Scattered throughout the cornfields of central Illinois are a number of small towns. These towns are the center of commerce and education for the people who live and work in the area. Although grammi says her family moved around a lot when she was young, there is one town she considers to be her hometown, Minonk, Illinois, population 2100. Her grandfather owned a farm nearby and her aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews still live in and around this quaint little town. Grammi yearns to visit and spend time here.
Soon after arriving we took a nostalgic drive through town, crisscrossing streets named for trees and presidents. “We used to live in that house and I would walk across the street to school,” grammi said as we passed a house on the corner. “Aunt Minnie lived there, and my aunt Darlene lives down this street, my cousin Donnie lives down that street” she continued. Chestnut street is the center of town with businesses in brick faced buildings. A sign over the door of one business said “Sweet Shop”. Hmmm, I’ll have to check that one out.
Grammi’s cousin Dan and his wife Julie live on the farm where her grandfather once lived. Although they have made updates to the farm it still holds fond memories for her with her grandparents. Dan and Julie were kind to allow us to stay on the farm. We parked the camper next to the barn and hooked to the water and electricity.
That evening we went into town for pizza dinner with Dan and Julie. Soon after finding a table and ordering our drinks we were pleasantly surprised when grammi’s cousin Marla and her husband John came in. They joined us and we all had a wonderful time talking a hearing the Minonk gossip. After dinner we settled back into the camper and prepared for the busy week ahead. It was going to be our longest stay anywhere so far.
We stayed ten nights on the farm. The time just flew by. There was always an activity planned or an invitation from one of the family. There was an upcoming family reunion along with many other things. We had people to visit and places we wanted to go.
I guess the best way to describe our time here is to share highlights from each day and hopefully not bore you with too many details.
Day 1: Took a drive with Dan and Julie to Starve Rock State Park. Went to Army Corp of Engineer visitor center and the locks on the Illinois river. Saw the old I&M canal and learned of its importance for the development of Chicago. Went to Utica and to the town museum and learned about its history. That evening we drove to a windmill on the farm to check it out. Surprising how big it is when you get up close.
Day 2: Attend Grammi’s family reunion at Westside Park in Minonk, Illinois. Grammi saw kin she hasn’t seen in a long time.
Day 3: Went fishing with uncle Kenny and my father-in-law Marvin at Evergreen Lake. We were on the lake all morning but only caught ten crappie. Grammi went to lunch with her mother and aunt. Spent the evening at the swimming pool on the farm.
Day 4: Grammi is not the only one with Illinois roots. My grandfather was born in Paxton, Illinois which is only eighty miles away. Armed with a little internet research, I went to find my great grandfather and my great-great grandparents grave. It’s been on my bucket list for a long time. It was a successful trip resulting in a feeling of wonderment. What kind of life did these people live? How did they die? My grandfather’s two year old brother was also buried in this family plot. I went to the Carnegie Public Library in Paxton and found the obituaries that were published in the old newspaper. Still have unanswered questions.
Day 5: This morning grammi, her mom Jane, and her sister Pam went to Bloomington to visit Jane’s sister, aunt Marilyn. We spent the afternoon poolside. Later we went to a family cook-out at aunt Evelyn’s for dinner. Hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. There was a large turn out of thirty or more family members. Big rain storm keep us all inside.
Day 6: Happy Independence Day! We went to cousin Donnie’s house to watch the parade in the morning. He lives in town at the beginning of the parade route and a lot of Grammi’s family come here to set their chairs. Small towns alway have great Forth of July parades and this was no exception. Firetrucks, marching bands, antique cars, pickup trucks pulling decorated trailers from various organizations, and a slew of old farm tractors. Grammi went to a bridal shower for Erin, a second cousin, in the afternoon.
Dan and Julie hosted a Forth of July party on the farm. This is an annual event for the family. Grammi has been to some in the past. The setting is around the swimming pool and in “the shed” which is a building with a built-in bar, pool table, dart board and sitting area. There was plenty to eat and drink. Fun times for all. Rainy weather was threatening all afternoon so to the dismay of many, town officials canceled the fireworks show and rescheduled for tomorrow.
Day 7: I went fishing again with Marvin and uncle Kenny. The sun comes up early here. I was at Kenny’s house by 5:30 and the sun was already up. This time we caught 31 crappy. In the afternoon I was invited to play laser tag. It’s something I’ve never done. It was like a maze set up in a large warehouse. There was eight of us playing and I did pretty good. It was fun. We went to dinner in El Paso with a large family group of twenty. It was the first bad dining experience we’ve had since we left home. The place was unprepared for a large group even though reservations were made. The air conditioner was not working and we never got our food after sitting there for two hours. Hot and hungry, we went back to the camper for dinner. Fireworks show rescheduled for tonight was fantastic. This small town in Minonk has been rated in the top ten fireworks in Illinois. People come from surrounding towns to see it. We went to aunt Darlene’s house where most of the family sets chairs in the front yard for one of the best viewing locations in town.
Day 8: Went to breakfast at aunt Evelyn’s. She brought out the scrapbooks and photo albums. She has enough to fill a small library. Later in the morning we took a drive with grammi’s parent and her sister to the town of Ottawa. A town where they once lived. We drove past their old house, saw where Pam and Grammi went to school, saw where Marvin use to work. We stopped at an outdoor market set up in the town square. A dozen or so white popup canopies lined the sidewalk with different vendors. We drove along the Illinois River at a park with picnic pavilions and boat ramps where they used to go to. We went out to dinner that evening with uncle Ray, aunt Teresa, and Angel at a restaurant in the town of Long Point. It was good eats.
Day 9: Grammi went to Aunt Evelyn’s for a visit in the morning. She said they had some one-on-one time to talk and enjoy the morning together. I rode with Dan when he went to check the fields. He farms 1700 acres of corn and soy beans and helps out with an additional 500 acres. This year has been very difficult thus far with most farmers in the area agreeing they have never seen anything like it. The extremely wet spring made some fields impossible to plant and those that did get planted were late. Corn that should be five feet tall this time of year is barely twelve inches high. Dan said it’s going to be a late harvest around mid-October maybe going into November. On this day, Dan was checking to see if the fields were dry enough to run the sprayer through. Julie cooked a yummy vegan dinner for our last night on the farm. Cabbage steaks, one of my favorites. She and Dan have been wonderful to us and made us feel at home. After dinner we told them how we liked to hunt geocache. They had never heard of it. Julie wanted to go see if we could find some, so we went into town and picked up four. I think we got them hooked.
Day 10: Time to move on down the road. We said our goodbyes last night as Dan was out in the fields early and Julie had to go to town. As we drove away a quiet came over grammi. It was an exhausting few days. One we hope to soon repeat. But knowing grammi, she was holding back some tears. This small town and surrounding farms is home to her. Her family rooted here on the flat prairie of central Illinois.