A couple of weeks ago I wrote about plans to take a road trip with my dad to the town he grew up in, so I thought I’d follow up with a column about the trip. We — my dad and my 14-year-old and 11-year-old sons — left on a weekday morning headed south on Interstate 57, making a stop in the town of Paxton. I knew it was a county seat and I like to check out county courthouses, so we pulled off, drove around a little and grabbed a snack.
A little while later we arrived in Charleston after lots of reminiscent talk from dad about old classmates and how things have changed there. We exited the expressway, which brought us into the center of town via Lincoln Avenue. My dad thought his former home was now a business, so we looked forward to stepping in and seeing the place. As we approached it, we found that most of the former homes along the route were now businesses, but the one he lived in was a residence that had been now split into two apartments. From my previous visits to Charleston as a child, I thought it had been right across the street from Eastern Illinois University, but it was actually four blocks down on Lincoln Avenue.
We walked around the lot. He recalled helping his dad and uncle install the porch. He pointed out the peony bushes that were there when he was a child. He recounted the story of accidentally burning down the garage as a young child. I took some pictures of dad and his grandsons in front of the house. He told us how the house was laid out when he lived there, a modest wood frame house with a basement and two bedrooms, which he said his parents paid about $3,000 for in 1921. We knocked. No one answered.
Across the street was a floral shop owned by a former classmate. We stopped in to see her. One of the employees said, “Oh, Wilma never takes a day off, but she happens to be on vacation.”
So, things weren’t panning out so well as we started the day. Next was on to a cute restaurant called “What’s Cookin’” to meet two sons of my mom’s middle brother and one of their wives. These cousins are the only relatives of mine I know of who still live there, so it was nice to see them and chat over lunch.
The restaurant was just off the square where the Coles County Courthouse is, so I had to stop for a few pictures of the structure.
It was late afternoon by the time we made it to the EIU campus. I had expected a quick drive around, but dad was eager to get out and see the inside of the buildings. He had attended first grade through college all on that campus. His parents paid tuition for him to attend the private grammar and high school that was attended mostly by children of university faculty, built into the campus for their teaching program.
First we checked out Blair Hall, where dad attended all his primary grades, starting with first. Kindergarten was optional and uncommon back then. What seemed to be fond memories were sliding down the fire escape during a drill and having Halloween parties in a tunnel underground that connected the buildings.
Since there’s so much to say about our trip, I’ll finish up in next week’s column. Hope you enjoy reading about it and taking the journey along with me.