There is a little town that sits precisely in the middle of Illinois. It is surrounded on all sides by corn fields, and John Deere tractors with triangular orange caution signs hanging on the back rumble up and down the streets during planting and harvest time. There are four churches. One tiny library. A post office where people stop in and pick up their daily mail from their assigned mail slot. It is the epitome of small-town Midwestern life, a place where everyone in the entire town knows everyone else and their business.
For the first 15 years of my life, this was home to me.
I haven't been back in 13 years. When my grandpa died in 1995, we went for his funeral. Then a few years passed, I left home and moved several states away, and that was the last time that I've been back.
Thinking about it brings waves of nostalgia. Some things I remember perfectly, like the huge evergreen tree in our backyard that would bend its mighty branches as the wind whipped through it. I would pretend I was Heidi, living in the Alps...I always thought it was so dreamy and romantic when she described the roaring of the wind through the mountain pine trees.
Other things are hazy in my memory; I cannot recall the names of certain streets or how to get to some of the surrounding towns. Funny how living in several cities between then and now can get your brain all befuddled.
The town only has 2000 people, so its claim to fame is limited. But...if it is famous for anything, at least within, oh, say, a 20-mile radius, it would be the Turkey Festival. Every year in June, the entire town turns out for a weekend of roasted turkey legs, mounds of homemade strawberry shortcake, and rickety carnival rides. And you cannot forget the bed races...are ya'll familiar with this? Picture a cot on wheels, many cots on wheels, actually. Four guys to push, one to ride. They line up in the middle of Main Street, and then race to a center line, where they leap off and circle the cot in some sort of Chinese fire drill fashion. Then with whoops and hollers they careen towards the finish line.
The weekend ends with a bang, pretty much the highlight of the entire 3 days...the parade. I don't care how many big-city parades I go to in my life, nothing will compare to the feeling of standing on the edge of the curb, clutching a bag, and hearing the first strains of a marching band coming around the corner. Pure excitement; you know the little homemade floats and the cars and fire engines will be coming by any second, and that loads of candy will by flung into your eager little hands. The Macy's Day Parade has nothing on this when you are 8 years old.
These are my memories, my roots. And sometime this week, for just a day, I am returning. My sister and I, and possibly a brother or two, are making the 3 1/2 hour-drive from Indy to visit our little Illinois town. I am a bit unsure of how I will feel once I arrive; I think it is always hard to return to a place you once called home, because it will never be exactly the same as you remember it. Things change, you change, and the ideals you held on to as a child look completely different when viewed through grown-up eyes. I know it will be a pensive trip as we reminisce about the way things once were, all the while knowing that you can never really go back to that exact place in time.
But still, for just a day, it will be good to be home.