Monday, 16 April 2012

A tale of three cities

A long drive: from Chardon to Chicago; from one world through another, passing along several other worlds along the way...

It was a bit of a pilgrimage, really, as we worked our way west on the I-90 interstate from just north of Des's place in Ohio to here in Chicago. This is family country - I'm back in Hamuera land, which I last visited in November last year - and we stopped to see some places along the way. Once we arrived in Chicago tonite, we reflected on just how different these places were from each other. And yet, each of them means a lot to us.

I'll talk about these three sites by sharing three photos of Mum and me today.

(Dad's not in the photos because he was taking them. Legend.)

Sturgis, Michigan

Sturgis is the town right in the bottom of Michigan (like, maybe 5 minutes nirth of the Michigan-Indiana border) where Mum's grandmother Lydia was born. Her father was a German Lutheran pastor, and he was serving in Sturgis when she was born in 1883.  She was baptised soon after in Trinity Lutheran Church in the same town, and although the building has been replaced since then this photo is of Mum and me at the same spot. Amazing!

Sturgis is one of those towns that started as a small town and oozed ever since. A strip of old shops and a post office is surrounded by homes, hospital, churches and schools, and beyond them the town dribbles out in a thin spread of gas stations, Walmarts, fast food places, car repairs, newer housing and supermarkets. It's kind of like an egg in a pan, a firm rotund yellow yolk at the centre and slippery white all around which is substantial too, but in a different way.

Actually, in this photo Mum is relieved as well as happy - because as we left Des's place in Chardon this morning I told her I had a surprise for her (I didn't tell her about Sturgis, or why we were gong there) on the way to Chicago - and Mum's not good with suspense!! So, this photo is taken after a few hours of her trying her best to trick me into revealing where we were going - hehe. She agreed after that it was, indeed, a good surprise.

South Chicago, Illinois

South Chicago isn't Chicago. It's another world. Here, Mum and I are on the steps of Immanuel Lutheran Church. In 1907, when the church was built, the community around the building included a large number of German speakers who wanted a place to worship, spend time being themselves, and provide a school for their kids. Most of the people in the neighbourhood are now Black and Latin@: store signs are as likely to be in Spanish as in English and the church is now under the ownership and care of a Black Hebrew community who uses the building as their temple. My, how things change. And yet, how they stay the same. The name embedded in the steeple is 'Erste Immanuel' - 'First Immanuel' by another name - and while it would be absolutely innapropriate to sidestep the issues of class, racism and poverty in 1908 or 2012 South Chicago, this is a place for people who are on the margins but, because it's far enough away from certain kinds of centres, there is room for people to be themselves.

Why were we at the foot of the ex-church/ now-temple? Well, the last Te Punga to grace the steps of this building was Hamuera, first when he was ordained here as a Minister and then a couple of months later when he married Lydia. Yes, Lydia who has been a little chicken licken in Sturgis grew up and, after nursing and then burying her father, came and worked as a teacher in the little school attached to Immanuel.

While we looked at the building and Dad took a couple of photos, I saw a man down the side of the church who was checking us out too. Who were these people from another place? ("I thought you was from the city" he admitted after we had been chatting for a while.) I called out to him, and asked what the church is used for now and he ambled over to the wire fence between us, and stood awhile, talking about his faith and the Hebrew language which means a lot to him and his people. When it seemed appropriate, and after Mum and Dad had come over to see who I was talking to, we told him  about why we'd come to see this church which, really, is looking a little the worse for wear and seems an unlikely tourist destination.

The four of us probably spent twenty minutes standing there, talking about the church and our various connections to it. His job is to look after the maintenance and renovation of the building and he talked about it as if it was a dear friend. He marvelled at the thickness of the wood, the bricks which aren't made like that anymore, the stained glass windows, the mechanics of squeezing into a crawlspace in the roof and winding down the lights to the floor when a bulb needs changing. We told him about how far we'd come  to see the church, why Hamuera and Lydia mattered so much, and how amazing it would have been for Lydia to leave this place and go to New Zealand with a short little Maori guy she'd met through their mutual connection with Immanuel.

As we talked, he emphasised the careful planning and commitment that had been put into the foundations and structure of the building. "This has been here for a hundred years," he said, "and it's so strong it'll be here for a hundred more."

Chicago, Illinois.

After Sturgis and South Chicago we arrived in the bright lights of this big city. 'The Windy City' they call her, and that appeals to people from Wellington. We walked, had beer and snacks at outside tables at a bar, and milled around the busy streets with all the other people who were enjoying the chance to stroll in weather than let you roam without a heavy coat and mittens. Sunday will be the Art Institute and an architectural tour on the river, and then more walking and enjoying the buzz of it all. I love this town, and now Mum and Dad do too.

Sturgis, South Chicago, Chicago. Three worlds, three towns, one day.

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