For anyone who doesn't know, I am in a relationship with a beautiful man who lives in Denver. Unfortunately, I live in Maryland. Fortunately, I love road trips.
We go back and forth every month to make our relationship work. Sometimes I go to Colorado, sometimes he comes to Maryland, and sometimes we meet halfway around the world in Ireland. No, I'm not joking. Anyway, earlier this month it was my turn to travel to Denver and on the drive there I decided to stop through a little town that I truly feel is one of the U.S.'s hidden gems: Casey, Illinois.
Casey is not a flashy place. I think the house above is the largest home in this tiny little town. Although "tiny" is not really a word that the locals associate with Casey.
Aside from being an extremely quiet and feel good little town, Casey is actually known for big things.
No, like actual big things.
The first time I drove back from Denver I saw a sign on the highway for "The World's Largest Wind Chime". It sounded utterly ridiculous. I couldn't imagine the type of person that would actually stop to see that. But I needed gas, so I pulled over. While pumping gas I saw a sign that read, "You've made it this far! Why not go see the world's largest wind chime?!" I scoffed...but I had to admit that my interest was peaked. So I fell for it...and became one of those people.
And I'm proud of it.
The wind chime is actually incredibly beautiful and yes, incredibly huge. There is a lovely little cafe with a friendly staff truly worth meeting right next to the wind chime (yes, you can play it!). But the wind chime is seriously just the start. They pretty much have the biggest everything in Casey. And traveling to see each record setting item once you're there becomes oddly addicting.
Back on that first visit to Casey, I had stumbled upon a local yarn store that housed the world's largest knitting needles and crochet hook. Unfortunately, the store had been closed.
I know, I know. What a tragedy. Please alert the media.
But seriously, it was for me. You see, I grew up watching my mother crochet and knit and somehow picked up the habit. So yes, I'm a 33 year old man that absolutely loves to knit. Which is why I decided to make a deliberate stop in Casey on this trip to see the store during the day and pick up some yarn to make socks for my boyfriend. Oh and to finally see those big ass needles!
Upon entering The Yarn Studio, you immediately feel welcome. It is run by owner Jeanette Huisinga and her daughter. Knitters from all over the country stop in to say hello, pick up some yarn and take photos of the world's largest knitting needles and crochet hook.
In addition to selling yarn to make your own projects, The Yarn Store also had many different things for sale that made me want to spend the whole day in there. Yes, some gay men like to spend their money on Prada suits. I like yarn, candles and greeting cards. Let's build a bridge, get over it and move on, yes?
I approached the owner and asked her if she could help me pick out some yarn suitable for the socks I wanted to make. I thought she might look at me like I was nuts, as I imagine that most of her customers are women. But she immediately smiled...didn't ask if it was for my mother or grandmother...and helped me choose. I ended up selecting some of the beautiful yarn that they hand-dye right there in the store, as I wanted to support the local business. Before ringing me up, I asked if she might be able to wind the yarn for me.
So you understand, this is kind of an obnoxious thing to ask at a yarn store, because it's done manually by a person (as opposed to manually by a machine) and can be time consuming. But Jeanette didn't bat an eyelid and with a warm smile said she absolutely could, but first needed to help some customers at the front.
The business owners in Casey, IL pretty much have tourists all day long. And so they have to have patience all day long. But Jeanette seemed to actually come more alive when she was able to offer help to the passing visitors, directing them to the largest golf tee or rocking chair in the world. And that is what I love about Casey. I feel like I'm stepping back into a time where people were friendlier and cared more about each other. You can feel that the moment you step out of your car and start walking around the town.
Jeanette finished with her customers and then we went into the room where she would wind the yarn.
We started making small talk to pass the time. I told her that I was on my way to Denver and that I'd be making the socks for my boyfriend who lived there. Somehow, it came up that he and I had both been professional dancers. Jeanette lit up and asked where we had danced.
Most yarn stores have a long table where the ladies (and gents!) who want to sit and knit...and let's be real: catch up on their gossip...can take a load off and purl away. As I told Jeanette that I had been a ballet dancer with a major company, the two ladies chatting (not knitting, to be very clear) at the table kept talking. After elaborating on my luxurious ballet career, I casually threw in, "Oh and my boyfriend danced for 'Riverdance' and 'Lord of the Dance' ".
Oh my God. It was like I had said he was Michael Flatley, himself. Or that all worsted weight yarn was about to go on sale.
"OH. We LOVE Riverdance!", the first lady said, turning to me.
"That is just so amazing. Wow.", said the second.
I nervously laughed. "Uh-huh, uh-huh. Also, I was a dancer, too."
Apparently ballet is no longer exciting to the world. But I'll tell you what is: YARN.
Jeanette continued winding my sock yarn and told me that she was incredibly happy that I had stopped in. And I was, too! Casey is a town that I never originally planned to stop in, but now can never forget. As we finished up, she smiled her gorgeous smile, handed me my yarn and said she hoped to see me again. Before walking out, I made sure to capture an image of what draws most people into the store in the first place:
I absolutely adore the small town with big things and cannot wait to visit again on my next road trip across the country. I encourage all of you to do the same, as Casey, IL is bound to put a big smile on your face! Pun intended.