Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nostalgia. Show all posts

02 October, 2012

Cornbelt Intermezzo - Union Miner's Cemetery/ 15 Miles to Litchfield

That's the problem with politics. Everybody's cock-blocking everybody else! Cock-blocking! - Overheard at Crawdaddy's Bar in Mount Olive, IL

This is what happens when a lack of planning works out exactly as planned. - Me, aloud to no one, around mile 10

Going to Mount Olive is one of the few excursions I've taken this year where I actually wanted to go somewhere to see some specific thing. In this case, the Union Miner's Cemetery, and the Mother Jones/ Union Martyrs Monument. That I'd want to go see it shouldn't surprise anyone who knows my love of history -- of stories in general, especially the forgotten or overlooked ones -- or my politics. A few of those same people would also point out that I haven't, as a habit, liked to visit cemeteries; but, since it IS October, and since I probably won't get to celebrate All Hallow's Eve with all the ghosts and ghoulies, I need to get my cemetery time in.

It's not that I don't think we need to respect our hallowed dead. Quite the contrary. I think they deserve something more than a monument or a headstone.

Standing in front of the Union Miner's Memorial, I was struck by two things:

  1. Our pitifully short collective memory, and
  2. my own need to be useful.

Before I left Mount Carroll this time, when I would talk to people about going to Mount Olive to see Mother Jones' grave, I was saddened by how hardly anyone knew who I was talking about.  A master agitator, and a one woman army who spent most of her adult life working to ensure that workers got a fair shake. She once helped settle a strike in favor of a local miner's union in Pennsylvania by getting all the wives together and rattling pans and pots. The sound scared the mules, which frightened the scabs brought in to help break the strike by taking their jobs.

Some of the other people memorialized on the monument died in the Battle of Virden -- another one of those ... eh... undiscussed bits of history... probably because the larger narrative of Manifest Destiny is muddied by those stories that can't be poured into a rose-colored Little House on the Prairie mold.

Speaking of colored -- another thing that's rarely discussed when race relations are the topic is how coal and mineral mine owners intentionally used black labor from the south as scabs -- this encouraged sometimes prevalent bigotry among union members and gave them a new target... when they should have been going after the bosses instead.

Soaking in these stories so I can learn more about them and pass them on is central to why I do what I do. The itchy foot leads the way, to a certain extent; it certainly isn't all some deep and burning mission that drives me out of comfortable surroundings and the company of friends and loved ones.

And while some would -- and have -- told me it all sounds so idyllic, the truth is that sometimes it's not. As a matter of fact, I might even go as far as to say that more than occasionally  tramping around on bus, on train, on foot, and on the good grace of friends who happen to be going in that particular direction has it's share of difficulty.

While I am safely ensconced in a still-too-highly-priced-but cheaper-than-Super 8 motel, last night I slept outside. Lucky for me, I had my Mexican blanket (hmmm... I'm detecting a theme) and my sleeping pad... which is awesome, by the way. It's not sturdy enough not to end up with holes from sticks and twigs, but it does a great job of keeping the cold ground not so cold. Luckily the weather was working in my favor, too. It got a little cold after 1 in the morning, but no frost and no rain.

I was on foot from Mount Olive to Litchfield up Route 66. I'd walked from Staunton, the nearest motel Northwest of Mount Olive, in order to visit the monument. That was a nice stretch of the legs -- just over 4 miles. From Mount Olive to Litchfield -- the next nearest place with a motel other than backtracking to Staunton -- was, according to available digital intelligence and map coordination,  just over 9 miles.

While I do like to walk, and I'm not afraid to hoof it over a fair distance, even I knew that was more than I had walked in a single stretch. EVER. I'm probably not in the shape I ought to be in. And on top of that, my feet have been in rebellion against for as long as I can remember. I adjust to the sometimes perpetual pain by walking a little slower than the average gait. So right there, I knew the estimated 3.5 hours allotted to make the walk was going to be longer.

Much, much longer.

Another complication was Route 66 itself. Large segments of it aren't marked, and there a difference between Route 66 and "Old Route 66" (which was used until the "new" one was finished in 1940.)  As a matter of fact, all of southern Illinois -- the rural part, at any rate -- lacks signage. I understand that there probably weren't signs telling drivers how far away the next town was back when people drove state highways. But why now?

Oh, right. Nostalgia. Well, I can tell you that along Route 66 there's more nostalgia than anything else. And that includes a cheap bowl of soup.

My pace slows considerably as my lousy feet and out of shape leg muscles sent waves of pain up through my body. As the sun was going down, it became clear that I wasn't going to make it to Litchfield to sleep... which had been my plan. So I found a place off the side of the road, across the ditch and over a small embankment, behind a medium sized fir tree. Brush and small trees on the other side, down the slope, to a creek and, on the other side of that train tracks.

The sun sank quickly and the sky was over cast. Breezy, but not cold. Luckily, the embankment protected me from the wind as well as from view; I didn't want to start a fire because I didn't want to draw attention to myself.

Other than the crickets serenading me to sleep, the only other neighbor of note was a deer. I think it was a deer, anyway. Something was sitting in the brush a stones throw down the embankment from me. It sounded like deer, and I was perfectly willing to believe it was.

The world has a rhythm. Wind through the dying leaves. Crickets and the rustling of deer in the brush. At one point I thought I heard it start to rain, but quickly realized it wasn't rain. It was dew. Intermittently, trains rolled by and added to the song. traffic eventually trickled down and then stopped altogether. The wind died down. Silence. Solace.

Around 9:30 the clouds broke a little and the moon shone through, like a lazy, watchful eye. By midnight they had all but dissipated. The moon was so bright I could read by it. some stars were visible, too. I was tired, lonely, but I didn't feel alone. And I knew I was going to be okay.

I broke camp at first light and kept on towards Litchfield, finally making it, and managing to get checked in a motel for the night.

Of course, I have a 17 mile hike up Route 66 to Carlinville, where the nearest Amtrak station is. And I hear it's supposed to frost soon -- if not tonight, then tomorrow night. I probably should have planned this better, but it's been worthwhile, too.

If you happen to know someone who's driving between Litchfield and Carlinville, send them my direction. I could use a lift. To be honest, I'm probably stuck at least tonight, and probably tomorrow night. And in spite of my frugality -- I only spend money on liquids and housing -- I'm burning through my travel funds faster than I had hoped.

02 April, 2010

The Inner Workings of Nostalgia

The best part of my day
is walking out to the mail box
because the neighbor lady
watches me and wonders
what a man my age
is doing at home
at that time of day. Then

I walk to the bar
and catch up on the local news
not covered in the paper
between Rotary Club check presentations
and JV and Varsity Sports
and the ever growing obituaries
that corresponds creepily

to the growing number
of houses for sale
and the emptying store fronts.
Once in a while
the old men include me
in their conversations
but that’s only because

there’s no one else there
to talk to. Mostly I nod
and laugh and when
I get home I wonder
how long these small towns
have left
before all the old timers die

and all the grandkids move
to where the jobs are
and the farm fields are sold
and spliced into house lots
and the bricks that cover Market Street
are recycled and built into a monument
for a town whose name
no one knows how to spell.