Flying over Central Illinois last week, I noted the patchwork quilt of farms, each square containing a notch of clustered buildings. This is where I grew up and except for the general lay of the land, my memories of Bloomington-Normal no longer match the present. The homes I lived in during my youth are still standing, but barely recognizable because they have been remodeled and encroached upon by other buildings. The wide-open space I remembered is gone. I can no longer find my way around. The town is overpopulated with restaurants and motels. It's not that I didn't expect things to change. While many of my classmates in high school and college stayed, I was happy to roam far away. Each year brought more change--in me and in this place that used to be my home.
The truth is I keep coming back to this place only because of my parents and the frayed memories that form the fabric of my being. My father and stepmother are nearly 90 and as endangered as my memories. My father is in a nursing home. This time when I went to visit, I figured he wouldn't recognize me and that all the memories that bound us together would be gone. He can no longer walk or feed himself. He has to be awoken for meals and medication. Fortunately, he managed to slip out of that Rip Van Winkle slumber of his for an hour and a half on the first day. He seemed to know who I was and could carry on a conversation. Most days he is speechless and befuddled. I am sad. I know I will be even sadder to let go of him, but I will always keep the memory of him as he was before old age and dementia began to wear him down. We was always the father I needed him to be.
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