We left La Crosse on Thursday morning, heading into more traffic and bigger cities than we had seen for a week. As the Navigator I was a little nervous: we were doing some route changes that involved being able to read and interpret the exit numbers on the atlas Dad uses. Keep in mind that his atlas was published in 1997 and a few roads and overpasses have been built since then. He has a new atlas at home but he is waiting to use it until this one wears out. [I should have helped that cause with my coffees.]
Then there is the additional tension of the GPS. Most of the time it was just great, but sometimes the little person inside got her nose seriously bent out of shape if we made a detour. Even for ice cream. Or a bathroom break. Or sometimes we did actually take a wrong turn because she waits until you are right at the intersection in the right-hand lane and then she says “Go left at ….Road” and there you are, but there is another car beside you and you can’t just jump over them. And the GPS lady starts freaking out, “Recalculating. Recalculating. Go 150 feet and turn right and then turn right and then turn right again” and you can just hear her muttering under her breath, “and you will be where you should have been if you’d listened in the first place!” But my Dad might choose to go left and then left and then right and be ahead by 2 blocks of what she is advising, and she who has no sense of humor is quite busy “recalculating” all the way. Dad doesn’t hear well so he misses some of her early prompts, the ones that say “In 500 feet, turn left…” and he often has his own sense of direction, not to say preconceived ideas, so we got quite well acquainted with the testy little miss in the GPS.
However, I was the backup Navigator who has both a louder-in-your-ear instruction giver and the good sense to give several advance warnings. And a sense of humor, or at least the sense to shut up when a mistake has been made. But finding the exit numbers on a map that is 8 1/2 x 11 and changing routes in the middle of a city is not for the faint of heart. But we made it, I-90 to I-94 to I-39 and then US 53 in towards Chicago.
Our destination was a little inspiration Dad had had along the way: I should see Serena, the town where Mom taught school before they were married while he was in the Navy. Now I had heard bits and pieces of her life in Serena through the years, but it was never very important in their conversation because they weren’t together: it was a waiting time, a non-event, sort of. Now that Mom has gone, everything about her life and history seems very important to Dad and he was eager to show me places she had lived, places they’d been together. So we headed down the back roads to Serena. (I’ll admit that I always envisioned it as a little town out in the middle of nowhere, and it was, back in 1943. But I was quite surprised to see how close to Chicago and Wheaton it actually is, now. In 1943, it was a world away…)
This is a typical, typical scene in Iowa and Illinois: A cluster of trees and farm buildings along the road with miles of fields in between. An old highway. Flat.
Below is the high school, newly modernized, where Mom taught English and Latin and typing (that was a joke). The story goes that the previous English teacher had gone into Chicago for a weekend and had run off and gotten married and didn’t come back to teach, so the school called Wheaton College asking for any leads and Wheaton called Mom at home in Cedar Rapids to see if she was interested. She was, and she came and finished out that year and the next 2. While in Serena, she lived in the home of one of the school families, and they were good to her. The current owner let us look at house. The upstairs right window was her bedroom.
There were enough letters of consequence going both ways to prompt Dad to go immediately to Serena upon his discharge from the Navy in order to propose marriage. It happened to be the end of year school picnic on the Fox River but that didn’t stop a fellow who’d been away too long: he just took her out on a rowboat and proposed. She accepted. This photo was taken that very day:
I found it rather remarkable that, 65 years later as I was walking around her high school, in the (new) concrete I saw her initials, M.K. for Margaret Kikendall. Her spirit lingers!
Day 5-La Crosse to Serena and Naperville and Wheaton, about 300 miles
Sad to say that my camera has developed a problem with the lens which casts a shadow in the upper left corner unless I seriously crop the photo. I guess I need a new camera. You can quit rubbing your eyes and your screen. It’s my bad.