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Going back home

by Joan Hershberger | November 21, 2020 at 8:30 p.m.

Our recent journey along the Interstate back to my husband’s home state refreshed our memory of cold and barren holiday months in the windy north. We traverse frigid states to re-kindle warm feelings among kin who live too far away for frequent visits.

Unlike previous trips taken over this highway, this time we have long stretches of road to ourselves. No convoys of trucks compete with us for the asphalt. It is not the breeze from passing trucks bouncing our car today. No, today it is the fierce wind. My husband grips the steering wheel to hold the van steady as gusts of wind push us along or slam against the side of the car.

At a rest stop, the wind leans against my door as I open it. I inch it open and the wind swoops around, slamming the door wide. I slide out and fight the wind to shove the door shut.

Having lost the battle of the door, the wind nudges and pushes me hard as I walk toward the plaza. I grab a post to steady myself. This spot is a few miles outside Chicago – also known as the “Windy City.”

I shiver and pull my jacket around me and whisper, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” Thankfully, I listened when my daughter insisted I add a jacket to my wardrobe. I have worn it most of the time inside the car. I also added a pillow on my lap to warm my legs. Gotta love this van, it has seat warmers. At home in southern Arkansas I rarely think about the buttons to heat my seat. Today, I quickly remember the luxury.

It’s a windy day, and yet we pass field after field of frozen modern windmills surrounded by harvested fields.

“Look, they are not moving,” my husband muses repeatedly.

Then far off to the right, I spot five windmills in a row performing a perfectly synchronized spin. All the blades in matching positions twirl up and down. And then they are gone.

I spy a long-neglected building. The small, weathered barn has lost enough boards to see through to the other side. It once sheltered animals and hay. Now it cannot even keep its inside dry.

Lonely farmlands accentuate our solitary expedition. An old towering brick house stands high above the dried corn stubble of the Illinois farm field. It soars three and a half stories above the harvested fields and trees barren of leaves. The house reflected a more prosperous time and full household.

Today it looks lonely and neglected. The windows appear devoid of curtains. No smoke curls from the chimney on this cold day. No cars, trucks or toys litter the yard. Silently staring out the window, I wonder what happened to the family whose finances once flourished enough to build such an impressive home. Its many windowed rooms overlook a yard with trees planted to provide shade in the summer. The only remaining sign of life is a pick-up truck parked near a small, solitary metal building. We will never know the answer to, “What happened?”

“That’s a perfect place to hold a haunted house,” my husband said as our view of the one time status of success faded to be replaced with modern ranch houses with tight siding and central heat. No one in those houses crawled out of bed on a cold wintry day to stoke the fire in a coal furnace.

Time wreaks havoc with everything left untended, which is precisely why we make the long drive north and back home. We need to re-connect with folks and stoke the flames of friendships one more time.

Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times.”


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