Today was another gloriously cool day in Little Egypt. The temperature was sweater weather and a great day to smoke a cigar…if you had one. I and my family of mom and dad moved to Southern Illinois in 1962 and it was an abrupt change from where we had lived in the Chicago suburb of Sauk Village. Now, I do not mean it was a bad change…but it was jarring. I left people and places and things that I had become accustomed to in my young life. I soon picked up on the fact that we lived in a small town that was loosely connected to several other small towns in an impoverished rural area that was virtually always termed; Southern Illinois. One of the loose connections in our geographical area was sports. Another connection was automobiles…and as soon as a person was old enough to obtain one…and had the resources to do so…they were essential. Friday nights in Eldorado consisted of those who had cars driving around the Town Square…slowly…while those of us who wanted cars…watched with a bit of envy. One of the first communal activities that I engaged in when I arrived at the Haunted House that was direct across from the Eldorado High School Football Field…was to watch Friday Night Football…and I am not referring to the television show. I quickly observed the smiles on my dad and Uncle Bills’ faces as they watched the Eldorado Eagles play football…I quickly discovered that this was a big deal in Little Egypt.
We heard of the mystery of the big University in Carbondale. The news did not reach our Eldorado Daily Journal every day due to being 50 miles away from the City…but anecdotal information was plentiful. We understood in Hillcrest School that there was a world-class college in Carbondale…we just did not know where Carbondale was. I personally felt the power of the visits of the SIUC Theatre Students each year when they traveled to our little school to perform a play for us. After I sat through one of their magnificent moving performances…I wanted to visit SIUC. We also heard that there was a Protest Parade…or something similar thereto…against the Vietnam War…and that some of the young women were bare-chested…I knew again…that I must visit Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Southern Illinois is rich in churches. On my numerous visits to Eldorado…I lost count of the churches that are on almost every block. There are the old established churches that were there when I was a child…and there are numerous storefront churches…sometimes with unusual names. Eldorado had not only a lovely statue of an angel but also stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. I love any type of angel depiction. Indeed…life in Southern Illinois was centered around Church when we moved here in 1962…and for the most part, it still is…with a large influx of non-denominational groups.
I visited Murphysboro this morning and snapped some photos. Murphysboro is just 7 miles from Carbondale…but I have not been there an abundance of times. It is the County Seat…so we travel there to pay our taxes. Murphysboro is the most active Southern Illinois town that I have visited thus far…outside of Carbondale…and has many Antique Shops and other small businesses. It is said that Murphysboro had the opportunity to have Southern Illinois University built in their town…but passed. They are the proud home of The Apple Festival. They also are the home of 17th Street Barbecue…which is not only world-famous but was sought by former President Clinton when he visited SIUC.
Murphysboro and all of Southern Illinois is picturesque land and beautiful people…that have often been forgotten. When I tell someone that I am from Illinois their response is, ‘Yes…I have been to Chicago.’ Our news media is obsessed with either the east coast… with some glancing nods to the west coast…while there is an abundance of riches of talent and ‘Place’…and people in locations such as Little Egypt…that go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Southern Illinois is full of proud hard-working people who are not looking for a handout…just a hand-up. There is a peaceful and pleasant and compelling life to be had in the rolling hills of Southern Illinois. Most who come here…never leave because of the sheer beauty of their surroundings. Life is somewhat slower than the City…but it is careful and connected and offers time to reflect on what is important to you…