It may seem odd, but often one’s favorite things in life turn out to be those one didn’t grow up with. So having spent my first 20 odd years in California I knew nothing about the languid charms of humid summers or the heavenly silence of snowy nights. Or springs that come alive when they’re supposed to, and not after the first rainfall, which might be in November. Here in Virginia azalea season is a sight to behold, something we didn’t have in back in Indiana, where I spent my next dozen or so years. But we had something else, and I see a bit of it here too, and it’s what I like most about spring: Redbud.
Most of the year it’s a small nondescript tree, a pawn among oak and maple kings and queens. If you notice it at all, you might mistake it for a fruit tree that’s been barren for many generations. Not that we’ll remember, but spring reminds us that all is not what it appears. By April the redbud comes alive, its thin branches all in purply pink bloom. I can’t remember a lovelier color to stare at, and in Bloomington (where we lived) it showed itself everywhere, for two solid weeks. Then it was gone, replaced by drab leaves, and soon you’d forget which trees had been the redbud.
Happily there’ve been other reasons to think about Indiana this spring. Butler University’s fine run in the NCAA tournament certainly put the state on the map, leading to inevitable comparisons to everyone’s favorite basketball movie, Hoosiers. But while most people talked about the flick’s semi-fictional David vs. Goliath scenario in which the underdog team wins the state championship on what is Butler’s actual home court, what clinched the movie for me was its depiction of the Indiana countryside and small towns in winter, evoking all the sadness of a world left behind. We had recently moved to Northern Virginia when the movie came out — watching it then I knew what I’d always miss. I was right.
I also knew I wouldn’t miss Indianapolis. In fact today I might not recognize it. Back then it desperately wanted to be a major league city. When I saw it 10 years ago it had already significantly changed, but in that shopping center kind of way that featured new Borders bookstores and upscale department outlets and an expanded airport that was no longer as quaint as its being named for Weir Cook had once suggested. Of course, it also had the NFL Colts, who arrived in town just as we were leaving and who now play in a new indoor/outdoor stadium, their previous domed domicile having been demolished as soon as it was put on waivers. Similarly, the NBA’s Pacers’ move into fancier digs in 1999 led to the demolition of their previous home. I don’t suppose redbud grows anywhere near those sites.
Neither of the razed arenas could have been much older than a quarter century — in fact I remember seeing them when they were both spanking new. How lucky that Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse — built in 1928 — is still standing, not to mention the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I was about to make a big deal of the news that this summer marks the 25th anniversary of our magazine’s move from Indiana to the Washington area, but in current Hoosier terms that milestone could be confused with an expiration date. Besides, what’s there to celebrate? Have you ever heard anyone sing “Back Home Again, in Washington”?