Land of Lincoln - Pilgrimage No. 3
Flew east to Springfield to experience fall in the Land of Lincoln. As I stepped off the small plane down from O'hare, smelled the heavy air with familiar delight. Ach, mid October--beautiful, if nippy. Not long after I made my way across Springfield from the airport to Villa Maria on Lake Springfield, lightening flashed, thunder rumbled and the heavens opened. While I splashed in and out of Walmart to learn how to use the newly acquired tracfone in case there weren't pay phones in Illinois, my rarely damp shoes began to unglue. And I'd wanted to camp! Grateful for a roof at Villa Maria.
Lo! There were pay phones!
The next morning searched thrift shops for rubber boots and rain hat in case it poured again, which of course it didn't, and warmer pants, which sure felt good. Drove the old Jacksonville road that dad commuted to night's school on after the war. Beautiful country. Found small Antioch cemetery easily, eventually the Reuck and Dunlap stones Ann wrote about, and an intriguing stone mentioning Abram P and Mary Smith. Grandfather Chester Abram Hemphill's mother was a Smith. Perfect gray cemetery weather.
Then the sun began peaking. Fields, prairie and woods glowed with early fall color. I was stunned by the familiar beauty.
Went straight to Sherwood Eddy YMCA, built just after I moved west. Toured and acquired weekend pass. Nice "yoga" space! Used the handy, dandy pay phone (dreadful static) to check in with locals. Hurried to Charley's to see the changes he's made in the family home and to use the internet before he left for alumni evening.
Afterwards I drove out to the intersection with the highway to try to take a picture of the organization signs on the fence by the old State Hospital. In a flash I understood Jacksonville.
While Connie took her folks to the fish fry in Woodson and Bob, Charley and Cathy attended alumni events, used the new Y pass. The gyms were in full swing, clearly the Y is a going concern and family affair. Dreadful "music" blared from the aerobics space, scene of a youth dance. Darned if I could figure out the nautilus room machines. None were familiar. Did slightly better in the men's weight room where weights were manually set and moved. Suddenly appreciated the wealth of exercise machines at screaming starling club back in Boise. Better take advantage of 'em!
Before heading "home" for the night, stopped at Steak'n'Shake with it's great burgers and shakes (and heartburn) and quiet pay phone--the Y was out of the question. Dialed high school mate Chuck's mom, out of the blue. What a trooper-- Chuck hadn't mentioned I was going to phone 40 years later! Invited myself to stop by the next day. Toured the 2+ acre yard we took for granted as kids. Recognized the room where we played charades. Doris knows the Y yoga teacher; noted with interest how people know each other. If Chuck's mother is an example of what growing old in Jacksonville is like, something very healthy must be going on.
As I drove back to Springfield, realized I don't have a choice about whether to return to the Midwest. It's a done deal. Just a matter of if, when and how. Returning to roots'd be good for me, like medicine--hopefully more like black elderberry extract than castor oil! After all my moves out west, time to make peace with my love-hate issues and confusion around community and relationship. What better venue that the scene of my good enough childhood, as Garrison Keillor might put it. Forget independence and mountains, hold on in for the final exam--going home.
The next day I looked up high school class reunion organizer Connie (beagle and rott) who began catching me up on classmates and Jacksonville. Connie drove us around Lake Jacksonville and town to look at neighborhoods and houses for sale. Later we dined at what was Howard Johnsons long ago--breakfast for Connie, liver and onions for me. Curious about the "new" prison near town, learned more of Connie's family story.
Bob and Cathy squeezed me between them at 1st Presbyterian church the next morning, giving me an irresistible sense of belonging. Boy, oh, boy, mainstream church is a test for this currently nondenominational heart. As a child, I squirmed at the minister's children's story; nothing had changed! The Dalai Lama says we can change our minds, I reminded myself. The congregation absolutely melted when a kid in the back shrieked as the pastor mentioned something about marriage. Rolled my eyes. See what I mean? Endless opportunities to practice loving kindness everywhere. Thank you Kathleen Norris for describing the experience of returning to your grandmother's church.
After the service, the congregation--clearly healthy and alive--turned to the back of the sanctuary to socialize, a lovely arrangement. In a flash Cathy introduced me to the Y pool manager--my old PE teacher! Two familiar faces turned out to be Gratia and son Andy, last seen together at the swimming pool in the '60s! I was overwhelmed and touched by the possibility of returning to such familiarity.
Followed Cathy and Bob to the country club for lunch. We met Charley who immediately introduced me to a round table of smiling gals of my parents' generation, every one of whose names I knew well. "I still have school books with your father's name in them", Betty said. "I watch your old home on State being fixed up", another said. Turned out she meant the house dad grew up in, not the one his children grew up in! My eyes grew wide. Their beaming faces and bright eyes were like a ring of angels to the prodigal daughter. Gulp.
Besides warmer pants and a full mind, I took an osage orange back to Idaho. It sits in a dish on the downstairs table. "What's that", visitors ask from a safe distance. "Osage orange from Illinois", this prairie home companion replies. The smell of home I'm thinking.
Wouldn't move back to Jacksonville to dine out or work out, but to fill the hole for community in my life. To make peace with the unfinished business that kept me wandering for decades, exploring freedom", frontier style. Already I fantasize spending Illinois Friday nights at prison teaching yoga (knowing I haven't been able to get permission to so in Idaho!) while others attend gatherings for the arts or colleges. I'd like roaming the back roads of Illinois tracking mom and dad's roots in small cemeteries.
So often I hear a different drummer; however I sense that's far more ok where mom and dad and dad's side of the family have headstones, than it has been out west where folks are a bit uneasy 'bout fur'ners. At the same time I can imagine sinking my boom town experienced teeth into the issues of small town life of folks who rooted into the rich black earth and woods of Illinois I left behind. Last chance to learn to give, live, love and let go. I'd appreciate the challenge of walking the line--one toe in the country club pool, another in closed toe shoes of prison. I'd like to exit this awkward lifetime as gracefully as possible. Returning to the Land of Lincoln, going back to the 20th century, changing sweat pants for corduroy, might be ok. I've always remembered what Gloria Steinham observed about the women who stayed home, doing the real work, back in her hometown.
East Coast - pre leaves
Continuing mind body spirit adventures -- friendship, learning, retreat
Back to Kripalu for primordial taiji ruler with Ken Cohen (following landing in Albany and overnighting with Vermont buddies where I noticed glowing dots in the woods--research ahoy! [lightening bug larva!]). Learn a lot at Kripalu, but feel the angst of both staff and visitors too much to do my own relaxing and renewing. Looked on the web for a place to spent a couple of quiet days nearby. I'd love to camp, but until I find an agreeable site in the area, the thought of the lugging camping gear and damp eastern weather deters me.
At the last minute my written request to stay at the abbey in Bethlehem CT that Marcy mentioned came through, so I wandered south to get there before vespers. It wasn't leaf peeping time yet, but a touch of fall was good enough for me. I was blessed to be accepted as a guest, just as the small guesthouse closed for October. Although St Benedict's ora et labora reigns as well it should, my stay was restorative. One afternoon I worked with a garden nun of such perfection I merely cheered her onward.
Although the new church where mass is held is lovely--I was particularly fond of it's floral arrangements--I grew to prefer the smaller old chapel (by the abbey entrance and dining room) where the famous singing nuns were nearly entirely out of sight. While I missed harmony and familiar melodies, but I loved the Latin, when I could hear it, and acapella style. By the time I left I could have made the sweet, simple chants a part of the cycle of my life too.
Perhaps best of all, as a stranger to the east, I loved stopping to spend a few days with devout guesthouse women. What a pleasure to be able to share how much spiritual belief supports our lives. A surprise was to learn the abbey has an in-house kripalu yoga teacher! Alas, new guests aren't allowed behind cloister walls. How I'd love to attend the Mother Cecilia's yoga class!
Abbey new church
Fine old headstones
Bethlehem nature center
Southern California Dreamin'
Golden state silence
Jumped at the chance to combine a retreat in 1000 Oaks with visiting Aunt Mona Ray and Randy in Anaheim. Folks either warned me about the LA area or flat out said I was a fool. So what's new. One southern Californians just said you can do it, just Be prepared for hwys to be slow, count on lots of time.
Off I went. I wish. For some reason I thought I wanted to fly through Portland and Seattle to Burbank on Alaska. Alas flight #1 was delayed enough that #2 left as #1 landed in Portland. Several fellow Burbank destined travelers flew into a rage. Threw plans for La Brea tarpits out the window; slept on the airport floor waiting for the next flight out. Woke suddenly when my first 2 names (not last harried staff told me) were called. The darling old woman watching over me as I awoke asked with an angelic smile, “Have a good sleep?” Nodded groggily.
I wasn't prepared for the beauty of famous southern California when we finally landed in Burbank. No wonder Henry Dana and others wax eloquent. Rolling hills and palm trees. Cousin Randy rightly predicted the drive time to their house. So this is life in LA, I thought, as we drove slowly along, just like I'd heard.
It had taken some doing, but I'd finally wrangled an invitation to visit mom's youngest sister and her son. Had no idea what to expect. Found an impeccably kept 50s home in the shadow of Disneyland, with a backyard growing heirloom tomatoes and 100 lb pumpkins, plus the usual citrus trees. A supremely fit aunt Mona Ray and her easy going son greeted me warmly, setting out a travelers dream dinner—bbq chicken and broccoli--and a couch for the night. Loved feeling the evening breeze off the ocean. Probably cudda seen Disney fireworks if I'd staggered outside. Been a long day, despite naps.
Not very savvy about bringing gifts, I'd brought mainly backyard produce, rhubarb and tomatoes. Mona Ray acted like the rhubarb was gold.
Enjoyed talking with Mona Ray and Randy so much, I barely jumped into the rental car the next morning in time for church. Since it was obvious tar pits and museums were falling aside, clung steadfast to remaining goal to find the mother Vineyard in Anaheim, many miles off. Only a bit late to enter the spectacular, sparsely filled sanctuary. The first things I saw melted my heart-- an ALS signer and a number of disenfranchised looking folks on the main floor. Wonderful music, powerful talk, accompanied by piano (only in so. CA?) Used WiFi in the bookstore, then bumped into a woman to lunch with. (Subway 2 days in a row--whatever.)
Barbie Ann (could hardly believe the so CA name) was a Vineyard old timer, part of early leadership program, who misses the early charismatic phase of the Vineyard. I didn't want to be the one to tell her the Vineyard has changed and matured and continues to do so; the good old days are gone, darn it. My chin dropped as she told me about working as an art teacher in Watts, witnessing to kids; her accident; qualifying as a Disney artist; renting a studio on a mansion grounds; and God telling her to return to the midwest.
Back on Sunnybrook, Mona Ray seemed anxious for me to be off after we rattled her neighbor to take our picture. She was right—needed the rest of the day to wend my way up to 1000 Oaks. Sure enjoyed her clear mind's recollections of growing up in Kankakee, grandparents. She's the last remaining Mann. Although she appears strong as a horse at 80 some, it was sobering to realize it's unlikely I'll see her again.
After a couple of wrong exits, passed the Getty museum turn off and headed up 101 north. Finally found a radio station with beguiling music (turned out to include Tibetan) to fit the setting sun and beautiful hilly (slow) drive. Relaxed into a magic California moment.
Spent the next few nights in dorm bunks with too small sheets on plastic covered mattresses. Got the picture? Recalled Aunt Mona Ray's foam on long couch and sea breeze fondly. I'll write about the “silent” retreat with hardy Brits, Midwesterners and Californians, in the gorgeous chapel at California Lutheran University later. Walked my sandaled feet raw, hoofing around the Calif. Lutheran U. campus.
Ended this California adventure with 2 nights a little further north up the coast, inland, at fabled Ojai. although getting around Calif. was totally out of my comfort zone, managed to stop by the old Mission in Venture, and a nearby thrift shop on my way to Ojai. ; ~) When I finally found the retirement center where I'd made phone reservations to stay, the silence of that orange laden acreage was a great relief. I stewed in the words of Father Laurence, and St. Josephs brother Andre, chewed and stitched on my own patchwork life. Needed that time to round out the week. On the return to the airport 2 days later I exited at the Malibu Creek State Park in honor of Katy and Carl, enjoying huge oaks before returning to Burbank (where the airport exit sign is hidden behind bushes). Listened to terrific medical call in radio programs I'da missed if I'd been able to use CDs/ tapes like I'd brought to enjoy!
This time I knew “delayed” meant missing connections. Rescheduled on nonstop out of LAX, meaning a wild/broadside across main streets shuttle across LA with an Arabic-Persian-Russian-Armenian speaking driver, and hours of communing with fellow delayed west coasters at LAX. I'll say no more. What if I hadn't been retreating!
24 hours later the first old college buddy arrived glassy eyed after driving straight through from San Jose. So started the next adventure--a week of Idaho camping with old Illinois cronies.
Yin and Yang California style!
Yoga and friends
Willa and Jeannie after many years! Fine photo reluctantly snapped by Willa's Illinois mom who remembers husband Willis playing pool with (our) dad. Also, (our) dad assuring folks Jeannie is not a genius! Amen. (She couldn't even read for decades!)
Gorgeous oak grove morning
Another easy flight into San Jose--love that direct flight--especially since this time I left hot Boise and arrived in a California so cool I wore all my layers the entire stay. My head always spins with the diversity of CA humanity--everything goes. Loved the bearded, turbaned middle easterners picketing car rentals throughout the airport. The cool dude who checked the Hertz car back in had to be seen to be appreciated.
Another good stay in Paul and Christina's aromatic, flowery neighborhood, where grapefruit hang heavy and mockingbirds sing throughout the night. Another workshop at Tassajara, this time with zen priest Edward Brown (the chef) and long time, though "young" yogi Eric Schiffman. (Yoga thoughts now linked to Yoga Lessons. Once again enjoyed an extra night in the Vantanas (photo above). This time brought along ancient family mosquito net tent and curled up with extra loaned gear from Paul. How beautiful to awake under giant California oaks, even after recovering from some bag lunch item kept without refrigeration too long.
Hopefully I learned once and forever, never, ever to have food in my bag at Tassajara. The most aggressive mouse I've ever met gnawed through the heavy zipper of my new duffle while I swatted. Mea culpa. Safety pins to the rescue.
This trip I ventured an embarassingly short distance off route to find high school friend Willa in Pacific Grove. (Until I've been there, done that, have absolutely no sense of distance, geography or traffic.) Boy was it interesting, fun, and we agreed, surreal, to get together after 40 plus years. We don't think we even crossed paths at college. I was stunned to learn Willa was an English major at the U of I (can't get a written word outa her!) Willa and sister immigrated right after school and still live close. The stability of midwesterners, even when transplanted, stuns me-- Willa's still flying (international only). When Pat and family brought take out Chinese food over, they seemed like they were still Midwesterners. But when the teens took off in a classic red mustang--like everyone has a toy like that-- realized they at least are full blooded Californians.
As Willa drove me along the breathlessly beautiful Monterey coastline, I lobbied relentlessly towards our 45th reunion. (When I got back took the liberty of getting one of her long lost friends back in touch!) Back in San Jose, between his online finals, Paul and I plotted this summer's Idaho based "simian" get together.
Quite the long weekend! Once again, home for R&R, 2 real San Jose lemons left to savor. Whew!
Notorious tassajara jay looking deceptively innocent
Northwest Folklife again
Folklife Highlight: world class Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band leaves stage after yet another delightful tribute to Sousa et al
(You had to be there to appreciate--hear Liz, watch Edith. This year, the unabashed in the audience participated, marching with shoes on hands)
Seattle skyline from Bremerton ferry
New Seattle Public Library -- uhhh, library, you say?
Legendary Bob McQuillen at the piano
With good buddy Susan near Space Needle ceanothus
Seattle's Pat Wright workshop with Total Experience
Buddha on the road (rest stop in the Oregon Blue Mountains)
After all these years, finally remembered to take a toothbrush down to Folklife for the day! Folklife volunteers still sell buttons, not toothbrushes, like I suggested way back when, but at least I've got my toothbrush handy, so I can enjoy the feast of ethnic food booths.
The first highlight of the drive over was meeting Buddha (above) at a rest stop ( Oregon nat), CA tags (nat).
Didn't adapt to Seattle very well this visit, though I slipped in Friday morning, around Memorial weekend traffic. Seattle's just not gonna be the same without Marli (now in CA), though I stayed in her home with roommate Polly. Seemed like this visit bus adventures were weirder than average-- such anger, such angels.
Started Folklife with Bob Dylan documentaries (1956-66) at glitzy EMP. Watching Dylan's choreographed mystique was too much; ignorance was bliss. Can't see enough early, lone, black and white Dylan and guitar. The presenter explained the public is being fed market sized bites of Dylan.
Since I couldn't yet face the heart of Folklife, took opportunity to see the new downtown public library, check email. Uhhh, slanted floors, banks of computers, in your face modern art. Not with my tax dollars I kept grumbling, this state of the art entertainment center called a library. Seattle no longer felt familiar; Idaho spelled relief.
Kept missing the bus, well, the bus was missing; lotta waiting. Got into the swing of Folklife Saturday, bumping into old faces and smiles, hearing and seeing the same old wonderful music and musicians Folklife is known for. How I miss ethnic music! Balkan night was divine.
I'm a stranger to more and more folks, although those I still connect with are irreplaceable, nothing like 'em east of the Cascades. Great music, great friends. But less--friends. Dark, veiled and turbaned women pass out Folklife schedules now. Seattle's an amazing melting pot. I'm in awe of how the city works. Bless them all.
More waiting for buses in the evening. Gangs of oh so young kids talking to each other on cell phones, pushing ahead of elders, grabbing seats. A young gal talked on a cell phone as she hand cranked. Pretty cool. One by one, they're kind. Caroline Myss' tribal psychology comes to mind.
The final night, The Bus Driver of the Millennium took us north in The Limo. "Not a bus", he explained in his honey smooth rap. I moved forward to see this driver I hadn't even noticed when I got on. "Only the finest ride for the finest folks", he purred. "Now there young folks in back, take care with those doors on my limo." Not a hint of harshness, the kids laughed and smiled and stopped whatever they'd been doing. The Smoothest Limo driver in the world, just like the man in the Golden Gate toll booth, dancing, performing, enjoying every minute of what could be a dull job. Thank you God. Perfect way to end Folklife.
Off to Bremerton on the ferry Tuesday noon, but not before a police dog and handler went up and down my waiting lane 3 or 4 time each side of the car. Cripes. Left Seattle with no regrets. On the ferry, couldn't help taking numerous photos of booths of slumped and prone commuters--not napping, but sound asleep. My over all impression of Seattle since I arrived was of Exhaustion, from over stimulation.
Just as I was threatening never to return, Marcy and I looked at some of her many old family photos, and she looked at my lone album from grandmother Mona Geiger Mann. "Next time you're here I'll show you around Fisk Genealogical Library; there's the Sand Point archives too." Bremerton, yes; Seattle... maybe. We enjoyed crab salad at the airport diner. Spent a night car camping at Clallum park, sniffing sea breezes. And another listening to frogs in Oregon. Took weeks for my feet to recovering from walking more in one weekend in Seattle than all year!
Colorado - Dos Daoists
New leaves, cloudy creeks
Taoist masters Gao Han and Yun Ziang Tseng with students
Hotel Colorado April 29-May 2, 2005
Hotel Colorado -- "Teddy Roosevelt stayed here!"
Contemporary paid guest?
Looking down on Glenwood Hot Springs pools
Spring blossoming all around the Glenwood pool
Soak with classmates from CO, NY and BC
Dogwood opening along the Colorado
Watercress filled creek, City of Rifle Park
Favorite view, Utah
Damp skies over Utah. Fields of new yellow primrose blooming near the Book Cliffs. Fragrant desert air.
Snowy peaks, northwest Utah
Tea and sagebrush, southern Idaho
After the long evening in Midway, it was a relief to drive the familiar trail to western Colorado to Ken Cohen's Taoist Retreat at Glenwood Springs. Clouds made for beautiful skies, cool driving, even across the desert between Price and Grand Junction. In fact, used the new windshield wiper quite a lot (though I never got around to switching it to the driver's side). Fresh green tinged the usual brown desert; everywhere, leaves were unfolding. I thought new green, along the Colorado River, against the walls of Glenwood Canyon was particularly breath taking. Gorgeous time of year.
After traditional Junction Square pizza and conversation with old friend Evette, optimistically laid my sleeping bag out under the... uh clouds. As the drops came, scooted closer under the eves. Defeated, I relocated to the kitchen. Always a full house at Mike and Evette's.
The following morning I checked into the Hotel Colorado (something of a first for the rest area style traveler!), met with Ken and my fellow staffer Jason from Maine to get lined out for registration and sales. Ran around Glenwood for osha tincture and Tai Chi magazine while we had free time. That night Illini George and I took his Explorer out towards Aspen to recharge his battery (lights on kind of weather from East slope also). My touchy stomach was pleased that we found a Nepalese Restaurant on the outskirts of Glenwood (returned a few nights later with a workshop group, for the same peas and potato dish). We were both mellow after a soak in the hot pools. Always good to catch up with George.
Alas only fair that the following night I honored his choice of Thai food. Ended up abandoning dinner after sweating profusely and blowing my nose continually. (We took before and after digitals of each other. I don't look half as miserable as I felt!) George however thrived. absolutely in his element--what fortitude! Adjourned the Vapor Caves. In the heat, my face continued to burn; I don't even enjoy mild chilis! No photos of the dim, damp Vapor Caves. Quite like them.
The workshop was grand. Two finer teachers, not to mention Taoists may not exist. Young Master Tseng has the energy and connections to pull off a Taoist Summit next year, and manifest a U.S. Taoist monastery. He has in mind Estes Park. I blanched at front range; secretly pray for a remote location.
Eventually met and enjoyed some of the 60+ workshop folks from all over the country and Canada. About the time one makes connections, workshops end and we scatter back to the winds. Survived a bit uneasily a hotel--way out of my comfort zone--very convenient, I admit. I was rather stunned to meet huge dogs also overnighting in the hotel. Bet they aren't charged like me.
Went on up to Leadville after the workshop, potential venue of another college outing club reunion, August 2006. Love that old town, complete with May snow drifts. Great museum. Too often I end up scouting for a place for the night in the dark. Had no idea the city of Rifle park I ended up in, since the other park required some sort of pass, would be so gorgeous until the next morning. So I lingered in the occasional sun, reviewing favorite new qigong exercises, and enjoying spring time in the Rockies.
Tortured myself with heavy reading this trip. Tried to listen to classics on tape. Abandoned Joyce's Ulysses. Listened to almost all of Dos Passos Manhatten Transfer. When I couldn't stand it any more, I went to the final cassette, and lo, it was more of the same. Fini. I continue to be underwhelmed by The Classics. But then, I'm not a English major, barely a reader. At night I read Rescuing Patty Hearst and Sleeping with Cats. Why don't I seem to be able to get enough to neurotic women? I did enjoy very much listening to Finding Fish, an autobiography I stumbled onto and couldn't wait to find how and when redemption occurred. Perhaps I'm saturated, found myself impatient with a recent John Grisham, since the "hero" sold out.
Loved spending the final night on the road, in southern Idaho, south of American falls, up in the sagebrush. Slept dry in the car through a long lightening storm and rain. Hoped to hear, but didn't, sage grouse drumming in the early hours. After tea in the sagebrush, carefully pointed down the soaked dirt road, not slipping or white knuckling until the farm house next to the main road. Whew. The wheel wells were packed with mud. Whew.
March 2005 -
Illinois Pilgrimage - No. 2
Fragrant cedars by Layer plot
Wenger Green Ridge Cemetery, Gilman
Layer house, Gilman
(scouted earlier by Illini P Brickett)
Fine old friends, Jacksonville - Bradneys, Franks, Randalls
Tradition! Anglican Easter, Jacksonville
Abe Lincoln's New Salem near Petersburg
Burma Shave still found on Illinois back roads
[One whole day of photos on night setting :~( ]
Searching for Cooper roots, Kankakee
Suddenly understood the common last name Consort!
How fun can it be!
Lunch with 4 of mom's Kankakee classmates!
Virginia, ,,,Betsy, Ruth
Now historic Geiger House, 999 S Chicago, Kankakee
Older sister Peggy and mom's wedding receptions were here
Making the most of a long evening at Midway during tornado watch
When mom's grade schoolmate Virginia offered to show me around Kankakee, decided to make a pilgrimage back to Illinois. Since I'd vowed to take a break from Easter in Boise, planned long Easter weekend in Illinois. Flew into Midway (gulp), rented car (gulp, gulp) and bumbled my way west to Villa Park to sorority pal Margo and John's. Next afternoon, headed down state in spitting snow to Gilman, to see the Layer house of photo albums. The night before I flew, as I looked through old photos, saw note that Grandmother Geiger was buried in Gilman. Having got directions to the oldest cemetery with a stop at the post office, put on all the clothes I'd brought--gloves, scarf, hat, long underwear--and braced wind and rain, and found the small plot with surprising ease. Loved the fragrance of nearby red(?) cedar.
Mission accomplished, headed on to Jacksonville before dark, through farmland with incredible black soil! I was totally nonplused (is that the word?) with Illinois flatlands and gray skies--how could anyone live here! (As if Idaho's not gray!) Little did I know gas stations would be further apart in central Illinois than Nevada, or maybe I just assumed they'd be everywhere. They were not. Pulled into Springfield praying and practicing breathing deeply, with "the red light on", after exits into towns without gas stations.
High school classmate Bob and wife Kathy welcomed me to their delightful artistic home for the weekend, a regular stop for many travelers I learned. How wonderful to be welcomed by more folks I hadn't been in touch with for decades! Fell deep asleep to familiar distant train whistles, head on Danish pillow.
Saturday I went off to satisfy the yearning to see Abe Lincoln's New Salem log cabin village again--such strong memories! Missing sun and hills, drove in narrow, patched back roads in circles for quite sometime! Recalled childhood Sunday afternoon country, how we kids worried that dad (who'd survived piloting over Africa in WWII) would get lost! Farm pond also reminded me how dad had once told us about seeing a pig sliding on a frozen pond on a drive to Peoria! Saturday evening Kathy and Bob invited friends of mom and dad over for a lovely supper. I was deeply touched to be with folks who recalled both my parents and dad's parents. They casually mentioned so and so would be selling, units were available here and there. Very seductive after all these years being new in one community after another.
Sunday I swallowed my gray words when the sun came out; birds called all over Bob and Kathy's woodsy yard. Illinois was beautiful, and familiar. When they headed to Quincy for a family visit, I went down to Trinity church hoping to see some of my just revived roots. Enjoyed the stained glass, but realized I must not be anglican when the priest spoke about Dr Phil on Easter! Folks hustled off to Easter dinners before I had a chance to re-introduce myself (only 40 years!), so I drove on down the street, intending to go to noon mass.
But passed the family congregational church where the Easter service was still going on. Held my breath and returned, after all these years. Instantly smitten by the pastor with her touch of Sister Wendy humor and passion. Then I was emotionally overwhelmed by the big church I once knew so well, paint curling off organ pipes--or were they crumbling--and once had such mixed feelings about, which was now practically empty, just a handful of scattered folks. No minister so clearly as wonderful as this one, deserved this. But then, Jacksonville is about tradition. Out West, I go to the church I like; here, you go to the church of your family. Recognized a Heiss name tag and hustled over when the service finished, choking back tears. Marjorie Heiss greeted me as though yesterday; her "young" son Lokke was also visiting from The West. "I knew your mother well", she said; "She ran away from Jacksonville, you know". "She sure did", I said. And mom accused me of leaving the family! I didn't bother to mention how many years mom lived in a place she resented. Marjorie probably knew. Oy vey, what we leave behind! No wonder we don't go back!
Still wanted to stop in mass across town. Lit candle for family, especially new convert Jamie. Catholics were the forbidden fruit of childhood; couldn't resist visiting the church we'd been warned against so long ago (new version, of course). Good to see a vital congregation after the first two morning stops.
Felt kinda lonely eating at Steak and Shake again on Easter--no lime shakes this year--but realized I truly needed time alone. Drove to Meredosia to find the grassland Rick recommended. Its blackened slopes still smelled of burning. Made myself comfortable in a patch of sun in the wooded drainage and wrote awhile. The "easter" bunny came by. Don't see rabbits in doggy Boise.
The next morning Randalls showed me how Illinois River flood lands are being returned to natural. Sun out; another glorious day. Looked like winter--no leaves; felt like spring. Just as I left, spring would burst. Bob identified ducks before I saw them; I pointed out hawks. I was enthralled by frogs calling; Bob identified 2 species (chorus and spring peeper?). Love those Illinois woodlands, bluffs and narrow winding roads! Wonderful in all ways to return. Especially Kathy answered many a "where are they now?" After years of wondering, learned my/our remarkable Hungarian, single mom, 5th grade as well as high school English teacher, Ruth Kovacs, ended up teaching Greek and Latin literature at MacMurray (College), Kathy's alma mater. Dr. Kovacs' unique encouragement of my awkward interest in writing stayed underground for decades, not bursting forth until Jean Bryant's journaling class in the late '80s. No one yet knows where her wild kids, Tor and Lisa, are.
Drove north along the Illinois River, stopping at Dickson Mounds, whose skeletons with mended bones and arrowheads in place, propelled me towards anthropology. So much for the earthy Dickson Mounds of school trips! Utterly gone, replaced with a slick entertainment museum. Above Peoria I cut east towards Kankakee, past large farms, scattered homes, occasional old churches, cemeteries. Arrived in Kankakee as the sun set, for the visit to see mom's old stomping ground which started this trip. As soon as as arrived (thanks to Virginia's exquisite directions) we got down to the business of photos. "Those are our kids!", Virginia exclaimed, as I she looked at an unidentified photo; her husband shrugged. She'd kept my folks 1946 photo Christmas card, with the new kid in between!
Nearly 60 years later Nyhuises welcomed this toddler into their lovely dormer guest room without batting an eye. I was certain I'd grown up with the very same blue print wallpaper! In the morning, looked out on the largest oak I remember. A chain stitch child sized Singer, just like the one I remember mom had, sat on a shelf. I was deep in the past with mom, whose memories of growing up in Kankakee warmed over the years. Back in her hometown, I knew why. Virginia showed me homes where Manns, Geigers and Troups once lived, now in a historic district, several with backyards on the Kankakee River. A lifetime in Kankakee, no better guide than Virginia.
On the way to lunch with 3 more of mom's classmates, we passed a cemetery in middle of town, which turned out to be full of records. Lunch was absolutely delightful. "Your mom had the first hose; we think her dad worked in hosiery. Furniture? Kroehler, yes. It's .... now." On and on. Wonderful. Betsy escorted me back to the cemetery where the clerk dug up locations and obituaries. We tromped around looking for Cooper, Geiger, Troup and Mann stones. Snapped digitals of all, not knowing who was who. Whyever did I think I was an orphan?
Although Virginia arranged for me to see the Gieger home the next morning, I was spinning from 24 hours in Kankakee, more concerned about being within range of Midway the next day than anything else. Returned to Margo and John's for the evening, a good walk, and helpful debrief with Margo the next day. Interested to observe Illini suffering "Abe and Mary Lincoln syndrome"--dads on pedestals of incomparable integrity who die young; long suffering, long-lived, unstable moms.
Tornado warnings on the radio as I drove to Midway early. Knew the last flight of the day could be risky. As a group of us were getting to know each other during the delay, I borrowed cell phone to ask Caryl to sub--how I'd looked forward to that yoga class! Obviously I wouldn't be back in time. Luckily fine company for the long evening in Midway, and a few hours from hell on the floor in Denver airport. Our patience was "rewarded" with free movies on the plane; my horizons stretched as I stared at professional poker with fascination and horror.
Rather than midnight, the following noon I staggered to the car. The rest of the day was a blurr. A day later I was relieved to be back among the living!
South of the Border...
Denver airport - morning
The morning the group visited the jungle,
I enjoyed watching birds circle overhead, and Word Made Flesh!
Overhead -- frigatebird!
Missed out on a jungle lizard!
Digital by George
(fyi - photo taken upside down, then rotated)
No longer wiley margarita
Jeannie posing with annual mexican margarita and George,
in new Wala Wala t-shirts
Another fine, hot February week, south of the border--same 2 hotels and beaches as last year. 6 of us with leader Don--possibly a bit tired of touring gringos since October! Right off the bat, during a flat tire adventure, the group participated in the national game of rip off gringos. Mary and Dick were far better sports and organized than I would have been about losing cash and travelers checks. It turned out that any event was a good excuse for margaritas, which are no longer scarce like trip #1.
During morning high tides, oyster (ostras) harvest from hidden rocks offshore hotel #1 was underway. Hour after hour, strong lung-ed and legged boys and men dove from innertube. The clang of iron bars knocking shells from rock rang all morning. Every cafe or market had mounds of oyster shells; Don said locals eat oysters raw. Despite their large shells, learned oysters are tiny when I special ordered them (cooked) at the Wala Wala cafe. Then we waddled around the town square, enjoying the evening (the old cathedral for me). Acquiring xrays for the chiropractor involved pre-WWII gear. (Back in Boise) Dr A was not amused, telling me the film was less than useless! Neck feels better anyhow.
For the first time, normally cloudless skies, clouded, making for fine photos! A crescent moon peaked out those first evenings.
Dreaded my 3rd Saturday night in Mexico and was an especially bad sport about Senor Don's insisting on spending the night beside the world's loudest disco, out in the middle of nowhere. I was not disappointed. This year's disco (heard some fine trance rhythms) was accompanied by hours of drunk American lovers of one sex shrieking the F word next door. Since I was the only one in the group disadvantage by both excellent hearing and no alcohol, it was a long night. Sr Don has a truly slimy way of making fun of anyone who squalks. (And we were respectful when "never"- sick-a-day-in-Mexico Don spent a day down with la tourista!) I won't return unless I'm guaranteed (ha!) a grass hut miles from the hotel-disco- neighbors scene!
Swimmer Colleen and inland buddy Rhonda braved rough seas and brought back enough dorito for an exquisite fish dinner for all, perfectly cooked at the highway cafe, with real fried potatoes.
Recalling how I'd lost half a day last year, I held out 'til the last evening for my annual margarita at the beach side cafe that blends lime peel. (This year's turned out to be tasty but harmless, so I had a pina colada too and was still functional, walked the beach "home".)
Returned to Boise warm up, slightly fried and peeling. Hit the ground running for a big weekend. Even with photos hard to believe we were there!