The black hole of content from August of 2016 to April of 2017 — when I jumped forward to blog the summer of 2017 as it was happening — have been haunting me. I’m so excited the time has finally come for me to catch up on them! I can’t wait to turn my detailed notes and journals into blog posts from Canada, the United Kingdom, Hawaii, Thailand and Bali! But first, a few final briefings from the continental US, picking up where I left off with my August 2016 trip to Illinois…
My apologies for any confusion with the timeline, and thanks for sticking with me!
I was born and raised in the capital of New York, and moved to its biggest city just about the first moment I was able when I was seventeen. I kicked off life as a big city loving, East Coast girl. But tracing back my family tree, the roots are all Midwestern. And there’s always something special about going back to your roots.
Both my parents were born and raised in Illinois, though they didn’t meet until much later, when they’d both made their way to New York City. Though we didn’t have the weekly extended family dinners many of my friends had growing up, we did our best to be close-knit from across the country, with both grandmas frequently coming to visit us in New York and us making annual visits out to see them, too.
Today, my grandma, my mom’s two brothers, and one of my cousins all still live in Decatur. After an embarrassing six years without making the trek out there, I realized I had to make regular visits a top priority again. (A promise I made good on in 2017!) The summer hit Decatur Celebration was the perfect event to plan around.
It doesn’t matter how old you are or how many years its been — there’s some serious nostalgia involved in going to grandma’s house.
Hours spent playing outside as a kid came flooding back as I regaled my gram with my new inversion practice on the front lawn. Even my mom got in on the fun.
For this brief three night, four day trip, it was pretty much all about family.
Over a year later, my favorite memories are of the whole family piled into the living room on every sofa, chair and floor space, just laughing and swapping stories and catching up on life while my grandma does what grandmas do and frets that we don’t have enough snacks.
One afternoon, my mom and I drove over to my Uncle Dave’s house to see the transformation that had taken place since my new Aunt Laura, his then-fianceé, now-new-wife, moved in. As two of Laura’s biggest fans, we could not have been more excited about this development, and were so happy seeing all the work and love they put into their home.
And then, there’s the garage. My Uncle Dave is a big kid at heart, which made him just about the most fun uncle two crazy kids could have asked for growing up. My sister and I have long mused over the origins of our childhood nickname for him, “Uncle Gerbil Head,” and though we can’t recall them, I’m certain there’s a good story in there as well as hours of giggles. Uncle Dave/Gerbil Head has, since long before I entered the world, had an obsessive love for all things Coca Cola, and has amassed a collection of memorabilia that would make an collector swoon in the process. While a permanent museum home for it all is in the works someday in the future, I love getting a private tour of all his favorites when I’m around.
And this trip, my new Aunt Laura had a tour of her own to give — of her adorable new glamper! In spite of recent debacles, I’ve become somewhat of a camper enthusiast over the years, and so I was just about drooling with envy as Laura showed off the camper van she’d bought second hand and spiffed up in her signature Victorian style.
I can’t wait to hear about all the adventures they take this little camper on!
And then it was on to the show! Decatur Celebration is an enormous three day event that takes over Decatur every summer and attracts a reported tens of thousands of visitors from across Central Illinois.
It’s part parade, part concert, part carnival, part county fair — and it’s pure summer fun. My mom and I hustled downtown the first morning to try to score a spot at the, I swear I am not making this up, Razzle Dazzle Goodtimes Parade. Despite showing up late it was easy to get a front row seat, and we smiled the whole way through at the show of classic Americana that felt like it was from another era.
We spent the rest of the weekend catching up with family and Kirsten’s friends, exploring the fair grounds, checking out different stages, hopping on carnival rides we couldn’t resist, and of course, eating fair food. While we didn’t catch the Adorable Baby Contest or the Hot Dog Eating Competition or the Miss Illinois Festival Pageant, it made me happy knowing they existed.
I always love supporting the artists who come out to community events like these and was thrilled by the selection of arts and crafts vendors, snapping up several travel-related prints from one of my favorites.
Much of Decatur Celebration is centered around music, and they’ve attracted some pretty big name stars over the years, household names like Nelly, Bret Michaels, Lonestar, Vanilla Ice, Salt-N-Pepa, and my personal favorite Joan Jett. For Decatur Celebration 2016, the artist Kirst and I were most excited to see was Jonathan Jackson from Nashville.
As mega-fans of the show, we were practically giddy at the idea of seeing Avery live and in person. However, we didn’t quite stop to consider that, um, Jonathan Jackson is not Avery and the two might have a touch different taste in music. While we didn’t love what we dubbed the “yelling rock n roll” genre he was playing here, we are still Avery fans #4life.
My only sadness? That I didn’t learn about this Wine Garden until the last day, when it was too late! Looks like I’ll have to return for another Decatur Celebration soon.
As usual, one of my favorite parts of my trip to Illinois was not some big attraction or exciting activity but actually the normally mundane act of riding in the car. That’s when my cousin and I get some of our best talking done, and this time we had my mom riding shotgun to make it even better. I was loving our drive out of Decatur, staring at the cornfields and imagining my mom out there detassling as a teen, when I requested we pull over for one last photoshoot.
After all, it’s not nearly often enough that I get both these two together in one place — especially in their own hometown. Kirsten’s shirt says it all!
I know, places like Decatur and Tampa might not be the most exotic or far flung or enthralling destinations that I blog about, but they are important places in the fabric of my childhood and my memories, and I hope you don’t mind me sharing a little piece of my past with you.
Next stop, back to the East Coast before jetting up to Newfoundland!