Yesterday, I posted a photograph of my dad, his sister, and his brother on Facebook and got the loveliest responses from various cousins, cousins’ spouses, second-cousins, and a relative of my Aunt Martha that I had never met. They are mostly from rural Illinois (one from Wisconsin) and we were the California cousins – different lifestyles, but we share a family history and an important bond.
This post is a letter that I wrote to my father a few years about the Midwest part of our family and the gentle but lasting impact on our lives.
There’s a Creedence Clearwater Revival song called, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” that starts out, “Just got home from Illinois…” We girls always liked that song just for that one little line. We all loved going to Illinois, loved seeing Grandpa and Grandma, loved the whole Galva experience.
I was thinking about all of that just now when I was in the closet putting away my Galva sweatshirt. Then I thought about Suzy taking pictures wearing her Galva shirt in… Spain? Portugal? I forget. Considering the relatively small amount of time we actually spent there, that place has had quite an impact on our lives.
I hear that you took me there as a baby, but the first trip to Galva that I remember was when I was about 7 and Liza was 4. There were so many new and magical experiences – they lived right on the edge of a corn field! They had a storm cellar just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. They burned their trash?
I’d never been in a basement, never seen a firefly, never sat on a porch swing.
I remember meeting Uncle Billy doing his “thumb trick” and wondering if I’d ever get all of the cousins straight. They were so big and there were so many boys!
Then we went out to Ginny’s – a real farm! We rode on the tractor, which was much bigger than I’d imagined. Uncle Russell showed us the baby pigs, and how he milked the cows. (And he tricked me into believing the milk that went through those pipes went straight into the refrigerator. For a smart girl, I was kind of gullible, eh?)
Even the meals were different: breakfast, dinner, and supper instead of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Brand new foods, too! Yellow gravy and Miracle Whip and banana salad with peanuts.
We played in the park, which had teeter totters (another new experience) and we marveled at the slides that were used as fire escapes at your school. What a wonderful place.
The next trip was when Liza & I went back with Billy & Martha when we were 8 and 11 in the summer of 1969. We drove across the desert with no air conditioning, but Martha had a purse full of nickels (she’d gotten lucky in Vegas) and was very generous about buying cold sodas at every stop. (She said her purse was too heavy and she needed help lightening it up. We were happy to help.) She’d joke about how we should’ve brought lawn chairs so we could lay out and get a sun tan waiting for Liza, who took so long in the gas station restrooms.
We got to Grandma & Grandpa’s house and they took us out for hamburgers and to see The Love Bug. The next day, Grandma suggested we walk up town. (By OURSELVES?) She assured us we wouldn’t get lost and gave us money for treats. We walk in to the ice cream and candy store and the lady says to us, “My! You must be Eldon’s girls! Your Aunt Ginny told me you were coming.” We were so surprised we could hardly talk!
We went to the Dairy Barn, visited Little Grandma, and got to know the lady next door. We swam in the community pool. Grandma taught me how to make a pie crust from scratch.
After about a week, we went to visit Aunt Ginny & Uncle Russell. They took us out for hamburgers at this great place that still served flavored sodas and I had my first chocolate coke. Then we went to see The Love Bug. Russell taught me how to do crossword puzzles. We rode with him out in the fields and he showed us this mean old sow that lived out there that nobody would go near. Ginny took wonderful care of us and didn’t seem to mind that I spent a lot of time reading.
After a bit, we went to visit Dixie. She took us out for hamburgers and to see The Love Bug. She had huge cupboards of food, which she ordered from a catalog twice a year. This was an entirely new concept – much more fun than boring old grocery shopping. It was on that visit that Dixie taught me to knit, which I still enjoy.
Then we were off to visit Billy & Martha. They took us out for hamburgers and to see The Love Bug. I’m not kidding. You gave us very firm instructions to be polite, so when (whoever) said, “We thought we’d take you out for some hamburgers and then go see The Love Bug,” we always just said, “Great!” We liked hamburgers and we liked the movie every time, plus it seemed rude to mention that we’d already seen the movie before we left California. So, we saw it five times that summer. 1967 might have been the Summer of Love, but 1969 was the Summer of the Love Bug.
We’d been there a month when you, Mom & Suzy arrived. Then it was Galva Day and that nice music teacher you went to school with. We had a cookout at Dixie’s, where a thunderstorm came through and we watched the rain as came across the corn field. You could tell how close it was because the tassels started moving.
Then there was that trip the summer that I was 18. Remember how I cut my finger right before we left and had to have stitches and you thought I was playing a joke because it was right after you hurt your finger water skiing? The year before, I’d discovered that Olaf Krans painting, “Sowing Grain at Bishop Hill” in my U.S. History textbook, and this was the first trip when I really understood that we had a history.
This was the trip where Suzy and Ryan had a lemonade stand and got their picture in the Galva News. On the way home, I loved going to the Wisconsin Dells, to visit Dixie in Wisconsin, and going to see Old Faithful. But I still can’t believe you hardly let me drive at all – I was 18! I had two whole years experience!
There was also the trip for Grandpa & Grandma’s 50th anniversary, and the one where we all went for the family reunion when Chelly was 8. But my favorite trip was the one that I took alone when I was 27. I’d been going to Chicago on business a lot and it seemed a shame to be so close and not drop in to visit. So, I took the train from Chicago to Kewanee. Ginny and Russell picked me up, and we went to Bishop Hill for the Saint Lucia Day lights. The shops were open late and everyone was out, even though it was the second week in December. It was all Christmasy and fun. That trip also meant a lot to me because I got to spend some good time with Ginny. She’s such a special person and cares for you so much. It was a lovely time.
It was interesting for me to hear the story about why you left. I understand and probably would’ve done the same thing. There are aspects of small town life that are very limiting. But life is so scattered these days. People move from place to place and home is where you make it. So I like that connection to small town life, to Galva – the city of Go – where there’s some history, a museum with your family name on it, and the candy store lady knows you’re coming.