EDITOR’S NOTE: Libby Lane published this essay on her personal blog last year on the last day of June, which is Pride Month. Lane is deputy director of the Rural Assembly. The Rural Assembly is a project of the Center for Rural Strategies, which also publishes the Daily Yonder.
There’s this cool moment when the corn stalks first appear, about 40 miles south of Chicago on I-55.
This is a breathing moment for me. The skyscrapers shrink small in my rearview before finally evaporating into the ether.
It’s not that I can’t find my breath in the city. After 20+ years of living in Chicago, I’ve found a deep sense of beauty, peace, and quiet, all while being surrounded by sirens, airplanes that dot the flight path to O’Hare directly above our condo, and the soft, neon hum of streetlights at night.
When Mom comes to visit, she sometimes says, “I just hope everyone’s all right,” when she hears sirens come screaming down the street. Such a beautiful, genuine response. When you hear a siren in the country, news travels quickly about who it’s coming for and why. It’s most likely someone who you have a personal connection with. In small towns, we are all connected, for better or worse.
Living in Chicago I’m so immune to the sounds of sirens I usually don’t think twice about them. Lately, though, I find myself pausing and – inspired by Mom – just hoping everyone’s all right.
It’s going to be a star-spangled weekend in Rushville, Illinois, population 3,300. I’m headed home to Forgottonia to celebrate our country’s independence with friends and family, even though ‘Merica isn’t feeling too generous in doling out independence these days, is she? I sometimes get asked what it feels like to go home to my small, rural town as, you know, a lesbian. To that I say, “What do you mean lesbian?” Then after making the person feel uncomfortable for a few seconds (like I do) I laugh to break the tension and explain that it feels like anywhere else I go in this world as a lesbian. It feels like Libby. Living my life. Going somewhere. Unboxed.
Going home feels like taking a spin through the backward DQ drive-thru for a Chocolate Dipped Cone. Losing myself to my memories on the backroads gravel for hours with the windows down and the corn hugging both sides of the car. Traversing “3 Creeks” (or cricks, interchangeably) down in Scab Hollow, over to Rabbit Run Road, down to Browning to pay homage to the muddy Illinois River and the old Browning School where Mom used to teach when I was little. Why were the bees and hornets always so bad down there?! And I still have third-degree burns from that metal slide.
Going home feels like a typical Saturday morning in the ’80s with my standard order from Roger’s Bakery: one whipped cream-filled, one pink-frosted cake, carton of chocolate milk. Gummie Bears bouncin’ here and there and everywhere on TV.
Going home feels like sippin’ Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill on a Saturday night in the ’90s with my crew while the Counting Crows sing about Sullivan Street. Adam Duritz knows the power of taking the way home. Cool mist rolling in and hovering above the beans. The sweet smell of earthy dew hanging thick in the air. And then Sunday morning church with farmers passing the offering plates in their best Wranglers. Every hymn is a country song. Every country song is a hymn.
This weekend going home will feel like Martina McBride letting freedom ring on my “Country Roadhouse” playlist as I barrel south on I-55. And yes, Martina, I’m literally going to take myself down to the fair in town on Independence Day for a corn dog, lemonade shake-up and a trip through the Merchant’s Building to view prize-winning vegetables, textiles and crafts.
Going home is where the distance between the dirt and the stars is filled by rows of bright green stalks of corn that have kept silent watch over our people for thousands of years. Nowhere and everywhere, all in the same breath. Unboxed.
Libby Lane serves as Deputy Director for the Rural Assembly, where she focuses on developing projects, campaigns, and relationships that support sustainable rural development and address the unique challenges facing rural communities.