I have flown to Illinois from California and California to Illinois about one million times in the last 20 years.
This last trip, I noticed I *sat* a little different in the airplane because I was on my home to pitch my business. My Business (OMIGOD).
Not to see folks – although I will and can’t wait. Not because someone died, or was born, or got married. But because I want to start my business. (it sounds so good in my mouth to say those words)
I have to tell you about my town. This town I want to open a store in.
First, I’ve had family living there for about forever. My Great-Grandma lived there. My Grandparents had a farm on the outskirts and then moved to town when my mom was in high school. I started living there when I was 3.
I probably loved it when I was little.
It has one main street. And a highway that runs through it. The center of the town is the main street and then if you go, oh, I don’t know, maybe about 2 miles any direction you quickly hit farm land. You can just about see one end of town from the other. There’s a lot there though – a jr. high and high school (I used to be a basketball cheerleader in jr. high. Shocker), a nice park, meat locker, post office, bank, couple of taverns, you get the picture.
Of course though you know I couldn’t wait to get out of Illinois. What 80’s rock ballad hasn’t covered the land of rural teen angst? Listen to one song by Poison, Def Leppard, or Skid Row and you know I hated my everything. My hometown was a town of about 900 people. And wow. Did I bag on it. I was so angry and resentful to be in this town. There was nothing to do. I was ALWAYS grounded.
Everybody seemed to know everybody and a story couldn’t be told until you figured out how the subject of the story was related to whomever was listening.
It seemed like all the food had a gelatin base.
I asked too many questions in general. I became a vegetarian (and my Pops took it personally). I smoked cigarettes in the cemetery. And my dad was the elementary principal. (super angst)
My immediate family did move away (to the “big” city 12 miles away – Galesburg) when I was 14, but truly my hometown was Woodhull.
And when I was 19…. I was OUT. As far west as you could go…. I moved to California.
The first few years were probably the most annoying of years of when I would come back and visit. Those were the years of “Oh. Look how cute it is that you all do things this way. In CALIFORNIA we do it this way.” Or the awesome (by which I mean NOT awesome) looks of disdain I would give my family if they (GASP!) busted out with some Cheez Whiz or something. Jokes about cow tipping were endless (although I never tipped a cow FYI)
I got a little older.
Time passed. People Died. Got Married. Had babies. I noticed how while I still wouldn’t put Cheez Whiz in my mouth, it was more important to spend some time with the people I loved no matter what they were eating, and loving them for who they were.
More time passed and I noticed how I never wanted to talk about how life was back in California compared to there. I just wanted to be there, playing cards with my grandma and drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee. Doesn’t matter how I live my life in CA, when I’m home, I just want to be home.
And then one day while walking past the local grocery store, which the building had been there for about a million years (or like 50. Whatever) I looked at the sad way it looked and thought “I want to open a grocery store. Here.”
And then I about promptly fell over as my everything inside of me said “ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING??? YOU LIVE IN CALIFORNIA. AND FOR GOD’S SAKE STEPHANIE. WE’RE TALKING WOODHULL ILLINOIS”
And I then I thought “Yep.”
That was a year and a half ago. For the first year I did nothing but dream about the store. I doodled a business plan. I became divorced from my sad marriage. I pursued a yoga teaching certification and kept busy in my chosen field of childbirth education. I learned how to ride a motorcycle. Then in August I was home again and the store was still as sad looking as ever. And I started making phone calls.
My parents thought I was crazy (which is slightly hilarious since I would argue that they never actually STOPPED thinking I was crazy.)
I made a couple of horrible I-sound-like-a-salesman phone calls (another slightly hilarious part of this journey)
And then last Thursday I got on a plane so that I could go talk to the board of trustees about doing all of this. They have a town meeting everyone month. I brought my Grandma with me (she still lives there) and after I spoke, she told me that she got a little teary watching me up at the podium, thinking about all the years my Pops had been on the board and how he would have been proud of me. (Oh GREAT. Now I’m getting a little teary. )
I feel like I should say I’m really scared. I’m not yet. Maybe once I sign a loan paper, or actually the contractors to renovate the building I will be. For right now though at this very moment, I feel like I HAVE make this happen. Not just because it’s the right thing and I know I’m on the right track… But because my Grandma is 86 and while I was visiting this time, she said she went from being a little dubious about this whole venture, to being excited. She’s already gathering together a card club that will want to meet every week at the back part of the store. I need to make this happen so she can see it herself. She believes in me and she loves that town. I’m going to give her something to be proud of.