October 11, 2002
Clarion to Eagle Grove (and back)
35 Miles Google Map
Because my family all came from this general area, revisiting the old haunts of my childhood involve little more than a day’s worth of casual cycling — as least for someone in the shape I was in. What a treat this was going to be!
The first stop was the old home place — a farmstead a half-dozen miles south of Clarion where I’d grown up. All the buildings are gone, but the creek and ponds where my paternal grandfather used to take my cousins and I fishing remain. The quiet, still waters struck me as a bit sad, partly because summer is over and partly because those little boys would never be returning to cast for walleyes. The tenant who now farms the land for my parents was plowing in an adjacent field. I walked over and gave him a friendly wave, but it wasn’t returned. (I found out later he thought I was one of the neighbors from down the road, trespassing, as opposed to the oldest son of his landlord. Pretty funny.)
The next destination was my grandparent’s farm three miles away, once the site of a welcoming country house whose bedrooms and porches would be filled each summer with swarms of high-spirited grandchildren. When my family moved away from the area, I had just gotten old enough to ride the three miles from my place to grandpa and grandma’s on my black Schwinn bike, an accomplishment I was very proud of. Now, some thirty-seven years later, I decided to retrace that route.
It was no problem remembering it. All I had to do was coast down to the corner, take a right and head west until I saw a skyline of mulberry trees fronted by white buildings. Except that the trees were no longer there. Nor were the buildings. When the acreage had been sold a few years back, everything had been torn down, uprooted and leveled. I’d known this had happened, but it still was a minor shock to arrive at the end of the old driveway only to be greeted by a dusty bean field overrun with dying weeds. As a challenge, I tried to visualize where the house and the old barn had been, and a few related memories trickled back. Since today would have been my grandparent’s seventy-fifth wedding anniversary, I silently wished them well, then continued on.
My mother’s parents (Grandma Bea and Grandpa Morse) had lived in the community of Eagle Grove about six miles to the northwest. I began a zigzag route in that direction in order to get on a blacktopped road that connects with the southeast corner of town. This allowed me a leisurely ride down main street and then a block south to my grandparent’s former home, which unlike the bulldozed homesteads I’d stopped at, was still in one piece. I don’t know who’s living there now, but two of the evergreens Morse had planted are still standing tall next to the garage.
A childhood friend named Jimmy Christ had lived just across the street. With only three cousins on my mother’s side of the family, he became a regular playmate whenever I was staying “in town”, as my Grandma Bea would put it. We’ve remained in touch through the years and whenever I come to Eagle Grove, I make it a point of stopping by his furniture store downtown to say hello. While he and his wife Gale always enjoy my surprise appearances, showing up on a bicycle this time was arguably one of the last things they expected from me. As I explained the journey I had taken from Seattle, Gale remarked that I was indeed an ambitious person. How true! Since I needed to get back on the road, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to chat, so we promised to get together at a later date.
I now had to navigate the seven miles back to Clarion. But I had not been keeping track of the time and when I left Jim’s store, there wasn’t much daylight remaining. Nor had I thought to bring my flashlight and yellow jacket with me. Then to top things off, I stared having trouble with the bicycle lights — one of the damn wires must have come loose. This all led to a hair-raising excursion through the rural darkness. The front light occasionally worked, but the back went out for good, making me near invisible for any drivers coming up from behind. I had to keep a constant watch in the mirror for the distant lights of vehicles so I could quickly find a spot to pull over before I got run over.
Today of course was my Grandma Bea’s birthday. I’d visited the nursing home this morning on my way out of town to give her a card and talk a little bit about how it felt to be ninety-five years old. Now, as I cycled into Clarion in the evening darkness, I stopped by again to tuck her into bed. She seemed so frail and vulnerable, lying there. I held her hand, told her about my visit with Jimmy Christ, and reminded her about the party tomorrow (which was taking place on a Saturday so more people could attend):
“Is tomorrow my birthday?”
“Today’s your birthday. You are ninety-five years old.”
“Remember me when you get to be my age.”
“I will. We are going to have a party for you tomorrow!”
“Where will it be?”
“Here. Out in the big room.”
“Are you going to be there?”
“Yes. Everyone is coming.”
“Who is coming?”
“Me, Mitch (my brother), my parents…”
“Who are your parents?”
“Glen and Janice. Janice is your daughter.”
“Oh yes. That’s right. You have to remind me. I keep forgetting.”
“I have to go to the motel now. But I’ll see you tomorrow at the party.”
“I’m glad you stopped by.”
Today: 35 Miles
To Date: 1,828 Miles / 2,942 Kilometers