Saluki Marooned by Robert P. Rickman

Catherine

Lake on the Campus

Catherine Mancini was a girl of Italian descent who lived with her family a few miles down the road from SIU.   According to Peter Federson,

He should have married her nearly 40 years ago when she was 19...and she's still 19.
Catherine Mancini

'"She was pretty in a country way and had a cute way of talking, a combination of a Southern and Midwestern dialect.  I loved the way she said “quit” (“kuh-wit”).  She’d said “quit” to me a lot.  But what set Catherine apart from the other girls I’d dated during college was that her personality was made up of a critical balance of empathy and assertiveness that could have awakened me from my emotional slumber, had I allowed her to."

Thrown back from the 21st Century to 1971, Peter now has a chance to re-write his life with Catherine-- the girl he should have married the first time...but didn't.  He takes her on a romantic canoe outing on Lake on the Campus.

A canoe outing with the love of your life.
A beautiful spring day.

“So Peter, I heard you on the radio today,” said Catherine.

“I had some technical problems.”

“I wasn’t paying attention to that stuff.  I was listening to you.  You sounded really good.”

It's all in about the same place.  The radio station, lake, dorms...
WSIU radio tower sticking up over the trees. CLICK

“I’ve been practicing.”  I was flattered.

“It sounds like you have, and not just on the radio.  I can’t quite put my finger on it exactly, but you seem calmer, less strident.  I think Mom senses it too.  When you called me yesterday, she told me that she thought you had matured some.”

“Gosh, you mean I got the endorsement from the great Mrs. Mancini?”

“I wouldn’t go so far as to call it an endorsement, exactly, but I think she is a little more partial to you now.”

“Yah, and she wasn’t very partial to me at all before,” I said with my best grimace.

A permanent resident of Southern Illinois University.
A permanent resident of the lake.

“Well, she’s a lot more tolerant than you may think.  As they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Speaking about books, do you still want to work as a…uhh…”  I had forgotten what she was going to school for.

Southern Illinois University lake dweller.
Two of his buddies had just jumped in the water.

“A social worker.”

“Yes.  It was on the tip of my tongue.”

“I can’t help it.  I guess I’m the helper type, and I think that anyone who has had the advantages that I’ve had growing up should help those less fortunate.”

 

Hanging out on a fishing pier at Campus Lake.
Fishing pier.

“Noblesse Oblige.  That’s what Roosevelt believed in.”

“‘Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.’”  Catherine looked out across the lake.

“I can’t believe he’s been dead for forty—for all these years.”  I was thinking of the dreams of Camelot in the ‘60s, and the revelations of JFK’s indiscretions in the late ‘70s.

“I remember the day he died like it was yesterday,” she said.  For her, that “yesterday” was eight years ago.  The shock of November 22, 1963 never really went away.  My mother told me that when she heard the news on the radio, she thought it was about JFK’s father.

“Where were you when it happened?” Catherine said quietly.

JFK at Southern Illinois University.
John F Kennedy campaigning at SIU, Oct 3 1960

“In sixth grade.  Howie Fergusson ran through the hall yelling, ‘The president is shot.  The president is shot!’  Then they wheeled in a TV and we watched Walter Cronkite tell the nation that he had died.  I think they dismissed class for the rest of the day.  No one could concentrate.  It was pretty grim. ”

“I was home sick from school, and had just finished some soup when I heard my mother crying.  She came upstairs and gave me the news.  I wrapped myself in blankets and went downstairs and watched it on TV.  Both of us were crying.  I guess it was just his time to go.  We had such high hopes.  I think all of us had high hopes, the whole country.”

America at its peak.  What happened?
The Unisphere on the grounds of the 1964 World's Fair.

“The next summer my family visited the New York World’s Fair,” I said.  “And you know, it wasn’t sanctioned by the World’s Fair commission, but was held anyway because we were the mighty USA!”

During the exciting 60's!
Long Island railroad token, for transit from New York City to the Fair at Flushing Meadows.

I thought about the Kennedy years, with the stock market blasting along, plenty of good jobs, NASA aiming at the moon, the Soviets humbled by the Cuban Missile Crisis, and few Americans having      even heard of Vietnam.  “We considered ourselves the greatest country in the world,” I said.

So what happened to us?  What happened to me?

Suddenly I was depressed, and perhaps so was Catherine—she for the past, me for the future.  We somberly contemplated the Camelot years as we sat in the canoe and watched the picnic in the shelter on the distant shore.

A beautiful scene viewed by two moody people.
The picnic shelter was white in 1971.

Soon, the warm sun passing in and out of the fluffy clouds brought us out of our post-Camelot funk, and Catherine stretched her legs out in the front of the canoe, and I did the same in the rear.  The sounds of picnickers, joggers and bicyclists mixed with the chirping of the birds, the lapping of the water, and the rustling of the leaves.  The canoe drifted on the calm blue water, which reflected the dark green and chocolate brown woods on the shore.

Dense woods.  The Pacific Northwest.  No.
The woods around the lake.

I never wanted to leave this lake, and for the first time in decades, I felt a combination of the health of youth and a sense of well-being.  I was giddy with happiness.

In 1971 campus beach would have been filled with SIU students.
In May of 1971 the beach would have been packed with students getting ready for June finals. SIU was on the quarter system back then. Click to see what it was like back then.

Twenty reflective minutes later, I was staring at Catherine, who was by now framed by the campus beach behind her.

She stared back with a smile on her face.

“A penny for your thoughts?”

“You know why you’re so cute?”

“No, tell, tell.”

“Because you’re right back there in the ‘50s.”

“I am not!”

This is the family Peter Federson wanted to be part of.
The Cleavers. Wally, June, Ward, and the Beaver.

 

 

“Your language, your glasses, your car, even your family, it’s all out of the Cleavers’ neighborhood.  I used to watch ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ and I wanted to be part of that family.”

 

 

 

“Well, then, who are you?  Lumpy?  Hello, Lumpy."

Peter Federson's alter ego.
"Hello Mrs. Cleaver."

 

“Hello, June.  Oh speaking of the ‘50’s, I just remembered, this old—new film called ‘American Graffiti’ just came out.  It’s showing at the Varsity this weekend.  How about seeing it with me this Saturday, with maybe dinner at uh, Pagliai’s first?  And I willpay this time.”

“No, I’m sorry, Peter.  I’ll be busy Saturday night.”

What goes on in the mind of a nervous person.
Peter has struggled with a severe problem all of his life, which he can not overcome. Click "The Scream".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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