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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Going Home Again

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      It was a perfect day for an hour-long drive and a ten-minute walk.

      I was in Sheboygan the other day to see a friend who now works at my very first radio station.   It was great catching up with a buddy who now is running four small-town radio stations at what for me were very familiar stomping grounds.    I worked part-time there for a couple of years during high school and college.     At the time, it felt  like the biggest office building in the world.   Upon my return, it seemed to have shrunk: halls felt shorter and narrower.   Studios looked tiny.   And, in this new age of digital efficiency, they were also devoid of live bodies.    The old equipment I'd worked with was long gone but one vital component remained: a kid who started not long after I joined the station in 1976 who is now the cluster's creative services director.    He's still there after 34 years, and it was great to make the re-connection.

      I had time to kill after lunch, so I headed back to my old neighborhood.    I have several in Sheboygan, as the family skipped from duplex to duplex during my formative years, but there's one place that I'll always call home.

       It sits at the corner of 14th and New Jersey, across from Sheridan Elementary School.    I've driven past it a million times, remembering what it was like inside it's walls in the early/mid 60's.    Never had I stopped the car to take a walk around until this week.   I did a lap around the block which, as a kid, seemed endless.    I could swear I recognized some of the more distinctive and severe sidewalk cracks over which I'd bounce as I rode my coaster wagon from corner to corner pretending to be a fireman en route to some imaginary inferno.

       The house is no longer a duplex--it's a single family home and it's very much for sale.    I could peak inside the windows from the sidewalk and see my first bedroom.     I snagged a realtor's leaflet to get a gander at what I couldn't observe from the street.

        There were pictures of the living room where I'd celebrated my first Christmases.     I could see where our old black-and-white TV sat and almost picture my dad napping on the beat-up couch that dominated the room.    There was the chair where mom would sit each night, having a cigarette while waiting for my father to come home from his second-shift custodian's job at the junior high school on the other side of town.     The kitchen was the same, although there was a new sink replacing the one that I'd been baptized in back in '57.    It looked naked without our old kitchen set where we ate every meal from Friday night's potato pancakes to Saturday's hamburgers and Sunday's chicken dinner.

        The house measures 1654 square feet, and we lived in only in the lower level, meaning the four of us shared two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and a lone bathroom covering half that much space.    To my childhood eyes, it was as big as the Clampett mansion on "Beverly Hillbillies" minus the fancy gate outside.  

        The house was built in 1899, and I was there for the first eight years of my life.    We'd move to the other side of Sheboygan in the spring of 1965, a change that would forever alter my life.    It put me on a path to attend the only high school in the state with it's own radio station (I would've gone to the city's other high school had we stayed on the south side of town).     A passion was found, a career decision made.

       I wonder about the families who spent the other 103 years it's been on that corner.     Did any of those folks ever come back to stare, to remember, to look back?    Why does a place from which I have but only a few vivid memories have such a strong hold on me, to the exclusion of virtually every other place I've lived the other 45 years of my life?

        The leaflet says "this single family may need a little TLC".    That's Realtor code-speak for "be ready to spend more than the asking price".     I won't be making any calls about purchasing the place, but I dropped a lot of TLC on it from my spot on the sidewalk.   I didn't spend a dime.    It cost just ten minutes, and it made for an unforgettable day.


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