Many times I passed the Beulah Heights Camp Ground in Eldorado during my youth. I often wondered what it would be like to attend a Campmeeting. Campmeetings were common in my childhood days as well as Tent Revivals. Many denominations had Campgrounds to hold their Campmeetings on. So, not long after I moved away from home I took a church bus ride with many members of our congregation to Topeka, Kansas to attend a large Campmeeting that was being conducted by the church that we were affiliated with in the area.
The bus rode like a log wagon…as most former School Buses do. My friend Jim drove us as he was an experienced Semi-Truck Driver. MJ was on the Bus but we were not married at the time. I made a point to speak to her and share my witticisms on every occasion that was afforded to me. When we arrived I discovered large wooden buildings painted white with huge windows that we opened at night for our air conditioning. We, single men, slept on the second floor of this dormitory and during the night it got cold and windy. I vividly recall the shock of waking up to the chilly temperature. The food was served in long tents and it was delicious. The showers had only cold water…which made for a rapid cleansing. The Old Time Gospel was preached without fear or favor and all of us lively young men felt the tinge of conscience and the need to come to Jesus. Rev. Millard Hazelip preached on Eschatology and he had the presence and speaking ability of a Professor…of which he had been…and I ruminated as to whether or not I would experience old age…
There is something about having church outside and waking up in cold fresh air and taking cold showers…that focuses the mind and softens the heart. Beng removed from lifes’ daily distractions is a great clarifier and a settler of a worried mind. In those days there were no cell phones or Facebook or Social Media. If we needed to know something we looked it up in our Encyclopedias and/or made a trip to our local library. We thought a lot about our family…we sat with them at supper…and often at breakfast… every day. We listened to the wonderful gospel songs at the camp meeting and we knew that there was a better day and that we could be better…if we tried. I remember the old song, ‘I must tell Jesus.’ The first verse says:
‘I must tell Jesus…I must tell Jesus…I can not bear my burden alone…I must tell Jesus…I must tell Jesus…Jesus will help me…Jesus alone.’
Campground let you know that there was a better world to be had…both here and in the afterlife. I discovered that I could take a few days off of work and the cares of life…just to focus on faith…and hope…and charity…
Oasis In The City
Having lived in Southern Illinois for the majority of my life I can attest to its’ unrivaled natural beauty. In fact from the Shawnee National Forest to the Garden Of The Gods…to Pounds Hollow and Rend Lake…it is a Garden of Eden…in many ways. People come to Little Egypt for a variety of reasons and choose to never leave again…although they have moved from exciting cities and bustling communities.
Eldorado has been a focus of much of my attention for the past few days. With my two visits in two weeks…I tried to make up for not having been there for over 20 years. Eldorado…like most of the little towns and villages in our region is economically deprived…and it shows. When I was growing up in Eldorado during the 60s it was a booming community compared to its’ current condition. Poverty is a hard taskmaster.
The Orpheum Theatre was an Oasis for me during my childhood years in Eldorado. No matter what problems that I had encountered…the movies provided an escape and a respite and a rejuvenation for me. I have discovered two Oasis in my town of Carbondale. These areas contain plentiful cool and clear water and abundant sunshine and peace and reflection…and the gift of time to think… existed for me even before our move to Carbondale over 21 years ago.
Southern Illinois @ Carbondale has been an Oasis for me for 44 years. The combination of my over a 32-year career and the last 11 + years of retirement…SIUC has been a constant in my life. I have heard of many who upon retirement say that they will never darken the door of the University again. This is exactly the opposite of my experience. As I walk our Campus daily I never cease to appreciate its’ beauty and the benefits that it provides to all those who avail themselves of the bounty. When I am on Campus…I feel at home.
First Presbyterian Church of Carbondale is another Oasis for me. For 24 years I have felt the love and compassion of my fellow congregants and found a church where I thoroughly appreciate its’ Polity. First Presbyterian Church not only accepts but rejoices in the diversity of Gods’ Human Creation. It is a refuge for those who feel unwanted and afraid and unloved and underappreciated. When I hear and witness that church denominations are diminishing…I wonder if hurting and lonely people realize what they are missing in not attending church. My friend Lisa mentioned recently that many in the queer community often say, ‘There is no hate like the love of Christians.’ Perhaps they have not met a group of loving and caring Christians who endeavor to live Christs’ Teachings rather than giving their allegiance to a cult or a sect that follows the ‘Mean Fever Dream’ of people who base their faith on hating those who do not look or act like them…
I pass First Presbyterian Church…my church… every day…and feel better for just seeing it…because I know what is on the inside…
It is another chilly day in our neck of the woods. Recently our church received a cleaning by, Judge Services, and the results are amazing. I have scheduled them to do the same to our house this Thursday. I have pressure washed our homes for the past over 30 years and have decided to try the professionals…as my results are not optimal.
The last couple of weeks has included two trips to the town where I did a lot of growing up…Eldorado. Eldorado is a town of ‘Heights’ and ‘Additions’ and I explored all of them on a regular basis. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting my friend, Jackie Brooks, at his home in Parrish Addition. I vividly recall the first day of 1st Grade when Jackie walked into the classroom with his hat on and sat down at his desk. Our teacher told him, ‘Jackie…put your hat in the cloakroom and do not wear it in the house.’ I wondered why she called the School…the House. Jackie loved to imitate the Robot from a popular television show of the time…Lost In Space. He was so adept at the portrayal that he often gathered a crowd to enjoy the show. We enjoyed visiting the Orpheum Theatre and watching monster movies like Dracula and Frankenstein. The English Movie Company, Hammer Films, had especially vivid Technicolor and consequently, the blood dripping down Draculas’ lips was compelling. The movies were also known for their somewhat more revealing womens’ garments…a visual reality that was not lost on either of our young minds.
We enjoyed eating pizza at the local pizza house that served a Beer that contained no alcohol…but we felt inebriated…we thought. When we lived on West Street I attended Bible School around the corner from our house at the Chruch Of Christ. I think that this enjoyable experience is what first captivated my thoughts regarding the beauty of the Christian Life. I can remember the teacher asking me a question about Moses on the Mount and after my explanation, she told me that she had never heard a more heartfelt rendition of the story…but I still was a mischievous curb-kicker.
We had a Barber Shop on the street over from West Street…State Street is the busiest street in town. I often saved my pennies until I had a dime and then walk over to the restaurant on State and order a glass of whole milk…as it was much better than the powdered milk that we had at home. I also had my haircut on State and no matter how I pleaded my mom insisted that I receive a Crew Cut. I told her that there were many of the kids at school who had gotten away from the Crew Cut…but she could not be dissuaded…as it took longer for my hair to grow out…after the Crew Cut…
Memories tell us where we have been and where we are going. Or as a person told me many years ago…’The only difference in child psychology and adult psychology…is size.’
Moving The Deck Chairs
Billy B. and Chet were going to the Orpheum Theatre to see the Frankenstein Classic movie made in 1931 with Boris Karloff portraying the Monster. It was 1962 and almost Halloween and they were in the midst of a missile crisis in Cuba. In school, the Bomb Drills had increased and Billy B.s neighbors were waiting in line to build backyard bomb shelters.
Eldorado was a picturesque little Southern Illinois town. It had been a coal mining town, as many of the towns in Little Egypt were, during the heyday of King Coal and its’ primary use as a heating source for homes and businesses. Before the movie, Chet and Jane, and Billy B. met at Carter’s and Chossier’s Drug store on the corner to enjoy a Nickle… a frosty mug of Root Beer. The delicious Root Beer was served in icy giant mugs…of which you could lose your troubles and cares in the high foam on top. Jane said that her family was planning on sleeping in their bomb shelter until the chance of nuclear war subsided. Chet mentioned that his mom, Thelma, had been weeping this morning as she read the Book Of Revelation and its’ account of the battle of Armageddon and the prophecy that the blood would run up to the horses bridle during the last battle. Billy B. had visited his Grandma Askew Friday night and she had told him to prepare for Armageddon and the Antichrist…and the coming of the Lord…
Daryl walked in and was beckoned over to the Root Beer Table by Billy B. Billy B. purchased a Tall One for Daryl and asked him what he thought of the news of the possible imminent dropping of bombs on Eldorado… Daryl quoted the scripture that said, ‘And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things shall come to pass, but the end is not yet.’
Billy B. was now old and he reflected on the fears of his youth…the war raged in Ukraine…a madman plotted world domination…and the deck chairs on the Titanic were rearranged…once again…
Forty-four years ago I was a rail-thin young man of twenty. I thought that I knew a lot…but I later found that I had only started to learn. MJ and I were married on March 24, 1978. She was a teacher and I was a janitor…and some said that it would never last… I have always attempted to stop and smell the roses…but when I reflect on the past 44 years I wish that I had done so even more. We are supremely blessed with two wonderful sons, Aaron and Jonathon, and they are the joy of our lives. I have taken to noticing the little things more and more. A duck or geese or the beauty of Campus Lake…warms my heart no matter how many times that I have seen them before. Sweet friends who wished MJ and me, their heartfelt good wishes on our 44th. A lovely dinner at the Freight House in Paducah, Kentucky. Playing cards with MJ has rapidly become one of my favorite pastimes.
When we began our partnership we lived in a house trailer that MJ owned. Soon we purchased a little four-room house in Elkville and lived there for 21 years. We just passed our 21st year of living in Carbondale…in what we call the New House…we do things by 21…it seems. We are a close family and we see our sons often. We all love the newest canine member of the family…Mylo.
Travel is a great joy to us. Throughout our lives, we have attempted to make journeys as often as possible. However, I have so many interests that I can enjoy staying local for long periods of time. Reading and writing and photography…along with an occasional visit to Electric Larrys…are adventures.
The next 44…will be exciting…
Time Travel In Eldorado
Yesterday was our return trip to Eldorado. Rather than not having been there for over twenty years…it had been less than a week since my last visit. Jonathon and MJ were with me this time. Our first stop was the Orpheum Theatre. Jonathon said that he has heard me speak of the Orpheum so often and write about it on a semi-frequent basis..that he was excited to see it. He recently discovered a set of DVDs that have many of the old horror classics on them. We are in the planning stages of him and Aaron and me watching them…as he pronounced, ‘These movies are some of the ones that you watched as a kid in the Orpheum!’ I vividly recall watching both Frankenstein and Dracula movies at the Theatre on the weekends. Many of them were the Hammer Studios Horror movies that were produced in the 1960s and others were the historic classics. I quaked in my seat and munched on my popcorn…and wondered what was around the next corner.
Grandma Askews’ house was the meeting place for our extended family. She lived in Beulah Heights in what I remembered as a large home with a giant porch with great stones supporting the infrastructure. In the days of my youth Grandmas and Aunt Guelda and Aunt, Vema would sit on the Massive Porch and watch the sunset and the electric street lights come on. Their terminology of the lighting of the lamps was…’Look…they are getting yellow!’…and this was a source of constant evening entertainment. Grandma did not own a television and came from a church that referred to them as ‘Hellavision’ which may seem odd today but was fairly common in the heyday of the Holiness Churches. Aunt Vema lived with Grandma for many years and when she moved out to marry Uncle Ed…Aunt Guelda came to live with her mom. Grandmas’ children were evenly split between two fathers…and Vema and Guelda were half-sisters. Guelda had an antique Pump Organ in her bedroom…along with a portable TV…and she played and sang… as she tickled the keyboard of the ancient instrument. My friend Debbie Richardson lived next door to Grandma and we got into many adventures. The name of the street that the old homes are on is Richardson Street in honor of Debbie’s father. Grandmas’ house was smaller than I had recalled and the porch seemed unremarkable…until I remembered the many fun and family moments that we had spent both in our Matriarchs’ Home and on…the Great Porch…
Hillcrest School was another important place in my childhood history to see. Much of the original School is gone and replaced with a newer model. I could see one section that was the original. I took MJ and Jonathon by the house that my Aunt Wanda and Uncle Bill lived in…as well as my cousins, Brenda and Billy. I remembered how close that it was to Hillcrest School, which is no longer named Hillcrest and has not been for many years, and the short walk home that I had when I stayed with Aunt Wanda and Uncle Bill for a short time.
One year I received a miniature pool table for Christmas. It became my goal to be another Minnesota Fats…who was a famous Pool Shark and actually lived in Dowell, Illinois which is just a few miles from my home. I so enjoyed playing pool on my half-pint pool table…that I gravitated to attending the local Pool Hall in Eldorado. Dennis and I would go often and I became pretty…pretty…pretty…good… I had always heard that pool halls lead to trouble…but I could not find any…as hard as I sought for it.
We have been making an annual trek to Eldorado for most of the last twenty years. Our Accountant is Edmistier Accounting…but it is on highway #45 and removed from the Town Square. Our new accountant is Tabitha…and I could see the significance of the lovely name…when magic followed us through the Town…
Pounds Hollow & Moo And Cackle
Spring is here and all the joys that accompany it. I walked around Small Group Housing on Campus and once again admired the rustic beauty of the Pond in that area. For several years when I lived in Eldorado…Spring meant the countdown to the weather becoming warm enough to go swimming in Pounds Hollow Creek. Pounds Hollow, which is part of the Shawnee National Forest, was about eighteen miles from Eldorado. Mom loved to swim as much as I did and thus a trip to Pounds Hollow as a semi-weekly adventure throughout the summer…and often three times per week.
Jackie Brooks, my buddy, my cousin Brenda and mom, and I would pile into her 1957 Belair Chevy Convertible and ride with ‘Devil May Care’ attitude to our summer destination. These trips were as fun for me as a trip to Europe…and I could go more often. There was no talk of applying sunblock to your exposed skin in those days, but rather tanning lotion to enable you to lay in the direct sunlight and cook your skin until it was a golden brown. We had no air conditioner in our home…and not many of my neighbors did either. Once it became hot you perspired or sweat…all of the day and throughout the night. Pounds Hollow was a pleasant remedy for heat discomfort. Jackie and I would swim beyond the safety rope of demarcation to the deepwater…where the Water Moccasins dwelt. No one really knew how deep the ‘deep water’ was…but we knew that if you become unable to swim or to float…you might just sink forever. We swam so far out in the water that mom and Brenda were indistinguishable from the other swimmers. We were unafraid as we knew that we were invincible. At times we brought along hamburgers to cook on the grills provided and hot dogs as well…although Jackie preferred his straight out of the package. But, at other times we opted for a stop at the Moo And Cackle fast food restaurant in Harrisburg, Illinois. Harrisburg was just seven miles from Eldorado…and we would eat the five for a dollar burgers as we rode with the top down on moms’ Chevy Ragtop.
Moo and Cackel were a 5 Star Restaurant…in my young mind. Mom and I had little money…but there was always a dollar for their delicious burgers. At times we would drive to Harrisburgh and purchase a dollar’s worth and take them home for our supper.
Lisa, my friend, had airconditioning in her home that was next to ours. In the heat of this summer, she invited me over for lunch and to play with her Barbie and Ken collection. I portrayed Ken… When she opened her front door to invite me in…I felt like that I was entering a refrigerator. I meditated on the chilling experience as I lay in my bed that night covered in perspiration and with my window open about 3 inches to facilitate the kitchen window fan, which was on the exhaust setting, pulling the cool night air into my cracked window. This represented our negotiating with the humid Southern Illinois heat.
Ben Franklin Dime Store advertised on their glass entry door that patrons should come in and shop in Air Conditioned Comfort as a round-faced Cloud Blew Cold Air from his mouth… Our car did not have airconditioning and this was a feature that many automobiles did not have from the factory. We had two windows in the front of our car on both the passenger and driver’s sides. One was the roll-down window and the other window was the Vent Window that was positioned in front of the larger one. The Vent Window had a latch that once unfastened the triangular small Vent Window could be pushed out a little…causing the passing air to blow on the driver or passenger much like a small fan…and if the car moved faster…the wind from the Vent Window moved faster as well.
Winters’ Curtain Call
Cold it is today as winter says its last goodbye. The Geese are still hanging out with the ducks. I traveled to Eldorado earlier in the week to snap some photos. I found out when I returned that we will be going to the town of my youth again this Monday…more photos will ensue. Winter gave the impression that it really was not in the mood for cold and snow and ice…until it decided that it was…
Many of my classmates have indicated that they enjoy the Eldorado photos…especially the One of the Orpheum Theatre. The Orpheum was a communal experience and centered in the hearts and minds of many of us Eldorado Baby Boomers. It has been an eventful winter with MJ and me making an enjoyable journey to Miramar Beach, Florida, and my subsequent inspiration to learn how to play a card game. MJ and I have played virtually every day since our return in early January. In fact, we just finished a game. We no more than returned when we contracted Covid along with Jonathon. The face mask mandate has been lifted and now the markets and theatres are filled with confused people who both are wearing masks and those who are not…while China is experiencing its’ biggest outbreak to date.
I think of Eldorado often. Days of carefree simplicity…and significant stress….much as life is. Summers off swimming at Pounds Hollow and Sundays spent at the Theatre. I enjoyed riding my bicycle which looked like a motorcycle. Later I got a three-speed bicycle and thought that it was a Cadillac. My bicycles represented freedom to me. On Saturdays and throughout the summer I would ride for hours on end. Mom trusted that I would not get into too much trouble…but the times were much different than today. There were no cell phones…we did not have a landline phone for our first years in Eldorado. I rode into town from my house on Shilo Road and then rode all over town and even to a little suburb of Eldorado, Wasson…and another called Broughton. I often arrived back at my country home as the fireflies were busily at work.
Grandma Askews’ house in Beulah Heights was mom and my go-to destination. She lived off of a brick road just like the Wizard of Oz…accept the bricks were not yellow. We spent all holidays at Grandma’ and I often enjoyed visiting with my friend, Debbie. Camp Grounds were popular in the days of my youth. Beulah Heights Camp Ground was at the end of her Brick Street. Grandma had chickens in her backyard. They had a pen…but they often escaped. My interaction with her chickens was a unique experience for me…being a Chicago boy. She had a little Terrier named Nugget. My bed… when we visited Grandma on our vacations from Chicago and before we moved to Eldorado, was the living room couch. Nugget slept in the upholstered chair that adjoined the couch. Nugget hated me and took every opportunity to demonstrate his profound dislike of my presence. During the night…in the dark…I would turn over on the couch…and Nugget would growl…and his white teeth would glisten in the moonlight. Nugget finally passed from this mortal coil and Grandma grieved. By this time mom and I lived in Eldorado and I was spending the night with Grandma. She had the coldest milk that she served in large porcelain mugs. I could not get enough of the primary beverage of my youth. Grandma poured me a large white mug full of delicious whole milk and she accompanied it with a couple of homemade cookies. As she departed the kitchen she wiped a tear from her eye and told me that she was going to pray of Narky, which was the new name that she had given Nugget a year or two prior to his death, and that when I finished my milk and cookies…I could join her. I wondered what we would be praying for…as Nugget was dead… I drank my milk especially slowly…and ate my cookies a bite at a time. Grandma finally returned and said that she was done praying for Narky.
Eldorado had a theatrical cast of characters…of which I was one.
Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear
Rainy and cool is the weather in Little Egypt. As I walked around Campus Lake I saw two Geese guarding a family of ducks. The ducks seemed pleased with the arrangement. There is a forecast for hail the size of golf balls in our area. That seems like some large hail to me.
I have been reflecting on the believability of con men and women…if listened to on a regular and insulated basis. ‘Bad Vegan’ is the story of Sarma Melngailis who ran a famous Vegan Restaurant in New York City. The Restaurant, Pure Food, And Wine was the go-to place for celebrities and the rich and famous. Sarma married Anthony Strangis who kept bilking her for money that he gambled away. He promised that he would cause her beloved Pit Bull Dog to live forever and that all of her wildest dreams would come true…and that everything that she was experiencing in this life was fake. Actually, it gets even more bizarre…and you should see the four-part documentary on Netflix. The most bizarre thing is that it seems that Sarma believed the Alice in Wonderland Tales that Anthony was telling her…up until she could no longer make payroll for her employees and her restaurant closed.
As I listened to Sarmas’ answer to the pointed questions that the documentarian was asking her it was obvious to me that she had been the victim of brainwashing. The question raised at one point in the film wondered if what she experienced was similar to what Patty Hearst, in the 1970s experienced when she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and her capture produced the shocking photo of her assisting in the robbery of a bank and her carrying a matching gun and wearing a beret? Is it possible for a person to believe something so steeped in fantasy…that it boggles the rationale mind as to how it occurred?
Yes…I say after watching so many follow dangerous religious/political cults. During World War II the citizens of Germany believed that Hitler was the savior of their country. Our former president believed that Vladimir Putin was a great leader. He recently commended his surrounding of Ukraine and mentioned how sharp and savvy he is. The Religious Cult Heavens Gate thought that they would all commit suicide, which they did, and would be picked up by a spaceship and follow the Hale Bop Comet. Their decaying bodies were found neatly in their bunk beds with their identical uniforms on. Jim Jones convinced 900 hundred people in Guyana, South America to drink cyanide-laced kool-aid and commit mass suicide. Mothers and fathers forced the deadly drink down the throats of their recalcitrant children.
Sarma was a media darling and on many magazine covers and a friend of the actor Alec Baldwin…whom she considered dating. When people talk to you of money that you can neither see nor touch…and invisible judges that are putting you through a test to ascertain how you perform under pressure…demand to see the physical reality…or walk away…
Eldorado…The City Of Gold
From my 5th year until my 17th I lived in Eldorado, Illinois. My mom and dad were experiencing marital troubles and their solution was to move from Chicago to Eldorado where many of my moms’ family resided. Dad had a good job in Chicago and had no job when we arrived in Eldorado. We moved into a massive white house on Illinois Avenue across from the High School Football Field. The house had 12-foot ceilings and a fireplace in each room. There was a coal-fired furnace in the basement. I slept in the utility room that was just wide enough for a single bed…I had to crawl to the foot of the bed to make my exit from the room. My cousin Brenda, whose family was sharing the large Ghost House with us, walked with me to and from Hillcrest School. She was in the 8th grade and I was beginning the 1st.
Trepidation is what I felt on my first day…but Janie and Debbie were so nice to me…I forgot my fear. My family and I would sit on the front of the wrap-around porch of the Ghost House and watch the Eldorado Eagles play football. It was very different than what I was accustomed to…and cold and fun. I loved Mrs. Kittinger, my first-grade teacher. She was kind and considerate. She was not able to finish the year…and I was sad… Dad started a Mechanic Business with his buddy, Bob Winters, and it seemed to be going good for a new venture…but the union between mom and dad…was lost.
Orpheum Theatre was my church. I spent every Sunday in its’ welcome confines. In those days I paid my 35 cents for my ticket and then purchased popcorn and a coke and a candy bar…and had some money left from my dollar movie budget. I sat and watched the movie…3 and sometimes 4 times. I found something new in each viewing.
Dennis and I concocted a plan that when the old gentleman who took the tickets at the Orpheum asked us to walk to the Dairy Queen to buy him some Marlbourghs…that we would get a pack for ourselves. Along with the Marlbourghs we purchased Barbecued Potato Chips…to cover the scent of our illicit tobacco. When questioned, once, by a DQ attendant…we noted that we were purchasing Marlbourghs for the Old Gentleman who cut the tickets at the Orpheum…as everyone knew him.
I visited Eldorado…yesterday. It had been more than 20 years since I walked the streets of the city. I recall when the parking was stripped on the Town Square for cars to park diagonally and it was somewhat difficult for two cars to pass each other between the parked automobiles that were partially in the street. I photographed the old city hall which is now apparently a museum. My uncle Bill was a police officer there…many years ago.
As I was walking down the streets of Eldorado…a man roughly my age was riding a bicycle toward me. As he passed he said, ‘How are you buddy,? and I responded that I was fine…and I inquired as to his well-being…to which he gave me a sly grin and a knowing eye… I wondered if he was one of my classmates…