Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Little House On The Prairie

Today marks an anniversary for our family.  Thirteen years ago, after some let-downs and frustration, we arrived in Illinois after a months-long, 1,000 mile change of place that, looking back, is a marvel of planning mixed with hope, and not a little hilarity.

In the autumn of 1998, Lisa and a year-old Moriah returned from a trip out here from our home in southern Virginia.  In the car on the way back from Richmond airport, Lisa broke down in tears, telling me she wanted to move back here.  I didn't hesitate, telling her, "Let's do it."  I won't detail the way it worked out, but it was, quite literally, a last minute thing, with a call to Lisa from the DeKalb District Superintendent coming on Memorial Day, and a move scheduled for August 1.  As we had already been given our moving papers in Virginia and were in the process of packing, the only things we had to arrange were getting our child, our belongings, and our pets from there to here.

From such beginnings, family legends are born.

A week before the move, not wanting our electronics and plants to sit for a week on a hot moving truck, we packed them in my Escort hatchback on a Sunday evening, our Ficus tree sitting on the floor of the passenger side of the car, for me to make a single-day drive to my mother-in-law's house in Sycamore, IL from our house in Jarratt, VA.  I woke up knowing I had an 18-hour drive ahead of me, showered, kissed Lisa, and went out to discover my car had a flat tire.  Instead of sighing and changing tires, I began to turn the air blue, with Lisa standing there trying to shush me.  Considering all our neighbors were church members, hearing their pastors husband screeching scatologies probably wasn't a good idea.  We ended up taking a tire from Lisa's car and putting it on my car while she took the flat to fix.

I showered again, Lisa and me laughing the whole time as we released the tension from the frustration.

I was in Indiana when the cell phone rang.  Lisa was calling, and she told me I had to bring the tire home with me, meaning once I got our things unloaded where we were storing them, I would have to put the donut on my car where it parked and fly with the tire back to IL.  I balked until Lisa told me that, being different sizes, driving with the changed tire on our Escort wagon would present a serious hazard.  So, after arriving at my in-law's then getting up early to take our car where we were storing it for the week, then heading to O'Hare with the tire in the back, I was settled in my mind.  We pulled up to the airport and the skycap asked if I was checking anything.  I handed the heavy, odd-shaped box to him and he asked, "Is this a tire?"  To this day, I have no idea how he knew, but I said, "Yes."

"Is it deflated?"

I looked at my mother-in-law, and she looked at me.

"We can't check it," he said.  "The baggage compartment isn't pressurized . . ."

"And it could explode," I finished, sighing.

My mother-in-law chuckled, grabbed the tire-box, and said, "I'll deflate it and ship it to you."

I arrived at National Airport and Lisa and I drove home.  She chuckled over the tire incident.

The next day, the movers arrived, emptying our house of belongings, including several pieces of furniture from a neighbor's house, generously offered to us at no price.  Two full-sized beds, plus bedroom furniture, a gorgeous blue barrel-back chair, and a piano later, and the truck was gone.

Moriah flew out to Illinois with my sister-in-law, who flew to Richmond, had lunch with us at the Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe (long may it be remembered), then back to Illinois, all within a few hours.

Lisa and I made the trip in another long day's drive, looking so much like the Clampett's that, at one stop we made, glancing at the car we were driving, I did not want anyone seeing me walk to it and climb in.  In our Escort station wagon we had the last small items, two cats in carriers, one of whom spent all 18 hours carrying on non-stop, and a Great Dane who hated riding in a car panting in my ear and heating up the inside of the vehicle.

We had a day's rest before the actual move-in, spending most of it at my in-law's enjoying their pool as northern IL was then in the midst off a streak of 100+ degree days that was leaving a trail of bodies in the city of Chicago.  I did manage to retrieve my car, put the tire my mum-in-law had shipped next-day freight to us back where it belonged, and drove to the little town of LaMoille for my introduction to our new home for what turned out to be the next five years.

And where I was stopped by the police officer for the town, ostensibly for illegally passing a car that was making a left-hand turn.  Stearny, I would later learn, was just checking out the guy with the Virginia plates driving from one end of his town to the other.  Since I didn't violate any actual laws, he let me go, but it seemed an inauspicious beginning to our time there.

The next day, the cats back in their carriers and Gretchen once again panting in my ear, I drove down to our new house first.  Lisa was going to finish getting Moriah ready and head down about a half-hour later.  I pulled in to the driveway, and walked up to the parsonage, the last - or first, depending upon which way you were driving through town - house along the Main Street.  Little more than a narrow, north-south break in the cornfield that is Bureau County, LaMoille has the kind of charm only small midwestern farm towns can have, a kind of built-in nostalgia that gives one an idea what life might have been like in, oh, 1905 or so.

The house was locked, so I walked around to the back, peering in through the glass double-doors that led from the sitting room to the deck.  The single most impressive sight was the kitchen with its counter and cabinet space.  It would be several years before those cabinets were filled.

I walked back, and there were two men waiting for me.  Don Henderson and Mark Swanlund, members of the church, were rightly curious as to who might be at their empty church parsonage.  After introducing myself, they smiled and let me in.  I led Gretchen to her one and only trip to the basement; the events of that day so traumatized her it became impossible to get her ever again to head down there, which worried Lisa and me no end in the event of a possible tornado.  The cats were closed in the laundry room, where they proceeded to express their displeasure by sticking their paws under the door.  After the movers were done, one of our cats, Patch, spent three hours hissing at every single thing she encountered.

I have never once regretted our decision to move up here.  I consider Illinois my home, loving the expansive prairie, the opportunities I couldn't have imagined existed for our family, and most of all the people I have come to know and love over the years.  It's been a great beginning, these past 13 years.  Our younger daughter was born out here, and Moriah, arriving at the age of 2, is a Midwesterner through and through.  While our time in Jarratt was a great beginning, I don't think any of us would be as happy with one another or content in our lives if we hadn't come to the Land of Lincoln.

So, happy anniversary to us.

Virtual Tin Cup

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