This is a guest post by Andrea Isiminger who contributed in response to the American Vignette: I Remember call for submissions. The setting is Illinois.
Sometimes when the air is heavy with the scent of fresh-cut grass, the colors of the setting sun will trigger a memory from my childhood. I remember following my father around our acre of land as he tells me the names of all the trees. He sets up the sprinklers in the vegetable garden while I look on, eating a plum still warm from the sun as my mother casts a disapproving glance out the kitchen window because I only rubbed it against my shirt instead of washing it before taking a bite. Mountain ash, silver maple, Chinese elm, blue spruce, corkscrew willow. These words are like incantations which transport me from my current home in Spain back to the flat Midwest landscape of Illinois.
“In or out?! Don’t slam the screen door! Go outside and play until dinnertime.” Female voices all over the neighborhood urge kids out into nature while Moms iron in front of TVs tuned to afternoon soap operas. So we jump on our bikes and ride out to the undeveloped part of the subdivision. There is a sea of goldenrod, thistles and Queen Anne’s lace, but we are interested in the milkweed plants, hoping to be the first one to spot a dangling green chrysalis. There was always an abundance of orange-&-black Monarchs as well as the little yellow sulphur butterfly and its white counterpart, the cabbage butterfly. Occasionally we’d spot an elegantly striped zebra or tiger swallowtail, but it always seemed to be when no one had a butterfly net handy. When our eyes weren’t searching for flying or crawling creatures, the stick bug was a personal favorite, we filled our pockets with any odd, pointy stone, hoping an adult would later confirm we had discovered a real Indian arrowhead.
I remember fragrant lilac bushes bordering property lines and delicate violets adding a burst of color to the cool, dark of Higginbotham woods. Brilliant red geraniums in front porch planters compete with the magnificent feathers of the cardinal, the state bird. Yellow dandelions rubbed under your chin will tell you if you like butter, and that would be a wonderful thing since piles of calico corn from the roadside farm stand are waiting to be boiled for supper.
I can still hear the ghost whispers of sounds like the tap-tap of a woodpecker or the call of the whippoorwill. A summer’s evening finds children chasing the blinking glow of fireflies against the background music of crickets until the low whistle of a freight train breaks in the distance. Dried leaves crunch underfoot in autumn, but snow is silent. I am disappointed to have missed the flakes falling when I notice the bright white glare of sun on snow as I make my way down to breakfast the next morning.
I remember the French fort tucked away off Francis Road and then down on Gougar there was Pilcher Park and the greenhouse where I stood dressed in my pastel Easter outfits for so many family photos. When I can’t sleep, I recite the names of the towns nearby: Joliet, Channahon, New Lenox, Lockport, Plainfield, Frankfort, Manhattan, Mokena, Minooka…
I remember calling a little trickle of water a crick; only “proper” ones that were big enough to appear on maps were creeks. I see the frozen surface of Hickory Creek and watch myself wobbling along as my first boyfriend tries to teach me to ice skate. I hear my mother pronounce our town as Jolly-et instead of jō-lē-ĕt with a long “o” sound like I do now. While on vacation in my hometown, I am chatting with a pharmacist trying to decide on some cold medicine for my kids when he asks me where I am from. Shocked, I say that I grew up here. He says that my voice is different; I sound like I am from somewhere else. Perhaps my speech patterns have picked up bits of my travels, but my heart remains true. I am home even if no one else knows it.
Andrea Isiminger has lived outside the US since 1996. Feeling the limitations of communicating in a second language, she sought freedom of expression through writing. While rediscovering her sense of self, she is also proud to record family history and life experiences for her children. She has expat essays in the anthologies Foreign Encounters and Foreign & Far Away. Her winning essay about life in Spain can be found at Transitions Abroad. If you enjoyed her heartland memories, you can read another about her hometown at We Said Go Travel.