Monday, March 3, 2008

My Town Monday

I was born in a very small town in rural southern Illinois in what was once referred to as Bloody Williamson County. It was the scene of violence, massacres, KKK activities and gangster wars from the late 1800’s through the 1920’s. Fortunately things were peaceful by the time I arrived, but the fa├žade of the hospital still bore bullet scars fired during one particularly nasty siege. I wasn’t supposed to be born there, but the hospital in the town where my parents lived burned down and it took a while to rebuild things there.

When I was 6 months old, we moved to another small southern Illinois town - 25 miles from the Mississippi river, 30 miles from the Ohio River, situated in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks with forests and lakes everywhere. At 4,400 people we were one of the biggest towns in the area. Our claims to fame were the state mental hospital and the Bunny Bread factory.

In the spring the countryside was a plethora of color. The acres of budding apple and peach orchards were breathtaking and the fragrance of their lovely pink and white blossoms filled the air and promised delicious fruit in the fall. Wildflowers grew everywhere and fields of happy daffodils greeted you. It was a wonderful time of year.

Summers were incredibly hot and humid. We were lucky because we had huge trees to shade the house and a window-mounted air conditioner. When we were home, we pulled down the shades on the sunny side of the house, closed all the windows and doors and let that sucker run on high. For cooler days or nights, we had a big attic fan to keep the air circulating. But we were used to the conditions so the weather never stopped us from living our daily lives.

Tornados were common during the summer. You always knew when they were coming because everything would get deathly silent - the birds wouldn’t sing and the air would be absolutely still. Like clockwork, the sirens blared and we ran into the fields to watch the funnel clouds go by on their way to strike one of the neighboring towns. For some reason they never hit us, so as kids we didn’t worry about them. Even so, during the school year we had tornado drills where we would all go into the hallways and duck and cover.

Late summer was the time to harvest the orchards. The peaches in southern Illinois seemed sweeter and juicier than anywhere else in the world. We stopped at roadside stands and bought baskets of them and the owners always gave us samples. Then we gorged on delicious peach pies or cobblers. Sometimes we canned or froze them to be enjoyed later. Because we had orchards close to our house, I always managed to sneak in and eat my fill of peaches straight from the trees. They were and still are my favorite fruit.

This was also the time for the county fair – a very big event in our town. There were rides, animals, exhibits, demolition derbies, trotting races, entertainment and lots of good food and events to keep everyone’s minds off the impending start of the new school year. By fair standards, this was a very small one, but it sure seemed big to us growing up.
Autumn was always beautiful. We had lots of deciduous trees that turned brilliant colors. When the leaves fell off, we raked them into huge piles then ran and jumped on them like they were gigantic pillows. Autumn was always my favorite because my birthday was in early October. I was just under the cutoff for school, thus always one of the youngest in my class. I started Kindergarten when I was four.

Winters were usually mild. On the extremely rare occasions when it did snow, we pulled out our rusty sleds or cardboard boxes and went hurtling down the hills and then built snowmen before it had a chance to melt. That usually only lasted a few days. Everything stopped when it snowed because it was such a rare occurrence and there was no equipment to clear the roads.

It wasn't a fancy town, but it was where I grew up.

ETA: This post has been brought to you by Travis Erwin's "My Town Mondays". Check his site for more blogs offering up information on their home towns.


Travis Erwin said...

Great description and feel, you took me there, but did you keep the name of the town secret on purpose?

WriterKat said...

I love the feel of your description. Love the Bunny bread reference. I've never heard of them. It sounds so lovely in your town. I didn't realize that parts of Illinois would be warmer and that there would be peach trees & tornados. I always think of Illinois as Chicago.

Debbielou said...

I've already climbed the peach trees ! Great description of your home town - Thank you

bookfraud said...

well done. love the description of the tornado -- or lack thereof. brought back a lot of memories for me as well.

Lana Gramlich said...

There's a real "Americana" feel to your story. Thanks for sharing.
(We're Oct. babies, too. I'm the 13th & my hubby's the 14th.)

Josephine Damian said...

AW: Shooting at hospitals? Is no place safe? Jeesh.

Tornadoes and heat and humidity? Mild winters? Sounds a lot like FL....

pattinase (abbott) said...

It does sound like totally different from northern Illinois. What a diverse state.

The Anti-Wife said...

Anna, Illinois

When I was a young girl it was lovely. I don't think it would be as nice as an adult.

The Anti-Wife said...

Thanks and thanks for stopping by.

Seems like many of us had similar experiences in different places.

The Anti-Wife said...

It was very Norman Rockwellish. Libras Rock!

That particular area had quite a history of violence. Southern Illinois was a real hideout for many gangsters in the 20's and 30's and the union activity of the coal miners also created some hard feelings.

The Anti-Wife said...

I went to high school in Peoria - 250 miles north of Anna. It was like moving to another planet.

alex keto said...

very interesting, especially the tornadoes

ChristineEldin said...

What is bunny bread? My kids would love to know!

I've always had a deep fascination/fear of tornadoes. I can't believe you actually witnessed them!!!

And your descriptions....oh my! I can taste those peaches!


Mary Witzl said...

I liked your description too. Many of my fellow native Californians feel that we have a monopoly on heat, but I will never forget how miserable I was one summer, traveling through Illinois and Wisconsin.

Peaches won't come into season for another three months here, at the very least. I could cry! In Japan, they have white peaches, and as long as you close your eyes, you can barely tell the difference. But white peaches somehow seemed wrong...

Bunny bread? Seriously? I would be so nervous eating that!

The Anti-Wife said...

The tornadoes were thrilling to watch. It never occurred to us that there would be dire consequences from being directly in their paths. That was just something you read about in the weekly paper. Thanks for stopping by.

Bunny Bread was just a brand - like Wonder Bread. Our Bunny Bread plant churned out loaves of bread and all those brown and serve rolls.

The Anti-Wife said...

The heat and humidity in Illinois is unbearable for me now, but we didn't think about it back then. It was just a way of life. The peaches were like heaven - so sweet and juicy. Bunny Bread won't make you nervous. It'll make you hoppy :~)!!

Ello said...

This was awesome! It felt like a story that I should be reading on a warm summer day, sitting under a shady tree, eating a ripe juicy peach. I was there with you. I thought this was so well written! I can't believe I didn't see this on Monday!

WordVixen said...

You've given me an idea for my next MTM. Thank you! I was starting to run dry on things to post about without taking pictures or doing research.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather has written about three books (or 52 short-ish stories - unpublished for now, but really good) about growing up in Southern Illinois, in the 20s and 30s. By the time I was born, we were in central Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. Hmm. Now I will have to think about MTM....

(BTW, may I link you?)

The Anti-Wife said...

Thanks, I appreciate that.

I'm full of...........uh...ideas - yeah, that's it - ideas! Always glad to inspire.

Link away and thanks for stoppin by.

wordtryst said...

I enjoyed this. You make it seem like such an idyllic place for a child.