Here’s the next slide… that’s a tree at my parent’s place. The one I used to climb and pretend I couldn’t get back down so the next door neighbour girl would come over and talk me down. I suppose any attention was good attention?
Whenever I drive back across the 9 mile bridge that separates our Island from the mainland and I crest the highest point and look down and see the red soil surrounded by indigo blue, I know I’m home. A weight that I usually don’t even realize is resting there suddenly lifts from between my shoulders and I smile. I get the same sort of feeling when I’m getting near Springfield, my ‘growing up’ home (though the elusive Donna will point out that I haven’t quite made it to the past tense ‘grown up’ yet.) as we come in from the east on the highway from Decatur. We get to a certain point on that highway and across the flat expanse of prairie cornfields and soy beans I can see the city’s only skyscraper, which I’ve written about elsewhere, and to the south I spot the smoking stacks of the city power plant. Home.
A lot has changed. Sorting through the home my wife grew up in just before getting to my folks left me looking at things with different eyes. A lot has been changing but I was more acutely aware of the variations I think I’d largely ignored or been oblivious to on past trips. The road home remains the same but the markers have been modified. The power plant had a new smoke stack: more power and more pollution. As we got close and the lights blinked at us from the giant smoke stacks and loomed over us as we hit the off ramp from I55, I smiled, remembering the graduation party, 1981.
The nerd graduation party was going on at Amy’s dad’s home which was a beautiful, lakefront home beside the golf course. A walk led down from the house to the shore and as I walked down to the water’s edge of this very pricey piece of real estate the enormous power plant, belching out billows of smoke on the opposite shore, filled my vision. There was something about the juxtaposition of the site in front of me and the home behind me that made it impossible for me not to say to my hostess, “ah, and I see it comes with a spectacular view of pollution!” These days I still think those things but I’ve learned not to say them out loud. Most of the time.
Two other random things I remember about that night: I drank my first bottle of Evian sparkling water and proved my philistine heritage and lack of prophetic gifting by asking how they could charge so much for a bottle of water just because it came with bubbles and foretelling that selling water would never catch on.
The other random memory was of me and my friend Jeff pinning Darren down at the party and trying to shave off one of his sideburns. For the longest time in High School, Darren had grown these funky sideburns that made him look like an extra from the Mod Squad. He was known for his sideburns the way my friend Phil was known for the girls he would get intimate with and then tell us detailed accounts about and Dave was known for being toasted for the majority of our high school days. They were legendary.
My friend Jeff and I had decided that on grad night we would shave one off, leaving him to either eliminate the other shrub himself or walk around half in and half out of style. We got Darren down and brought out the razor and a can of shaving cream. He thrashed violently, threatened us, screamed at us and then finally begged and pleaded with us not to do this horrible thing. I’m sorry to say we relented and what could have been a great moment for all of us just became awkward as we let him up, he brushed himself off and went in to the party and Jeff and I stood there with the razor and cream feeling stupid. I understand Darren is a doctor now but I’ve heard no word on the sideburns.