I drove more than 1000 miles the day I left Colorado, and two weeks later, I’m still dealing with the sore neck it gave me. When you have nothing else to do but get where you’re going, why not just keep driving? I decided to push on past St. Louis, zipping in and out of tunnels right past the gateway arch. Looking at the atlas, I realized I’d have to find a place to sleep in southern Illinois, and I remembered that, though I think of my dad as being from western New York, he was in fact born in Illinois and lived there for several years. By chance he called just as I was trying to find somewhere to sleep, so he gave me the address where he’d lived. After trying a full Motel 6—they don’t seem to have (no) vacancy signs anymore—I found a recreation area campground and set up camp. When I woke up in the morning, I drove into Murphysboro to find the house where my grandmother lived with her parents and her baby son while my grandfather was in France during World War II.
There isn’t that much to say about the place. The house’s wraparound porches had been enclosed, hurting it’s original design, but surely adding a lot of space inside. It’s painted barn red. Situated in a surprisingly forested area among lakes near the Mississippi, Murphysboro was a quaint small town that would still be recognizable to someone who hadn’t been there for 60 years. But many things have certainly changed. I bought a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s now situated in a lot directly across from the court house. What the place looked like isn’t all that important. It isn’t a place I’ve heard lots of stories about. There were no flashes of recognition—so that’s where…. My dad doesn’t remember living there, only visiting. But it was satisfying to be there for a moment. It balanced the years of living very close to where my mom’s family is from—“that’s where your great-grandparents lived when they first got married….” It seems fitting to see the place my father came from. If the whole town had been flooded for a reservoir at some point in the last half century, I still would have found it difficult to drive past on the freeway without stopping.
I’ve always been fascinated by places as they once existed, the curious connection/nonconnection of being somewhere after the fact, the right place at the wrong time. You can go to the exact location Lee Harvey Oswald shot from, or the precise spot where you had your first kiss, and on one hand there is a sense of wonder that this is where it happened, but at the same time I feel like I’m nowhere near the event, which continues to recede in time, the freedom to reexperience place only magnifying our inability to relive the past.