EASY ON/EASY OFF

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Country crossroad

Pre-interstate relic

Mom and Pop eatery

No trespassing signage

Replaced lunch specials

Traffic passed–with

Nary a second glance

Rust patina covered

Diesel pumps

Twenty-first century

Truckers, tourists

Locals–congregated

At Waffle Houses

Cracker Barrels

Golden Arches

Further down

The road

At exit 44

–Image, Pat Peterson, http://www.wkrg.com/

Going Home Again

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

–Heraclitus–

After returning from military service and securing my first job, I moved away from Chesterfield, Illinois, my hometown.  Chesterfield was a community in decline since World War II.  The “Farmers Coop Elevator” was the tallest building in town.  A railroad had come and gone.  It was bypassed by major highways.  Now, it was just a bedroom community.

Downtown Chesterfield 1966 (2)

Chesterfield square, depicted looking west and north, circa mid-sixties

I approached from the south on State Route 111, crossed the bridge over Bear Creek.  The old narrow bridge had been replaced with a soulless concrete monolith.  My Grandpa and I survived a motor vehicle accident on the old bridge in the early fifties.  I was only four, but the memory is still fresh.  My Grandfather reached over to pull me in from leaning too far out the window of the blue Chevy pickup and lost control.  The freshly harvested wheat spilled over the highway.

farmers coop

Prairie “skyscraper”

My nostalgic daydreaming continued as I passed My Uncle Pete and Aunt Leta’s farmhouse on the right, just south of town.  The farmhouse stood forlorn in disrepair with broken windows.  Now, it only sheltered raccoons, squirrels, and owls.  The big white barn burned down several decades ago.  I recalled games of croquet in the backyard on summer evenings.  Uncle Pete was Grandpa’s brother–he was always quiet and reserved.  Aunt Leta took in ironing for my mother.

1950 chevy pu

Chevy pickup similar to my Grandfather’s

Large piles of gravel stood on the former grade school property.  Children’s voices no longer echoed as they played “Red Rover.”  No long lines of yellow school buses waited mornings and afternoons.  The principal, Mr. Reynolds, no longer walked the halls.  He taught me how to do perspective drawings.  Mrs. Keele and Miss Wade, second and fourth grade teachers, weren’t there either.  Nobody cared that I had the role of a “Barnyard Turkey” in a second grade production of “The Ugly Duckling.”

old school busesThere was nothing left but ghosts and memories.  For the first few years, I returned to Ken’s Barbershop for haircuts.  It allowed me to stay in touch.  After my parents passed away, visits became infrequent.  Years quickly changed to decades.  Each visit witnessed more vacant storefronts.  No amount of wishful thinking would ever return things to their former glory.  Things changed due to competition and obsolescence.

Still, my mind’s eye pictured my hometown the way it used  to be.  …The two service stations–one north and one south.  …Chester Towses’ Drugstore with penny candies, a quarter bought a sack full.  …Two grocery stores, one north of the square, one to the east.  …The Chesterfield State Bank with Kenneth Woods at the helm.  …The Alton Way Hotel.  I’m ever grateful for life-lessons taught by teachers and others.  Most, if not all, have gone on to their eternal rewards.

The Good Old Days

Were the “good old days” really that good? It’s the hottest part of summer and I’m sitting comfortably in my air-conditioned house. Nobody had air-conditioning when I was growing up. Half the residents in my small town didn’t have indoor plumbing. Yet somehow we survived. I could buy a bag of candy for a quarter. Gasoline was around twenty cents a gallon–less during “gas wars.” During “gas wars” stations would lower prices to drive their competitors out of business. Food and durable goods were also less expensive. To keep things in perspective, wages were lower. People of that era were accustomed to the status quo. Would I want to go back? The answer is a resounding no! I wouldn’t want to go through the years of teenage angst. I would like to recover some of the time wasted over things that I now know are not important.  While working in the unrelenting summer heat and humidity, I long for the “good old days” four months ago when I was on vacation in Hawaii.  It’s a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” thing.  My depression-era parents had a different outlook.  Their “when I was your age” speeches were warnings to appreciate the comforts of life because they could be taken away.  Like the lyrics to the Carly Simon tune, “Anticipation,” I believe “These are the Good Old Days.”