Take Me Home, Country Road

     Decatur Illinois is my hometown.  Though I haven’t actually lived there for many years, it is still ‘home’.  I make pilgrimages ‘home’, periodically, because that is where my roots are, where what is left of my family reside, and where I communicate with the ghosts of my past.  It appears shameful that Decatur which is a large industrial city, a railroad hub, located in the center of the State, and the food basket of the nation is a place that is really difficult t get to; there are no trains, no convenient buses, and virtually no air service (despite a large attractive airport, practically void of passenger airplanes).  Decatur does not deserve to be left ‘out of the loop’.

     When making the trip to Decatur, it is necessary for me to land somewhere close, rent a car, and then dive the rest of he way.  This time I landed at Chicago Midway Airport and drove a rented car, the last hundred eighty miles to Decatur.  The car rental exceeded the cost of flying from California to Chicago.

     Normally, I dislike driving cross-country; it is a problem for me waiting to get where I am going and having to steer all the way.  This time, admittedly the trip held me somewhat transfixed and nostalgic. It was winter, no snow for the first one hundred sixty miles, all barren stubble fields, wooded creeks and rivers, scattered farm houses, a bright sunny day, and the car radio tuned into local AM stations which are truly unique to the Midwest.



     Actually, before moving away from this land of bitter winter and highly productive hot and humid summers, I had concluded that this ‘very flat land’ was boring and I craved the ‘Mountain Majesty’ of ‘America the Beautiful’.  Strangely, after seeing a few of the wonders of the world, this vast level prairie land extending forever in all directions brought a lump to my throat and emanated a beauty of familiarity.  It seemed that I now appreciated every twig of the trees, every ripple of the creeks, and every stub in the massive corn fields surrounding me; it was oh, so familiar and yet I was seeing it in a new light.  It was hard to believe that this was the dark, winter barrenness that prompted me to move from here to the land of sunshine, mountains, and oceans of blue.

     Driving south along Highway 55, with eyes filled with rural scenes that were sparkling from the full sun, I listened intently to a local radio talk show interview with the author of a Gene Autry biography, not normally my concept of a  thrill a minute excitement.  However, Gene’s ties to Chicago, WLS radio station, and his discovery of ‘Smiley’ Burnett in Champaign, thirty miles from my Decatur was impressive.  It was a ‘Happy Trails’ moment.  I made a mental note to buy the book.

     The sky was painted a beautiful baby blue in every direction, with billowing scattered clouds of virgin white, and at times the sky was filled with a ballet of low-flying geese flying in a number of vees, returning home like me after a winter of southern sunshine and warmth.  At one point the sky was filled with geese.  The geese were a ‘special’ treat that was deeply appreciated.

     Why, I wondered, do all the Illinois natives who can, spending their winter in Miami?  This is indeed a strange question coming from me.  In a brief conversation with another gentleman in the Chicago Midway Airport, his reaction to my telling him I just arrived from California simply asked me, “Why?”

     “Why?” is the question I asked my self, comfortably seated at the kitchen table of the old family house, now my sister’s, with a cup of coffee, immediately upon arriving ‘home’.  Especially since I am no longer a coffee drinker, anywhere else.  So many of the moments of the past are contained here within these walls; that is why.

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