Indiana Part Two

As I was thinking about Indiana, I realized I hadn’t addressed the old adage, “You can’t go home again.” Well, that’s pretty much crap because we are a mobile society, and of course, you can go home again. It’s what you may find changed you have to be ready for. At seventeen, I wasn’t.

I grew up near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in a small town until I was sixteen. My Dad got a transfer to Marion, Indiana, and I had a rough time of it since I was just about to begin my junior year. Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem for a lot of teens, but I had a complication I didn’t know about. I was beginning a path toward major depression disorder, so everything that was literally colorful and beautiful to everyone else was awash in grays in my eyes.

The first time our family went back to Pennsylvania to visit, I spent a school day in “class” with all of my friends. I followed their schedule and pretended to listen to the teachers. They all knew me, anyway. But in one class, there was a substitute I had never seen before. My friends tried to explain to her why I was in class, but near the end, she called on me for an answer. (It had to be math. I just know it!) When I looked up at the teacher blankly, she said,

“Oh you don’t belong here, do you? So you wouldn’t know what we’re talking about.”

That was my little snowflake moment. She was right. I didn’t belong there, and I’ve never forgotten that.

I survived Indiana, even graduated from Ball State, so I consider myself half-Hoosier. (If you don’t know what a Hoosier is, don’t worry; no one does. It’s the nickname for anyone who lives in Indiana and a lot easier to say than Indianian.)

Last week, when we visited Marion, one of the saddest things I saw was a beautiful, historic cemetery that had lost its wrought iron fence. Someone had sold it. A wrought iron fence that cradled all the graves in this cemetery–gone! I could tell people were trying to tend the graves as best they could, but it felt as though it was a sadder place than it should have been. It was missing something.

Yes, you can go home again, but remember this: where you had been kept on living just as the place to which you went lived on, too.

However, you can keep your hometown safe in your memory, and that will never change.


Second Home in Indiana

I just returned from a few days in the Midwest, that part of the country that startles you as you’re driving toward it and all of a sudden everything you can possibly see in any direction is FLAT. The first time I saw it I was sixteen-years-old, riding with my family on our way to move there. I don’t remember what I thought, but it has been a shock every time I’ve done it since. Makes the old Appalachians of Pennsylvania look big.

We had family to visit, and on the first day, we drove around the town for memories’ sake.

There was sadness, mostly. In the 1970’s, Marion was a growing town with varied industry. Since then, the industries have slowly. slowly left town or closed completely, so empty parking lots are pocked with weeds growing up through the lines where cars used to park. Windows are broken on the building windows and if there has been enough time, green ivy and other plants snake their way through to the roof.

The factories are one thing, but it was disheartening to see homes that must have been completely abandoned for years. Most of them were wooden, and the once clean paint was chipping away in big chunks. Porches–some with the furniture–were sagging and slowly falling closer to the earth. Cement steps were chipping away. And the ever-present green weeds were replacing the houses as though no person would ever return, and the weeds could grow without worry.

I learned Marion’s population had dropped to half of what it had been when I graduated from high school. No wonder, the houses were dying. They were dying of emptiness.

And yet, my family was there, and there were pretty houses and shops where people still cared and were trying hard to make Marion a nice place to live. You could stop in front of these places like my brother and sister-in-law’s, and be astounded by the mounds of colorful zinnias and daisies and see the soft green lawn that had been tended carefully for many years.

Many things had changed, and yet, others stayed the same.

My brother-in-law, Michael, had lived near Marion, but he was taken too early from the world ten years ago. We visited Pat, his widow, and as I walked into the house, I could almost hear Mike’s teasing laugh, but I felt his presence, and a few times, could have sworn I saw him coming into the kitchen from the hallway. Sarcasm. Mike and I had a great game with that, and his energy seemed to fill the home so much that I got distracted from the conversation at times. As I stepped out on the front porch to leave, I gazed up at the beautiful tree he had planted thirty or more years ago, and I stumbled on the second step.

Okay, Michael, I know I called your tree a stick and told you it would never grow, as it has.

You get the last laugh, Mike, because I have a stick tree in my yard, and I look at it every day and hear your laugh all the way from Marion, Indiana with love.