Sticking Around Lafayette, Indiana

She didn’t plan on staying, but more than 20 years later novelist Patricia Henley embraces her adopted community

"Not gussied up or cute, Lafayette is a sturdy town, persistent in its character," says Patricia Henley. (Tim Klein)
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After living out of state for a year, Indiana essayist Scott Russell Sanders wrote: “What I see is stitched through and through with my own past.” I get his meaning now. Every time I’m near Riehle Plaza and the train depot, what crosses my mind is the annual Hunger Hike that starts there, raising money for local food banks and pantries. My muscles recall the jog I did for seven years, up the Columbia Street hill and down Union, rain or shine or snow. And farther afield are the places that have wormed their way into my fiction: the round barns of Fulton County and the prairie gardens of Prophets­town State Park.

Is all that nostalgia? I think not. The Tippecanoe County Courthouse, the centerpiece of downtown La­fayette, was built in the 1880s because the citizenry wanted a building of permanent and durable character. Made of Indiana limestone and brick, it has 500-pound walnut doors, 100 columns and Tecumseh himself rises from one of the pediments. The feeling that what I see is stitched through with my past is not nostalgia, but continuity. Like the courthouse, it makes for a durable, or grounded, life.

Living here is a little like marriage. There are limitations and a universe of satisfactions within them. I have developed a loyalty to what is. Yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the role the Internet plays in my willingness to be content. It is the bookmobile of now. If wanderlust becomes an itch I have to scratch, it’s easy to purchase theater tickets for a week in London. I can order DVDs of Australian movies. But I walk a long gravel lane to retrieve my snail mail, the same as I did 50 years ago. When he was 3 years old, my youngest grandchild began walking with me to the mailbox. The first time we passed the row of dark blue-green conifers he said, “We’re in the woods now,” his voice hushed with awe and perhaps a little worry. The woods were still a mystery to him, just as they were to me as a girl. Some things have yet to change. Some things I hope never will.

Patricia Henley is the author of In the River Sweet, a novel set in the Midwest and Vietnam.

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