Thursday, September 29, 2011

Catching The City of New Orleans

There was a time when going to the airport seemed exciting, but now train travel seems exotic to me. For the first time in many years, I took someone to the train station this morning. We have had a wonderful visit with Lois and Tom and their grandson Josiah, but today was the day they had to leave us.

We were all apprehensive about getting to Carbondale on time for their 7:30 a.m. train to Chicago where they will transfer to go to the west coast. We’d been sleeping in, and one always imagines the horror of not hearing an alarm clock when doing so is important. Gerald has an internal alarm clock and does not sleep in, so we had him primed to wake us all up if necessary. But we went to bed early last night, and the nervousness about our needing to leave Woodsong at 6 a.m. served to wake us.

Interestingly, Lois’ cousin Tony Ferrell and wife from Albuquerque were also in our region visiting at the same time that Lois was here for our high school class reunion. Tom, Lois, and Josiah visited the Bible class Gerald and I are now teaching at Center and worshipped with us Sunday morning. They had to skip our church potluck to drive to Anna. Tony arranged a Sunday afternoon family reunion at the fellowship hall at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, where his late sister Tammy was a member. Tony and Lois are both very interested in genealogy research and are in frequent email connection, but this was a rare opportunity for them to meet face-to-face before the Ferrells go off to Australia on one of their many foreign jaunts.

Lois has had a good life in California, and since two other of her five siblings moved to the west coast, a photograph of a recent reunion out there had 50 or so family members. Nevertheless, Lois always knows some home-sickness for this area and the more distant relatives here in the county that was home for the first 18 years of her life. So the Sunday reunion followed by another trip to Union County on Monday to visit cemeteries and to meet up again with Tony and other cousins were highlights of her visit.

And she was able to get copies of her birth certificate from our more than 150 year-old Union County courthouse that somehow will be needed by a granddaughter currently living in Italy. Of necessity, a new courthouse is being built behind this old one that the public is very fond of, and I think Lois enjoyed walking into the familiar building with public servants well known for their kindness and efficiency with visitors.

Yesterday was needed for getting their breaths, returning the rental car, and packing for the journey home, so we scheduled our one “touristy” day on Tuesday. We drove down the beautiful hills and hollows to the Ohio River at
Golconda and Elizabethtown. On top of the Golconda levee I imagined as always load after load of the Cherokee arriving there in autumn 1838 on the steam ferryboat from Kentucky. We drove through town past the wonderful old court house there and looked at the large Victorian houses throughout the town and finally past the deteriorating mural of the Cherokee Removal painted on one of the flood walls. (The town is making a terrible mistake letting that mural fade, and I keep hoping a high school art teacher or some local artist will make its restoration a successful project.)

Driving on to my other favorite Ohio River town, we reached Elizabethtown in early afternoon for the very generous river catfish dinner served on a small floating restaurant. I love eating there while we watch the barges go by and feel the sway of the river as it gently rocks the boat. This meal on water reminded us of one of my all time favorite dinners that Tom and Lois treated us to beside the San Francisco bay while we watched the ocean gulls come and go outside the huge glass windows. The down-home riverboat atmosphere was in sharp contrast to that fine restaurant atmosphere, but the company of good friends was the same and the body of water outside very pleasing.

We are so glad the owners rebuilt after the restaurant fire a couple years ago. Then last spring’s flood shut them down for 37 business days, and I am glad they also survived that also. The restaurant floated up up up as the river widened and deepened. Ribbons tied high on tall telephone poles many yards west of the river’s edge now astounded us as we thought of the amount of water there just a few months ago.

The gazebo on a huge rock formation beside the river in front of the Rose Hotel next door was also inundated last spring. I knew that because innkeeper Sandy Vinland posted pictures on Facebook. And yet looking at the gazebo now high on its rock base made it hard to even imagine the river ever being that much higher.
We had to wander in the backyard of the Rose Hotel and visit the graves there including one for Mr. McFarland, who built that much storied two-story brick building in 1812. Then we visited the gift shop in front and walked into the lovely ancient dining room where Sandy dresses in Victorian dresses to serve breakfast to the guests at the hotel. I was sorry she wasn’t there to say hello to, but I enjoyed the memories of our celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary there.

We still had time for our visit to the Cache River wetlands area that delights with its 1,000 year-old tupelo and cypress trees. The plant and animal life in the swamps there are amazing in their diversity and so different from the rest of our area filled with bluffs and rock formations left by the glacier melting here eons ago.

We were very disappointed to find out that our Illinois fiscal problems had shut down the Barkenhausen visitors’ center. The displays there and the brief interpretive film, which is one of the best of such films I have ever seen, were something I was looking forward to showing off to our guests. But we did take a brief hike back to the viewing platform beside the green algae-covered swamp filled with cypress knees and the champion trees. We only saw one other visitor—a nearby resident who had brought his dog and gun out to the hunting area we walked past. Gerald visited with him before we hiked on, and evidently he was successful in his hunt since we heard his gun go off and his truck and dog were gone when we came back to our car.

Although yesterday was planned as a slow day to rest before our friends’ departure, while we were in town returning their rental car, we did work in a visit to the Kenneth J. Gray museum in the mall. Although many did not mean his nickname “The Prince of Pork” as praise for his many years of service as a Representative in the United States Congress, I personally appreciated all he did for our region—including Rend Lake, Interstate 57, elderly and low income public housing, the federal prison, and so much more. A child of the Depression, a veteran of World War II, a pall bearer at John Kennedy’s funeral, Ken Gray knew the mighty but cared for the common people including those coal miners with black lung disease and the many unemployed in our end of the state. I am proud to have the beautiful book about his service co-written by my friend Maxine Pyle on my coffee table in the family room. She and Marleis Trover named their book Pass the Plate, a quote from Gray who said, “If ‘pork” means housing, education, roads, and jobs, then all I have to say if “Pass the Plate’”

Woodsong seems quiet now without Tom and Lois to converse with and their delightful grandson Josiah to make us feel in touch with what is current in today’s youthful world. As their visit wound up, we spoke of outings we did not accomplish this visit as something we would do “next time” and the possibility of a visit with them in California again – perhaps when Geri Ann plays softball out there during her upcoming college years. And so as we hugged goodbye at the train station, I tried not to think it might turn out to be the last time we’d see each other.

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