Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Storied Visit to Elgin, Illinois

May, 2017




Once upon a time on Randall Road in northern Illinois, there were farms.  Many farms.  Many farms with fields touching, boundaried by oak trees and creeks.  In one field, black and white cows strolled, dropping their faces to nudge the green grass.  In another field, children climbed trees, ran through a forest of wild mustard and white flowers.


In the nearby town, known for many decades as “the city of churches”, the river hills included a synagogue and Mason’s Hall.  In the downtown, two major department stores, locally owned banks and restaurants, two theaters, a YMCA and YWCA, and a public library formed the safe circles of friendship for the town’s adults and younger members.

For those growing up in the town, summer morning music or academic programs at the junior high and high school were followed by afternoons of swimming at a public park pool.  At the same park in the evenings, twice a week, music concerts beckoned families and romancing couples to lie on blankets and study the stars or gather fireflies in glass jars.  Also on summer nights, before air-conditioning would entice them to watch television inside, families ended the evenings with a visit to Dairy Queen or A&W, momentarily freezing their memories.  Winters brought dark days and storms with weekends of ice skating by the white pavilion in the second public park, hot cocoa and marsh mellows served by Methodist ladies in woolen coats and mufflers. On particular occasions, the white pavilion, its stained glass windows gleaming like colored silk, welcomed little girls who pointed their toes on the wooden floor and swirled in pink and blue tutus made of netting.


While the farms flourished, so did the town.  But in the rooms of commerce, engineers planned and later built a widened Randall Road that tore down the farmhouses, barns, and silos and buried the lives of the farmers and their families.  The children grew, partied, kissed and some lost their innocence in the back seat of their parents’ cars.  Others maintained an intricate balance of studiousness and shyness through adolescence to high school graduation.

Upon graduation, the children’s waters parted.  The built road became a commercial corridor dotted with chain stores, soulless centers of merchandise.  Perhaps as a counterbalance, windowless mega churches arose with concrete parking lots and thin borders of bushes.


Time passes....


Fifty years later, a few of those children--now carrying stories of retirement, grandchildren, and spouses’ deaths gather in a backyard that was once a farm field.  Here the ghosts of the Fox and Sauk Tribes linger with the ghosts of white settlers and farmers.  Now, the ghosts rise up in the late afternoon shadows and touch the shoulders of the grown children.  A windmill in the yard twirls in the breeze as a recognition of time turns down the smiles of those who were once entwined like leaves of morning glory vines.




  



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