News & Politics

Memories of Journeys Home

(AP Photo/Paul Davenport)

For this Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with PJ Media readers a very personal remembrance of Thanksgiving’s past.  What Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory” resonate strongly when the road behind far outdistances whatever road is left ahead.

For almost everyone, “home” isn’t a place as much as it is a state of mind. It’s a place in our minds that we can travel to at any time and still feel the pull of family and memory. Holidays seem to bring it all rushing back to us — as it was meant to be.

I wrote this and posted it on my personal blog on November 21, 2007.

For most of my adult life, I lived away from “home” which, for the Moran clan, was first Mount Prospect and then Barrington Hills, Illinois. The two suburbs of Chicago are about 15 miles apart, 4 stops separating them on the old Northwest line of the C & NW Railroad. (My current home of Algonquin is only about 7 miles north of Barrington Hills.)

For many years, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a travel day for me. Living in Des Moines, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis meant airports, luggage, interminable flights, and the inevitable stress and strain that goes with travel.

All the feelings of frustration would fall away once I boarded the commuter train that would take me home. In those days, a taxi from the airport to Barrington Hills was considered an extravagance. So I would take a cab to the Des Plaines train station where a commuter would be along every 10 or 15 minutes at rush hour to pick me up for the nice, leisurely half-hour trip to Barrington.

I used to love those old trains. In recent years, they redesigned the interior of the cars so that they’ve become much more sterile and unfriendly places. Back in the day, such was not the case. You could flip most of the seats so that they faced each other. People would take advantage of that by playing cards or just chatting. Many of the passengers obviously knew each other from taking the same train home for years. The atmosphere was usually festive thanks to the fact that everyone had Thanksgiving off.

But if you wanted to be alone with your thoughts, that was fine too. I’d spend the half-hour looking out the window, finding familiar landmarks, and then passing through my boyhood home of Mount Prospect; seeing the familiar downtown with its familiar store names and streets. Pulling out of the station, we’d pass my old dentist’s office where old Doctor Heck treated me after the trauma of having three of my teeth knocked out by a baseball bat swung in a game by a playmate. I was all of 8 years old and the amount of blood scared me. Old Doc Heck fixed me up good, though, saving the roots so I could get fitted for false teeth.

From Mount Prospect, the train paralleled Northwest Highway. And the trip from there to Arlington Heights always brought back a flood of memories. I must have traveled from Mount Prospect to Dryden Street in Arlington Heights down Northwest Highway more than 3000 times over the years. St. Viator High School was just a couple of blocks down Dryden and between school, athletic events, and other activities I got to know every inch of that expanse.

Random memories would fire and it was quite pleasurable to allow the montage of images and feelings to present themselves for nostalgia’s sake. Every once and a while, some awful memory from high school would intrude on my reverie (everybody has them, I’m sure) but it was easy to ignore the pain that threatened to interrupt the warm flow of reminisces simply by clearing the screen in front of your mind’s eye and waiting for the next tableau to appear.

Then it was through downtown Arlington Heights out to Arlington Park racetrack — closed for the season but still a big commuter stop because of all the development that had sprouted surrounding the edifice with little office parks and tract homes dotting the landscape. And then a slightly longer trip to Palatine, still hugging Northwest Highway and still recalling other memories from high school as we passed several eateries where we used to hang out.

The trip between Palatine and Barrington was the longest. Here, civilization ended and the “country” began. The route was dark and nothing was visible except the trees on either side of the tracks. Often, there was sufficient snow on the ground that an eerie glow would light the way as the moonlight reflected off the trees.

Related: How Not to Ruin Thanksgiving by Talking About Politics

Finally, Barrington. In those days it was at the outer reaches of the northwest suburbs, only recently graduated from a glorified “milk stop” where dairy farmers would send their product by rail to Chicago. One of my brothers or sisters would be waiting to pick me up and take me the last 3 miles to Barrington Hills and home.

Today, home is where my heart is. Both my parents are gone, the house in Barrington Hills sold. Our family is spread out all over the country — both coasts and several states in between. I wrote about the last time we got together here, a little more than two years ago. Everyone has their own lives and families, their own traditions at holiday time. It’s not like it was when we all made a supreme effort to travel to our parents’ house for the holidays. Back then, most of us didn’t have the complications of spouses or in-laws or small children to get in the way of our goal of reuniting.

But that’s what memories are for. They remind us of what was once good and happy in life and hold out the promise of more to come.

James Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, said “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” In this, the December of my life, it gives me an inordinate amount of pleasure to remember those roses and that nurturing them will continue to give me joy until the day I no longer am.