My dad’s parents lived in extreme rural southern Illinois. When I say “extreme rural”, I mean, it took a ferry boat to get there, there was no gas station, and everyone was somehow related to us. We were also the Big City Kids, coming all the way from Chicago (suburbs) every year for the church picnic, to visit the grandparents.
Basically, every year, we were thrust into the complete opposite environment we were used to, and yet where we always “belonged”.
Grandma Gen’s house was this amazing little place of shining cleanliness. Which was saying something because my mom had five kids and kept the world’s neatest house. But Grandma Gen’s house was a whole new level of clean. The wood floors were waxed to perfection…as were the wood steps down to the basement (where some adult child had suggested to put traction tape down, so you wouldn’t slide all the way down to the concrete floor.) Her hallway walls were of the same material as popcorn ceilings – with the extra sparkle! – so that as you skated down the waxed hardwood floors, if you missed the corner, you’d end up with scraped up arms from the stucco walls. The living room was for show, with its couches wrapped in plastic AND draped with olive green throws. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I found out that those couches were white Ethan Allen couches. Even then, I had to peek under the covers to make sure it was true. The bathroom always smelled of bleach and Irish Spring. There was a three season porch with those louvre windows that you cranked open and closed.
But the kitchen – the kitchen always fascinated me.
First, because my grandmother had this amazing retro table and chair set with the gold and silver atomic starbursts on white. Which was tucked under the refrigerator. Because the fridge and freezer? They were built-ins, like cabinets.
I’m now realizing that my Grandma Gen’s house was an homage to mid-century design. Right down to the electric wringer washer that she refused to let go of because it washed drapes better than anything.
But, if stepping into their house was going back into time, going outside was even more so, at least to the child version of me who was mad for all things Laura Ingalls. There were clotheslines, and tomato gardens, and gravel roads, and pig farms. We’d collect things like the jawbone of a cow, dig up arrowheads, and fish turtles out of the window wells. We watched in fascination as my grandparents burned trash, and thought using the water pump was awesome. It wasn’t so much a pump, but a contraption with the chain link to draw up water to the spout. We’d run into the woods behind the house, and go up to the odd little bar at the “corner” of my grandparents road for bottles of pop.
At the church picnic, we’d beg for money for games – I particularly loved the one game where you had to throw rubber balls, and try to get a row of them first. There was also bingo that happened, with cards with little colored windows you could close when that number was called. On Sunday was the big dinner, where you got your ticket and waited for your number to be called – and for years, the person doing the number calling was my grandfather. You’d go into the hall below the school, where there was a huge blackboard where all the types of pies were written. There was always the hope that the pie you wanted wouldn’t get crossed out before you were done eating your dinner.
And of course, there was the beer truck. Which was a semi truck with a tractor trailer of taps. It was either Miller or Budweiser, I don’t really know. But this truck would be parked on the lawn next to the church, the sides would roll up, and you had an instant bar. A bucket of beer was like $3 and you got to keep the bucket.
Most of all, and most horrifying to my little suburban mind, was the giant cauldrons of turtle soup.
Seriously, they’d set up big black cauldrons under awnings, and women would stir the soup with giant paddles. The turtle soup was apparently the best, even my mother would take home some to put in the freezer for “later”, but no one could ever convince me to try it. Even though they swore it was made from the giant snapping turtles that were just plain mean, and not the cute little turtles we’d fish out of the window wells.
I stuck to corn dogs.
And then, as I wrote this, I googled to see if I could find pictures of the church picnic…only to find out the church itself burned down in a tragic Christmas Eve/Day fire three years ago, to just about nothing but the four walls.
I then spent the next ten minutes googling, and was not only relieved to know the church was rebuilt – but in the style as it was before the fire. Because the church was one of those turn of the last century beautiful works of art, with amazing stained glass, and painted details.
Sometimes, it’s okay for things not to change. Where my grandparents lived, it’s a place where time moves a little slower. I’m not saying it’s a backwards place…in a way, it’s smarter than the rest of us. People always had time to say hi, to sit and have a chat, to make apple butter the way it was supposed to be made (and the best way), and where as a kid, even when I got lost, I wasn’t ever really lost, because someone knew who my parents were and were able to deliver me back to them. Where little city kid me enjoyed the smell of dry grass on a hot day, learned the hard way that bees can sometimes nest in holes in the ground, and always raced to a swing after the long car ride there.
This is part of the 31 Days writing challenge…to find out more about it or read more from this challenge, check out the 31 Days page!