Thinking about the map I followed in my life’s journey

Sometimes it’s important to be there. Again.

Because we all have spots – locations – that speak to us.

They vary in size: countries, states, towns, home addresses, even a space in your house.

They speak to us. Whispering memories. Beckoning. So every now and then it seems important to go there. Be there.

Stand there. To make a statement. Mostly to yourself. To offer personal testimony to time.

“I was here,” I announce. And being here was important and I want to feel that again.

I’m a Midwesterner. Born and raised in Illinois. More specific Northern Illinois. Mostly smaller towns, even though I was born in Chicago.

Lonny Cain

The pins in my map of life include Elburn, Sandwich, Genoa, Hampshire, Aurora, North Aurora, DeKalb, Sycamore, Millington, Rockford, Joliet, Braidwood and for many years Ottawa.

These towns and rural routes that connect many of them affected my youth, my education and my career.

I have my favorites.

Over the years I’ve been to DeKalb many times. It’s a time travel every visit. It’s where I discovered journalism and purpose and a lot about myself.

Much of that took place in a specific building on the Northern Illinois University campus.

Each time I’d visit the campus I’d stop by that building, pull into its lot to hear the grind of the gravel again. The beauty of the surrounding lagoon and ripple of the nearby Kishwaukee River seemed constant and permanent.

I’d step out, walk about, and stare into the huge, vacant windows that absorbed the view around.

I could “see” inside and “hear” the rush and crush of the student newspaper on deadline. And the amazing talent that made it all happen. I was part of that and when that building was torn down it was painful.

I will be back in DeKalb this week, on campus for a journalism event. Old-timers have been invited and some of that amazing talent will be there.

Still, I will make time to walk down to that special spot again. Just to be there. Stand there. Even thought it’s an empty grassy area now. A flood of memories will remind me I have much to be grateful for.

I’ve made similar pilgrimages to where I grew up in North Aurora and survived the bulk of my basic schooling.

I drive the old neighborhood where trees have become a salute to time. I park and walk “my” street, knowing there are curious eyes likely watching me carefully.

I hope someone asks me what I am doing. I want to tell them I used to live here.

I remember walking the street at night. After a rain. Enjoying the cool dampness but drenched only in my own teen thoughts.

The start of summer break each year released a small herd of bikes pedaling here and there and everywhere. Following the ice cream truck or the truck spewing fog to kill mosquitoes. The connected backyards were a playground.

And my house. Still there. Still my house … in memory.

Yeah, this is what I do sometimes. Just to be there. Again.

And push that pin a little deeper into the map one more time.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is lonnyjcain@gmail.com. Or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.