Jerseyville.

My brother posted this map on his facebook page.

The route in this map is how to get to Wal-Mart from my dad’s house; to get there, you drive through a grocery store parking lot. I am from a small town (though it’s technically a city!), whose motto is “Close to the crowd, but not in it!” After living in West Virginia for the last 5 years, I can’t believe how flat it is. Look at the green water lines growing across it like vines, how lovely.

Now that I have lived far away for over 10 years,  in a place where mostly nobody has heard of my town, where no one misses seeing cornfield all the way to the horizon, looking at this picture I feel both homesick as well as an alien fascination.  I know so much about all the little streets in this map, yet, I’m a stranger there.

I love and hate driving home, and I wait for that moment in Indiana when the prairie opens up and you can look out across the cornfields to the curve of the earth. The scenery is silos, the outline of an occasional steeple, gas wells pumping lazily, and of course, the great big sky.

People in Appalachia talk about how exposed they feel under that huge sky, with nothing but nothing all the way as far as you can see. As for me, my eyes crave the sky, and too much time in a deep holler, or in the narrow spaces between city buildings, makes me feel claustrophobic. I’ve always thought that being able to see so much of the heavens and of the earth we live on is inspiring; it makes you feel small, but it also makes the far away seem within reach. If I can get to that horizon, why not the next one, and the next one?  I like to imagine that wide open spaces inspire a certain sense of introspection, a propensity to dream, and a feeling of connection with other humans.

At this distance, that pile of square fields with green creeks creeping over them is almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of other little communities that come together like puzzle pieces across the Midwest.  But when I glance at it, I see hundreds of stories. I know just where all those roads go, exactly what those fields looked like in 1998, and the precise smell of driving through them, of wet soil and motor oil at the steering wheel of an orange and white 1979 F-150.

4 thoughts on “Jerseyville.

  1. Grady

    That’s really nice. I’m glad it has the same effect on you. You should note that I had to correct the route because Google had us driving down Hollow all the way to the High School. That’s too slow! It’s faster to drive by the Hospital or the Junior High. Here’s the link to the map.

    From Dad’s to Wal-Mart

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  2. Eva

    The sky never figured so prominently in my childhood, its vastness and promise. Neither did the wide open land of endless cornfields, nor the curve of the earth on the horizon. Our childhoods were different – the physical features and the smells and the routes we took to our front door – and yet I imagine thoughts of home conjure a similar nostalgia, a similar sense of kinship to those “ordinary” things that beckon to us in extraordinary ways and remind us of our connection to specific corners of the earth. Well, corners is more appropriate to describe the world of my youth – beyond one red brick building is the neighbor’s garden where I fed stray cats, beyond another is the hydrant the local firemen would loosen so we could play in its spray on hot summer days. And then there was the ocean several blocks from home, as unending (at least in my imagination) as your Appalachian sky, both familiar and unknowable, inspiring the same propensity to dream. Your wet soil and motor oil was my salty ocean air and subway stairs!
    Your piece was lovely, Dana. It made me wistful for the features of a home I no longer call home, but that continue to stretch their vines inside me somewhere, in a place deep and inimitable.

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