“So, how much do you weigh?”
I walked out onto the tarmac with the group, and handed my backpack to someone. I climbed onto the plane that looked to be several decades old, clipped in my seatbelt, and waited for takeoff. I was told to sit on the right side of the plane. We were instructed to shut off our phones, which thwarted my plan to take pictures. I had flown with this particular airline some years ago, when I went to Illinois for my grandmother’s funeral. Usually it’s a two-hour drive through the countryside, cornfields as far as the eye can see, but at that time, this option was more convenient for everyone involved. The flight was considerably faster than driving, from two hours down to forty-five minutes, and it was definitely an experience. The plane has about 10 seats, and there is no barrier. It’s the pilot and the passengers all in the same cab. Every now and again the plane wobbles, or drops a little bit. It’s a little frightening, but man, the views are spectacular. I told my aunt that it was like going from a crowded backseat to the very front.
Traveling to my dad’s hometown is an all-day affair, and so we spend as much time out there as we can. I used to go once or twice a year, once during the summer, when it was usually just me, and once during the holidays, when we would go out as a family. Both times of year were enjoyable, but they were different. I always got to see a ton of family, but in the earlier years, my grandmother had a neighbor that was roughly my age, and he was a lot of fun. I have fond memories of those visits, playing video games, bouncing on the trampoline, shooting hoops, and although it was weird having a friend that lived so far away, when I came to visit, we picked up right where we left off. We got along well, and maybe I’m realizing in this very moment why that was. My cousins are almost all a decade older than me, and they’ve almost always been at a different stage of life than I have. My second cousins are younger to a lot younger, and so it was nice to spend time with someone my age, who also had similar interests. It was nice to have some common ground.
Summer visits were low key and fun, more geared towards someone in their younger years, but Christmas time was also special. There’s something about having to get on a plane that elevates that time of year. More time was spent indoors. We knew the drill, where we’d go and who we’d see, and I looked forward to all of it. In years past, we’d pile into the car, and see all the lights in the local park. It all added to the enjoyment of this place, the place where my dad was from.
As I grew up, things started to shift. I went from staying with my grandmother to the house of one of my aunts. The country club remained central to social life, but other aspects changed as well. I started to become more independent. I got my license, and was allowed to drive my grandmother’s boat of a car, which was eggplant purple. As for that friend, I haven’t spoken with him in some years. I toy with the notion of reaching out and connecting, but I wouldn’t have had the time this trip. This time around, the action was nonstop. There was a monster game of water basketball, excellent conversation, good food and drink, everything that I could have asked for. I knew that this place was special to dad, and it was once special to me. I wonder if he knew that when he left for Boston, that he’d never live there again. It’s a strange thing to leave a place that you love. He joked about moving back there after retirement, but I’m not sure how serious he was. I’m sure he knew that my stepmother would never go for it. A guy could dream, at the very least.
Dad would have turned 70 this year, something he’d hate, but I like to think he’d still be in good health. I had a vision of what it would be like if he were still here. I pictured us sitting in lawn chairs and having a beer, as I talked about my job, and also my plans to attend school in the not-too-distant future. We’d talk, and maybe he’d tell me that he was proud of me, or at the very least that he was happy that I was figuring out my life, and that I’d found something that spoke to me, the way that being a doctor spoke to him. For some time, loving my job seemed out of reach, the way dad and his legacy have sometimes seemed. As I write this, I know that you can love what you do, and maybe I’m feeling a little closer to dad on that level. There would be serious moments, but the conversation would never get too heavy. There’d be a lot of jokes and self-deprecation. These things are in my blood.
I like to think that in his later years, that he’d get out here more, but I can’t say for certain. I know he loved this place, but his life called him in another direction. He didn’t regret the choice he made to leave, but as he told me at one point, he missed a lot by being away, those big life events. I’m sure that that was difficult for him. He was never big on social media. He was celebrated when he came back, and people would call him, “Doctor,” even though he was more than happy to go by some variation of his first name. It’s not that he didn’t love being a doctor, he just didn’t need people to acknowledge it. He valued being accessible more than anything else. He was never comfortable being looked at as someone different, someone truly exceptional, even though he was.
A lot came up for me this trip, and maybe for the first time, I’m beginning to move on and mature. So much of the last 10 years has been about losing dad, about my ties to the midwest being severed, or at least feeling like they had been. Places like New Hampshire and Illinois became less enticing to visit. The places I held so special in my mind as a child changed drastically, almost past the point of recognition. Dad was the connection to these places. So much of the last decade has been about watching as the people I loved continued their journey, leaving the rest of us to figure out what’s next. It’s the way of things, but this recalibration was challenging for me, the way it is for so many. I wondered if Illinois would ever be special again. These magical places from childhood, I wrote a lot of them off, content to own the memories while leaving the rest behind.
It’s always been odd to have such an amazing family that we never get to see. My sister has always been better about making sure we stay connected than I have, but I know I can improve and want to. Some bonds were truly forged this time around, and I wonder what things will be like down the road. All I know is that whenever I come to Quincy, people welcome me with open arms. It’s both bigger and smaller than the place I grew up. It’s bigger in terms of population, but it’s also the midwest, where everyone knows everyone. People value their family tree. It does seem like things move a little slower there, but not in a bad way. It’s a place where you can be a little more present, which to me is never a bad thing.
I’ll never see Quincy in an objective light. I love being out here during the summer. You can do a lot more outside, and at night, the fireflies come out, which doesn’t happen much around here in Massachusetts. One of the last things we did was go to a cemetery with my aunts, to see where some of the family is buried. I enjoy cemeteries, find them oddly calming. The day was hot, and we looked out on the Mississippi River, which is a different shade of brown than I’m used to, but still beautiful. The last time we went out to Quincy was 2018. So much has happened since then, and I’m just grateful that when I come back, even if things have changed, there’s still that feeling of love and warmth. Quincy has regained its magic, and for that, I’ll always be grateful. I don’t know how things will change, but right now, I’m focused on enjoying it as it is. Thanks for reading.
One thought on “Quincy (IL)”
Here’s to cherishing your dad connections and memories. May they be perpetually beautiful. Just as his was, your growth and life are worthy of being celebrated. And ought to be.
Wishing you “more present” moments, wherever you are. And even if they’re virtual, may fireflies continuously illuminate your feelings of love and warmth.,
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