The early morning sun casts shadows on the yard at White Picket Gardens as I haul the gear to the Jeep and give the garden one long drink. With the gate closed behind me and the old cat, Harley, lazily stretching out in the dampened grass, I once again head out.
Picking a choice for travel is always part of the fun … plane, train, ferry, car? For this trip I have decided the train is best with my destination Kansas City, Missouri, the heart of the country and the heart of the heat wave. Sometimes the journey falls aside for the destination and the “hurrying along” of the trip, but other times I can dawdle with my own time and enjoy each moment. Enjoying these moments begins with the fields of corn and recently cut hay in northern Indiana. The hillsides and rural roads are dotted with Queen Anne’s lace and chicory. Even though I plant gardens of flowers, my favorite bouquets come from these flowers along the roadside. Once, years ago, on my birthday, Aaron filled every vase and every glass with these bouquets for my birthday! Every room of my house smelled like the first day of summer, and I loved his thoughtfulness until all the small petals began to drop from the Queen Anne’s lace. It took weeks to get every little flower cleaned up!
With no traffic to speak of, except an occasional tractor in the field and a few walkers, my short drive ends at the new Waterloo train station. This is my first visit since the station has been moved and restored. I park my Jeep and haul my luggage up to the door. One of the city workers is watering the new gardens and calls out, “Mrs. Homan, good morning. Remember me from Hamilton?” It takes a few moments for me to recognize a grown man from the child he was in my classroom, but we chat for a while. He ends the conversation by wishing me a good trip and telling me I was the best storyteller ever. I smile and make my way in to the station.
I am totally amazed. Sandy, the station manager beams with pride as she shows off the photographs, the original bench and shares the story with me. I had been following this in the newspaper for the past few months, but it is nothing like being there. I spin around with joy for the town of Waterloo and this great accomplishment.
“It’s our town manager,” Sandy says with pride, “Tena Woenker.” I nod in agreement.
I once again haul my luggage out to the platform and wait for the Lake Shore Limited, train No. 49 to come roaring in from the East. I board with ease and take my window seat. A window to the world of the Midwest in July. The conductor looks at my ticket and we are off. The landscape is a plethora of what I love best … small towns, the hay fields, laundry on the line and the ever present fields of Queen Anne’s lace and chicory.
We rumble into Chicago and I roam around Union Station lugging my bag. But mostly I sit and I wonder about everyone around me … everyone has somewhere to go, someone to be with and a story to tell.
I take the mid-afternoon train No. 3, the Southwest Chief, west toward my destination. The heat hovers over the land as we pass small towns and cities … these places are called out for passengers so they can come and go. We pass, Galesburg, the home of Carl Sandburg. I tell my seatmate about Carl Sandburg and the grant I once had to study his journey. She is young and on her way to L.A., but she is a willing listener to a storyteller with a story.
The landscape doesn’t change much as we head into Iowa. I get out for the smoke break, even though I don’t smoke, just to stretch and feel the heat. Back on the train, dusk begins to settle. I realize I love this land … I love it so much. My feet are planted here in the Midwest even though I have tried to leave. I cannot leave. This is my home.
Scott Russell Sanders, author of Writing from the Center, says it best, “For each home ground we need maps, stories and poems, photographs and paintings, essays and songs. We need to know where we are, so that we may dwell in our place with a full heart.”