Last week, I wrote about details of a road trip back to my dad’s hometown of Charleston, Ill., which I decided to do with him as his Father’s Day gift. We visited the home he was born in and lived in until he was drafted into the Army in his 20s. My mom also grew up in Charleston and they moved up to the Chicago area in the mid-1960s. They’ve been back for several visits, but it’s been a number of years since the last one. Two of my sons came along, and while I know they were a bit bored on some parts of the trip, I think they both appreciated the opportunity to take a road trip with us and see the place where their grandparents grew up.
I left off last week with our visit to the EIU campus where dad attended every year of his schooling. We visited his elementary school in Blair Hall, a private school where teaching students at the university were trained.
Next we moved on to Old Main, the original castle-looking structure that faces Lincoln Avenue. The building is amazing, inside and out. I couldn’t wait to check it out. Dad’s high school was located on the second floor until his senior year when classes were moved over to Blair Hall. He graduated in 1954 and the high school dissolved one year later.
I was so impressed with how well-maintained the 1899 structure was. The building houses mainly offices now, but one end of the second floor had a few intact classrooms and walking into one was like stepping back in time. There wasn’t a hint of technology anywhere. Just desks, that looked to be about as old as me, a clock, a teacher’s desk and an immaculate chalkboard and a wall-mounted pencil sharpener that was probably older than I am. Everything was in such wonderful condition and so clean. The bathrooms had what is probably original mosaic tile that was beautiful. I seriously don’t think I have ever been in a cleaner public bathroom.
Next was a stroll on the grounds, which are just as pristine and well-kept as Old Main. Dad struck up conversation with the gardener, Larry, who was out planting. Dad and Larry got to talking about campus history. Larry pointed out a marker where Napoleon was buried. Dad knew immediately who Napoleon was, a big stray dog who hung around campus and was loved so much there’s a memorial to him behind Old Main. Napoleon died in 1960.
Dad walked and talked until his feet were so sore that we had to head back to the car. He said that he also wanted to take a drive on the old Ill. 16 that ran outside the city to nearby Mattoon. He was trying to spot the farm his uncle once owned, but couldn’t figure out exactly where it was. As we came up to a cemetery, he casually said, “Oh, that’s the one my parents are buried in,” So, I flipped on my turn signal, screeched to a halt and turned in. Dad wasn’t sure where to find them other than the graves were near a road. So, I’d drive a little, get out and look. Just as we were about to give up, I saw a marker with “Clark” on it and there were his parents. He died in 1966 at age 67, she died in 1983 at age 81. They’d married in 1921. My dad said that because his father had been in the Army during World War I, he had a military marker originally, but their records were incorrect and his name was spelled wrong. So, when my grandmother died, a new headstone was laid with both of their names. Buried nearby were two aunts, two uncles and the niece of an uncle who died at a year old.
We headed toward Mattoon to get back on the expressway and decided to stop at The Burger King for dinner. Dad had mentioned before that Mattoon had a Burger King restaurant when he was growing up before the chain existed. In the '60s there was a disagreement over who could use the name and an agreement was reached that the Mattoon location could keep its name and a Burger King franchise wouldn’t open within 20 miles of the Mattoon restaurant. The place is definitely full of nostalgia and the burgers definitely weren’t made from frozen patties. We sipped on shakes, listened to the jukebox and were soon on our way back home, with lots of stories of long ago and memories of our day together.