The drive use to feel long. In the summer heat, traffic, and seemingly constant road construction it could take us two hours to drive there. I realize that a two hour drive is not long, especially if one is going on a respite. But the drive should have taken us, oh, 45 minutes, an hour maybe? That is if there had been no traffic or construction.
The first seven years or so of our marriage my husband and I would make this trek out to my in-laws summer home. It was just a little place, near a lake and a small town west of Chicago. We took an exit of off Interstate 55, which, if you stayed on it would take you to Springfield and then St. Louis. This last year I have travelled I55 multiple times as I drove from Chicago to Arizona and back. I’ve driven right by the exit to the place my in laws used to have. In the context of that longer 36 hour drive, the two hour drive now feels like nothing. But that’s now, years later when everything has changed. Then it felt like a long drive.
I’m pretty certain that at least one of our first cars as newlyweds did not have air conditioning. Or maybe it was just sweltering hot anyway? My husband thought is was faster t take a short cut down Cicero Avenue. We debated this idea and sometimes altered our route. I didn’t like the shortcut, and wasn’t sure it really was shorter anyway. True it saved us from going east on one highway then south and then west, so maybe it was shorter. But Cicero took us through some of the poorest sections of town, areas that are infamous in this area for street corner heroine sales. In the hot daylightt sun all we could see were worn out buildings and trash. I always hoped, though, that our car would not decide to break down, for some unknown reason, on that stretch of Cicero Avenue. I was sure it would not have been pretty for the two of us. Then again, maybe I’ve watched too many cop shows.
Our annual drive out to the summer home always took place around the Fourth of July. We would have a long weekend off from work, load up the car, and head off, usually on a Saturday morning. Wending our way through streets and highways, over rivers, and into the little town. Arriving, usually around lunch time. We’d grab a quick bite and then head off for the lake and an afternoon of sand and lake water. Later we’d watch Wimbledon or go into town for the fireworks, or go to a local county fair. And then we’d watch some more Wimbledon, usually late at night just before falling asleep. Sometimes other family members joined us. Always, though, my mother and father in law were there. Many times my father in law, a WWII vet with Multiple Sclerosis, had a project or two that he needed help with. My husband, the youngest of three sons and a daughter, would spend some time helping his father with this or that. I’d help my mother in law prepare dinner. At that time my mother in law was only about 10 years older than I am now. It’s hard to believe. Her body today is ravaged by the tremors of Parkinson’s as she continues to outlive everyone she knows of her generation. My father in law, dead some 13 years, and that summer home sold long ago.
But every year for the 25 years of our married life, whenever the Fourth of July rolls around and Wimbledon is on, we stop and watch it. I don’t even play tennis. But I love to watch the games. I am grateful for the memories of early marriage and family life, of hot summers, beach sand, and lake water. Of grilling steaks, fireworks, and watermelon. Memories of family then, and now, year after year.