I’m heading to Southern Illinois first thing tomorrow morning. I’d initially planned to make one last New Mexico trip before school starts, just to get my Tucumcari fix, but then something unexpected happened: I felt a vague pang of homesickness for Southern Illinois.
That’s never happened before. Not once since I moved have I actually missed my home area.
I never felt really comfortable in Southern Illinois. Grew up there, spent the better end of 30 years of my life there, but never felt like I really fit in there. Oklahoma, on the other hand, felt like home from the minute I arrived.
Then I had my brush with fame at the ballpark last week, and I came back to Tulsa bubbling over with excitement, telling everybody who’d listen about how I’d met Ryne Sandberg … to which they replied: “Who’s Ryne Sandberg?”
For the first time in my life, I caught myself starting a sentence with: “Where I grew up…” and for the first time in my life, I caught myself feeling just a little bit smug about where I grew up.
For the first time in my life, I was proud to say that I come from Herrin, Illinois, where we grew up listening to Harry Caray on WGN or Jack Buck on KMOX. I come from Herrin, where the high-school softball team went to state so many times that the boys finally had to stop saying, “You play ball like a girl!” for fear it would be mistaken for a compliment. I come from Herrin, where for the latter half of the ’80s and well into the ’90s, you could not drive two blocks without passing a handmade plywood cutout advertising the owner’s baseball allegiance. I come from Herrin, where we damn well know who Ryne Sandberg is and aren’t likely to forget him — or anybody else from the 1989 Cubs’ starting lineup — anytime soon.
I come from Herrin, and tomorrow morning, I will rise with the dawn, get in my car, and drive back to Herrin to spend a few days looking at my hometown with fresh eyes.
Maybe I’ll play a little catch with my goddaughter and her older sister. Maybe teach Jamie where his strike zone is. Maybe rent “Field of Dreams” and watch it with Daddy and try not to cry. Maybe go out to the ballpark and run the bases when nobody’s looking.
Maybe slide headfirst into home.