Gary Con I and Junior High Revisited

Last weekend I drove up to Lake Geneva for my first ever visit.  I was fortunate enough to attend GaryCon I, a memorial convention put on by the Gygax family.

I met Rob Kuntz face to face and was lucky enough to have an invite to lunch from him.  That was a great time.  Rob took me to an old pizza spot where the TSR regulars used to gather for lunch or for an evening’s round of pizza and playing games.  Just up to street were the old TSR offices.

I met several members of Dragonsfoot and several movers and shakers from Castles and Crusades and various other Indie game authors and artists.  They were all very, very nice.  All in all it was a great weekend.

Sunday I was lucky enough to get into an AD&D game run by Frank Mentzer.  Yes that is the Frank Mentzer of “Mentzer D&D”.  He was also very nice and I was impressed with his great ideas and obvious talents as a DM.

I left the convention early on Sunday to drive back and beat a growing chance of snow.  On the way home I took a side trip back to Wheaton, Illinois.  This is the suburb outside of Chicago where I lived with my family all through 5th and 6th grade (when I went to Lowell Elementary School), through 7th and 8th grade (Franklin Jr. High) and finally my entire Freshman year (Wheaton Central High School).

Wheaton now vs then…

Our little house on Evergreen street was ridiculously small.  As a kid it never, ever seemed that small.  Even the little shotgun shack where we live now in Kansas was easily a third again the size of our house in Wheaton.  The window to my old bedroom and what I could determine to be the extent of my old bedroom itself was especially tiny.

Where the streets and neighborhood used to be filled with kids it is mostly a community of older / retired people now.  There are few children anywhere in that neighborhood.  I remember walking to school from my house the mile and a half or two miles or so up through downtown Wheaton, through the christian college campus all the way to Franklin Junior High on the North side of town.  I remember being accompanied by dozens of other kids, mostly friends of mine.

The big gothic county seat building which seemed old then is mostly closed up now.  All the old stores, including the wonderful book store and hobby shop I remember as a kid, all gone.  Even the old movie theatre has been sold and turned into a church although the kiosk was the same.

I took it in hand to walk my old street and pass the silent houses of where all my friends from those days used to live. 

I remembered a particular moment with crystal clarity.

A young, bright shiny me was walking to school on that same street oh maybe twenty five years ago now…next to him was his good friend at the time, Joe.  I had received the news that Joe was moving to Florida (and would soon learn that my own family was moving to California).  I was telling Joe that someday we’d meet up again in Wheaton and that we’d both be all grown up.  Maybe we’d be rich.  Maybe even famous.  Joe teased me that he’d be the famous one, probably president or something that I’d be some dirt poor bum.  I think I insisted that I was going to be writing game books…maybe I’d get a job writing games for TSR and get to work for Gary Gygax himself.  My love of roleplaying games was pretty deep even at that young age.

So there I was.  Standing in that same place on a dreary rainy March afternoon some twenty five years later.  Feeling old and out of shape.  That other me was such a hopeful, shining and enthusiastic soul…I was full of daylight…like the town used to be but was no longer.

It struck me that the Wheaton that once was.  That place where my friends and I used to walk to school together, have our snowball fights, stand outside of the movie theatre downtown to catch a glimpse of the new star wars movie…that place where I used to mow lawns for five bucks and save my dollars up to buy the latest Judges Guild book or miniatures…that altogether boisterous youthful happy place still exists…yet only within my memories.

I will miss that old Wheaton yet I understand that it is no more… just as I will miss that bright shiny me from so many years ago…yet I still have them both, carried carefully and with great affection deep within my heart and memory.

I did return to Wheaton Joe.  I stood outside your old house and raised a soda for you.  I hope you are well wherever you are.  I am not rich in money although I count myself the richest of rich men when it comes to my many friendships and my children, wife and family.

I now write games and do art for them, just as I had dreamed to do so many years ago.  I only just missed getting to meet Gary Gygax but I count myself among his friends.  I feel more than blessed to be getting to know some of the very people whose D&D books I’d read until those copies were so hopelessly dog eared and tired.

If you ever run for president Joe.  I will vote for you.



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