May 13, 2014

The Muscles of Morris Street

A few days ago, one of the readers of this blog told me that he grew up in Morris, Illinois, about 120 miles from Rock Island.

Reading the name instantly aroused the conmingling of joy, anxiety, and erotic energy that I associate with a "good place," a country or city where, as a child, I imagined same-sex love to be open and free.  Like Tibet, or Middle Earth, or even the Los Angeles of The Lucy Show.

The name brought back the memories of:
1. A very, very old man sitting in a rocking chair with a collie next to him.
2. The collie whining softly like Lassie.

3. Muscles!  Hundreds of men and boys, maybe thousands, more than I had ever seen before, shirtless, in swimsuits, their bodies gleaming in bright sunlight, flexing their biceps, adjusting themselves, running, jumping, hugging.

Could that beefcake paradise have been Morris, Illinois?  But I didn't remember ever visiting.

We passed often.  At least once a year, often two or three times, we took Interstate 80 from Rock Island across the Illinois prairie on the way to visit my relatives in Indiana.  I got to know the route intimately, feeling perfectly at home on the endless gray highway banded by white lines.  I can still list the towns along the way: Geneseo, Kewanee, Princeton, Lasalle, Peru, Ottawa, Morris, Joliet, Chicago Heights.

Sensitive to the problem of kids getting bored on car trips, and probably getting bored themselves, Mom and Dad always found new, interesting places to stop: Starved Rock State Park, Culver's Frozen Custard; a haunted theater in Chicago Heights; the glass octagon of Valparaiso University.

Could we have stopped in Morris?

I got a map and checked the possibilities: Norwegian Settlers Memorial, Gebhart Woods State Park, Morris Diner & Pancake House, Boz Hot Dogs.  Nothing seemed particularly homoerotic.

Anyway, the old, old man didn't seem like a random encounter.  We visited his house.  We knew him.

He was too old to be one of my parents' friends.  He must be a relative.

I emailed my mother and asked if we ever visited any relatives in Morris, Illinois.

"No," she wrote back. "All of your Dad's family are in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, except for your Cousin George in South Carolina.  And my family is in Kentucky."

Maybe I had the wrong Morris?  There's a Morris in Indiana, a Morris Township in Ohio, and a Mount Morris in Michigan.

Eva Marie, my Cousin Joe's sister, is big on family genealogy. She helped me track down the gay connections of our biological grandfather, and she has gedcoms that trace our ancestry through a dozen different lines back to Canada, England, Ireland, and France, all the way back to Charlemagne.  I emailed her and asked if anyone in our family lived in a town called Morris between 1960 and 1970.

"No," she wrote back.  "You had a second-cousin on a Morris Street.  Does that help?"


Daniel Scholle, son of Grandpa Davis's older sister, lived on Morris Street in Indianapolis in the early 1960s.  But he was too young to be the old man of my memory.

"What about his father?" Eva wrote.  "Otto Scholle, your great-uncle.  He turned 75 in July 1965, and we all went down for his birthday party. Mom, Dad, your parents, Grandma Davis.  Maybe that's what you remember."

Back to Google Maps.  I didn't recognize the house Eva mentioned.  But two blocks north was Rhodius Park, which has a softball field and a swimming pool.

Now I can figure out what happened:

A hot day in July, after The Book of Cute Boys, but before we moved away from Indiana.

  A birthday party for an old, old man on "Morris Street."  A house full of strangers.  After the cake, Eva, Joe, and Larry get bored.  Their parents suggests that they go to the park, and take their 4 1/2-year old cousin Boomer.

They walk past the crowded swimming pool.  Through the chain link fence, Boomer sees dozens of half-naked men and boys,splashing, flexing, hugging, adjusting themselves, a stunning homoerotic spectacle that stays with him forever, even after he forgets everything else about the day.

Except for the old, old man, the collie whining, and the name "Morris."

See also: A Boy Named Twilight.; Was My Grandfather Gay?