernized Navy Pier. Every once in a while I get spooked by a mysterious whop. I shake myself real: those clowns popping out of that train car are not coming for me.