Home has been so many places for me - Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, even Iowa and Louisiana had short stints in there as "home". But "home" being "the place where I started from", is only found in one place, Woodstock, Illinois. We figured I hadn't been back there since probably 2002, when Dad and Judy moved to TN. The town is most known for being the home of Dick Tracy and where the movie "Groundhog Day" was filmed. For us, however, it's home.
Our trip, I hate to admit, was centered a lot around food. There were some MUST eats, like chocolate long johns from Swiss Maid Bakery and an Italian beef sandwich from what was Beef Villa. We also felt like a twist cone was mandatory from DQ and we stopped long enough to bring back Julie's favorite deep-dish pizza. We spent much of the rest of the time driving around, looking at all the places that were significant to my growing up. We saw my elementary schools, middle school and much-renovated high school. We drove by three houses my parents had lived in and I took pictures of the two that I had grown up in. For the first time for all of us, we spent the night in a local hotel, something that seemed extremely odd given this was our hometown.
We reminisced a lot. I teased Dad that I should have used his old Dictaphone and recorded his commentary for all time. I will never remember all the stories, people or places, but I left Woodstock having learned - or been reminded of - a few key things.
Dad told about how he and Mom used to make all their "major decisions" at the Dog-N-Suds. As he spoke, it was obvious that the location, while used repeatedly, wasn't relevant. The desire to make decisions as a team was the priority. Whether talking about housing, jobs or perhaps even me, they sat together and talked it over together.
Food was meant to be shared. The Italian beef sandwiches that I remembered being in our house were most often for a gathering. Whether my parents were hosting the new teachers, a graduation party or the neighborhood, a roasting pan of beef and long baguettes of delicious bread filled our counters! We decided to stick with the tradition of sharing and after having our own meal together, we took five pounds home for the weekend to share with the rest of the family!
No matter which house we were parked outside of, the conversation always turned to the neighbors. My parents met most of their life-long friends over the proverbial back-yard fence. Neighbors were more important than the layout of the house or the amount of acreage in the yard.
We celebrated accomplishments as a family. Whether a band or choir concert, piano recital, little league game or performance on stage, Dairy Queen was the celebratory choice afterwards. Family bike rides would even sometimes stop mid-way through for a quick twist cone or chocolate malt. Just pulling up, standing at the counter to order, I felt as though I ought to have done something to earn it that evening!
Catching up doesn't happen on social media. It happens Wednesday night, at the summer band concert in the square, where the town gathers. Within seconds of walking under the cobblestone entrance, Dad and Judy ran into people they knew. The entire time we were there, they were talking and laughing with people they hadn't seen in years. We even saw a teenager we were certain belonged to a family we knew - generations of our life coming together.
Finally, I was reminded that a grave site is just that. Visiting the cemetery where Mom's headstone is holds nothing for me. It doesn't remind me of her, it doesn't make me miss her, it doesn't even feel like her. Walking along the town square, remembering the shop she and I bought my prom dress at, the place we used to come to pay the utility bills, the place we took family pictures after Julie's wedding - those all remind me of my mom. I had to stop and catch my breath at one point feeling like time stood still and I could have been ten years old all over again, looking around for her. Short of the farm she grew up on, my home town feels like it is bursting with memories of my mom. It is the place where she lived - the cemetery only marks the day she stopped calling Woodstock home.
I am so grateful for this trip. I am so grateful that my dad was right beside me for it, reminding me of so many sweet memories. I am also grateful for Judy and The Mister, as they not only tolerated this trip down Wilson-Memory-Lane, but they relished it alongside us.
I grew up in a beautiful mid-western town in northern Illinois. I attended a gorgeous college, lived in an amazingly picturesque area of Pennsylvania and I now live on a small farm that often feels like a resort. I am so glad to know that my hometown is even more beautiful now and that perhaps there are new generations of families creating the same kinds of memories that we have. More than a movie scene, more than the home of a famous cartoonist, Woodstock is my childhood, and the lessons I learned from being there will live with me always.