Monday, April 1, 2024

My recent trip was magical

Most people like to travel, often thrilled to get away from it all. I do not; I am a home body. My interests and therefore my life, revolves around things I like to do at home, like quilting, tending to my plants, watching birds, and caring for my cats. Nothing makes me happier than the little comfortable niche I have carved out for myself here in Arkansas where I find joy in the small, simple things. I just like looking out the window. It is beautiful here and the pace is slow.

But recently I decided it was time to go home again, to visit my mother who just turned 95, and to see my son and his family, to bond with my grandkids. Never mind the cost. Never mind the anxiety, fear of flying, reluctance for an old lady to travel alone, not to mention my completely non-existent spirit of adventure. It was time and I recognized that.

Despite years of hearing my loved ones clamoring for me to come home to visit, I was steadfast. I don’t travel. But, like a switch went off in my head, I decided it was time. I even started to get a little bit excited, so I booked a flight to O’Hare Airport. When I told my friends and family I was coming, they probably thought I was kidding and would back out at the last minute. I had no intention of doing that. I had made up my mind. It was just a matter of doing a little planning, making some lists, and getting organized—all things I try not to do—in my carefree, retired life.

The last time I was on vacation was in 1997 when my late husband John, who was getting ready to retire, decided we needed to take a trip to Arkansas to meet up with his friend Paul. Paul’s father lived in Jasper, AR. He rode his motorcycle here and he told us we had to see this place. He almost sounded like a vacation planner when he described the area around Bull Shoals Lake, a place I had never heard of at the time. But we felt it too because we kept coming back year after year until 2005 when we moved here.

I haven’t been on an airplane since 1974, when my mother and I visited my grandmother in San Antonio. Grandma was ill and we knew we would probably never see her again. We are both so glad we made that trip.

This was not just a visit with family and friends, but I am thankful it was that too. For me, this trip was so much more.

I decided I didn’t want to make a 9 hour drive. So, when I decided to fly, I didn’t hesitate. I wanted to land at O’Hare. Thankfully, my son Chris offered to pick me up.

In many ways, aviation has paralleled my life. As a child, I remember O’Hare, housing Air Force personnel before it was a commercial airfield. Chicago’s Midway Airport was then the busiest airport in the world. When I was a little older, my parents moved from Chicago to just a few miles from O’Hare, I watched O’Hare grow as we entered into the jet age. And then as an adult and young mother, I advocated for O’Hare expansion over building a third airport in the cornfields between Beecher and Peotone. John and I lived in Beecher for 28 years where we raised our family.

There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to land and take off from O’Hare. After 20 years of fighting for it, I have and always will feel a fondness for the place. I was not disappointed. It was an absolute thrill – magical even.

To land at O’Hare and get picked up by one of the people I love most in the world – my son Chris –was a moment I will never forget.

I so enjoyed spending time with Chris, his wife, as well as my two grandkids. They are pretty grown up now and I am just so proud of the people they have become. It warmed my heart to see the love of this family, in their beautiful home and to get a glimpse of the life they live. It was indeed magical. I have missed so much, being so far away, but I believe regrets serve no purpose. These days, I live for the moment, and I will cherish these moments for the rest of my life.

I married into a wonderful family. John’s sisters and brothers-in-law, both named John, are like my own sisters and brothers. And at the same time, they are also friends. Betty and John used to live here in Arkansas, so when she and her husband moved back to Illinois, I thought I would never see them again. I was so touched that they traveled hours from their new home just to see me. Being with them felt like the most natural thing in the world.

I spent an entire day with Jean, John’s other sister. I got to see where she lives and works. It was wonderful to see places I’d only visualized during our phone conversations. Spending time with family during this trip was indeed magical.

It was good to visit my mother, who has never looked her age. She is in decent health and for the most part takes care of herself. Going back to your childhood home always seems smaller than we remember.

Her caregiver is one of my old friends, who for a time was my sister-in-law. I haven’t seen her in probably 40 years. She threw the birthday party for my mother which is the event that set my trip in motion. Just being with Patty again melted away countless years in my mind. I felt like a teenager again. Tell me that isn’t magical!

I was also able to see two of my first cousins and two of their daughters. It has been so many years since we were able to just sit down and talk. No wedding or funeral, just a good time getting together the way we used to when we were kids at family parties put together by Grandma and Grandpa, the glue that held families together back then. Who doesn’t miss those days? We talked about current goings on, but mostly reminisced about the good ole days. The feeling of being a kid again was pure magic.

And then there were two of my dear friends – those people with whom you share such a special bond – one that stands the test of time, people you rely on to help you get through the hard times, the people you tell your secrets to, and share your hopes and dreams with. I haven’t seen Sherri in 30 years, but once we stopped crying and hugging, it was like I saw her yesterday. There is no other way to describe it than pure magic.

One day my friend Michelle, my partner in our battle to fight the State of Illinois’ plan to build a Peotone Airport, came to see me. We worked so well together for so many years. I call her my friend in the foxhole, since we shared such a tumultuous time together, each of us having the other’s back. When we got together, we talked, and laughed, and cried, and hugged as we reminisced about some of the things we did, the places we went, and people we knew. Our relationship was always like magic as we defeated, at least for the last 20 years, the effort to build that unneeded, unwanted airport in the beautiful cornfields near Peotone.

As I traversed those farm fields, I couldn’t help but think about the countless stories I had written for the newspaper, the people who are no longer with us, the busy life I led when I lived there, and how different things are these days. This place was as much a home to me as the place I now live. It was so familiar. And as I thought about it all, more memories came flooding back. I was a part of this community and I left it behind, with no regrets. I love my home in Arkansas, but I will always be connected to my home in Illinois.

And then for the final magical moment of my trip

As I was waiting to board the plane for my flight home, I thought I saw someone I recognized, a friend from Arkansas. I really don’t know lots of people in Arkansas, so what are the odds that I would be in Chicago with a friend from Arkansas. But sure enough, as I got to my seat, there was Heather, one of the first people I got to know here. I couldn’t believe it. We sat next to one another on the flight home. When we got off the plane, her husband John was waiting for her. More hugs ensued.

It really was a magical trip.


  1. Sounds like a beautiful trip with lots of people, fun, and memories to hold dear. I wish I could have been part of it. I often think how much I would love to see your Mom and Patty and others in Chicago. Proud of you for doing what you wanted to do without fear of traveling. love and hugs, Carol.

  2. Doesn't happen often, but the sheer joy you shared brought me to tears. I am truly happy you did this, and hope you do it again. Maybe a but longer visit next time, and I would be thrilled to come and see you. Thanks for sharing! 💕💕

  3. What a great story Carol. So glad you got to make the trip. Sounds like a truly magical week that you had. Glad I was able to share a small portion of the week with you. Just happy to touch base after all these years. Love you Cuz.🙏🏻🤗🤗💐


Please comment, I'd love to hear from you.