November 10th, 2004



The sugar beet factory in Örtofta is only open and running from about the end of September until Christmas. During the sugar beet processing season, the smoke from the factory rolls over the valley and taints the air with the smell of burned sugar. It's not sweet, like a candy factory smells, it's a very earthy, fermented odor. The factory can be seen from the main highway that we drive up and down so many times a week. It's not that big, but at night when it's dark and the factory is lit up and the white smoke is billowing out in thick twisted ropes, it's like a little mini-Gary, Indiana on the long downslope from Lund. 3 or 4 smokestacks, red and white lights, the business of rendering lumpy beets into refined sugar goes on all night and all day.

As a child living far from my grandparents, we traveled a lot by car. My father's parents lived in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and my mom's parents lived in Detroit. During family vacations we did a lot of driving on the highways between the two, back and forth over I-94, around the bottom of the horn of Lake Michigan, over the expanse of lighted urbanity that is the South Side. Through Indiana, we passed a long expanse of factory fields, rising high above them on the super highway structures that eventually let us down among the dunes of southwestern Michigan. Driving past the sugar beet factory at night reminds me of driving through Indiana. For a few seconds, I am always transported back to the road between my grandparents, on the way either to Detroit or to Chicago, drowsing with my head on the edge of the car door window, cheek ribbed by the stiff seatbelt, eyes flicking to each lighted factory, each chimney spilling its black or grey or whitened smoke into the air. The factories of Indiana at night are like a fairy wonderland of sorts. A weird world where people work all night. I never wondered what the factories were producing or why, they were just there, a field of lights, a sea of pipes and stacks and conveyer elevators.

When I was small, it wasn't a law to wear seatbelts in the car. When we traveled in our big magenta station wagon, it was often with the 3 of us children in the far back, on spread out blankets, with toys surrounding us. Sometimes my sister and I would sleep in the back seat, lying half-draped over each other with one head pillowed on a hip and the other over a back and shoulders.

When I was really small, my mom held me on her lap in the passenger seat of the car, despite the number of times I must have vomited all over her, as I was very prone to motion sickness (still am).

Why am I writing about this stuff? I drove past the sugar beet factory tonight on the way home from book group. Whenever we drove through Gary, my dad would sing the refrain from the Gary Indiana song from The Music Man. I carry on that tradition, singing softly to myself driving down the hill toward home: Gary, Indiana, as a Shakespeare would say, trips along softly on the tongue this way—Gary, Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary, Indiana...

Brownies, cheer, book talk, book friends. I love my book group. The book we were discussing was Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safron Foer, which unfortunately never came from the library, even though I ordered it in English 2 weeks ago. It will probably come next week, but that's okay. I can still read it and my booky friends will talk about it more with me later. I love book friends and book talk.

Once again to whomever it was that gifted me with the year of extra icons, thank you!! I am LOVING IT! :D

Really Good Writing Out There Right Now: I Do Not Want to Help You
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