The sign at the city limits of our little town says 1100. We used to have a grocery store and I’ve heard tell there used to be a Dairy Queen here, but it left. There is still some bitterness about that, especially since the closest one is ten miles away. As other small towns, it has become more of a bedroom community. A haven for getting away from where you work and cities. There are several people that commute to Chicago for work. I hear the commute is just about as long as if you lived up there and the cost of living here is so much better.
This is a town where we may not have diversity of color, but there is a lot of diversity of thought. There are six or seven Churches in this little town, so you know there are many different thoughts on religion. Since you can walk down the middle of the street here and feel safe, we have done a lot of walking here during our tenure here. You can hear a lot in a small town, even from the road and you encounter people along the way. We’ve met some of the nicest people and also encountered kids drawing swastikas on the sidewalk under the approval of Dad watching from the deck. Is there a point to this? No, I’m not trying to get you to move here. The “established” residents don’t really want anyone else to move here if the truth be told.
Spinning used to be referring to as converting wool into thread. Now you get images of people sitting on stationary bikes sweating, yelling, and pretending to be somewhere else. I think for most people from smaller towns, why pretend to be riding through the country when you could just go do it? I don’t find that to be enticing. As you will find out, exercise and I have never seen eye to eye for very long and the sight of me on a bicycle evokes visions of modified medieval torture. If they had thought to impale heretics on rolling pikes to put them on display for several villages, I think the bicycle would not be as popular today. Spinning for me always had a whole different meaning.
Growing up, it seemed like almost every summer we had family reunions. One of them was always held in Neoga, Illinois. Another really nice small town with more going on than our town, but still no spinning classes. What they do have is a great big park. There is a creek that divides the park between the large open-air pavilion and the playground and ball field areas. Studded with trees that have been around longer than the town itself and mostly the soft kind of grass that you only find under big trees. The family would set up a long row of wooden picnic tables, wipe them down after chasing the birds out of the pavilion, and start bringing in food. Meatloaves, casseroles, salads, breads, butter, fried chicken (home fried and bucket varieties), sliced ham, pies, cakes, cookies and the most spectacular, “Church Lady Angel Food Cake”. If anyone has a recipe for the icing on a Church Lady Angel Food Cake, please send it to me. There is nothing like it. My Mom’s specialty was goulash. I love my Mom’s goulash. If you’ve never had Midwestern goulash it is a favorite here. Unlike Hungarian Goulash, the beef is ground, the pasta is macaroni and it is absent of paprika. What you do have is a luscious mix of ground beef, whole tomatoes, chopped onions, green peppers, and mushrooms bathed in tomato juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and chili powder. It’s always better the next day. Mom was famous for her version.
After the feast, there would be a settling down period. Circles of lawn chairs in the shade to sit and catch up with siblings, cousins and other extended family that you may not have seen since the last reunion. The coolers came out and in the heat of the day emerged ice cold sodas and cans of beer for the men. As a child I never understood drinking alcohol in those situations. As I have aged, I now realize that many occasions with family go much better with a little nip or two.
My Dad as I remember it was in the second generation tier of the reunion. You had the first generation tier which consisted of my Grandpa and any of his siblings or cousins that may be there. They always seemed to sit back and share stories in the shade. My Dad’s generation was young enough that there was usually a game of softball or something going on after lunch. My cousins, my siblings and I were the third tier generation. We had a wide range of ages in my generation. My cousin Gene and his contemporaries were in their twenties and it stepped down from there until my brother was just a toddler at the time. Some of the boys played softball with the men, some of the girls sunbathed and giggled, and some of us meandered about looking for something to do.
You had to cross the creek to get to the playground. It was just deep enough to get your ankles wet or as a Mom would say, wet and filthy. You could find a frog or two if you looked and I know there were crawdaddies in there. There were always a couple of nice spiderwebs under the walking bridge. Once you made your way up the steep bank, you came to the playground. I sometimes have to laugh at parents concern for their children on modern playgrounds. Non-splintering wood, rubber pelleted ground under all of the equipment, netting that uses nylon instead of ship’s rope that could tear up the hands of the men on Deadliest Catch. No, a playground was made of metal, dirt/mud and grass. Now granted the metal was at one time painted, but that usually was worn by weather and the hands of many children.
It is a scientific fact that metal reflects the sun’s heat and retains it. So the temperature of metal playground equipment at 2 pm the third week in July would be about 2000 degrees. At least that’s how I remember it. But third degree burns be damned, we climbed up on that equipment and played damnit. Sometimes it was hard to tell the screams of joy from the screams of pain from the first time down the slide. My favorite time was the merry-go-round.
This merry-go-round didn’t have horses or music. This one was a metal disk divided into pie-like sections with rails inside to hang onto. It required either someone to run around pushing it or to stand off to the side and keep it going fast. For the latter, it usually required a bigger kid or adult to man it. This was where the older boys came in handy! I learned where to wedge myself in, planting my feet and hold on for dear life while several of us begged the older ones to spin us faster and faster and faster! I would watch the world go by at 365 degrees until we were going to fast I had to close my eyes. I was free! The wind would whip my hair, the metal was cooling off, and it was like we weren’t touching the ground. I could hear the screams and laughter of my cousins and finally someone would give in and yell stop! We would all pile off and try to stand. Someone would most likely throw up, but I never did. My body doesn’t like to give stuff back. I would revel in trying to stand and watching the world seem to move around me…spinning.