If someone had asked me a week ago what I miss most about the midwestern United States, my list (excluding family and friends) likely would have included Target, Fannie Mae chocolates, after-Christmas sales, big slabs of red meat, front porches and back yards, and the changing seasons.
But it seems I might have been wrong.
I’ve been back in Southern Illinois for a week now and, judging by where I went and what I searched out in my first days here, what I miss most is gas station hot dogs, Ruffles Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips, and thrift stores.
Don’t get me wrong. I miss the other things too. But there’s no getting around the fact that what I went for first was gas station food and second hand stores. Passing up steak in favor of hot dogs, retail stores with half-off sales in favor of Goodwill, Fannie Mae chocolates in favor of flavored chips.
I was a little baffled. Until my niece, in a totally unrelated conversation, started talking about muscle memory – how her brother plays his best tennis in the first set when he’s playing without conscious effort, just allowing a task to be performed that he’s committed to memory by repetition. Before he starts overthinking his game.
I don’t play tennis. But I did have familiar routines back in Illinois. One of those was to go to my bookstore every day and to get lunch at the nearby gas station. Another was spending my free time hunting down books for the store at thrift shops and garage sales.
If it’s the familiar, rather than the favorite, that’s stored most prominently in memory then it makes sense that the gas stations and thrift stores would be the balls I’d run down when I found myself back on my home court.
It doesn’t make the gas station hot dog taste any better, but it does explain why I’m going to find myself heading back to Mexico with a suitcase full of paperbacks instead of Fannie Mae chocolates.
Luckily, I’m here for another ten days. More than enough time to retrain those muscle memories to pay some attention to the chocolate on the sidelines, to go after the red meat, and to take time out to appreciate the stark beauty of winter in the Midwest.
Time enough for that second set. Which I’m going to be watching from a front porch.
Jeanne is a transplanted Illinoisian who arrived in Guadalajara hoping for siestas. She was sad to discover that siestas are a thing of the past, but is still finding lots to love about Mexico.