Though we grew up one block away, and Bob was a little older than me, our lives intertwined from grade school through art school and after. I lived in a hundred year old farmhouse, and he in a sparkling new tract house popular in the 50's.We attended the same neighborhood parochial school, where the Sisters of Mercy were not so merciful in reining in a single classroom with a typical population, as shown below, of 53.
Bob is in the bottom row, 5th from the right.
One of many favorite neighbohood hang-outs was "The Creek". Now it is boarded up and inaccessible; I can't imagine why children nowadays wouldn't want to play down there. Their parents might think it is dangerous, but back when we were kids, things were different. After school and summertime, kids left 'to play' and the parents were not interested in monitoring our activities.
"The Creek" is a storm sewer. Just imagine these tunnels funneling 5 feet diameter of water after a big downpour. We would follow these tunnels as far as we could, popping up out of manholes many blocks away in foreign territory. Sometimes we would ride our bikes in the tunnel; just imagine doing DNA type loops. The creek was a never-ending source of fun, exercise, and education. Bob designed a whole relay of 'vines' to swing on diagonally from side to side, just like Tarzan. Creek travel could traverse entire subdivisions in minutes!
The Creek Tunnels
While I dug rich clay from the creek banks to to make pottery, the boys would come through crashing and splashing, engaged in their own adventures. One day, I noticed what seemed to be an underground clubhouse at the top of the creek bank. There was a ventilation pipe (for a fireplace) and a plywood padlocked door. I was curious and furious that I couldn't get in to see it! (Boys and girls didn't play together in those days). The engineering and courage to build it was pure Bob, helped by his friends. Some time later the roof collapsed (fortunately no one was in it). The 'roof' was plywood supported by columns, but the clay must have become too heavy and waterlogged. Bob blamed 'the girls' for destroying it, but I told him later in college, I would never destroy something that I admired and respected so very much.
The mode of transportation in the old days was walking or biking, no matter how far away. Kenrick Seminary and the nun's convent didn't seem too far away, tho' today it seems to take forever to drive there by car from where we lived. The grounds were havens of extensive woods with a large pond. There was even a cave where 'bums' hung out. During the summer was fishing and swimming; during the winter, was skating. Again, no adult supervision.
Kenrick Manor, formerly the grounds of Kenrick Seminary
Here is what happened to the woods at Kenrick and the convent. The once huge acreages are blanketed with crowded, nondescript housing. What became of the utterly amazing 3 story treehouse with individual rooms and glass windows that Bob built? Who knows, but he never stopped doing what he started in his youth, creating fun, artful playgrounds. As far as I know, he never had a 'real' job; he just did what he loved. Always.
It was as if he never grew up, so how could he die? I had a dream about Bob a few nights after he died. I said to him, "I thought you were dead!" He said he was back. I don't think he'll ever leave us, really.
After the memorial service, and a party at City Museum, a large contingent of work colleagues, friends, and family gathered on the river across the road from Cementland, his latest project. We were each given votive candles in cups to hold as 6 canoes farther up the river paddled to our station on a cement receiving bridge. His ashes were scattered in the river that he loved so much. Wood flutes played in the still quiet; the only other sound was water lapping at the river banks.
Many children have experienced his pied piper magic, and many future generations will, too.