We left my sister’s house on Chicago’s North Side at what I consider to be a humane hour, 10 a.m., headed across the northwestern suburbs to the series of toll roads that would lead us out of the metropolis and toward the Mississippi River. We got off the interstate routes in western Illinois and took U.S. 30, part of the old Lincoln Highway, across Iowa. We made a stop at the country church north of Des Moines where my father’s father’s parents and some distant cousins are buried. Then we raced across western Iowa to Sioux City, where we are tonight.
Our route after leaving the church — St. Paul’s Lutheran — took us through Stanhope, a little town I am sure my great-grandparents, my grandfather and my dad knew. We stopped at the one gas station in town to fill up. I walked in to the small store attached to the station to get a cold drink. There was a tall, gray-haired woman working at the counter.
“Hi, there,” I said.
“Hi,” she answered.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Great,” she said. “How about you?”
“Same. Beautiful day,” I replied.
“Yes it is,” she said. “Just like it was thirty-one years ago.”
“Thirty-one years ago,” I said. “1990. What happened on September 15, 1990?” I half expected to hear that a tornado or some other misfortune had befallen the town.
“I got married,” she said.
“That is a great thing to celebrate,” I said. And deciding to ignore the possibility that that marriage was over for one reason or another, I added, “Are you doing anything? Going out to dinner tonight?”
“No, not tonight,” she said. “Had to work. And so did he. But we’ll do something this weekend.’
And that was our conversation. Then we were back on the road and rolling through towns with names I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t seen them and double-checked them.