The State of Illinois
A few weeks before Halloween and many years ago, when I was still married to my former husband, he and I and a couple we knew all decided we would celebrate Halloween dressed as the Midwest.
At the time, it seemed like a clever idea. I was from Minnesota, my former husband was from Wisconsin, our friend, Becky, was from Iowa, and her husband, John, was from Illinois. We were all in our early twenties, all living in Oregon, and, as we imagined ourselves dressed as our home states, it seemed like the best idea ever.
We were no longer all living in the same city. And we didn’t see Becky and John again until Halloween. Honestly, I forgot all about the idea. I had time on my hands and so I designed and sewed elaborate costumes. I went as Medusa, with posable snakes bobbing up and down on my head. My former husband was Poseidon; he had a staff wrapped in fishing net and filled with seashells, and a crown on his head that lit up in the dark. Before LEDs, this was an accomplishment.
I was rather proud of our costumes, and we went to meet John and Becky. Becky was costumed as a striking geisha, and John arrived… dressed as the State of Illinois.
“I thought we were going as the Midwest!” John complained.
I had so completely forgotten about the idea that I was startled to see John outfitted in an enormous sheet of bright yellow corrugated cardboard shaped like the Land of Lincoln, his face popping out somewhere near Peoria.
I couldn’t feel too guilty if his own wife had not alerted him to a change in plans. It struck me that this did not bode well for the marriage (and, in fact, they were divorced a short while later). But John was stuck as the sole representative of the Midwest, and he was mightily embarrassed as we headed out to enjoy Halloween.
You can probably guess what happened next
John was the hit of the evening. There were an astounding number of Illinois transplants in this small Oregon town, and every single one felt a special bond with John, who was, by nature, a shy and bookish guy. Slightly inebriated women came flying at him from across the street.
“Illinois! It’s Illinois!” they screamed, as if he was a visiting rock star.
They scrutinized the carefully detailed Illinois road system searching for their hometowns. I felt as if I was witnessing the reunion of long-lost siblings.
“Quincy! I found Quincy!” a woman shrieked. It looked as if she might cry. I was not sure she was going to let John go.
The snakes bouncing on my head and my former husband’s illuminated crown could not hold a candle to Quincy, Illinois.
This all happened many years ago, and yet I remember John, and I feel like him on many occasions. I tend to stick to the plan. I keep working away on my little projects, and I feel foolish when I realize that, not only has everyone I know moved on to something new, they probably think I’m a little daft not to have done the same. I frequently feel a little naïve, a little embarrassed, still puttering away.
But I’ve learned that staying the course has benefits, even if they are not the ones I imagined.
After whatever group I was a part of has evaporated, interest disappeared, momentum vanished, I think of John, proudly representing the State of Illinois—for no obvious reason and all on his own.
Till next time,
Photos from the column and a link to YouTube videos can be found at CarrieClasson.com.