A ride through the rain, a beer at The Night Owl, & a start…

Through the dark and the rain, we started our trip north at the intersection of I-70 and US Highway 51. Again, I’d never had any occasion to have ever been on any portion of this road, so I had no concept of its significance at that time. Suffice it to say, it’s another long and historic route between Louisiana and the far reaches of Ironwood, Michigan. It basically cuts right up through the middle of Illinois, with several well-known—and many not-so-well-known—towns along the way: Carbondale, Centralia, Patoka, Vandalia, Ramsey, Oconee, Pana, Macon, Decatur, Bloomington-Normal…OK, you get the idea.

But as we traveled through the rainstorm, over unfamiliar highway, Dad and I had some pretty good conversation. All these years later, I can’t really remember much of what we said, but I have very good feelings of that trip that was just Dad and me! I may have forgotten a lot of what we talked about as we worked our way northward on US-51 through the stormy night, but I haven’t forgotten Dad saying that it was time for a beer and a burger when we approached the Night Owl Tavern on the outskirts of Macon an hour or so into our trip.

The warm and welcoming roadhouse had stood there on the bend on US-51 for many, many years, and this would be my first of many stops whenever I would travel home from southern Illinois. That first time, however, was just Dad and me. It was so good to relax and savor the greasy burger and fries and the icy long neck beer—I think it was a Schlitz—and begin to believe that everything would work out for my fledgling career. With so many miles yet to travel, regrettably, we couldn’t stay there too long, and we paid our bill and got back on the highway for home. Regardless of the quick stop at the Night Owl in Macon, Illinois, it will forever be a reminder of a special time shared between my dad and me—no one else!

The remainder of our drive took us on up to Bloomington-Normal, where we joined up with Route 66 on which we’d travel for many miles, paralleling the under-construction Interstate 55. I honestly don’t remember much of any of this portion of the return trip home as I’d finally given into the world of sleep. After all, it had been a long day, and even more than the physical state of tiredness, I was mentally drained.

When Dad gently shook me awake in our driveway at some ungodly hour, I woke up and thanked him for driving all that way and getting us home through the dark and stormy night. I will always hold his love and special care in my heart for that exceedingly long day traveling with me. Plus, he had to go to work at the usual early hour in just a short time. My love for my dad will never be diminished, and that event in my life was a prime reason.

As things in life tend to occur, this day turned out to be well worth all of the hours and miles that my dad and I spent driving to “get me that first teaching job.” A few days after arriving back home, and caught up with my sleep, I received a call from the Mulberry Grove principal who said that the Board of Education and Superintendent had been impressed with me and what I would bring to their school and offered me a job. At that very moment, I knew that everything was good and that I couldn’t wait to share the exciting news with my dad when he got home from his job. 

There was so much ahead of me now, but I’d at least gotten my foot in the door. My teaching career had some direction toward the starting line now, having travelled those famous highways.

Moment of truth: The interview…

And so it began!

The one-story school building had that “summer-cleaned-ready-to-start” look and smell, which I quickly picked up on the moment I scurried inside out of the downpour.

It was nighttime now, and the interior of the place was dark, with the exception of the small office directly ahead of me, and the library a couple of doors down. It wasn’t hard to figure out that this would be where the board meeting would be held, and the sound of voices from there confirmed this for me.

I didn’t have time to stand around and assess the situation, as a short, slightly balding man approached me from the school office. He smiled and introduced himself and said that he was glad I’d made it all the way from “up North.” He told me to make myself comfortable in his office until they were ready for me, and he’d come get me when they were.

Like waiting in a doctor’s office, a million thoughts coursed through my mind as the minutes seemed to plod on like molasses. Finally, the principal came and got me, and we headed the short distance to the library where the superintendent and the entire board of education were seated around a couple of long tables in the center of the room. In front of them was a single chair, no doubt for me to sit in and perform to the best of my ability, if I wanted to secure a teaching position—my first—in their school. And as I managed to put on a “happy” face and look relaxed (I was anything but), I eased myself into the chair and took a couple of deep breaths, all the while noticing that each member seemed to be studying me very closely. A few friendly nods of heads were extended my way, but most were stoic, serious demeanors.

I don’t recall after all these years exactly how long the interview lasted, but it seemed as though it was much longer than it really was. Throughout the whole ordeal, I could hear the rain pounding unmercifully on the roof, which made hearing difficult. When the interview had come to a close, and I was still a functioning human, I had a pretty positive feeling about it all. I seemed to have handled all of their questions–unexpected ones as well as the “usual” type. If nothing else, I had gained a valuable bit of experience in the interviewing process—and with the whole school board, superintendent, and principal, to boot! 

Afterwards, the principal told me that he thought I’d done well and that the board seemed to be impressed. Of course there were other candidates to interview in the days ahead, but I could expect to hear from him—one way or another—by the first of the next week. He wished me luck and reminded me to travel back home safely that night. 

And so, I returned to the car where dad was waiting, and the rain had eased up a bit. I gave a quick rundown of all that had taken place and how I felt about things. I knew I’d spend many miles on the ride ahead, rolling things over in my mind of how I could have done better, and I was awfully glad that my dad was with me on that dark and stormy night.

But now, we needed to get ourselves northbound, as it would be very late when we got home to Western Springs. Without further delay, we pulled out of the school parking lot and turned back to the interstate to head a short distance eastward to Vandalia where we’d connect with another old and famous highway to begin our travel north.

Until next time…

Getting our bearings & finding the school

iu-2
mgschools.com

After a more deliberate drive around the small town of Mulberry Grove that didn’t seem to have much life to it, we did come upon the junior/senior high school, a low buff brick building that appeared to be well tended to and very pleasant looking. Just seeing this nice-looking school, I felt so much better and slowly began to look forward to my upcoming interview there in a few hours from now.

Dad and I found our way back out to the main intersection where the small gas station/restaurant was located. We discovered that we could get something to eat here, but since there was still plenty of time to “kill” before I had to be at the school for the board meeting that evening, we decided to see if there was anything outside of Mulberry Grove where we might eat and do a little exploring.

An elderly gent behind the counter of the service station told us we could either go west about five miles to Greenville or back east about the same distance to Vandalia. We decided to see what Greenville had to offer.

As I wrote previously, this was totally foreign territory to me, so it would be good to get a feel for the lay of the land. Greenville, a much larger town than Mulberry Grove, had a college and a lovely town square with various businesses on all sides. We leisurely drove through many residential neighborhoods, always ending up back at the town square.

In a while we came upon a restaurant that specialized in chicken dinners, and we could go inside to relax and eat. We both agreed that it was good to be out of the car for a while. I can still recall the hot chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and corn and cold iced tea that Dad and I enjoyed on that long-ago afternoon.

The day had certainly been long and tiring, and we both felt rejuvenated after the southern Illinois-style meal. We must have spent well over an hour and a half in the restaurant, eating, chatting, and pondering what might lie ahead that day and night. Dad, in his special way, managed to encourage and calm me in preparation for the upcoming interview. Once again, I realized just how glad I was that he was along with me.

Before we realized it, the sun had given way to heavy and dark clouds that hung low overhead. The typical summer humidity in southern Illinois seemed to intensify. The rain that had been in the area early in the day seemed to be bent on returning. Distant thunder rolled off in the west. Without a doubt, a storm was imminent for that evening.

I had one special task yet to do before heading to the school that evening. I needed to change back into my shirt and tie and sport coat that I’d worn to the morning’s interview in Munster. Thankfully, I’d been able to change out of that outfit at a rest area facility on our way south. We returned to the gas station/restaurant on Mulberry Grove’s outskirts and I used the tiny men’s room there and finagled my way into my “interview outfit” once again. Fortunately, I’d brought my shaving kit along and was able to have a quick shave and also to brush my teeth. 

After changing clothes and freshening up, I was ready to wend my way to the school. Of course, my stomach was turning circles and my nerves were working overtime as I anticipated the various questions that would be thrown my way later. And to add to the mystery of things, the imminent storm had arrived and a steady and unrelenting rain hammered down.

Dad and I sat in the school parking lot for an interminable length of time, relaxing as the rain poured relentlessly. Once again, I hoped that this gloomy monsoon was not a harbinger of things to come, since I would be going inside shortly, and I closed my eyes and thought a million thoughts, waiting for any kind of easement of the storm so I could go inside. Dad would wait for me in the car, and he wished me luck one more time, and I quickly opened the door and made a mad dash through the rain and on into an unfamiliar school!

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…