Labor Day

What a strange new world. A flight across the Atlantic brought me to the afternoon bustle of the city of Chicago, with my dad and my brother driving up to Terminal 5 at O’Hare, waving at me (and I at them) from the front seats of Paul’s sea green Prius (dad texted me beforehand: keep your eye out for a sea green Prius). We drove down that wide expanse of highway, past the billboards and the hotels and the Tiki Bar with its blinking lights on the road to Oak Park. We drove past the candy factory and the schools and along the overgrown banks of the Des Plaines River, past one car whose license plate read: I AM LOUD, and he proceeded to rev his engine and vroom down the road, noisy as could be.

I was surprised at first to find that none of it was, actually, surprising. The usual culture shock that comes with setting your feet back down on the solid ground of home can last several days , something you have to slowly ease into, or else it can be jarring and immediate, with that momentary consideration: my bags are already packed — back to the airport I go! But here, and in the days that followed, none of that applied. It felt normal taking the highway from Chicago to Indianapolis. Normal seeing the skyscrapers in the distance — Indy’s cityscape — like I’d seen it everyday for years and years, and not just this one. It felt normal getting into the car with my friend Corrie (finally!) and passing by all of the houses, through the neighborhoods with their lawns and their flags, all the way up to downtown Indy in the middle of the afternoon.

Or maybe there were some surprises still to greet me. I’d forgotten what September in Indy was like. I’d forgotten the breeze, and the rain storms. The muggy afternoons. The squirrels that you see out of the corner of your eye, scampering up a tree with their tails all bushy and curved into a question mark. We met up with friends on Sunday night, and I found the strangest thing to be the CoVid situation in Indy — the rules on masks no longer apply, and people can walk freely through the mall without hesitation, picking up dinner plates at Crate and Barrel without even attempting to don a mask. Italy is still too deeply ingrained in me so that I always have my mask wrapped around my elbow just in case. When Corrie and I stopped for lunch at a local favorite, I was in awe at the crowds, the maskless faces all standing in a line, and I said just as much. But alas, another thing you forget is that everyone else speaks English too, and shouting about mask rules in the middle of a crowded cafeteria gets you stares and glances, and confusion (was I muffled enough that no one could hear me?). Corrie and I paid for our meals and hurried off to the back of the restaurant, to eat our potato pancakes and stuffed deviled eggs in peace.

On Labor Day, dad and I drove out to the outlet malls in the countryside: this mecca of shopping in the middle of nowhere, and we spent the morning zig zagging our way around other shoppers, wondering how it was that so many people were out. Some of the stores were full, and at others there were slim pickings, racks of clothing that seemed rummaged through, picked over, left from sales and the rest of these years gone by. I don’t know if my mind was searching for signs of how this past year and a half had changed everything, or if it was real, but I could sense it anyway — two years had changed things, at least for me. And in downtown Indy later, I was surprised to find shops closed and no one out in the streets, and I wondered where they were. Maybe I’ve forgotten labor day entirely, or what we did back then. Were there barbecues? Pool parties? Or were we just sitting on the porch swings, watching summer slowly come to an end?

Back in Indy, I drove down familiar streets, past the mural of Reggie Miller, past the Murat Temple with is crescent moon spire. In the middle of the city, there are places that I remember in a very real way — the church where I once sang as a chorister, where we would go every Wednesday (for practice) and Sunday (for the service) with the entire family. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument that Antonello and I took the elevator to the top of on his first visit to Indy, and we gazed out at the city together, as if for the very first time. And the brick paved streets themselves — here on Monument circle — that as a child I would peer down at, some of them with names written on them, and I would whisper the names to myself, like each one held a memory to be conjured up and shared.

I didn’t have much time. Dad and Marilyn were waiting for me for dinner, but I just wanted to see it all again. I walked through the park, past the fountain that was being repaired, past the tiny copper statues of Pan and Syrinx that had been stolen and replaced a thousand times, a sort of running prank in downtown Indy. Who else was out visiting Indianapolis? Not many of us, and what was left of Labor Day felt silent and still, like the way you’d look at pieces at a museum, all on display, stopping at each one just for a moment and then moving right past. I looked up at the buildings, places that I’d never really paid attention to before, cornices and windows and the golden light of sun at this hour, hitting the glass just so. I smiled. Here was Indianapolis, pretty as a picture.

I looked at my watch. It was late. Dinner was in fifteen minutes and I still had to make my way home. But I wanted to see the circle! I’d come all this way! I decided to try to do it, but quickly — just a moment or two, and I jetted off in that direction, leaving my car behind, across two streets and two full city blocks. Past the post office with its stone cut friezes and fancy columns, all lined up. Here were those brick paved roads again. Here were the lights of downtown. Here was the rest of Indianapolis, the monument in the middle of the circle, with its obelisk and fountains and stairs that I’d walked down, many times.

I stopped before the circle, at my childhood church. I didn’t have time to go in (the doors were closed right anyway), but I got up close. I reached a hand out to touch the cool stone, and I looked up at the stain glass windows above — an angel in the middle, her arms up, rejoicing. I could feel it. It was all of my memories all at once, the choir stalls and the stain glass and the bell tower ringing out. I looked back one more time, and then I started for the car. Isn’t it funny though? With all of the museums, all of the art, all of the days spent chasing down the paintings and sculptures and churches of Italy, perhaps this was it. This here, Indianapolis in these few stolen moments, was the most beautiful site of all.

Today I’m listening to: Be Sweet by Japanese Breakfast.

And I’m thinking of those who lost their lives on September 11th, 20 years ago.

Published by Jackie in Italy

I'm living in Le Marche Italy. It's 2020 and we're all on lockdown (update: still blogging even though lockdown is over). Welcome to my blog.

2 thoughts on “Labor Day

  1. I’m so confused about the mask rules. I don’t think most politicians want to enforce mandates anymore, even though I think it is for the greater good. I guess they are leaving it up to the individual. I’m wearing mine as I don’t care to take any chances!
    I know your trip is a quick one, but hope it fulfills you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A trip so short but so sweet — sooooo good to see you, Bella! All of us in Indy (even the old folks in line at Shapiro’s) miss you! ❤️

    Like

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