It was back in the summer of 1981, right around this time in late June and I was riding in a van with Dick Verucchi and Alan Thacker on our way to Dixon, Illinois for a gig at a youth center. The owner of the youth center knew Dick and Alan from their Buckacre days and had been trying to get them—now as The Jerks—to play in Dixon for some time.
That was the summer—that rock and roll summer—of roadying for The Jerks, hanging out with Chris, going to Chicago Fest, and later a road trip to Atlanta.
As we drove to Dixon that hot, humid, summer afternoon, crisscrossing through America’s heartland of corn and soybean fields, Dick remarked that the corn seemed a bit taller than usual for this time of the summer.
“I remember growing up and listening to old timers say, ‘knee high by the Fourth’ but it’s not the way anymore,” said Dick. “Look at that corn out there, Sparks. That’s some mighty tall corn for June.”
“What do you think is the reason?” I asked, wondering if this was either another Dick Verucchi joke, or if he was really serious.
It wasn’t a joke. And Dick wasn’t really being that serious. He was just talking about corn and that it just seemed taller than in the past.
Today I was wondering what I’d be writing about or blogging about if I were back home right now? Would I be thinking about going on the road to Dixon with The Jerks and writing about Dick’s quip about the corn? Or would I be writing about another time and another place?
Sometimes when I am thinking about what I am going to write my mind and my soul begin to wander and invariably I am brought back to the Midwest; brought back to places like Cherry, Oglesby, and LaSalle three towns that I grew up in before I left home once and for all (or so I thought), but three towns that I still call home.
I guess it’s only natural to want to go back in your mind; kind of like some invisible umbilical cord to your past. But it’s more than that. It’s more than being a little wistful. It’s more than waxing nostalgic.
The death of one of my childhood friends this past week brought me closer to “back home” and reminded me of my humble roots. It really shook the tree as it were and made me think about “home” a lot.
I was thinking that if I were back home right now, how much I would love to go for a ride in the country. Of course, that is some really wistful thinking—not just for me, but for anyone back home with the price of gas the way it is now—but I was thinking how nice and perhaps how romantic it would be to head down some lonely stretch of blacktop, between the fields of corn and soybeans with the windows rolled down.
Perhaps in the distance there would be some giant gray and black thunderheads rolling in from the west. Maybe you know the kind I am talking about, this amorphous rumpled black and gray mass of clouds filling the sky and reaching to the heavens. And if so, I’d probably be able to detect a hint of the impending rain in the stifling afternoon heat.
And later, if I could still find one somewhere, I would sit outside a Tastee Freeze with its yellow and pink neon framed against the night and enjoy a banana split or maybe—as that John Mellencamp mantra about Jack and Diane went—sucking on a chili dog.
And just about then, with those storm clouds overhead and mottled purple flashes and streaks of lightning shooting across the sky, you could feel the night getting cooler and smell that rain in the air and hear crickets chirping away—sounding the alarm before the first crack of thunder resonates across the land.
And you know, right now that would seem more exotic and charming than all the Golden Buddhas, mountain temples, and ancient Khmer ruins that I can see over here.
I haven’t had my fill yet of these things because I a migratory bird by nature and I need to see what is out there to report, document, catalog, interpret and understand. You know, the unexamined life is not worth living and all that stuff.
I am happy that I have had both worlds as it were, but right now this Friday evening in Korea I am wondering if the corn is already knee-high back home in Illinois.