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From Neon Nights to Fireflies: A Life Journey from Vegas to Chicago

Memoirs & Miscellany Add comments

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My family and I moved from Las Vegas to Chicago, into my parent’s house, during the last official days of summer 2008. That first day, my kids ran non-stop through my father’s house, in and out of the backyard, reveling in the treelined streets and the fireflies. They’d never seen fireflies before. Soon they would discover what snow was really like. How cold it is and how it can pile up in the time it takes to sleep. More importantly here they would come to understand summer rarely overstays its welcome unlike in Las Vegas. Here summer doesn’t meander into milder weather. It will stop and not return for longer than they have ever known.

I’ve traveled the miles between Las Vegas and Chicago in every way possible, by plane, by train and several automobiles (and by bus, which I think technically is an automobile but that trip was so awful buses should have their own category). Coming home to Chicago was always a summertime event. When I got off the plane, stepped on the platform or descended those Greyhound stairs, I was home for as long as I could convince my mother to let me go. She always gave in. Divorced parent guilt is easily mined. I spent ten years of my childhood running through the grasses of Illinois; the other eight were spent catching lizards in the desert when I was supposed to be walking to school.

In Las Vegas, there are only three seasons: summer, flash-flood and the three cold weeks called winter. Summer is a brutal thing. The sun seems to move into your neighborhood, all up close and personal. It burns the color out of everything. What doesn’t burn wilts, browns, melts, dies. Children don’t play outside during the real heat of the day. They try to play in the early morning and in the early evening when the sun has finally dipped down behind the mountains. Even with the sun gone, the temperature stays too warm for comfort. The sidewalks and streets begin releasing their accumulated heat so even at midnight it’s still ninety degrees. In Las Vegas, you find an indoor pool if you’re lucky; if not, you swim in the morning and spend the rest of the day dreaming of the first rains of flash-flood season. Or at least that’s what I did when I was a kid.

In Chicago, every summer I spent at least one long weekend at my grandmother’s place in Altgeld Gardens. She sold soda and popsicles out her back door to the neighborhood kids. The neighbor across the complex sold nickel candy out her’s. At night our collective grandmothers would sit out on the back porches, tilted back in kitchen chairs, drinking sweet tea and slapping at mosquitoes.

At some point during the summer, my father would take my brothers and I down to the beach. Lake Michigan was the biggest body of water I’d ever seen. I can remember sitting in the sand collecting shells, as many as I could shove into my pockets. It was years before I had a lasting memory of the ocean, but Lake Michigan loomed large in my childhood dreams.

Coming home to Chicago meant fireflies at night. The smell of cut grass. And laughter. People outside lingering in the sunshine talking, gossiping, singing, skating.

In Chicago, I looked forward to summer ending. It was a precious thing that wouldn’t last. A bright sunny moment right before the leaves changed, school began and winter would start encroaching. It’s really good to be home again. (Nikki Dolson)

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