I took a trip up to the nursing home in Flanagan on Sunday, where my mom lives. In case you’re wondering, she’s doing fine…thanks for asking. Anyway, I took my usual route, which is driving north on I-39, the former US 51. It’s a road I have travelled for many, many years…pretty much as long as I can remember. When I was young, growing up on the farm, my sister attended Illinois State University in Normal, and we would often go visit her. Plus there were many times we would go to Bloomington to have dinner, or to shop.
US 51 used to be a very busy two-lane highway, but was expanded to four lanes about 15 years ago. However, the road has always followed pretty much the same path…enough so that I feel like I know every bend in the road, every farmhouse, and every field. One of the things that always catches my eye when I travel that route is an abandoned farm about 5 miles north of Normal on the west side of the road. I remember that there used to be a large brick farmhouse there that looked really nice. Plus there was a barn and a concrete corn bin, surrounded by nice, mature trees. It looked like a really nice place to live.
Several years ago, so long that I can’t really remember when, the house burned to the ground.
Instead of rebuilding a home on the site, it was left alone, probably due to the highway expansion. I’m not even sure there is an easy way to get to it these days. The barn is gone as well, and the only thing standing is the concrete silo, and many of the trees, which are largely overgrown and unkept. The only other thing there is a 1964 Chevrolet Impala. I’m not sure how long it’s been there, but it has certainly become a fixture. The headlights are out, the hood has been removed and is just sitting on the front of the car, and all the windows are out.
I have a strange fascination with that car…so much so that I actually look for it every time I go by, no matter which side of the road I’m on. Like I said, I’m not sure how long the car has been there, but it seems like it’s been just about as long as the house has been gone…almost like the owners said, “well, the house is gone…might as well leave the car, too.” From the road, it looks like it was once a dark red, which was a popular color for that model. The chrome still appears to be in pretty decent shape, even though it has sat in the elements for several years.
Why does this old, abandoned vehicle get my attention? It’s crazy! There have been times when I’ve almost pulled over to the side of the road and climbed the fence to take a look at it. Or I’ve thought about stopping by the nearest farm to see if they farm that land, and asking if I can walk back and take a look at the car. Maybe it’s because I was always a car nut when I was a kid. My uncle used to junk cars to collect the metal, and many times he would give my brother and I some tools and tell us to take parts off the old vehicles, which was always a blast. It taught me a very valuable lesson in life…the only way to truly see how something is put together is to take it apart.
But as I drove by the abandoned ’64 Chevy on Sunday, something else hit me: maybe the reason I look for that old car every time I make a trip on that road is because it’s something that hasn’t changed in a world that’s full of change. Many times, while I’m travelling on I-39, I think about when it was a two-lane highway, and how I used to travel on it with my family years ago. I would travel the same road in high school, when I would go to Bloomington with my friends. I would travel it many more times after I moved to the Bloomington area whenever I would go back to my hometown to visit family and friends. I will travel that road again Christmas Day when I go back to Minonk to celebrate the holiday with relatives. There have been so many changes over the years, not only to that stretch of highway, but to my life…hell, to everyone’s life.
In the middle of all of that change, there is a 1964 Chevy that sits at an abandoned farm, surrounded by weeds in the summer, and snowdrifts in the winter. The day it came home from the dealership, it was someone’s pride and joy. Now it’s a constant reminder that very few things in life remain the same.