Thanks for continuing to send me memories. It’s pretty cool to learn that so many of us still feel connected to Watseka and
. Some of you have asked me why I’ve been writing all this stuff. It all goes back to a conversation I had in the late '80s. Iroquois County
I have a cousin in-law who has his PhD in History. He’s pretty smart; but not too effective at communicating with a small town guy like me. He uses too many big words. About twenty years ago, he obtained a position at the
. He got a pretty good state salary and benefits. I asked him about his job and he told me he was a “Research Professor.” University of Minnesota
I asked him what he researched. He took a good ten minutes to answer but didn’t say much (that’s probably why he wasn’t a “teaching professor”). Still curious, I asked: “Could you tell me what it is you do in five seconds or less?” He thought about it pretty hard and said: “I study what it means for people to be from a certain place.”
For years I never knew what the Professor meant. I never forgot the conversation though. Finally, at middle age, I think I am starting to understand “what it means for people to be from a certain place.” I think it means that we are shaped by the uniqueness of where we spent our formative years. It gives us a distinct world view. It makes us look at other places, intentionally or not, and compare them to our home place. It’s what gives us an instant connection with other Watsekans.
I left Watseka, for all intents and purposes, in 1981. Maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder. When my mind wanders to Watseka and
, it always conjures up mid-summer scenes. The crops, trees, and grass are a deep green and the sky is a rich blue. There’s a comfortable breeze. Where the dirt shows beneath the crops, it’s rich and black. The Iroquois County ’s and Sugar Creek’s brown waters are flowing gently within their banks. It’s never sticky hot. There are no mosquitoes; not even in Iroquois River . Legion Park
More importantly, when I am daydreaming, most people in Watseka are smiling. Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand. If I need advice, a wise old farmer can set me straight in a matter of seconds. Folks come together to celebrate big events and mourn tragedies. Whether or not they go to church, almost everyone turns the other cheek and does unto others as . . . (you know the rest).
Somebody might say looking back like that is romanticizing; dwelling on a time when things were simpler and better. It’s deeper than that. We are all connected to the people and the place where we were raised. The people of
showed us how to live our lives. The place is where everything important happened during our most formative time. It’s where we probably have a loved one or an old friend buried. The people and place produced, in some way, our sense of being “from a certain place.” They merged and became a part of us. Iroquois County
Because of the way I picture Watseka, I am certain there wasn’t any better “place” to be a kid.
A writer by the name of Corey Ford wrote in a story (“The Road to Tinkhamtown”) that the "Hereafter" "isn't someplace else" . . . "It's someplace you've been where you want to be again."
That view of the “hereafter” sits right with me. When it’s my time, I’d like to end up someplace where the weather is just right, everything is green, the dirt is black, and there is a mud river nearby. I suppose all this writing helps me clarify where it is I want to be again. Judging from what some of you have shared, if I get there, I’ll run into a few of you.