West Point


Where is that place you go or what is that thing you do to maintain you?  Is it that cup of coffee that you just have to have?  You know, the one from that place?  Is it standing barefoot in the grass (like my wife does) or the sandy shore?  Is it a quiet time of reflection, yoga or prayer?  I think we all have (or need) a place or routine that settles us.  So what is your reference point? Where is your anchor?  Mine can be summarized in a name.

West Point.

It is a real place for sure, my boyhood hometown, but, more importantly, it is an idea.

My hometown in western Illinois had a population of 250 people. At least it was in the 70s.  It may be a ghost town now.  I don’t know. I have not been since my Mother moved away 15 years ago and the homestead was sold. I heard the town decayed.  Its glory days long past.  You can’t even tell where the railroad tracks used to run, splitting the village into east and west.

I prefer to remember it the way it was.

I recognize it is a romantic notion. We make things better in our minds than they probably were. But there were many good things about growing up in a small town. Things too easily taken for granted now.

Big gardens full of fresh food.  Kids on bikes.  Dogs off chains.  Doors unlocked.  Futures bright.  Hope untethered.  West Point is my Mayberry.  The same kids you knew in kindergarten are the same ones you walked with at graduation.  Neighbors remain unmoved. The air is a little clearer. The grass a little greener.  Dreams are still options.  God is a mystery and girls are mysterious. My parents knew what they were doing and the railroad tracks ran on forever.

Although it may not sound like it, I really don’t dwell on the past and long for those ‘simpler times’.  I don’t even think times were necessarily better then.  But they were good for sure.  Corn fields, LPs, pickups, softball, tractor pulls, Sunday school, Johnny Cash and strawberry shortcake.  But I would not trade my MacBook for Pong or Netflix for the 3 channels we got on the big console TV.  I-Phones are way better than wall phones.

West Point is a memory but also more.  It was a time before.

Previous to the “real world”.  A prelude to the struggle.  Preceding the inevitable.  Hope’s embrace before the wrestle with doubt.  Back when life was still fair.  It was giant victories before we knew how small they really were.  It was the personal letter before texting.  It was the Instamatic before Instagram.

I go there to wander and wonder.  I think I’m looking for something and as U2 says I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. I go there to write.  It helps me explain who I am.  For years I looked to the east “from whence my help comes”.  Today it feels like things have gone south.  I need my north star.  I need my west point.

Sure, the memories are there.  Like great expectations.  Waiting.  Warming.  Like an electric blanket on a frosty night.  Again, it was not the best of times but it certainly was not the worst of times either. It was the times before they were a changin’. It was my time.

Maybe it’s time to take a look and see if there is something there for us to learn.  Most of it is personal but I think there is more here than meets the eye.  Hidden in one’s history is a journey we all share, one that we are taking or one that we’ve taken for granted.

So I want to take you with me.  Maybe it will help you get your bearing, add a little wind to the sails or lighten the load.  At  any rate, you are welcome to come along.  We are going west to the point where the sun meets the horizon and illuminates the things we need to see.



6 thoughts on “West Point”

  1. Well said, Mr. Vance, I look at West Point in the same way. I still hear stories of the way it used to be. I still have family there, but to town is all but gone.


  2. Jeff, I was Postmaster there, following Betty Wood, for twenty years. My clerks were Dorothy Willard and Peggy Tobias. I grew up in Carthage, but always felt like the folks there were family, and I still treat it like MY hometown. The Post Office was always the hub…. I heard stories from the old-timers that I am sure they never shared with anyone else. The PO hosted Halloween parties every year, and the annual Easter Egg Hunt. I’d always have a treat when the kids would get off of the school bus, sometimes provided by Arlo Clampitt… He moved to the Veteran’s home after Eileen passed, and he would have the fellas there save their morning juice (if they didn’t drink it) and he would bring up big bags of grape, orange, or whatever he could get. Bless his heart. He was good friend. I have many, many West Point stories. Thanks for the blog. Well done.


    1. I grew up in West Point. 18 yrs. When I was in jr high I use to go to the post office to send in book orders. I paid for them by helping my Grandpa Sparrow mow the park. I remember you 🙂 you were always very nice. I miss those days a ton.


  3. Loved reading your blog about West Point. I grew up there and still have fond memories of “the time before.” The town will always hold a special place in my heart. From bike rides, to walks at night, climbing trees, catching fire flies, and the excitement of going to visit Ms. Patty at the post office. My great grandparents lived a block from my grandparents, two aunt/uncle at the end of town, and I lived on the black top toward Warsaw. Good times. I wish my kids could experience the solitude and creativity that comes from small town life.


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