Sometimes, you just need to say goodbye.
Call it closure, resolution, moving on, or what have you.
Some things just need to be done.
This door closed, ever so gently, but not before wandering around one last time.
Smiles, tears, laughter and oh-so-many memories – along with an amazing surprise.
I did it all in the summer of 2018.
Recently, my daughter-in-law mentioned that my grandchildren are interested in where grandma grew up.
When I drove away for the last time on that Sunday morning in the summer of 2018, I had no intention of ever returning.
For two days, I did a driving “Farewell Tour,” which I’ve now transformed into two articles. Not only is this for my grandkids, but I realized, especially since my family left no descendants in the city where I grew up, it’s especially important for me to document my memories.
Otherwise, they die with me. Mom’s already gone.
Perhaps your family would enjoy a similar article about your memories.
Return to Kokomo
I left Kokomo, the town in which I was raised, almost 40 years ago now, for all the reasons that seem so familiar in my ancestors’ stories. Better opportunity, education, higher wages, hope for my children.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just a relocation, but a huge fork in the road. Actually, more like a sharp turn than a curve.
I not only left the location behind, but the culture, the people and everything that went along with it. Good and bad.
Until my parents passed away, I returned fairly often, so it didn’t seem like a dramatic departure, more like a new job with different scenery.
However, I slowly grew distant from all things Kokomo. After my stepfather, then my stepbrother, then my mother died, there was nothing left to go back to – so I didn’t.
By that time, everything having to do with Kokomo was about death and loss – estates, attorneys and battles. Deceit and lies. Not good memories.
My high school class hadn’t been terribly active in terms of reunions. There was a 10-year reunion, which I attended.
I had just finished my master’s degree, was working in research and was proud of my hard-won accomplishments. I hadn’t stopped to realize, until I arrived at the reunion, that I couldn’t afford senior pictures – and I hadn’t kept in touch – so my nametag literally had NOTHING on it except my name.
I was incredibly glad to see my friend Kim who had finished her medical degree, against astounding odds. Back in the summer of 1970, she and I had studied together in Europe on a scholarship. I don’t know about her, but that experience had changed my life forever.
The 20-year reunion in 1993 occurred on the same weekend that my (now) former husband had a massive stroke.
I think there were other reunions after that, but the years following that stroke consumed every ounce of my time, money and patience. I happened to be in town for one other reunion, dropping in briefly, but I don’t recall when.
Then, in 2018, classmates began planning an informal get-together at a local craft brewery. Alright, my kind of event.
Plus, there were a few people I would really like to see. What happened to them? Would Kim be there?
I hadn’t been back to visit Mom and Dad’s graves for several years. They weren’t, and Kokomo wasn’t, on the way TO anyplace. I thought a combined trip to visit Mom and Dad at the cemetery and meet-up with my classmates would be fun.
What I didn’t realize was that I would be taking a trip down memory lane.
Literally driving into, and through, my past.
And…that this would be my last trip.
My own version of a rock star Farewell Tour.
There is truly, truly nothing to go back for now.
The tiny tendrils that initially held me have dropped away one by one.
Now, I’m free.
No trip home is complete without a trip to the cemetery. My only immediate family in Indiana lives in cemeteries now.
I wanted to visit Mom’s and Dad’s graves, even though I know they “aren’t really there.” Their physical remains are, and that’s as close as I can get for now.
They rest side by side but with separate headstones. My stepfather’s first wife is buried beside him. I always laugh, thinking about him between both of his wives keeping a watchful eye on him.
I know this sounds bizarre, but I took my small car quilt and had a picnic with Mom and Dad.
My stepsister who died as an infant and my stepbrother who died in 1999 are buried there too, as well as the father of my friend, Peggy.
I stopped and bought flowers for all of them.
Peggy was my long-time friend. Our mothers had worked together and we were close friends in high school, and after.
We hung out, got into trouble together (oh yea!), and eventually supported each other on our life’s journeys as we both experienced joys and tragedies – pretty well summed up by the phrase, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
We visited each other in multiple states across the county.
Peggy saw my Facebook posting that I was planning to visit Mom in the cemetery in Galveston, and she replied that her dad was buried there too. I found his grave, recorded two videos for Peggy so she or another family member could find it in the future, and left flowers on her behalf.
Little did I know that Peggy, who lived in Alaska, would pass away just a few months later, in January 2019.
I’m incredibly glad I recorded Facetime live at her father’s grave and posted it on her timeline for her family – albeit with a quivering voice. It was such an emotion-filled day for me.
Mom, below at left, with Peggy and me at Highland Park in Kokomo having a picnic the last time were all together, about 20 years ago.
Peggy and I never did tell mom all the stories. I don’t think she would have appreciated them – certainly not in the way Peggy and I did.
The Kokomo Speedway
After I left the cemetery, I drove south from Galveston past the Kokomo Speedway – a hangout of mine at one time.
I never raced at the Speedway, a dirt sprint track.
My racing days began on drag strips and ended a few years later when I rolled a Datsun 240Z while pregnant.
My Datsun looked a lot like this one that’s for sale today, except mine was “souped up” with spoilers, an air dam, pin striping and different tires – not to mention a roll bar which is probably what saved my life and that of my unborn child.
Truth be told, I didn’t actually roll the car racing, but doing doughnuts in a vacant shopping mall parking lot one Sunday morning after a snow. I spun into the snow bank (more like a mountain) left by the plow, slid up the bank with enough momentum to flip the car. I can’t tell you how mad I was at myself – not to mention I couldn’t get out of the car until someone noticed my predicament and called for help. That was long before the days of cell phones, but I digress.
I decided at that point that maybe racing, at least for me, probably wasn’t such a good idea anymore. Having children changes your perspective. The only thing, other than the car, that had been hurt was my pride, but it was a close call. Too close.
My favorite events at the Speedway as a child were the figure 8 races, often on the 4th of July when racing was accompanied by fireworks. The stands were always full that night.
A lot has changed here over the years. I wouldn’t have recognized it as the same place.
B&K Rootbeer Stand
Right down the road, the B&K Rootbeer stand looks almost exactly the same. Memories of frosty mugs served on trays hung on the edges of rolled-down car windows as we parked under the drive-in canopies. The canopies appear to be gone, but the building itself remains, although didn’t appear to be open.
It was here that I remember, on a very nervous first date, saying something that caused my date to accidentally snort his rootbeer up his nose – and back out again. I desperately tried not to laugh but it’s difficult to pretend rootbeer running out of someone’s nose isn’t happening. And yes, there was a second date. Meet Eddie – you’ll see him again.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Eddie would one day be at my wedding. But not as the groom – as the best man. Now THAT’S a story:)
A block on further down the street was a local favorite – of teens and adults both – for entirely different reasons.
Even the sign at Ray’s Drive-In is the same today.
As teens in Kokomo, we “drove around,” meaning we piled into cars – mostly owned by our parents – and cruised through several locations popular with teens. We wanted to see who was riding with whom. Who was sitting “close” to whom? Were girls sitting right next to boys on the bench seats, with no one in the passenger seat? If so, they were a couple. Or were they a couple and NOT sitting side by side? Were they arguing? Who was absent from cruising meaning they might be on a date?
Inquiring minds wanted to know!
So much to observe and interpret – and of course we didn’t want to miss ANYTHING!
Ray’s Drive-In, just a block from B&K Rootbeer remains a drive-in today. Ray’s was famous, literally, for their huge elephant ear tenderloin sandwiches and their frozen custard. I’m drooling just thinking about it. They are still on the menu.
I discovered after moving away that these fried tenderloins are a regional treat. Translate – you can’t get them elsewhere.
You also can’t get another regional favorite, Sugar Cream pies, and try and I might, I CANNOT get them to taste right.
The next stop on the teen cruising circuit was Northwest Park, a half mile or so west of Ray’s on Morgan Street.
The last time I visited Northwest Park, in the 1970s, I played frisbee in a field of grass that you can barely see behind the tunnel of trees that had just been planted at the time. They were about 3 feet tall. You always remember things the way you saw them last, so imagine my surprise.
Driving east on North Street, I passed this *historic* tavern, pronounced “North End Tavern.”
Some places are iconic. I’ve never been IN this tavern, but it has always stood on this corner, and has never looked great. It was always a known “trouble spot,” not where kids gathered, but regularly on the police scanner on weekends. It was close to the north Delco plant and several smaller factories that paid lower wages.
What’s that old saying. “In good times, people drink, and in bad times, people drink.” This neighborhood watering hole seems to prove that adage.
If I was going to go to a bar in Kokomo, it was going to be one with music, preferably a live band. Drinking wasn’t my thing, but music certainly was.
For the most part, when I lived in Kokomo, my time was consumed by college, family, work and children.
I learned to quilt at home and in the Missionary Circle at church, but I wasn’t a quilter, per se, back then. Things have changed!
I was thrilled to discover that a quilt show was being held the same weekend as the reunion. In fact, that might have been the tipping factor to convince me to go😊
Amish are prolific quilters and maintain beautiful gardens.
I learned to love flowers in Kokomo. Rose of Sharon blossoms remind me of the beauty of flowers blooming their hearts out on the farm.
In fact, farm life and flowers often appear as a theme in my quilts today, influencing the choice of fabric, design and color selection.
Not everything in Kokomo was beautiful though.
Kokomo was an industrial, automotive, manufacturing and steel-town. Many people from Kentucky, Tennessee, western Virginia and West Virginia moved north to work in the factories, creating a microcosm of all things Southern. This explains my accent. My father’s family was from Tennessee and we didn’t know we had accents. We talked just like everyone else!
Many factories sprang up, as did an entire secondary layer of service industries. While I was in college, I worked at Universal Steel, a recycling steel company where I gained experience outside of college on computers. My first management job, I was responsible for their entire system that managed everything from inventory to accounting to payroll.
To make life interesting, episodically the “frag” machine that shredded cars would blow up if the gas tank wasn’t entirely empty, often causing the office building across the “yard” to lose power. That’s death to computers and caused no end of problems for me.
Computers and education were the path to a better life. Hard to believe my professional computer science career started here, a place where I had a flat tire almost daily.
It was Universal Steel that sent me to classes at the Burroughs training center in Detroit. From there, I was on my way.
Creeks and rivers were central to the lives of our ancestors. I didn’t realize it, but the Wildcat Creek, located only a block or so from the house where I was raised was ever-present in my life too. I could literally see it between the buildings in the distance.
You’ll notice throughout this article many references to Wildcat Creek.
Shortly after arriving in town the day of the reunion, I met with my classmates for lunch at a restaurant located on Wildcat Creek, a couple blocks from where we went to high school. From the parking lot, I could see the old iron railroad bridge. Today walking trails span the banks of the Creek.
I’m amazed this old iron bridge still exists. It was old when I was young. At that time, only railroad tracks crossed this bridge. Today there’s a pedestrian path.
Wildcat Creek was never beautiful. Slow-moving and green – it was never inviting. Yet, it holds such good memories – mostly because of the parks along its length. The Wildcat flooded often. Where you can’t build structures, you build parks.
Foster Park, along the river, was where David Foster, an Indian trader first located in a cabin reportedly belonging to Chief Kokomo. I waded along the riverbanks here as a child.
I walked with boyfriends as a teen.
The older part of town is found along the creek. To the north, on hills above the floodline, the historic Victorian homes. To the south, the older, less opulent homes that were sometimes flooded.
I started my driving tour when I left the restaurant after lunch.
Ghosts of Places Past
The main drag east and west on the south end of town was Markland Avenue.
Stopped at the corner of Markland and Main, I spotted the old triangle shaped factory building, located along the now-defunct railroad track, so important to shipping in the late 1800s and early 1900s when these factories were built.
I hadn’t thought about his oddly shaped building in years.
Elwood Haynes, automotive pioneer, built factories and brought industry to Kokomo. Many buildings like this one, scattered throughout town, harken back to that time.
When I lived in Kokomo, these buildings housed smaller factories that produced supplies for the automotive industry. The structures have been repurposed several times since then.
This one was at one time a maintenance facility for the interurban railways, or trolleys. They were gone by the time I lived in Kokomo. Today, this building appears to be used for storage.
Driving down the street, you can see the ghosts of businesses past in the long triangle-shaped building along Main Street.
I had a boyfriend, we’ll call him “R,” who worked either in this building, or the next one south, now gone – then Kolux. I used to walk the mile and a half or so from home and meet him when he got off work in the summer. No AC in those buildings, so he was always drenched with sweat. No mind – I didn’t care. We’d roll the windows down in his red 65 Chevy SuperSport 4-on-the-floor, also with no AC, and drive to Ray’s Drive-In or B&K Rootbeer for refreshments.
Across the street to the right, my favorite pub still exists – even though I drank very little. Always a factory town, the Corner Pub was a family place, famous for their steaks and drinks. I always had one, just one, Apricot Brandy Sour. They certainly had the best plate-sized New York Strip steaks in town at the time.
A few blocks on south at Defenbaugh and Market, I found the building that was once Mid-States Electric, a supplier to the automotive manufacturing industry, where Mom used to work.
Mom’s office as the bookkeeper was just inside the door sheltered by the right canopy, which didn’t exist at the time.
Mom ran the office in addition to being the bookkeeper. Inger, Peggy’s mother, sold light fixtures when they added services for builders. The lighting showroom was in the door under left canopy, above.
The electronic parts were stocked in the rear where the contractors entered, the red area today on the side, above.
I remember the old Coke machine back there. Cokes were 5 cents each, in glass bottles that you slid out of their row.
Mid-States’ claim to fame was that one or more of their parts were incorporated into the early space capsules through Delco Electronics which manufactured some of the components.
After my father’s death, and before Mom met and married my stepdad, she eventually dated the owner of the company. Let’s just say that didn’t end well. It seldom does for the woman.
Thankfully, it did end and as a result, Mom landed a better job elsewhere a few years later.
Looking north from the parking lot, I can still see the old factory water towers in the distance.
It wasn’t a short walk to our house, probably a couple miles, but I walked it often. We didn’t worry about kids being kidnapped back then.
Mom worked at Mid-States for at least a dozen years and I worked there as well from time to time on Saturday mornings to help out and earn some spending money. Mostly, I carefully addressed envelopes by hand and did filing.
Mid-States was a supplier to Delco Electronics and was strategically located a block away. The huge Delco plant was 3 or 4 blocks long and as wide. Imagine my surprise today to find green grass and nothing else.
Ghosts of train-tracks past, partly paved over, leading now to nothing and no-place.
Delco may be gone, but many old factories are still in use. This is the water tower I saw from the Mid-States parking lot, now part of an automotive recycling facility. It may have once been Kokomo Opalescent Glass, now located nearby.
Pictures like this graphically explain the term, “rust-belt.”
Kokomo Opalescent Glass
I remember Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company quite fondly, the current factory shown above.
In business since 1888, they produce amazing art glass and it’s quite affordable in the gift shop. I do own a couple of pieces.
I bought this plate in the 1970s at the Treasure Mart.
Of course, ashtrays are out of vogue today, but that wasn’t always the case. This ashtray, about 5 or 6 inches across, has an interesting backstory.
Mom was a very attractive lady.
Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company purchased electronics from Mid-States Electric. A man named Bill was the vice-president and sales manager, at least eventually.
Bill paid an awful lot of attention to Mom. He brought her gifts, and when a dog bit me on the playground at school, he bought a goldfish for every hole the dog’s teeth left in my hand. Of course, he didn’t give the fish to ME directly, but took them to Mom.
I do recall that Mom and Bill had a couple of dates, but something happened and not only was she angry with him, but avoided him henceforth. Whatever happened, she was madder than a wet hen.
All I know for sure is that she was NOT discussing this with me.
In 1966, Bill made her a custom one-of-a-kind ashtray.
At that time, every home had ashtrays sitting on the tables.
I didn’t realize Mom had labeled this until I flipped it over just now to see if anything was written underneath.
Today, this graces my desk, holds my thumb drives and makes me chuckle thinking about the memories.
I would like to have purchased another piece of Opalescent Glass while I was there. I was hoping for a colorful butterfly signifying metamorphosis.
Maybe something like this.
Now I wonder if I could talk them into making a double helix. That would be stunning! Hmmm.
Unfortunately, the gift shop was closed, but the factory was operational. I found the trash while walking through the parking lot.
This is the trash heap. Just wow!
This was one of my favorite parts of my Farewell Driving Tour. Beauty is where you find it.
Driving back past the building where Mid-States Electric used to be, west on Defenbaugh Street, with the railroad tracks down the middle of the street for the full length, to Highland Park.
Today, the tracks only run for a couple blocks and then center flower containers that form a median barrier are located where the tracks used to be. The tracks became useless when Delco was no longer at the end of the line.
There’s still an essence of Mom there – both in that building and in Highland Park where she often took me as a child.
There were three main parks in Kokomo.
Northwest Park, the “new” park where I played Frisbee and the pine trees are now tall. We already visited there.
Foster Park, along the Wildcat Creek downtown, which we will visit shortly, and Highland Park, in the south part of town.
Highland Park was by far the largest with lots to see and do.
Today, both Old Ben and the old Sycamore stump are housed in this building. When I was young, the Sycamore stump stood outside and Ben had a small building that vandals broke into and damaged Old Ben’s horns and tail.
Who is Old Ben, you ask?
A mammoth, iconic steer.
I know his name is “Old Ben,” but I distinctly remember everyone calling him Big Ben – because he was HUGE!
Ben doesn’t look bad for being over 100 years old now.
I remember marveling at Ben as a child, pressing my nose against the window to get a better view.
This Sycamore stump, housed in the same building, is massive too – more than 57 feet in circumferance.
It was very difficult to photograph with the close proximity and glass. The stump was actually a phone booth when I was a child and probably 20 people could have easily fit inside.
Nearby is an old shelter that used to house a well.
We pumped water with the handle on hot days when I was a kid.
The stonework is original, but the well is now defunct.
When I was a child, the main playground area had 2 sections. One was smaller and fenced. When I was about the age in the photo above, the officer on duty approached mother and suggested that we needed to play in the smaller fenced area. I was “too dark” for the white playground, on the “non-colored” swings and merry-go-round.
Of course, the smaller fenced area’s swings and other items weren’t nearly as nice. They were the “colored” area – and the sign said as much.
Mother was furious. I now realize that in part, she didn’t want anyone to see me playing in the “colored” playground because I could not have attended the “white” school where we lived. In fact, we couldn’t have lived where we lived either. So being sent to the “colored section” was about a lot more than appears on the surface. As a child, I clearly didn’t understand. I just wanted to play.
We left, despite my protests, and I don’t recall that mother and I ever went back to that particular playground.
It was only shortly thereafter that desegregation was legislated and the issue disappeared, at least officially, as did the secondary playground which then became a special protected area for young children.
Highland Park is a park because it’s low, sits in a bowl of sorts, floods often and you certainly can’t build there
Across from the main playground area today are many picnic tables scattered along the length of the creek as it zigzags through the park.
Unfortunately, the curved iron table legs stick out beyond the edge of the seats as the iron curves up underneath the seat. Many years ago, Mom got her foot caught in one while carrying a dish at an Avon picnic, fell, and broke her pelvis in 3 places. I would think they would have changed the design, but looking at Google maps today, I noticed it’s still the same.
Maybe a lawsuit would have hastened a safer design, but mother would never have done that. I made that suggestion to the powers that be, and didn’t even get so much as an “I’m sorry.” Not exactly heartwarming when your mother is hospitalized and incapacitated.
Amazingly, she eventually recovered.
This footbridge leads to a small island skirted on all sides by the creek. As teens, we used to cross onto the island and sit on the banks of Kokomo Creek. People driving by can’t see you, but they can see your car in the lot.
Kokomo Creek is much more inviting that Wildcat Creek, in part because it’s shallow and there are no polluting factories.
As kids, we used to catch crawdads here in conical shaped paper cups after having Sno-Cones at the concession stand, still standing in the distance, above.
We never kept the crawdads – always let them go. I never wanted to hurt a living creature. The fun was in the wading and catching! There is no joy in killing.
Looks like kids still take off their socks to wade!
Back then, there was a child-sized amusement park too.
Today, the child’s train and other children’s rides are gone, but they were so much fun at the time.
That’s me in the second car with the pigtails above, and right behind the engineer, below!
The train used to run along the banks of the creek from one end of the park to the other, blowing its whistle. I don’t know when the train disppeared, but it was gone before I had children.
This little child-sized ferris wheel was so much fun, and not frightening at all. You could only ride if you were age 5 or under.
I was so disappointed when I was too big.
I vaguely remember another picture that I didn’t find in mother’s box of photos.
Near the old Sycamore stump was a small children’s play area. There were a few swings and 3 slides of varying sizes. You can see several of these pieces of now-known-to-be-dangerous playground equipment in this article, but the slide I’m referring to is the second photo into the article.
It had small edges about 3 inches tall and a hump near the top. The author calls it the “metal slide of doom” and I can vouch for that.
I climbed to the top of the BIG slide, sat down, and started sliding, only to hurtle over the side from the top, falling onto the ground with a dull thud.
I vaguely remember hearing my mother scream, seemingly distant, then nothing.
Apparently my father ran up to me and snatched me up off of the ground to him – terrifying my mother even more, in case I’d broken my neck.
Kids are pliable, and I, thankfully had broken nothing.
However, I forever thereafter hated slides. Still do.
I rememer once after that having to climb back down the steps, with kids in the way.
I never did THAT again either.
The Covered Bridge
Indiana is the land of covered bridges. Thankfully, they disassembled this bridge in the countryside and brought it to Highland Park instead of tearing it down.
Today, it graces Kokomo Creek near ancient trees.
Couples used to hold hands and sneak kisses in the privacy of the bridge.
I remember. (Teehee.)
Today, I’m alone here with my memories.
A time traveler of sorts, peeking backwards.
Viewing life through the knotholes is somehow fitting.
The park was also on the teenage cruise path, because there were several places that couples could park their cars and take walks.
Mom sometimes ate lunch here on her Avon route, and I used to come and sit at the picnic tables and pen letters to my merchant seaman penpal, Robin.
The other end of the park sported a dam and a pond.
A little later, back at my hotel, I realized I had forgotten to drive to that part of the park. I returned, because I wanted to take one last walk there.
The Dead, Raised
The sunshine was warm and lovely, with very few people. I parked the car and began strolling along the creek, lost in thoughts of old friends and exciting times like when I slipped off the algae-covered dam into the creek and emerged, both abashed and completely drenched.
Of course, I was in trouble because I wasn’t supposed to be ON the dam in the first place.
I see the geese are still residents. I used to feed the geese and have fond memories of coming here when I was pregnant, walking my rescue dog, a small Sheltie named Lady.
These geese are VERY tame.
One time, Mom, me and a very handsome boyfriend named Eddie brought popcorn one Sunday afternoon to feed the ducks.
Eddie wanted to impress both of us, but he could do nothing to convince a duck to eat out of his hand. He tried calling, talking, chasing – but absolutely nothing worked.
Mom sat down on the ground, and within a minute or so, the ducks were not only eating out of her hand, they were in her lap.
Then the geese joined in. Eddie gallantly rescued Mom from the Great Goose Ambush. Or maybe I should say that Mom allowed herself to be rescued😊
Of course, that rescued Eddie’s hurt pride too.
This is the park where Mom, Peggy and I were last together.
Where Mom tripped over a picnic bench leg and broke her pelvis when she was in her 70s.
I was lost in memories here, having drifted back in time, when I noticed someone else in the distance. Other than the two of us, this part of the park was empty, and I didn’t want to disturb her.
The other person was playing a guitar and singing. Lovely, just lovely. And Carly Simon too.
“You probably think this song is about you.”
One of my favorites from my years in Kokomo and seemingly written about a beau.
“You gave away the things you loved…”
Be still my aching heart.
Then, Janis Joplin. Me and Bobby McGee.
Music speaks to my soul which was experiencing a full range of emotions.
The tragedy in Janis’s voice, and life, mirrors my feelings about Kokomo perfectly.
Tears welled into my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.
I needed to cry.
My life there was so hopeful…until it wasn’t anymore.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
“I let him slip away.”
This truly, truly harkened back to my life there.
“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”
This lady’s voice was hauntingly familiar.
I closed my eyes and strolled quietly along the water, hoping that she wouldn’t see me and stop singing.
My heart needed this.
Many of my Kokomo memories are extremely sad. Soul searing.
I stood completely still, eyes still closed, letting her aching voice float me back in time.
She finished that song, and another.
Then she stopped and didn’t start again.
I opened my eyes to see that she had stood up and was walking towards me, slowly, hesitantly, gingerly.
“Uh-oh,” I thought.
I wrenched, lurchingly back to the present.
She peered at me questioningly…and said my name. Not Roberta, but Bobbi, my nickname used among friends.
I was utterly stunned, but stammered, “Yes. Yes, but who are you?”
“Carla” she said.
And together, we both blurted out, “what are you doing here?”
We grabbed each other, hugging and crying.
Carla was one of my best friends in high school.
We had lost track of each other entirely – 45 years ago.
In fact, at the last reunion I attended, I had been told that Carla had passed away, so imagine my shock!
I thought I had seen a ghost and it took every ounce of self-restraint to NOT blurt out, “but I thought you were dead.”
I presumed she was here for the reunion too and was SO VERY GLAD because I had lost track of nearly everyone, and I knew that a couple of the people I really wanted to see, like Kim, weren’t attending.
“What reunion?” she asked.
She was in town to visit her brother.
We sat and talked for some time, catching up. Time flew. I told her I was going to the reunion and where it was being held. Thankfully, it was not a reservation affair, so she could attend too. We traded information and I told her I hoped to see her that evening.
I still can’t believe how fortunate we were to be brought back together again for that instant in time. The stars aligned.
Truth truly is stranger than fiction.
What a beautiful gift.
But now it was time to go.
Leaving Highland Park the back way took me past the old steel mill, now defunct, vacant and a hazardous waste site.
This toxic land probably reaches a mile in each direction. A solar farm occupies part of the acreage. The once loud, booming steel mill now eternally silent.
I remember, as a child, riding by the steel mill in Mom’s car and peering inside to see if I could see the red-hot molten steel being poured from huge vats.
At night, liquid metal cast an ominous orange glow over everything. It was both exciting and frightening, seeing the eerie orange men, just feet or inches from molten death.
The entire neighborhood for blocks in every direction had layers of gritty grey dust that constantly permeated everything – for decades.
Across the street where this building stands today was a tavern that catered to the steelworkers called, you guessed it, The Steel Inn.
More than one wife went to retrieve her husband from the Inn’s clutches on payday. They cashed checks!
Many Kokomo husbands and fathers worked at “the mill.” The pay was good, even though the work was hot and miserable. In the end, those families lost their pensions due to corruption and mismanagement.
The Seashore Swimming Pool
Driving on north toward Foster Park, the old Seashore Swimming Pool is now known as Kokomo Beach.
The Seashore was one of my favorite places. I remember it as huge, of course.
We bought a season pass so I could swim daily in the summer. I walked to the babysitters in the morning, then to the pool after lunch, walking home when the pool closed at dinner.
These were some of my best memories of Kokomo. I loved to swim and bake in the sun by the hour.
I swam and dove and danced.
Of course, I avoided those “metal slides of doom” 😊
Kokomo Beach has a lot more to offer today than when I was a kid, but we loved it just the same. Summers were hot and the water was cool.
Not to mention that the pool was also on the teenage circle cruising tour to see who was talking to whom and wearing what. Or not wearing what. Bikinis were in, but I wasn’t allowed to wear one! I did however “adjust” my two piece a bit. Ahem.
At that time, you could drive around the entire pool in a circle, half on the street side, the other half being the circle driveway that also passed the dance hall.
I tell you what – that open air dance hall with the juke box was HOT, and I don’ t mean the weather, and only accessible from inside the fenced pool. However, those crusing by could clearly SEE the dancers and watchers through the chaink link fence.
Anyone who was anyone made an appearance there, preferably daily between Memorial Day and Labor Day when the pool was open. And if you were wearing a very cool bathing suit, all the better. If you were a guy, you fed the juke box quarters to keep the girls dancing. Mostly, girls danced with each other, except for slow dances. Very few boys had the self-confidence to dance quite so openly. Except one boy whose mother was a dance teacher at Arthur Murray. He could dance up a storm!
Mother didn’t want me to go IN the dance hall, but she really couldn’t keep me out since she was at work. In the dance hall? Who, me? Noooo, must have been my evil twin!
A pedestrian bridge now connects the pool property to Foster Park, across the Wildcat Creek, but when I lived here, we had to walk the long way.
A beautiful fountain has now been installed in Wildcat Creek, definitely improving the appearance.
This was a welcome surprise as I walked across the pedestrian bridge.
Looking up the Creek, I can see the bridge over the main North/South street, Washington, in the distance. Across Washington Street used to be a long-abandoned gravel pit with a high fence. That place with its rusting abandoned equipment was ghostly and frightening.
I mean, what if you fell in and couldn’t get out? No one would know. You would die there. No thank you.
Today, the gravel pit has been filled in and there is nothing but mostly-forgotten memories and grass where residents walk their dogs.
Named for David Foster who first settled here in 1842, trading with the Miami Indians along the Wildcat, this park was only a block from the house where I grew up.
In fact, today from Superior Street along Foster Park, I can still see “my house,” between the buildings. As a child, we used to cut between the houses on the hill where the gravel leads to the lower church parking lot today.
It’s on that hill, walking to the pool one day, that I found a half dollar coin dated 1852 in the dirt.
It was also through this gap between buildings that I watched the Palm Sunday tornado tear across the south part of Kokomo on that devastating Sunday afternoon in 1965, not realizing what I was seeing.
Here’s roughly the view of Foster Park that I saw from my bedroom window, except from higher and a block further distant. Softballs diamonds were located where the tennis courts are today. Playground equipment is to the left, and Wildcat Creek is just the other side of the drive, in the trees, at the rear of the photo. I could see the Creek from my bedroom window, because the house stood on a hill. When the Creek flooded, it never flooded beyond the park, but it looked like a massive lake.
I played softball in Foster Park (poorly), swung on the swings (joyfully), played miniature golf (terribly), and it was here that I sat in the car with my friends on July 20, 1969, listening to the moon landing.
This tank has “always” been in the park in front of the playground area and kids climbed on it when I was young. They obviously discourage that today.
Foster Park houses the log cabin that was the Girl Scout office. We had special meetings here.
At that time, the cabin was one room and heated only with a large fireplace. I remember the wonderful wood-smoke smell so vividly.
It’s apparently still a Girl Scout building with at least one addition. I’m sure it has central heat and probably air too.
While the log cabin is still there, many places in Kokomo aren’t.
My favorite Kokomo food place, Lord-Jon’s Tacos has been closed for years now. The owners sold the recipe to another local business, and while the tacos aren’t the same, they’re better than *not* Lord-Jon’s at all.
I found a photo I took some years back when I introduced a friend to Kokomo’s best.
Lord-Jon’s started out in a small restaurant and then moved to a tiny fair-type food trailer when I was a teen. We often drove there for lunch in high school.
There was no eating in, so we often bought our tacos by the bagful, then drove down the street to the A&W Rootbeer. We pulled into the drive-in area, ordered icy rootbeers and ate our tacos and rootbeer. To this day, I still think of those two unlikely food items going together.
I craved these tacos when I was pregnant for my children. Thankfully, they were 3 for $1 at the time.
Later, Lord-Jon’s would purchase two buildings, one on the east side of town, one on the west, and discussed franchising. I don’t know what happened, but not only did franchises not happen, they closed both locations and sold the recipe.
Today, the Handle Bar in Kokomo offers something similar, although I understand that they’ve now changed hands too. Sadly, each change moved those tacos further from the originals.
Just the same, my mouth is watering just looking at these.
We’ve tried to reproduce Lord-Jon’s tacos, to no avail. The tortillas appear to be deep-fried masa flour, but I really don’t know – and no one is talking.
Lord-Jon’s isn’t the only thing that’s gone of course.
So are the drug stores, restaurants and groceries that I remember as a kid.
The old A&P grocery store had coffee grinders by the checkouts that ground coffee beans by the bag, dispensing ground coffee back into their own bag. While Mom shopped, I offered to pour coffee beans into the big grinders and push the button for people because I loved the smell. I still love the smell of coffee.
Outside the A&P, in the parking lot, were tie-ups for horses for the Amish families. There were always horses and buggies there. We thought nothing of it.
The “other” drive in restaurant was Frisch’s Big Boy on the south side of town.
You can see the drive-in canopies in the rear in this 1962 phone book ad. This was the southern point of the well-worn teenage cruising circle. Over the course of the evening of cruising, around and around and around, you had to pull in and purchase something at each place, at least once. It was necessary to see who else was driving around. Otherwise, you might miss something!
In Forest Park, the shopping plaza on the west side of town, the Ben Franklin store. In the building to the left, Haag Drug became the Huddle Restaurant and eventually, the Dairy Queen.
Mom’s job after Mid-States would be located about where the National Grocery was in this photo. This photo looks to have been taken in the 1950s or 1960s and Mom worked at Kokomo Land Company in the 1970s.
Upstairs on the second level, we played Bingo. I was pre-school, but I got my own card and was I ever PROUD, especially the first time I got to jump up and shout BINGO. Legitimately – for myself I mean. I shouted bingo all the time. If someone bingoed, they let me shout!
I began babysitting when I was about 10 for the neighbors across the street, with mom nearby. By the time I was 12, I was experienced and in demand.
Kids could work part time at age 14. That was a rite of passage.
My first “real job,” the summer I turned 14 was covering for vacations at the lunch counter at Hutto’s Drug Store.
I was so VERY excited. I learned all about making flavored cokes. Yum!!!
I remember getting my very first quarter tip and how thrilled I was to have a tiny cache of change in the cup bearing my name under the counter at the end of the day. I didn’t know about that part in advance.
Much to my mother’s chagrin, I saved my money to buy my boyfriend, “R,” a birthday present. She didn’t like that at all. I also used to call him from that phone booth out front and ask him to come and give me a ride home. She REALLY didn’t like that. She didn’t like him at all – and as it turned out, she was right.
About 2 blocks down the street from where we lived, Scotty’s Hamburgers opened a couple years later.
I worked at Scotty’s in high school. We always contributed food to the police officers and firefighters.
The old police station and fire station was just across the street in this old “castle.” The arched doorways housed the fire trucks. The doors were always open, and the firefighters sat just inside or outside on the sidewalk in chairs. They were always ready to leave on a moment’s notice and also loved to talk. Kids visited with them often. At Christmas, they made and collected toys for children in the community and made sure Santa visited everyone.
If you were a child and your toy broke, they could, and would, fix it. They fixed my doll somehow. I was just sure they could fix anything!
I don’t think this was meant as community outreach, but it surely was!
Today, there’s a Subway and praying mantis on the corner.
I don’t know, so don’t ask. (I think it’s supposed to be art.)
One of my favorite places was the Treasure Mart. In today’s vernacular, it was a resale shop. It had a little of everything. Scratch that. It had a lot of everything, except clothes. No clothes.
Located at Sycamore and Delphos, it too was a huge repurposed building. Located on the main drag, it was always convenient to stop by and see what they had.
Across the street is Crown Point Cemetery where my friend, Marianne, was buried following a tragedy that that ended her life, and others, far too soon.
Cristo’s Club – My Guilty Confession
Ahem, I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I used to love Cristo’s. It was a bar, but more specifically, a dance club type of bar – and I loved to dance.
The difference between Christo’s and other bars was that Christo’s had live music. The only other location within 50 miles with a band was an upscale place beside Delco that catered to Delco employees – which I wasn’t.
Cristo’s could also be a bit “rough” from time to time. I never had a problem, and I did things I would never do now – like leave my purse on the table while I was dancing.
I went there with dates, without dates, with girlfriends – it didn’t matter. I was comfortable regardless.
Disco was in. Eventually, I danced in competitions with a specific partner – one of my college professors.
If I die of lung cancer, it’s because of the second-hand smoke from Cristo’s😊
I wondered, does Cristo’s still exist?
I drove down Vaile Avenue and spotted the old PPG (Pittsburg Plate Glass) plant.
Cristo’s was located across from a factory, like most of similar establishments in Kokomo. We’re getting close now.
This is, or was, it.
The building was in bad shape back then, so I’m not surprised that it’s gone. But what great memories!
I suddenly feel like dancing!!!
The Kokomo Tribune
After high school, I worked as a proofreader at the Kokomo Tribune – a building that took up an entire block after purchasing the building on the end that used to be a funeral home. I remember walking through the embalming room before the new purchase had been remodeled and integrated into the Tribune building. There were instruments hanging on the wall. SCARRY!!!
The Tribune was located across the street from one of my favorite places, the library, and believe it or not, I actually checked books out and read them in lulls when I wasn’t proofreading.
The old Carnegie Library was been replaced with a contemporary building in 1967.
When I was 11, I was invited to display my salt and pepper shaker collection in the old library building, just before the new library opened. I was VERY excited, because the newspaper reporter came, took my picture and interviewed me!
When you’re 11, that’s a VERY big deal.
The Post Office building remains across the street from the Tribune, below. I worked there for a few months during the Christmas season one year, sorting bags and bags and bags of mail. I remember seeing the bag being set aside for a special delivery to Santa at the North Pole.
I laugh every time I see this building.
As teens, we could leave high school to eat lunch. One day on a lunch errand with two girlfriends for someone’s mother, we just happened to be following an old farmer wearing overalls up the steps into the Post Office when his suspenders snapped and his pants fell to the ground, around his ankles.
Quite startled, he tried to hobble up the stairs, but could not with his pants preventing him from walking or climbing stairs.
He had already seen us behind him.
He tried to hobble while attempting to pull his pants back up, but couldn’t do that either.
In the mean time, he dropped the mail he had been carrying. We wanted to help him, but couldn’t bring ourselves to approach him, in part, because we couldn’t control our laughter.
Even funnier were the boxer shorts he was wearing – with large red hearts.
We progressed from laughing to howling.
I can just hear him saying to his wife that he didn’t care, he wasn’t going to let a perfectly good pair of shorts go to waste.
Or, maybe, that was her saying that to him.
In any case, we laughed until we cried and couldn’t breathe. We sat down on the steps because we could not go inside and face him – after he finally GOT inside. Tears streamed down our faces.
Finally, we had composed ourselves at least somewhat, figuring he had exited out the door on the other side. I would have.
We continued up the steps and opened the door, only to run smack dab into him face-to-face.
He hurried out the door. We hurried in and the hilarity began all over again.
We noticed that the clerks didn’t need to ask why we were laughing and they were trying to compose themselves too.
It was a hopeless endeavor.
That poor man. I wonder if he ever told his wife.
I bet he threw those shorts away AND got new suspenders.
The Newspaper Route
College required lots of money, especially when you also have to pay for child care. In addition to my proofreading job, I needed extra income to make ends meet. My husband and I both decided to adopt a driving newspaper route. The routes paid fairly well and only required 2-3 extra hours per day, 7 days per week. The most difficult part was getting up extremely early to pick up your bundles of newspapers at 5 AM on weekends. The newspaper published in the evenings during the week, but in the morning on holidays and weekends.
Originally, we shared one route, but eventually, we each had our own. We paid off our car loans, student loans and bought a house.
On Saturday, I would come back from delivering the papers to go to work proofreading for the Sunday paper.
Then, in an instant, life changed.
One October day during mid-terms in college, when the corn was full height but harvesting had not yet commenced, a woman ran a stop sign at a country crossroads.
I couldn’t see that she was approaching the intersection due to the corn, and as I began to enter the intersection, she shot in front of me at high speed. I knew I was going to hit her, so I slammed on the brakes, threw the transmission into reverse to slow my speed as much as possible and then it happened.
I remember the impact and my car flipping end-over-end over her car, airborn, into this field. Again and again and again.
When my car finally landed, I was upside down and the front of the car had been crushed into me. I was hanging by my seatbelt with sheet metal and glass all around me. I drifted into and out of consciousness and vaguely remember seeing someone, who turned out to be the other driver, peering into the windshield – then screaming.
It was a pretty awful sight.
Suffice it to say that the neighbors who lived on the corner went to our church and called my parents who lived a few miles down the road. Next, I remember hearing my mother screaming. That would have woke the dead, believe me.
Thank God I had just left my son with Mom because he would have been killed. That was before the days of car seats and he played in the back of my Pinto wagon while I drove the route, delivering papers.
The neighbor had the presence of mind to take my son into the house so that he wouldn’t see me like that.
I survived, obviously, but that accident began a chain of events that would eventually lead to me leaving Kokomo – not immediately – but a few years later.
The butterfly effect.
Let’s talk about something else.
The Gas Tower
Every city has landmarks, and Kokomo was no different.
People could see the gas tower for miles in any direction.
The tower was “always there” and for many years, I didn’t realize what it was. It looked like a trash can we had at home, so as a small child, I thought it was just a very large trash can.
The gas tower stored natural gas which had been discovered in the area in the 1880s. This gas boom encouraged industry and was directly responsible for Elwood Haynes establishing his automobile business in Kokomo.
The tower was constructed in 1954, 378 feet tall, storing 12 million cubic feet of gas. Looking back, I realize it was a huge bomb just sitting there on the south side of town.
Eventually, maintenance costs became atrocious – $75,000 per year and a million for a paint job. In 2003, the tower was demolished, leaving a vacancy on the horizon.
I remember when I was about 10, my great-aunt visited. She wanted to see the town, so we drove around while Mom was at work and promptly got lost.
I had her pull over into a parking lot, and as soon as I could find the tower on the horizon, I could orient myself and knew how to get back to something familiar.
While everyone in Kokomo was familiar with the tower, I had never been in the old train depot before the reunion, at least not that I recall.
After changing into my “skinniest” clothes, it was time to join my classmates.
The reunion itself was held in the old train depot, now a craft brewery, located on North Buckeye. I love the original bricks on Buckeye Street.
The reunion consisted of buying a beverage and sitting on the patio. Given the informal nature of the event, people wandered in and out, and it was impossible to take a photo when everyone was present. Fortunately, we did have a photographer among us (whose name unfortunately escapes me.)
The less-formal environment was lovely. Clearly, the majority of the 300+ classmates didn’t attend.
I was initially surprised to discover that many of my classmates are retired, until I thought about the factories and remembered that they have 30-and-out retirement plans.
While going to college, obtaining degrees and “living the American dream” of business ownership seemed like a great idea at the time – it’s with no small amount of envy that I realize had I simply stayed in Kokomo and continued working at Chrysler, then I too would be retired today with a full pension.
There is no pension, ever, when you’re self-employed.
Of course, I clearly wouldn’t be writing this blog, or involved on the frontier of genetics – so only occasional tinges of regret about that road not taken.
The building across the street from the depot had been transformed into a beautiful restaurant. I would have eaten there, except I wanted either Pizza King pizza or Lord-Jon’s Tacos, or at least a close facsimile!
Unfortunately, Lord-Jon’s Tacos is gone, but Pizza King isn’t!
The Pizza King, an Indiana franchise, used to be located in this building on Phillips at Taylor. Mom and I used to order a pizza very occasionally for a special treat. Eddie, that boyfriend I mentioned, used to work here and he would call us if they had a pizza that was burned a bit or someone didn’t pick up their order.
Today, the Pizza King has moved across the street and down half a block into the building that used to be the old Hansel Coal Company that dated from the 1920s. No one has heated with coal in decades and I’m actually surprised that the building remains.
Unfortunately, they were closed and I didn’t get pizza after all☹
I grew up on Pizza King pizza, and like Lord-Jon’s Tacos and Ray’s tenderloins, this is the best pizza EVER!
The next morning, I would leave Kokomo for the last time – but I had one last thing to do first. The hardest part of all.
For the rest of this story, click here to read The Farewell Tour: The Morning After.
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