Friday, October 27, 2023

22,362 days later ...

On August 4-5, 1962, my family went on a trip to Springfield to see where Abraham Lincoln lived. I was just 4 years old and remember little of it except for two things: 1) it was the first time I had apple butter, which I loved and 2) Marilyn Monroe died.

It was really hot and I've never done well in heat, even as a little girl. We were touring New Salem, the small town outside of Springfield where Lincoln lived when he first arrived in Illinois. Because I was so short, I got to be in the front when we looked into the log cabins. The railings were smooth and cool and I rested my cheek on one. A young man behind us -- I never saw his face -- held a transistor radio over his head and blasted some news. I didn't really hear it but I recall thinking a radio didn't belong here because Abe wouldn't have had a radio. 

Anyway, it turns out it was an early news report that Marilyn had died. I didn't know who she was, but my mom did and was upset. My dad was upset with my mom for being upset. I was hot and the railing was cool. That's the moment I remember with great clarity.

Over the decades I've been back to Springfield countless times. I love Abraham Lincoln and I never tire of immersing myself in his world. As an adult, I've gone down either solo or with friends, usually by train. It's a lovely, scenic Amtrak trip and I enjoy it, but that means we're without a car. New Salem is about 20 minutes away from Springfield and so it's just never been part of our itinerary.

Until now. According to the "days between dates" calculator I found, it took me 22,362 days or 61 years and 2 months and 21 days to return, but I did.

My friend Elaine got a new Mazda CR-something and wanted to take a road trip. Also, since she's newly retired and eager to fill every moment,* she was up for it. 

First on the agenda: apple butter! Our hotel shared a parking lot with Cracker Barrel and so I got to indulge in that.

Next up: fall colors! Like I said, I have never liked heat. It was lovely to wander through the reconstructed town on a 60ยบ-something day when the trees were putting on a show.

And, of course, Abe. I love Mr. Lincoln. This cabin is a reconstruction of the Onstot Cabin. Abe never owned a home in New Salem, he boarded with different families. He never lived with Henry and Susannah Onstot but he hung out at their place in the evenings. He needed light so he could study his law books in the evenings and the people he lived with were not so agreeable. The Onstots welcomed him at night.

New Salem has about 20 of these cabins in all. Including the Rutledge Tavern, where he stayed for a while and met -- and maybe fell in love with -- their daughter, Ann. Historians disagree about whether or not they were in love, but I grew up on the tale of his doomed romance with Ann and I'm reluctant to let it go. I'm apparently not alone. Elaine asked if I wanted to visit her gravesite and when I said yes, we were surprised by how easy it was to find.

*Not me; I'm lazy as shit.

From Springfield to Lewiston to Colorado Springs

Let me tell you about the emotional journey I took this week.

First, Springfield. Tuesday afternoon, my friend Elaine and I took a quick road trip down to Springfield, IL. She wanted to show off her new car, I wanted to spend a little time with Abe Lincoln. We checked into our hotel and walked across the parking lot to The Cracker Barrel for dinner.

After dinner we saw the "shelter in place" order. A Springfield trooper stopped a car, the driver got out and began shooting. Then he fled. The suspect was arrested a few hours later, but it's disconcerting to be part of a "shelter in place" when you're away from home. Weird plot twist: He fled the Springfield trooper because he was on the run for a murder he may have committed 7 miles from my home. Isn't that a kick? Here I am, 200 miles away, and I'm sheltering in place to avoid a gunman from my backyard.

Then Lewiston. On Wednesday, a man in Maine took an automatic firearm and shot up first a bowling alley and then a bar. Then he fled. Citizens in Maine had to shelter in place, too, adding to their trauma. As I write this Friday night, his body has just been found. This was a tragedy. There's no more to say.

Then Colorado Springs. On Thursday a FedEx package arrived for me. It was a t-shirt I'd purchased in November 2022, and it finally arrived. Yet I'm not at all upset. For the t-shirt was from the Altreveda Beer Company in Colorado Springs.

You may not remember, because November 2022 is literally hundreds of mass shootings ago, but there was a tragedy in Colorado Springs, too. An anti-LGBT nutjob with an AR-15 walked into one of the area's few gay clubs and opened fire. 

Robert Fierro happened to be in the club that night with his wife, son and his son's boyfriend. An Army vet, Fierro went into "combat mode." He attacked the gunman from behind, wrestled the gun away and beat the shooter with it. Mr. Fierro said he was defending his family. His human family. 

I wanted to show my mad respect for Fierro somehow. I heard that his own bar, Altreveda Beer Company, was still struggling after covid so I ordered a t-shirt. Apparently a shit ton of people had the same thought and demand was massively greater than supply. Then they wanted to redesign the shirts to carry a message of diversity. Of course I didn't mind, and I will wear my Altreveda shirt proudly.

BTW, "altreveda" means "daring woman." Jess Fierro is Robert's wife, business partner and the brewmaster. In fact, she was Colorado's first Latina brewery owner. So this family was at Club Q that night out of support and love for their gay son and his lover. Again, I will wear my Altreveda shirt proudly.

But I am so fucking tired of guns. I'm afraid of guns. I'm sick of guns. No, I do not for one moment believe that anyone needs an automatic rifle to hunt squirrels. No, I do not for one moment believe that this is what our founding fathers had in mind. With Donald Trump's fondness for saying "Second Amendment people" should do this or that, I fully expect there to be political violence on top of our now garden variety mass shootings. This is possibly the only thing Speaker Mike Johnson and I agree on: There's something wrong with the "human heart" of this country. Only I believe that problem is his MAGA Republican party.

The only silver lining I see is that so many of us are sick and tired, and so many of us are going to vote, VOTE, VOTE