I started my new job as the writer/editor of the News-Gazette Magazines after years of freelance writing. I made my appearance on Monday, March 23, 2015, after nine years with the Mahomet-Seymour Schools as a special education aide. I was in unfamiliar territory, although I was very excited, to say the least.

One of my co-workers, Angela Brown told me she takes walks on her breaks to get out and get a little exercise during the day.

Uh, yeah! Good idea. I could not just sit and type all day.

So, we meet every so often during the week to take a 15-20 minute walk around Old Town Champaign. Even though I am an Urbana grad, I cannot deny the influence Champaign has on me. Townies know there is a distinct difference between the two cities, twins that they are.

That first walk I was already feeling nostalgic as we walked by a particular house on Elm Street. My birth home was an apartment owned by the Covert family in that house. The Coverts lived downstairs, and the kids: Glenn, David, Jeannie, Barbie and Judy were my faux siblings.  So, for five years our two families shared the house on 405 N. Elm.

I know Angela could see my emotion. I stopped and stared. There was that big front porch, looking at me and possibly remembering how many times I played house, learned from Jeannie how to dance the mashed potato or made mud pies with Barbie. Precious memories probably preceded by our moms telling us to, “…go outside and play!”

The next time we walked it was much later in the week. I had interviews and Angela just walked without me. She pointed out some beautiful flowers that she had seen in various yards the days I couldn’t join her. It’s amazing to me to take walks and see how everything changes in a neighborhood: blooms that open and fade, gardeners that transform a green space into a palette of floral color and changes made to a home or building.

‘That color looks good on those shutters. Good idea.’

‘Too bad they’re tearing that old building down. I wonder what they’re putting in its place?’

The cats and dogs we met along the way were friendlier than the folks we encountered, who had that ‘city-stare’ in their eyes. The ‘city-stare’ is that blank, glazed over look coupled with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. I learned it when I moved to Chicago after college. It made me sad that Champaign-Urbana had this added to its make-up. I guess that is the price of progress and growth.

Have you ever noticed when there’s growth it seems like we give-up something, too?

Then, we walked down Vine Street. OK, more emotion. One of my very best friends on this earth is Marlina Smock. She grew-up in a house on Vine Street. We played out in her awesome yard and porch all the time. They had mulberry trees and a fireplace in the backyard. Her house was old, and average size, but it had all these cool built-in cabinets, glass-paned doors, and bay windows. When it was cold, we played in the basement. It had a coal furnace with a big area for coal. I can still smell it. We had the old transistor radio set to WLS AM 8900 and listened to the Top 20 Hits of the day. Marlina, her brother, Mark and I played for hours. Their parents let me stay with them probably three out of four weekends a month. They became like a second set of parents to me.

I wonder if they know how much they mean to me?

I was happy to see some of the older homes on Vine and Randolph being rehabbed and brought back to life. I hope it continues. I hope so many things for C-U. I even had a guy return my greeting today. No blank stare. There’s always hope.