Letter to the Editor

Indiana never left writer's heart.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

To the Editor:

I left Indiana in 1960 after graduation from Midland High School. I've been gone for 47 years. Well, really, I was in Terre Haute for a year and I've been in Midland for a couple of weeks since then, the last time in 1990. But Indiana never left my heart.

I went back on April 28 this year and stayed until May 7 and went to my class reunion. I also intended and accomplished smelling a lilac and eating some morel mushrooms.

Thomas Wolfe said, you can't go home again.

I went to see.

I flew into Indianapolis and rented a car and was soon on S.R. 67 headed south toward Worthington. It was a rainy, cool, slate gray day with recently harrowed fields holding water in the low spots. The fields are immense with no fence rows to harbor small game. I wonder how many quail are around now compared to when my dad and I followed his dogs in our hunts of the 1950's. I don't see many basketball goals, but when I do, it's a very nice one, not the kind I practiced on that was nailed on the front of garages or barns. The landscape is beautiful with lush, treed areas and greenery everywhere. I never knew how beautiful Indiana was until I left.

Now let me say that my existence in Indiana for 17 years was based on the game of basketball. Basketball was all I cared about and I practiced either by myself or with anyone who would play against me in any kind of weather. I truly played by moonlight on snow covered "courts." Consequently, it took me 11 years to get my B.S. degree.

After about an hour and a half I pulled into a gas station in Worthington to get directions that would take me to Lonetree, a crossroads where I lived from the age of 4 to 12. In the gas station I met Dave Miller who played on the 1958 Bloomfield team that we beat in the afternoon sectional game. He didn't remember me but did remember Jerry Mowery, our center, and one of my best friends going through high school. I asked about some of the Worthington greats and was told that Jim Slinkard had passed away and no one had heard of Rodney Chambers in years.

Eight or nine miles later I stop at the Providence Church where I sometimes went with my grandmother Smith. The building is in good shape but is smaller than it was when I was young. I hear the voice of Roy Bridwell preaching one of his sermons and the church congregation singing "That Old Rugged Cross."

I proceed to Lonetree and the crossroads where I see that the Lonetree Store is gone, the place where we got our groceries until I was 12 and we moved to Midland. I remember the Friday evenings when we would go to the store and buy a quart of Johnson's Ice Cream and cokes that were the weekly treat for our family. Johnson's Ice Cream must have been almost all cream. Ice cream just doesn't taste like that anymore.

I decided to turn south and go by the old farm place, a half mile down the road. Once there I pulled over, got out, and looked up the quarter mile lane to a small home at its end. My home is gone as is the barn and the basketball goal I practiced on until I was 12 years old. The hedge apple trees are all gone that lined the north side of the lane and the view is manicured in its look. I get back in the car and drive the three miles to Midland. As I slowly approach Midland from the north my memory compares the then and now. No old deserted store west of Lebanon Church, no active Monon railroad crossing ... and then I get to the turn into Midland. I pull off the road, get out, and look to the east across S.R. 59. There is no school and there is no gym and I knew that, but my throat still catches as I look at the space where they had been. Now there is only a volunteer fire station and a covered picnic area that houses the old school bell. I stand there for a long while as I allow memory after memory to float in front of me. It is windy and cool.

Just behind me is another empty space where Ma Brady's Corner Store used to be. What a great ole lady she was. Gruff and rough as she pretended to be, when we returned from a game at 10 or 11 p.m. she would open the doors to let us get warm and/or to make a call to be picked up.

I return to the car and drive up the main street of Midland, Indiana. I am amazed and saddened. Many homes are gone. Many are falling down. Some are in good shape at the west end of the street, including my old home which looked smaller to me than it once did.

I then get to Bill and Sandy Myers where I will stay most of the time I'm here. I will also stay with my friend Joe Rhoderick. Joe and Sandy Weatherwax Myers were my classmates. I spend a great week with them and other friends reminiscing and visiting but that is another story for another time.

I ride the roads with friends and look at the places where people lived. Some houses remain but hardly anyone I knew still lives in the home I have their memory attached to. I go to old gyms where I played and realize that I am seeing the small towns the gyms are in for the first time. My only visits before were relegated to a bus ride, dark evenings and a basketball game. I visit Fairbanks where the gym and school are being renovated, and to Prairie Creek where the gym still stands and the owner of the property wants to maintain it. Sadly it will take thousands of dollars just to renovate it, let alone maintain it. I ask people why Indiana Historical Groups are not trying to save some of these old gyms as they are such a unique fact of Indiana's history. Haven't they seen "Hoosiers"?

For decades, including my time of the 1950's, a school was the social fabric of our Indiana small towns. The town was the lifeblood of the community, and then came consolidation and the loss of those gyms and a way of life. It was a time when an Indiana basketball coach was the most important and most tenuous teaching position in a school.

Thousands of good memories flood my mind as I entered and left those old buildings; cheerleaders and crowds and bands and competitions, the devastation of a loss to Jasonville and the thrill of beating them.

My time in Indiana goes quickly and soon the night of the reunion is a reality, Saturday, May 5. My 1960 class has the reunion at the Midland Volunteer Firehouse. The walls of the building are lined with class pictures and pictures of the basketball teams. The classmates arrive and it turns out to be a wonderful event. Some classmates attend for the first time. We haven't seen each other since graduation night May 24, 1960. We laugh and tell stories and then it ends all too quickly and they leave for the respective homes and lives. All seem to enjoy themselves and all vow to start attending future reunions. I think ... too late, my friends good, but far too late.

After I leave the reunion I play euchre until late that night, but my mind isn't on the game, it's on my classmates. On the things I learned about them from other classmates' stories and talking to them directly and now realizing how much we have individually changed. In growing up our first 17 or 18 years we had enormous commonalties. We went to the same school, listened to the same music (Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul Anka), read the same books, ate the same foods, hunted in the same woods, fell in and out of love, went to the same churches, and we enjoyed going to school.

Then we graduated and the commonalties turned quickly to the diversities of life. We went to different jobs in many places, married, divorced, had kids, learned first hand the horror of war, and some of us died far too soon.

Sunday, my last day in Midland, I went to Summerville Church where I had attended while growing up. There were 14 in attendance of which only two were young people. The church building looked the same except the pulpit was at the back of the church house instead of the front and the old stove that used to be on the floor at the back was gone.

The Midland of my youth was a wonderful time in place. As time moved, the place changed and as assuredly the difference of our lives and experiences changed us inexorably.

Yes, Thomas Wolfe, you were correct.

I could not go home again.


Kathy, my wife, known that I want a cup of my ashes to be thrown into the air on a windy day to disperse a part of me to where the Midland gym floor used to be.

Then on cold, clear nights, during Indiana basketball season, people driving S.R. 59 past the old Midland gym site and looking to the east will see a wisp of smoke shooting jump shots ... and I will be home again ... forever.

E-mails from old friends would be appreciated at sgregoryw@bellsouth.net.

Greg Smith

Vero Beach, Fla.