Shirley, Illinois

Do you know that really big trip you’ve always dreamed about taking? Maybe it’s to the Caribbean, or to Europe, or to see the Statue of Liberty. Myself, I want to go to Japan. I’m not in Japan today, however. Today I find myself in Shirley, Illinois.

Never heard of Shirley, Illinois? Neither had I until my friend Lydia said the nine words that would expand my knowledge of small town America.

“Hey Audra, feel like going on a road trip?”

Who doesn’t love a road trip?! Greasy diners, colorful hitchhikers, flat tires you’ll laugh about years from now…they’re awesome!

“Sure!” I said. “What were you thinking? Route 66?”

“More like I-55,” she said in return.

Why I-55?” I asked.

“That’s how you get to Shirley, Illinois.”

Shirley, Illinois. Look down to change the channel on your car radio and you miss it. Turn your head to admire a field of corn and you miss it. Have a sneezing fit courtesy of your chronic sinusitis and…well, you get the point. It’s a small town. Less than four hundred people small.  It’s also the hometown of Mirabelle Grace.

“Who’s Mirabelle Grace?” I asked.

“The greatest super model of all time. She killed herself a few months ago.”

Well now, thanks for making what sounded like a boring trip to start with sound both boring and depressing.

“Why would you want to go to the hometown of a suicidal model?” I then had to know.

“She was my mentor,” Lydia told me. “She’s the reason I stopped perming my hair back in high school. Why I stopped wearing polyester rayon. Why I threw away my green eye shadow kit. Why I’m the well put-together woman that I am today.”

Lydia was stunning, I’ll give her that. I’ve never seen her in a bad outfit or with bad hair in the ten years we’ve been friends.

“Why did she kill herself?” I asked.

“A year ago, her psycho ex-boyfriend threw acid on her face, ruining her career. The pain was too much for her I guess, both physically and psychologically. I want to bring flowers to her grave and tell her how sorry I am and to thank her; not just for saving me from making anymore poor fashion choices, but for showing me that in the end it’s what’s inside that counts. Poor Mirabelle thought that no one would ever love her again because her looks were gone, but I still loved her. I would have gone on loving her too, scars and all.”

So into the car we piled and drove the eight hour drive it takes to get from where we live in Michigan to Shirley, Illinois. I’m glad we did. It’s a serene little place, where hopefully Mirabelle can rest in peace.

If you ever find yourself traveling down I-55 and notice the sign for Shirley, Illinois, don’t blink. It’s not a town you want to miss.

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