I grew up in Pekin, Illinois. Grade School. Junior High. High School … Class of ‘68. After I moved away, I visited occasionally because that was where family lived. But, for the past decade or two, none of my immediate family has lived there. We have all moved for jobs or opportunities or retirement.
What has kept me in touch with Pekin in the past few years has been Facebook. I joined Facebook initially as a way to keep in touch with our son in Utah—see his photos and read his comments. When a former classmate asked to be friends, I began a much deeper relationship with the online community, friending more classmates and others in my interest areas.
My only connection with any of my classmates since graduating in 1968 has mostly been Facebook in the past few years. Earlier this year, the class had a 45th reunion. I could not attend. One of the guys, Ron Hill, decided it was important to keep the guys in touch and started a weekly lunch. I always get an invite, but it’s hard to meet for lunch in Pekin, Illinois ,when you live in Cincinnati, Ohio. That is …. until I went back to Illinois to spend some time with my brother who just retired, and he lives about an hour from our hometown.
As I made my online reservation to the weekly event, my anticipation grew. There were friends I hoped would be there, friends who have attended the weekly ritual. And I was not disappointed.
Ron Hill sat in the middle of the long table. Willis Beyer, Lou Wilson, Bob Dalcher, Ron Wilson, John Garls, Dave Nash, and Danny Durbin who almost forgot, but came in late anyway. My brother Barry attended with me, and he knew a couple of these guys better than I did because they worked together. And then there was Mike Esteppe, who pulled into the parking lot at the same time as I, and we gave each other a hearty greeting after so many years.
Mike and I were not only classmates, but we worked together part-time at the Super Valu during and for a short while after high school. We worked a Friday night shift restocking shelves, then we would wash our cars and meet in the park to wax them. He was driving a cool Pontiac Catalina with a stick, and I a Pontiac Lemans. After school, I went to work for the telephone company, then was drafted, and when I returned from the Army and back to the phone company, Mike was working there. We were working together again. After a few years, I moved on to other things. He stayed in Pekin and recently retired … from the telephone company.
In all my travels, I have met fellow travelers and vagabonds from all over the world. I have also met individuals who lived in the same place all their lives. People who have made commitments to community and its economic development. As I sat at lunch reminiscing with my fellow classmates—all who have stayed in Pekin for the most part—I began to wonder about the advantages and disadvantages of a mobile life. Moving on for better opportunity may have its rewards, but staying put and becoming one with the fabric of community can be just as rewarding. Moving on is to become an outsider wherever you land. Staying is the opportunity to really know the sense of place.
Lunch over, my brother and I set off onto other errands for the day. As I drove through Pekin, observing how much has changed, I wondered if one can ever really go home again.
See you on the highway.