Friday, April 20, 2007

Land o' Lincoln

Today we will be embarking on a great adventure. My mother and I will be driving across the great state of Tennessee, through Kentucky, to my hometown in Illinois. She will spend the weekend with her close circle of friends from our home church. I will spend the weekend running around with two of my closest Friends in all of the world. I've not been home in over a year and a half. It's funny when I think about it. My mother grew up in Hawaii across from Turtle beach on Oahu and finds that every few years she must go home, go back to the place she spent the days of her childhood, replenish her soul in the surf and sand. I feel the same way. Although not as an exotic location, to look across the flat plains of Illinois, to drive those winding dark back roads with the windows open taking in the farm-filled air, to walk through the woods and around the lake on Jaime's farm, to peer at the ghost town that is the downtown of Vandalia, my own heart is renewed.

I can never really go home again. The house of my heart, the homestead of my childhood was sold long ago, as was our family farm. The farmhouse was eventually torn down by the new owners and replaced by a double-wide. But in my mind's eye, I often see it, in fresh spring greens and blues, the white of the two story house that had been my family's legacy, the red of the barn, the stone in the barnyard taken from the creek bed, the buffalo trail, a quiet straight line across the property worn by the hooves of beasts long disappeared from our land. The rusted metal frame of a model t out in the pasture. A ghost of a machine, I turned it's tired steering wheel in my imagination so many times, standing on it's sideboards while my grandfather and brother carried firewood from the mountain of timber lying at it's side.

I miss the simple things, the pieces and foldings of our little county that made it so unique. Everyone took such pride in it's rich history. My father's Law Office was across the street from the Old State Capital Building in Vandalia. Lincoln served there from 1834 as a freshman legislator to 1839. One of my favorite annual events was the Grand Levee. Tradesmen and crafters from all over Illinois would come in period costume selling their wares. They'd set up in canvas tents and pretty wood paneled booths around the capital building. A women would make chicken and dumplings every year and I would fairly run from my father's office building to her booth following the perfume of pepper and chicken and celery. The root beer guy was set up right next to her and the Kettle Corn booth beside him. There were tatters of lace and blacksmiths, a man who made brooms and baskets, a man who made whistles and kitchen ware from tin (the whistles, much to my parents chagrin, were what I was really interested in. Somehow every year my treasure of a tin whistle would seem to disappear a few days after the festival...after I had driven everyone crazy with it). There was a young girl who cut paper into silhouettes and whimsical seasonal shapes. Her father had a big red nose and bushy beard and a crooked smile and he whittled wood into small angels with light paper thin wings. Each angel held a musical instrument. I would wistfully bide my time in that booth, wishing for a intricately cut valentine or an angel for my mother. But most times I'd already spent all of my pocket money on my lunch and tin whistles and bags full of rock candy.

The musicians would be on the back side of the building, accompanying a handful of clog dancers who click-clacked away on wooden squares arranged just-so on the freshly cut lawn. There were an equal amount of onlookers in standard summer fare as there were young ladies in bonnets and mothers in flowing skirts and aprons. The Lincoln Impersonator would take the stage after the Old Timey Medicine Show. The Native American dancers from Cahokia would put on quite a display by the Children's activity area. I would sit on the stairs of the courthouse and listen to the ladies from the historical society play their recorders (They named their merry little troupe "Baroque Folk"). The hollow beautiful harmonies would echo through the building. I was enchanted.

Tonight around midnight, we will arrive in this fair town. My mother will go to her friend Charlotte's house to sleep and Jaime will pick me up. We might go to the local hangout, the Depot, for a drink. We may just go back to her farm and spend the next 13 hours talking and sleeping and eating and watching movies. Darren will drive through (with Tom and Patti in tow) the next afternoon to pick me up and whisk me away to St. Louis for the Son Volt show. It should be an incredible time.


John Ciba has been here in the Magic City since Wednesday. We spent yesterday evening with Janie Alfano, the daughter of the Birmingham Sound's Neal Hemphill. We met her at an Applebees and talked for hours. She told stories we'd never heard about her mother and father, about their devotion to each other and their dreams of the future. What an incredible family. What an incredible legacy. If you've not read Bob Mehr's article on the Birmingham Sound, here it is: Bob Mehr's Article on the Birmingham Sound

Derek, the other half of John's label Rabbit Factory, is flying in from New York today and as Mom and I drive north, he and John will be driving south to meet up with J. D. and Jim Lancaster. After last night's late night brew-tasting and Eddie Hinton storytelling at J. Clydes with Moises and Darryl (Documentary filmmakers, in from New Mexico for the Scott Boyer Benefit), and early morning rise (John rode in with me to work at 7 am and is currently working on his computer over at Lucy's), I'm sure their drive will be a tough one. I know it will be for me and the mum, for sure, but it will be worth it.

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