July 2010 - Mid July found me trading coasts with Nancy and Greg. They decided to come to Pacifica for a visit on the exact days of the Engelhorn reunion - what can you do? We made the trek to Springfield, Illinois.
Buying plane tickets was a true screw-up. She and I planned to fly out together, spend a few days in Springfield, drive to Grand Rapids, and relax there with Bob and Carolyn. She'd leave from there and I'd fly out a week later. My God, on-line reservation systems are screwed up for this kind of thing. First of all, you just can't do it. I had to have the itineraries open in two different browser windows, one for hers and one for mine. Then I hit "buy" at the same time. Well, it rejected one of them as a double booking, even though the travelers had different names. Crap. Hastily I get on the phone to buy the second ticket from a human. A few hours later I get emails that I now have THREE tickets - the first two did make it. Crap. A long time on hold finally gets that resolved. (And weeks later I find out that I got charged an extra fee for using the 800 number to make a reservation and it took even more hours to resolve that!)
We arrived in St. Louis and made the drive to Springfield. We're staying at the Route 66 Hotel. It used to be a motel, but someone built a structure to enclose those buildings and a motel becomes a hotel. I get the odd feeling of walking in a covered esplanade instead of one integral building. Who cares, it works. The Wiggers family is hosting the reunion and they have done a great job. Gary and Blu are there. Sandy and Steve. Darryl and Sylvia. A pile of others too. Lynn and Polly bring a plastic tub full of popcorn they've grown and we all take bags of it. One day we went with the family for local food and saw the speciality of Springfield: the Horseshoe. Sitting on a bed of big french fries is your choice of meat (ham, burger, sausage) and slathered with homemade cheese sauce. From the description I thought it an abomination, but in reality it's pretty good. The cheese sauce was excellent. Another day the Wiggers arranged for a big family picnic. Two BBQ's of ribs, chicken, and sausages. Homemade peas in cream cheese salad. Hand picked corn on the cob. All the Wiggers from the area came, so we met a large slice of the family. They showed us some great hospitality.
I wasn't sure what we'd see in Springfield but the place is well worth a visit; I'm so glad we went. The Lincoln Presidential Museum was built in 2005 and is a fully engaging story of his life and the history of our country. This is not some stoic place filled with documents and campaign buttons. It is a multimedia journey. We spent hours there and I could have spent more. Then there's the Lincoln Home National Monument. Since he died in office his environment was treated as if he'd been sainted. Most of the buildings in a four block square have been preserved. It was a 45 minute wait for our tour to begin so we took seats in the little theater for a lecture. On the way in we were greeted by a Mary Todd Lincoln historic actor, cool. We took seats in the middle of a row for a good view, there were plenty. I notice that there are several MTL actors dressed up. Just before the lights go out Gary, Blu, and Lynn crowd into some seats.
The lights dim, the MTL actor in black takes to the podium and welcomes us. It's the 100th anniversary of her death and that's why there are so many actors suited up. She welcomes us all to her talk on... ready for it?... mourning practices and customs of the 1800's. Oh no! I look at her, she looks at me, we look at the panic barred double doors. We look around us. Trapped! I could see other's squirming too. In the end, it was not that bad. The speaker did a good job of giving us interesting facts about mourning. Did you know that women lived in fear of being ostracized from society? They followed these strict rules lest they be cut off from all social life. A wife spent the first year in all black, never leaving her house, never receiving visitors. Then a year of all black, but only leaving the house for church. Then six months of all black, but with some understated white jewelry, like a single button. Then three months of receiving visitors at home. Then she could reenter society. Men on the other hand? Widowers had to spend three months only going to work and church. Then he could find another soul mate.
On the tour we walked through the very house Lincoln lived in and we used the very stair rail that Lincoln had used. I felt an odd energy to put my hand where I knew his has been. Even writing this I feel the power coming to me. The house was of average size and appointed well.
We were stunned by some of the housing prices in Springfield. According to Zillow, a house across the street from the national monument was four bedroom, two bath, 2400 square feet, large veranda on two sides, sells for $94,000. Other nice houses in nice areas are three bedroom, two bath, selling for $60,000. Two bedroom one bath places routinely list for only $30,000. One ad estimates the monthly mortgage payment to be $104 - less than half my monthly telecommunications payment. A group of four of us could skip lunch once a week and own a house in Springfield. It would be a long commute to work.
We visited two old houses in Springfield. The Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House is sprawling prairie house. Big sloped exterior walls remind me of The Forbidden City. Inside is a warren of rooms all connected corner to corner. I love walking the split levels. You never know what is around the next corner. It's a wonderful house to visit. We also spent an hour in the Vachel Lindsay house. I didn't know of him, and I still don't. But we like historic houses and this was a nice tour. A young woman dressed for the times showed us around. It's worth a stop if you're in town.
After three very nice days we set off for Grand Rapids on Sunday. We thought it would be a nice cross country drive, but it turned out to be an 8 hour slog. Flat, flat, flat. We had some adventure when the GPS took us on an old dirt road - probably saved us ten minutes. We ate along the way at a place in the middle of corn fields. Of course everything there is in the middle of corn fields. The place was packed with people coming from or going to church. Everyone knew each other. Backs were slapped, baby faces pinched. I had some of the best fried chicken I've ever had.
Bob and Carolyn were, as always, the best of hosts. Their home is beautiful and we were treated so well. Monday we visited the local museum where an outdoor exhibition of Chihuly glass was in place. It was spectacular. Sometimes his clearly artificial glass forms exploded on the landscape. Other times they subtlety blended with the vegetation so that one had to look closely to see them all. We dropped into the movie theater expecting to see just a few minutes of the Chihuly film and ended up staying for the full hour. A fantastic look at how his studio makes the pieces and how they evolved over time.
Tuesday put her on a plane back to SF. Bob and I spent the day getting his motorized six foot screen ready to mount in the ceiling. It required some mounting creativity and a little electrical work. When it came time to actually put it into the ceiling I chickened out and said we needed more hands. In the end that was a good thing. Bob borrowed two local high school strong backs from the folks the next week and the three of them struggled to get it into place. That screen is not going to fall on anyone.
On Wednesday we three drove to the Gunn family cabin on Lake Charlevoix. Carolyn spent all her young years growing up here. It's in a quiet wooded area set back slightly from the lake. A deck walk about 8 feet off the ground leads through the trees to a high deck on the edge of the lake. Here I sat for several hours just watching the boats go by. The Gunn parents were there the first few days. I enjoy their company and we had a few good laughs together. We ate an excellent meal of lake perch at a local restaurant in view of the million dollar yachts sitting in the harbor.
All too soon it was time for the three hour drive back to Grand Rapids. We got in early enough for Bob and I to wet our lines in the local lake. He hooked up a small lake perch. Enough to show that there are fish to be caught. Then I was waving good bye and traveling home.