We all have experiences that define our lives. Whether they be situations, people, music, art – there are moments that when we recall them we know they contributed significantly to who we are today. This week, some of those moments were brought back to me in full force when I heard about the passing of Rita Utz, the long time music instructor at Hiawatha Park.
Over the years you’ve heard me speak about my experiences at Hiawatha Park, the little recreation center on the Northwest Side of Chicago. I started working there in 1974 and spent fourteen years teaching Theatre and Dance in after school programs. My title was “Drama Instructor”, Miss Rita’s was “Music Instructor”, Miss Gloria and Miss Debbie were “Physical Instructors, John was the other “Physical Instructor”, Vince was the “Park Supervisor” and who could ever forget that elderly curmudgeon, Adolph who was the “Building Attendant”. We were definitely a crazy crew who worked together, played together and created an atmosphere that caused hundreds of young children to march across the street from St. Francis Borgia School, (and Canty as well) at the very second school let out to participate in our after school programs. Everyday by 3:30 pm. the building was filled with the sound of basketballs bouncing, floor exercise music playing and of course the familiar sounds of the upcoming musical production coming from the club room right off the main entrance where I taught my classes. (I began teaching in a much smaller club room but graduated to a bigger space when my program got bigger).
And every day, year in year out, you could count on this little recreation center to be teeming with kids laughing, learning and creating bonds and friendships that could last a lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, there was drama as well. Kids will be kids and they will misbehave so there were also those times of determining the correct type of discipline to show that certain behaviors would not be tolerated. There were good days, there were bad days but those days became the days that defined the lives of many, the times of our lives!
Rita’s passing got me to once again think about those days. But now I am wondering, is that really how it all happened? I have such wonderful memories of those times. But were they as pivotal as I remember them? Did they really create the experiences that defined the lives of all of us? Were we as good as we thought we were? And as I wonder about this, the words from the song “The Way We Were” reverberate in my head:
Can it be that it was all so simple then,
Or has time rewritten every line.
If we had the chance to do it all again,
Tell me would we, could we?
Memories may be beautiful and yet,
What’s to painful to remember,
We simply choose to forget.
So it’s the laughter we will remember,
Whenever we remember, the way were…
So now I wonder, am I choosing to remember only the laughter? Am I making more of these experiences than they were ever meant to be? Has my mind created a fairy tale version of what happened during those years, a version that is easy for me to live with but far from the truth? Was it really all so simple then?
And as I wallow in the doubt, I get an email from a former student who read a blog that I posted in 2011 regarding my reflections on our Hiawatha Park experiences:
“Reading the experience through your eyes is amazing to me. Maybe I’m becoming more of a pessimist as I get older, but that seems like a lot of work! All I can say is thank you. Thank you for your patience with us. Thank you for your guidance. Thank you for sharing your talents with us. We were luckier than we knew. I’m glad to have the opportunity to tell you that, now that I can truly appreciate it through an adult’s eyes. YOU ROCK!!
I am writing this blog at the moment the funeral mass is being conducted for Miss Rita back in Chicago. At 94, she lived a full life but far beyond the blessing of years she lived a life that mattered. Her talent and her love of children left indelible impressions on the lives of many creating experiences that defined their lives. And that is much easier said than done. She leaves this earth a richer person because of how she chose to live her life. I thank her today for sharing her gifts with all of us. She will be fondly remembered in all of our hearts.
I left Hiawatha Park 25 years ago and over and over I still get the types of messages from my former students similar to the one I shared above. So, as I once again think about those days and wonder whether they really were the experiences that defined our lives, I say with a great deal of certainty – yes, they were. Has time rewritten every line – no it has not. If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we, could we… well that is a question for the ages. I’m not sure we could, but I am eternally grateful that we did!
7 thoughts on “Has Time Rewritten Every Line?”
Love this! I’ve often wondered the same thing, especially like you say, after something triggers the memories — your birthday, posts on your wall from names I first learned in elementary school, supportive posts on my wall from some of those reconnected friends, and most definitely the news of Miss Rita’s passing. Hiawatha Park played such a huge part of my past. There were good times and there were challenges, but most of all there were a handful of adults that were the type of leaders that molded us into the people we are. If I have to, I can remember some not so fun times but I can absolutely look back on them as life lessons. For me, it’s a much more enjoyable experience to reminisce over what was overall a safe, supportive and happy part of me. I can’t drive the field house without smiling. I think that says a lot 30 years later (OMG has it been that long???)
Jan, I am always searching for the same type of experience for my own children that I had at drama and sports and day camp counselor and stage crew that you and the other staff at Hiawatha Park created for me. And dammit now I’m crying.
You just made me tear up. Those years were magical! You, Miss Rita, Miss Gloria, Miss Debbie, Adolf, Mr Volt and Domino a huge part of my childhood. Especially you. 🙂
And you were a huge part of my adult life! I had nothing like this as a child.
Would we? I certainly hope so. Could we? Probably not the way we did. Thank god we grew up in a time where kids were more free to be kids. Where adults and teachers didn’t have to watch every little step they made. Where you could forge the kind of relationship with us that you did. It made us who we are and allowed us to mold ourselves into pretty amazing people, I think!
“Were [the moments] as pivotal as I remember them?” I think it’s ironic that you were probably writing this blog post at the *exact* time I was posting the facebook status about my daughter’s ballet class- and how much her fantastic instructor reminds me of you. Yes. They were that pivotal for so many reasons.
I echo Stacey’s acknowledgement of adults that were the type of leaders that molded us into the people we are- but in addition to them: it was a place FILLED with positive peer pressure! The little ones wanted to be with the big ones- the big ones wanted to be one of the Chosen Ones (the elusive Dance Company.) We were kids & teens- so of course we pushed it sometimes… But it was a place we learned discipline. Not just behavioral- but physical discipline: “C’mon! if you can’t do these steps NOW- what’re you going to do when you’re MY age?!” We learned responsibility: “If you don’t come to rehearsal- you will NOT be in the production.” We learned respect and how/when to be appropriate: “Oh George Michael, it’s too bad your lyrics are what they are, ‘cuz you have such a great beat & effective cowbell- but we can’t possibly use this song in a performance. But we can do warm ups to you!” Teamwork, Discipline, Responsibility, Respect… no big scandals (that I remember …but I was young.) No big monumental moments- just a million little ones- and THAT’s why we were so fortunate… and why, I think, we would be again.
Oh some of the things that I said that you still remember. What will happen when you become my age? And, there were no scandals, at least I don’t remember any. The George Michael thing, always loved that song too bad we could never use it.