Twenty years ago Rob and I moved from the South Side of Chicago to the middle of corn on the cob land Indiana. We had lived in Chicago our whole lives–my time in college right in the middle of downtown. We loved the city. We loved driving from the suburbs on a Friday night just to visit one of our favorite ice cream places downtown. We loved to go to the zoos and walk down Oak Street Beach. We even made an appearance on an early airing of the Oprah show (well, we were audience members in the very back row, but our faces were visible on T.V. for 3.5 seconds, so it counts, right?)
Immediately after Rob graduated from college in 1992, he began working for Granger Community Church. At the time, we met in a movie theater just between Main St. and Grape Rd. Only there was no Main St. at the time. There was also no Starbucks, Walmart, Target, Fridays, or Uptown Kitchen. I do believe there was a Ryans, and a Chili’s–no Meijer, Barnes and Noble or Five Guys.
But, there were endless fields and wide open skies everywhere we looked. And we liked it.
A Move to The Wide Open
In our years of South Suburban living, we were Cubs and Sox fans–an issue that still divides us today. Rob has always been a White Sox fan, me, a true blue Cubs fan. We both pulled for the Bears, the Bulls and occasionally the Black Hawks. We attended a few of our own high school basketball games. We never watched college football or watched high school basketball on T.V. I’ll never forget turning on our 16 inch T.V. propped up on a milk crate in our first apartment and seeing high school basketball airing. I was dumbfounded.
Growing up in a big city, no one in our circles of influence talked high school or college sports. No one. Unless you were the one in the sport or their close family member–It was all about the local teams. The worship of high school and college sports in our new home town was something completely foreign to us.
My high school was multi-ethnic, multi-racial, full of students and teachers from every socioeconomic place you could imagine. I had friends who were very rich, and extremely poor. My first impression of Granger was that the women looked like they had just walked off the set of a soap opera and the men from the golf course. When I went to the grocery store, I was shocked to see women in high heels with perfect make-up pushing shopping carts adorned with perfectly made up children. This was different.
What surprised me the most in moving to this sprouting metropolis was the friendliness of people wherever I’d find myself. People would look me in the eye, talk for a minute or two–just chat to be nice. This was so odd and unfamiliar to me. Where I grew up, you walked in a place, kept your head down, got what you needed and left as quickly as possible. This new friendliness intrigued me. It still does.
I was nineteen turning twenty and my whole world changed by planting ourselves only 90 minutes away from home.
Watching it Grow
Living in this community at first, I realized that no one was “from” here. Well, a very few…but it seemed as if everyone was from somewhere else. In Chicago, our family had come off the boat from Holland some 150 years ago, settled on the South Side of Chicago and never left. Everyone we knew was “from” Chicago with very few exceptions. People who lived in Michiana were mostly not from Michiana. They had pulled up roots from somewhere else to move to this born from the corn-on-the-cob land Indiana, just like us.
In our first five years here, the community around us began to sprout up quickly. More and more families moved here. It seemed as if every time we turned around there was a new housing development being built, and the next time we turned around, it was full of bikes, baby strollers and people mowing lawns.
New streets were paved and a new restaurant or grocery store went up every other day. The rapid pace of growth and change was exhilarating for everybody. New schools were built for all the new families. New subdivisions erased traces of old farms, fields, and endless skies. We threw away countless irrelevant street maps every year as the community grew and changed. (Young people, note this was before GPS–we did actually have to use street maps to get around)
Calling It Home
With the economy slowing down a bit (mild exaggeration, I know) in the past few years, we’ve seen the progress around us slow as well. Some of those shiny new shops and restaurants we saw go up so quickly are now boarded up, sitting empty, or have shifted ownership a few times. It hurt to see those around us hurt from this big slow down. It was around this time I realized I had become attached to this community–I had become a Hoosier.
Our newly shared history as a community is something we know we all have built and grown with dreams and hard work. We are proud of it, and we should be. The longer I live here, the longer I love the history of this place and the now-reality of it. I look at the schools my girls have had the privilege to attend. I see their teachers smiling at them, cheering for them, expecting their best, and I am thankful.
A Part of The Dream
The barns I drove past twenty years ago are aging as every rough Michiana winter passes. I have become obsessed with photographing these old barns, hoping to preserve some of their beauty and history in film. One of the barns I photographed last autumn is now laying in a shambles, crumbled under its own rotting weight. I hope the photos will tell the story of what once was and how these fields changed and grew into what so many of us now call home.
I took my girls for a drive down Main Street in Mishawaka yesterday. I told them, “None of this was here when your dad and I came. It was all a field of dreams.” Of course they rolled their eyes at my sentimentality. But it was worth it.
Those endless fields have now been filled with men, women and children with hopes and dreams of their own. I’m glad we planted ourselves here twenty years ago. I still don’t wear high heels to the grocery store, but I do have a sort of growing affection for high school and college sports,
but definitely never the White Sox.
This article appears in the October 2012 issue of Michiana FAMILY magazine, which in my opinion is a part of the field of dreams as well.