Reunion Communion: A Homecoming Go Around, Come Around (Jiggity Jig)

8 Aug

My house and yard

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” That’s what my mom would say when we pulled into the 208 Pennsylvania Avenue driveway–returning from Chicago, or camping in the Indiana Dunes or, more exotically, Mexico and Europe. It was Mom’s way of saying that was so much fun and NOW: back to real life. Landing in the Champaign-Urbana airport, I said the phrase under my breath with a question: Been away from home a long time, what will this be?  Last time I’d been to Central Illinois was five years ago– to attend a high school reunion, which I was doing again. Back in 1999,  I’d driven down from Chicago with Suz, a friend I’ve known since Kindergarten. This time I was flying from LAX alone, and–needless to say–landing in the airport alone.

The last time I was in the Central Illinois airport alone was fifteen years ago. I was flying in to visit my mom, who’d not been feeling well. She said she’d be there to pick me up, but she wasn’t. And that was because, it turned out, she’d died. At home, in the kitchen. I found that out right here, when my mom’s friend Sherry called the airport information desk, trying to reach me:

reunion willard information deskI’m guessing the information desk staff  doesn’t too often have to deliver the kind of information that Sherry had for me, so they didn’t know what to do with me–sobbing and wailing and so forth. I didn’t know what to do with me. A nice woman put me in a back office, watched me shake,  gave me a glass of water. Then Sherry picked me up and explained that that afternoon she’d stopped by 208 Pennsylvania to say hello to my mother Audrey, and found her body; Audrey had had a heart attack. If Sherry hadn’t happened to stop by, I’d have been the one to find my mom. Sherry saved me from that. Fifteen years later I still grieve and feel some disbelief. Without  Goodbye, it’s hard to be convinced someone is really gone.

After landing, I made my way through the tiny deserted airport, trying to not remember. Friends were picking me up; they’d be there soon. But I got a text saying they were delayed. I didn’t want to wait even the half an hour that would bring their arrival. This is not an airport with cabs waiting outside. This is an airport with soybean fields waiting outside, the air sweet with manure and prairie grass, buzzing with locusts.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportI found the number of a cab company and called it; they said they’d  be there in twenty. I didn’t even want to wait that long. My eyes were already hot and brimming. Then another text: HOWIE AND SUE ARE ON THEIR WAY! These were other dear friends  driving down to reunion from Chicago. My original ride friends must have called Howie and Sue to see if they were close to the airport. Next text: KIR, HOLD ON, IT’S HOWIE AND SUE. WE’RE FIVE MINUTES AWAY. And then these dear people pulled up and we sped away. “You saved me!” I exclaimed. To Howie and Sue that might have seemed like overstatement,  but  I’m not known for understatement (Like mother, like daughter).

First stop was Timpone’s, a restaurant that’s been around for two decades at least. Here are some people I’ve known for a long time:

reunion dinner at Timpone'sYep, that’s Natasha, my Beverly Hills neighbor. . .what’s she doing there?! Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Natasha of my blog is Nicolle of my actual life. There’s a shocker.

Next stop, Bunny’s–a Dive bar, where Howie held court with the ladies.

reunion Howard, Laura, Sue, EdithAnd Sue and I held our own court. reunion me pointing finger at SueSue tolerates my dictatorial approach by laughing in my face. Works for both of us. We once spent a weekend at a Restore Yourself kind of spa where we smuggled in Fritos and vodka. But that’s another story.

I spent the night with Nicolle at her brother-in-law’s house. Rusty’s home is beautiful, his backyard is beautiful, and he’s starting a new life, bravely and beautifully. He and Howie and Sue and Nicolle and I had breakfast on his back porch. What’s with the hat, Howie?reunion Sue, Howard, Rusty on porchI felt incredibly peaceful. Later, I walked around town to remind myself where I came from. It didn’t take long. Here’s my photo poem, entitled, “Home Again, Home Again, Ode to Central Illinois”:

reunion silosreunion round barnreunion seaboat mac n cheeseAnd then, the final stanza of the poem, “208 Pennsylvania” where I lived for 18 years:reunion my house porchI walked up the driveway and snapped this shot of the porch. The bannisters were new,  but it looked like the same porch swing that my mom and I had sat on many a night, swinging slowly back and forth, our feet sliding on the planks of wood as we listened to the locusts whirring and considered the good, bad, and ugly in our lives.  A man came out the side door. I had sold him the house; he seemed to remember me. “Hi,” I said, “I’m Audrey’s daughter. Is that her swing?” “Yeah. It’s funny you are here tonight because we are replacing it tomorrow.”

Then I went back to Rusty’s house, and Nicolle and I prepped for the reunion dinner/ dance as if we were 14 again. Oh God, really?!  I’d like to think that the stakes weren’t like they were when we were 14 when we were desperately in need of confirmation that we were desirable and dateable. We’ve learned by now that neither of those categories matter as much  as we had thought. . .nevertheless, we primped. So much so, that we walked in late. We conformed to what one might say about Midwestern girls who move to L.A. and love glamour a little too much. (Oh well!)

The night was filled with nostalgia, hilarity, dancing, warm re-connections.  Best of all, it included my mom’s friend Sherry, who was being honored by our class, as she was also a teacher at Urbana High School for many years. This is me, Sherry, Suz:

reunion me, Sherry, Suz

And then the night got wild and crazy in the way that middle-aged Midwesterners  get crazy. Here’s my photo collage (REO Speedwagon as background):

reunion suz and Jeff at table, Mark and Matt behindreunion Jim, Tyke, Andyreunion Annette and Andysuz and Andy at Houlihan'sYeah, that guy with the lavender tie gets around, but he’s allowed to because he makes the whole reunion happen. Without Andy, there’d be about twenty of us wearing overalls sitting in a cornfield drinking moonshine and singing Kansas songs. Kudos, Andy!!! And Suz–well there’s a woman who has it all because she does it all: a doctor who is internationally known in her field, a great mother, wife, friend. (And she rocks the key lime dress like nobody’s business.) She and I share a birthday…once upon a time we had our 18th together and it went from a 35-person guest list to a turn out of well o ver a hundred. At 208 Pennsylvania. This didn’t go over well with my mom. But that’s another story.

I finally got back to Rusty’s house  at 4 am, feeling like a teenager except that I am SO not. The next day I spent with Sherry, driving around and seeing the sights, including a garden in Busey Woods, where my mom used to birdwatch. There is a bench commemorating her–Audrey Wasson Curley (middle column, about six names down.)

reunion mom's bench placard

Sherry told me that my mom would be proud of me. I don’t  know if that’s right, but it doesn’t matter because I loved hearing it from Sherry, whom I’ve known since I was ten. And back when I was a student in her Senior English class, Sherry said that my journal entries were fun to read. This is a woman I love and respect, and who sits on a couch with the elegance of Dorothy Parker.

reunion Sherry in hotel

Around noon, Sherry dropped me off at the airport, just as she’d once picked me up there. What goes around, comes around. This is a new phase, I thought.

So that, Dear Reader, is my recount of the recent return home. Framed by  a fifteen-year cycle of loss, reunion, and being alone in the airport of my prairie heart.

Prarie taken from Willard AirportJiggity jig.

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16 Responses to “Reunion Communion: A Homecoming Go Around, Come Around (Jiggity Jig)”

  1. Sherry Thomson August 8, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    That is a power-packed last sentence, dear writer, It is so rare to write a closer that does say it all.

    Like

    • kwasson2012 August 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      It took only four days to get it right! Thank you for reading, Dear You.

      Like

  2. Johng98 August 8, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    Very informative post.Really thank you! Awesome. bckkgbkdcega

    Like

  3. reciperenovator August 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Love this Kirsten. It reminded me of going to Indiana for my father-in-law’s funeral. You captured it beautifully, in all its Midwestern glory.

    Like

    • kwasson2012 August 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

      Thank you, Stephanie. The prairie is, in all its earthiness, an unearthly place.

      Like

  4. Marc August 9, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    I think Lincoln said “all that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” You wrote a very sweet remembrance and tribute. She’s proud.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. elainemansfield August 10, 2014 at 2:28 am #

    I know the landscape a bit. I lived in Missouri until I was twelve. I graduated from high school in Michigan. At one time I wanted to connect with those places, but when I visited Missouri about twenty years ago to see living relatives, I felt the most at the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. I returned to Michigan once, but didn’t belong there either. It sounds wonderful to meet with people who’ve known you since you were a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. robinbot August 12, 2014 at 1:38 am #

    You are truly amazing.
    I’m not going back home. Not to my high school reunion, not to see the few family members I have left back there. And not to see the house I grew up in and lived in until I left for college. I’m not as brave as you are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 August 12, 2014 at 4:29 am #

      I’m just crazy for a sense of home, Robin. I’ll do anything!

      Like

  7. Elizabeth Sachs August 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    Thanks for this, Kirsten. Oh, that Round Barn. How well I remember Sunday brunches there, struggling to find the buffet, struggling to find my table again (“round” has never suited me very well). And that prairie. Did anyone play any Dan Fogleberg at the reunion? “Illinois.” “Changing Horses.” I used to warble along. “Changing horses in the middle of the stream/Gets you wet and sometimes co-o-ollld. . . ” I loved the “sometimes.” He must have been an English major. I love English majors–including you. Hi, Suz! Hi, Howie! Hi, Sue!

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 August 18, 2014 at 12:14 am #

      We were probably at the barn restaurant together and didn’t know it!!! Thank you for reading! Going to look up the Fogelberg lyrics!

      Like

  8. nic August 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    So many memories of that trusty iconic porch swing! Every time I walked up those porch steps there it was. Uncanny timing for a last glimpse….

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 August 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

      trusty iconic porch swing…love that phrase. thank you!

      Like

  9. mcc January 14, 2016 at 2:07 am #

    The airport of your prairie heart, and mine as well. I have my mom’s porch swing in my garage. No porch on which to put it and I will not let my husband get rid of it, remembering as I do the first night I fully realized my own mortality, sitting on that swing at 709 W. High St.

    Liked by 1 person

    • kwasson2012 January 14, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

      Wow…the first night you fully realized your own mortality. On a porch swing. That’s beautiful. I wish I’d written that!

      Like

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