Sunday, 20 November 2011

Springfield, Illinois.

Wow. So now i can say I’ve been to Springfield, Illinois. And it’s a sad town – depressed and depressing – kind of like parts of upstate New York, although without the sense that at least it used to be grand 100 yrs ago. This place is so massive in our whanau imaginary... it’s all an important centre for the mythology of Hamuera coming over here to train as a pastor. It’s the centre of the Te Punga story with of family, faith,  education, mobility... it has shaped all of us, even though we haven’t been here in Springfield before. (And I wonder: if we had been here would we have acquired any these values? Who knows.)
The seminary site has been taken over by the Illinois States govt – it’s now a training facility for people in correctional services... some of the buildings have been knocked down and some have been repurposed. It all looks pretty shabby though – and the surrounding neighbourhood has that kind of desperation and insularity that results from intergenerational poverty without a welfare cushion to keep the rubber from the road.
I feel good to have been there, but it was a tricky kind of homecoming. It felt so significant, but my experience of the past was so deeply shaped by my negotiation of the present. I know one version of Springfield so well, and the other versions – including the present version – might as well be another planet.
The three original brick buildings which are still standing: dining hall/ residence on left

I found myself walking around the ‘campus’ in the grey wind of a November afternoon, trying to recognise things from photos and descriptions, attempting to push the ‘undo’ backwards-facing arrow as if the site was a word document that had been altered one time too many but that still bore the marks of its earlier richness.

snowy photo updated

And perhaps it was all there, beneath the surface... it felt a bit like there was someone standing by me a few times, although that could have been my hyper-vigilance: more tied to street-smarts than memory.
When a security guy came out, there were more layers. This is an historical place although the history I was chasing after had long ago left the building: when I asked him questions about thetime I was interested in, he would laugh and remind me that this place was a seminary from when his mother was small as she was now 80 so he certinly wasn't around at the time... and he told me about the buildings being run down and not accessible (no lifts! only ramps into one building!). It was a slow Saturday afternoon, though, and so we both talked for a while. He was more interested in talking to me about the changes in the area, the unsavoury character of the neighbourhood (he was concerned about me wandering around by myself), the rundown buildings, the economic and social problems of Springfield. So many industries have now left Springfield that the only industry here now is the state government, and he went into some detail about the layers of corruption in Illinois politics. In his head he holds an historical map of the local area which he described to me: a factory that made electrical goods, other factories that make various things. He talked about the closure Pilsbury factory a couple of blocks away (Pilsbury makes breads and pastries), and I realised this was the looming craggy building silently but insistently tearing a corner off the picture of where the campus meets the sky. (There's something about broken windows and buildings who wear their emptiness like a thin coat. I could have been in Patea, looking at the freezing works. I could have been in Wainuiomata or Petone, looking at an ex-high school. I could even have been in Mad Ave or Esperance.) 

Pilsbury Factory. Well, Ex-Pilsbury Factory actually.

It seems so striking: everything leaves, including the seminary people to Fort Wayne Indiana and individuals like Hamuera to all the ends of the earth, but the people – some people – stay.
Back when it was a seminary, this place turned out men to share the Bread of Life.
Later, the area was busily humming along turning out Bread.
Now the correctional training facility is sprawling, trying to make the best secular use of buildings which were erected for similar but different persuits: the industry here is Life itself.  

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