The brilliant twinkling of innumerable lights creates a stark contrast against the dark, night sky. The radiance engulfs us, silhouetting towering buildings. Chicago beckons through the car windows as we hurtle past the bustling metropolis. And continue hurtling. In fact, the Windy City is now a streetlamp in the rearview mirror. The car continues driving us along to our true destination, Evansville, Wisconsin: the epitome of Small Town, USA.
Despite its lack of skyscrapers and city lights, there is no place I would rather be. There is something freeing about being in a humble farming community in the Midwest, especially for someone who comes from the endless desert and concrete jumble of Phoenix, Arizona. There’s an immediate feeling of community and history that effortlessly surrounds you in a small town, the kind of belonging that takes years to search out and build in an aloof and impersonal Big City. I can’t help but to look forward to our annual summer trip.
The next morning, we, my sister, mother, grandparents, and I, are once again driving. A brilliant sun illuminates the scenic landscape that was shrouded in darkness the night before. The multi-colored fields whirl by, waves of green and gold convincingly mimicking an ocean. Dilapidated barns paint the countryside a muddy red, while cemeteries offer rows of marble under overgrown shade trees. Like a Wisconsin postcard, we pass a boy walking a cow on a leash. You would never find that in the Big City. This Small Town is bursting with stories, like the ubiquitous cemeteries that beg to whisper their tales, or the boy casually walking his pet cow.
We arrive in front of one of the town’s lesser known stories: the Haunted Tunnel. The exact legend surrounding the tunnel is as obscure as its lighting, but everyone agrees that the Tunnel is Haunted. As we embark on the short trek to the Tunnel, I am amazed by the silence of nature. I can tell the Tunnel is approaching, the air cooling with every step. I turn around and start heading back the way we came. With unnaturally cool air, on a steaming summer day, in front of a haunted tunnel, turning around just seems like common sense. My mother grabs my arm and pulls me back in the direction of the tunnel.
Finally, we approach a weathered opening, covered with moss and ivy. But I don’t notice any of that. I’m far too distracted by the ominous fog coming out of the cave.
We are greeted by nothingness. The abandoned passage gives us all a sense of what it’s like to be blind, emitting not a single ray of light from the other end. I have to admit, the tunnel is frightening. There is an unfamiliar, high-pitched squeak that my mother suggests may be bats. I’m more convinced that it’s vengeful ghosts. But it all just adds to the charm, the intrigue, the feeling that really anything could happen away from the structured security of big city living.
We emerge from the other side of the Tunnel, out of the mist and cold. I realize already that it will make a great memory and an even better story. When we arrive back at my grandparents’ house, I climb the tree in the front yard, and think about how this isn’t just “Small Town, USA.” It’s history and community that links everyone together. And they celebrate it. Where else but in a Small Town could you find a cow on a leash or a Haunted Tunnel? No, to its inhabitants, this isn’t just some Small Town, “This is Evansville.”
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