The new kid in town
Everybody loves you
So don’t let them down
You look in her eyes
The music begins to play
Here we go again
Once the school year ended and my daily commute from St. Charles to Kaneland High School was over, my life turned a page that would not be turned back. As I could not yet drive, there were no trips out to hang with friends. Plus my closest buddies were spread out across several towns in the Kaneland district; Elburn, Sugar Grove, Kaneville, Maple Park, and Virgil. There was no real way to connect with anyone given the era. So for the first few weeks, I spent time exploring our new neighborhood and learning where the nearest basketball courts could be found.
My mother Emily was the one that planned a meeting with a guy whose friendship would last a lifetime. His name was Rob Walker, she told me, and he ran cross country for St. Charles. My mom worked with his mother at Wild Rose School, and they’d become close through that association.
It was probably a Saturday night that my mom or dad dropped me off in the parking lot of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in St. Charles. I got out of the car and waved to the guy with the curly blonde hair and a wry grin standing in the parking lot. “Hey man!” he called out. “Nice to meet you! I’ve run against you but we’ve never met!”
It was late afternoon and we walked down toward the river and met up with a couple girls named Marge and Rita. We hung out playing basketball in the yard and then Rob announced, “It’s time to go get PJ.”
Walking to PJs
I didn’t know it at that moment, but PJ (Paul Joseph Morlock) lived a couple miles away across the river and nearly into the town of Geneva. Rob and I walked the whole way over while getting to know each other. He made me feel at ease, cracking jokes and talking about our respective running careers.
We arrived at PJ’s house and I walked in behind Rob to be greeted by Paul’s parents. His father spoke with a strong stutter that sometimes took a moment to crease as his tongue clicked in his mouth. Then he said, with a warm, full voice: “Nice to meet you.”
His sweet mom Joan was a prototypical 1970s mom. The house was arranged neatly and the kitchen adjoined the living room, which was clearly the center of family life in the Morlock household. I sat down after a moment and was immediately greeted with the dark nose of the family pup, a spaniel mix named Pokey. He growled at me and a muzzle pressed against my leg. The message was, “I don’t like strangers.”
No one seemed to notice my dilemma with the grumpy family dog. Rob kept up the banter as Paul’s younger sister Mim swept through the room on the way out the door. I was struck by her simple beauty and tried hard to hide the fact that I’d noticed. Perhaps the worst thing a guy can do is scam on a guy’s little sister the first time you meet him. She was heading into her freshman year at the time.
We sat there having conversation, and Pokey finally relented from his guard duties. I was immensely relieved. Rob kind of held court with the Morlock parents who clearly adored his polite yet friendly conversation. PJ kind of observed the goings-on as was his habit, I would learn across a lifetime. Then he announced, “Well, we should probably get going.”
We walked into the twilight with the sound of nighthawks falling to our ears. It was another mile’s walk back to downtown St. Charles where a school dance was being held at the Powder Keg, a downstairs room at the St. Charles park district Baker Center. To this day, I have no clue why the place was called the Powder Keg.
Rob and PJ and I walked down 3rd Street in St. Charles and turned to find a stream of kids heading for the dance. It was probably late June and the air was warm and sweet. I felt at home with these two new guys that I’d met. Along the way I learned that Paul was going to leave the football program at St. Charles High School and join the cross country team.
It was then that I also realized I’d likely seen him before at the regional Punt, Pass and Kick competition in Naperville or some other suburb. I recalled a tall, strong kid that beat me. At St. Charles he was one of the top prospects to take over as quarterback at some point in the varsity football program. But Paul was close with Rob Walker and the cross country program was showing improvement after a year when the recently graduated Greg Birk moved on to run at Wabash College. So he’d made the decision to switch sports. His father was not too happy about the decision. But that would change.
We walked inside the Powder Keg and I think a live band was playing. We met up with Rita and Marge and a gal named Roxanne. Before I knew it, I was out on the dance floor immersed in the music. I loved to dance and during the night was kept busy because there were plenty of girls who also like to dance and not as many guys were willing as I. That was the first impression I made upon new classmates at St. Charles High School. The skinny kid with the mop of hair really knew how to dance. I guess there could have been worse ways to introduce myself to a new peer group.
When the dancing’s over
When the dance ended we walked back out and found a warm evening awaiting us. I wipe the sweat from my hairline and adjusted my wire-rimmed glasses in the orange glow of the streetlight.
We said goodbye to PJ, who walked home alone while Rob and I headed back toward the church lot where we’d met. We stood in the parking lot waiting for our parents to pick us up and conversation finally lagged.
“Well Cuddy,” Rob intoned, using my favorite nickname already. “This was fun. See you soon?”
“For sure,” I replied. “I had a great time. Let’s play some hoops or something sometime?”
“Maybe some golf?” Rob responded. “Down at Pottawatomie?”
And so it went that first evening in the summer of 1973. I met two guys with whom I”d spend a lifetime together. After jumping through so many hoops that winter and spring, it felt good to be getting some traction in a new town.”
Great to read about Paul. You know for about 4-5 summers Paul and I met for dinner outside Charlotte, NC where I lived and he commuted each week to work at a hospital about 30 miles out of Charlotte. Those were wonderful times together. Paul is just one quality guy. Of course, you know that. Say hello to him for me!
The three of us; Rob, Paul and I recently got together here in St. Charles. Rob’s mother, the one that introduced us through my mom, is in memory care up here. Paul’s mother has similar issues and she’s out in Norfolk by him. My mom passed away in 2005 from a combination of lymphoma and pancreatic cancer. Her birthday is coming up, so I think about that this time of year. The years have certainly piled up.