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Mid-Illinois stream of consciousness

| Thursday, November 29, 2018

Driving through rural Illinois for six hours leaves you with a lot to think about.

This time of year, the land is very brown and grey, but also very beautiful. Fields of corn — Is it corn, or grain or something else? — sway in the wind. Clouds barrel along the big sky. The land looks impossibly flat and I can see miles in each direction. By comparison, in Missouri, it’s hilly — which makes for a pretty landscape, but the winding roads make me carsick.

Every once in a while, little crops of neighborhoods pop up on the horizon. I take my eyes off the road to watch them go by. They’re surrounded by farmland on every side. So do the people who live there work on the farms? What’s that like? Peaceful, I hope. You know all of your neighbors, and, aside from the rush of the highway, life is quiet. But then again, maybe that’s just me romanticizing it.

We stop to get gas in a small town just north of Springfield. I’m reminded of a time this summer when I was driving back from Chicago with my brother. We stopped to get gas in a town not unlike this one.

I ran inside to grab a drink. After I checked out, the cashier looked me in the eye and told to me to “drive safe.” I was caught off-guard by the way he said it, I think. Instead of the sort of smiling politeness I’d expected, I heard concern in his voice. Did he think I was driving all by myself? Did that worry him? I think it would be hard, to see people come and go all the time, sometimes traveling late at night in an unfamiliar place.

The wind is brisk as I climb back into my car. Just as I’m about to turn back on the highway, curiosity gets the best of me and I flip the car around and drive us deeper into town. The buildings are old, some of them falling apart. Quaint neighborhoods circle the downtown square. My friend says she thinks about living in a town like this sometimes.

“Yeah, I’d like to give it a try,” I tell her. “At least for a few years.”

The longer we look around, the more I believe it. As we drive away, I feel like I’m leaving something important behind. My heart hurts for a life I’ve never known.

Sometimes you see houses by the side of the highway that are all alone. They’re almost always white, with the paint peeling at the edges. Why are they always white?

What would it be like to live in a house like that, to grow up there? Picture looking out of your window late at night and staring at the empty land around. I don’t know whether I’d feel at peace or terrifyingly vulnerable.

A tumbleweed rolls onto the highway and almost hits my car. I thought that only happened in movies.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary