The Liberty Gazette
August 16, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: “A mile of highway can take you a mile; but a mile of runway can take you anywhere.” That’s a phrase we often use because its message hits the bulls-eye. I recently had the great blessing to experience that not only can it take us anywhere, propelling us away from the earth, unveiling a vantage point that would have made the Egyptians halt their pyramid building, but a runway can also take us back.
On my latest return to my hometown of Indy I gathered up Mom and Sis and we headed for a special place: Mom’s hometown, Mattoon, Illinois. We could not have fit this trip into a weekend were it not for the runways dotting the landscape. Were it not for the ease of travel permitted by these strips of land that let us go anywhere, Mom, Barbara, and I would not have stood in front of the house at 915 Wabash Avenue (still a brick road) where Mom was born, to hear her stories of playing with her bulldog in the backyard, and her little legs hopping up and down the front porch steps.
Thanks to the runways here and there and many places in between, the three of us took this priceless trip down memory lane together. Mom’s recollection of moving day “to the big house”, at age three, the youngest of four children born within six years, made each moment come alive as we walked down the same roads, taking in the same neighborhood. She wasn’t allowed to ride with the big kids in the truck that moved their furniture a couple of blocks up and over to 1121 Charleston Avenue so she walked with the dog and the housekeeper, who she said were probably her best friends anyway. Her words created the picture I could envision of a toddler fascinated with walking atop rolled up room sized rugs and the adventure she would find getting lost in a century old mansion that was new to them.
The Mattoon and Coles County Historical Society, housed on the third floor of the Illinois Central train depot on Broadway Avenue, where Amtrak frequents today, helped open doors to more reminiscing. The beautiful old building (built 1917) presented itself to us proudly with its restored antique staircase of 10’ wide terrazzo stairs and ornamental metal and wood handrail, wood and metal ticket window, and the original benches of highly polished birch wood with 12’ backs. This, Mom said, was where she walked to greet her daddy every Friday evening when he rode the train home after a long week of work away, and where she would walk back to see him off again every Sunday evening. He was a chemist and inventor of all things railroad.
We found in the Historical Society a hidden gem of a surprise when one of the volunteers handed us a local high school yearbook of Mom’s senior year. As we turned pages to see photos of Mom in more clubs and activities than I could imagine having time for, we learned this book had belonged to one of her friends, Louise Owings, whose family owned the drug store. There, in Mom’s handwriting, was her farewell-best-wishes-happy-
A mile of runway can take us anywhere - even back in time where I can walk through my mom’s childhood now planted firmly in my soul.