Iconic roads & parts unknown…

 ( In my previous post, I wrote of my attempts to land my first teaching job. The story continues here.)

My dad, God rest his soul, offered to take a day off from his work and spend the day with me visiting Munster, Indiana, and then down through “parts unknown” to the Mulberry Grove, Illinois, School Board meeting that same night!

And that’s exactly how it went, on what turned out to be a very memorable and important day and night in my life. As for the morning interview at the Munster school, I never heard from them again afterwards—although the experience seemed positive, unlike my first one a few weeks before. I didn’t have time to stew about anything since we had a long trip ahead of us in order to reach the 7:00  p.m. school board meeting that night.

While I’d been with the Munster High School principal, Dad had planned out the route we’d take to get to Mulberry Grove. The closest and most convenient route from where we were at the moment was US Highway 41, at one time the major route between Copper Harbor, Michigan, and Miami, Florida. Of course, it would later be replaced by Interstate slabs, but at the time, Highway 41 would serve us well, getting us to Terre Haute and I-70, where we’d turn west to get to the town of Mulberry Grove way down in Bond County in south central Illinois.

With the Munster interview finished, we set out on the next leg of our “job interview” adventure, southbound on Indianapolis Avenue—U.S. Highway 41—through a drizzly, dreary July morning. Dad drove; I sat back and closed my eyes, pondering what lay ahead miles down the road, hoping that the rain that had set in that morning, as we made our way south, was not a harbinger of things to come.

Down through the rural Hoosier land we travelled. I dozed, off and on, and finally was fully alert and awake by the time we reached Terre Haute a couple of hours later. At this point, we’d leave one of the nation’s old, iconic roads and hop on I-70 and travel west. Being the first time that I’d ever been in this portion of either Indiana or, soon, Illinois, the surroundings took on a rather new and special meaning for me. It was my first introduction into south central Midwest. I had only heard or read about many of the towns and places we came upon.

Before too many more miles clicked off, Dad stopped for gas and a “necessary” visit to the facilities. Afterwards, I took over driving so Dad could nap a bit. If all went as expected, we would be in the Mulberry Grove area by mid-afternoon in plenty of time for that night’s meeting.

Of course, I had no idea that the Interstate on which we were driving was the replacement for another famous highway, U.S. 40—The National Road. As I later learned, the majority of its route through Illinois, follows this road. However, on this day I wasn’t at all concerned about any of that; my focus was on getting to the school board meeting on time that evening. Eventually, I’d appreciate the historic importance of these roads I journeyed on at the moment.

As we neared our destination in early afternoon, the rain had abated, leaving a hot and humid day in its wake. Dad and I were both eager to exit I-70, and the large, green sign couldn’t have appeared ahead at a better time! 

“Mulberry Grove Next Exit”

As I slowed the car to leave I-70, Dad said, “Well, we made it with plenty to spare. I think we need to find somewhere to grab a bite.” Although I was in complete agreement, that was easier said than done, since we had no way of knowing where anything was–or, if there were any restaurants nearby.

On first driving into Mulberry Grove, I read the sign that indicated that the town was comprised of 700 people. As it turned out, there was a gas station/restaurant just outside the town, which seemed to be the center of any activity. We took a quick drive through the town–didn’t take long!–and I had a rather sinking feeling in my stomach. What a difference from the hustle and bustle of the world we’d left up north that morning! Two words came to mind: Tired & Worn.

I now had thoughts of turning the car around and finding the closest road running north and forgetting this whole idea of going through with an interview in an unfamiliar area in front of total strangers. Dad had a feeling that I was thinking this, and he broke the spell and calmed my churning insides: “You’ll feel better after you relax and get something to eat. You’ve come this far, and you’ll do well.”

Although I was inclined to think that Dad was just trying to put me at ease, I agreed to give it a chance and to get myself ready for the upcoming interview that night. Besides, I was hungry, and we needed to find some place that offered a decent meal. And so that was our next objective!

Until next time…

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