Mood: Rainy day delinquent
Drinking: Mint & honey tea
As long as there’s no great March snowstorm to keep me earthbound, I’ll be picking up my bags at O’Hare in a couple of days and pointing my rental car west, toward my parents’ farm.
My grandfather passed away several weeks ago, and the relatives-in-charge opted to postpone the memorial service until “spring”. I don’t know exactly why they consider Illinois’ version of March to be spring, since anyone who’s spent a winter or two there knows better. But the date has been set. So I, along with several other long-lost relatives from various states betwixt here and there will be traveling through the snow this week to pay our respects.
I’m always happy to return to the small town where I grew up. (As long as it’s for a visit and not for good.) I like to drive the roads that I used to know so well, the roads that used to make me feel like such a big fish, and see what’s changed since I last passed that way. Palmyra Road always has a few surprises. For one thing, it’s not even called Palmyra Road anymore. I think they changed the name to Prairieville Road a couple of visits back.
When I was a tiny thing, it used to be called Rural Route 1. Then, for the duration of my childhood and teen years, it was Palymra Road. Home of “Son Shine Acres”, which is where I lived from age 2 to 21, give or take a few months here and there when I was at college or pretending to live in more exotic locales like Indiana.
My parents owned a big grey farmhouse and 1.5 acres of land which housed a huge garden, a dog kennel, a chicken coop, a horse barn, and my dad’s oversized garage. For most of my childhood, we also rented the 10 or so acres of land across the driveway, which included a silo, barn, and several large outbuildings, as well as a pond, a giant cottonwood tree, and a couple of acres of rolling green hills.
I learned to ride a horse there (and broke my arm getting bucked off a donkey there). I spent countless hours carrying 5-gallon buckets of water from the well up by our house all the way down to the big red barn, which didn’t have any running water for a long time. In the winter, when the pails of water would slosh down my legs and freeze inside my boots, that path from house to barn seemed 5 miles long.
The picture above is the view from our kitchen window out over the yard, down the lane, ending at the big red barn. My dad took this photo on a winter day when I was only 4 or 5. For most of my formative years, this view comprised the largest part of my world.
My parents don’t live at 497 Palmyra Road anymore. They sold the place and moved on when my sister was in college. My bedroom with the dusky blue horseshoe wallpaper belongs to someone else now.
But every time I’m back in town, I drive the old blacktop, turning right off Route 2 by the Shell gas station, up Lord’s Hill (which seems so small now compared with San Francisco inclines), past Vitale’s Holstein farm, and then slowing down for a look as I drive past the scene of my first bike ride, first snowman, first puppy, first costume party, first horse, first skinned knee, first kiss, first driving lesson, first mulberry, first falling star, first everything that makes a childhood a good one.
It doesn’t look like much anymore. Some of the trees in our huge front yard are missing now. The Son Shine Acres sign is gone. There are no more beagles in the backyard. And who knows what ever happened to my favorite bike, the one with the banana seat and the handlebar streamers.
But it’s still a magical place to me.
So I’ll be seeing you soon, old homestead. And you, too, Sterling Girl(s)! Leave a light on for me. I’m coming home.
-Lo, who still knows where Erwin the bird is buried out in the apple orchard.