Saturday, September 11, 2010

A trip to the old home town . . .

My parents grew up in Hillsdale, Illinois, a small town in the Quad Cities area of the state, near the Iowa border. My dad's mom lives in Bloomington/Normal with my Aunt Christine, her husband Lyndon, and my Uncle Bill, so my parents and I decided to take a long weekend (well, they decided and I invited myself along) to visit my grandma, their old hometown, and some other friends and relatives. We planned our trip for the weekend of August 27th-30th.

We arrived in Peoria early Friday morning, rented a car, and hit the road for Hillsdale. Even after 32 years of marriage, my mom still gets nervous as a passenger, especially when my dad's playing tour guide as he drives. I, however, loved riding around with my dad pointing out farms where he used to work, the meat packing plant (formerly Illini Meat Packing Plant, now a Tyson Farms plant) houses my maternal grandfather built, the river shack he grew up in, and the house where I spent the first four years of my life. It was an interesting tour; a lot of the places look like they haven't c
hanged much in the 25 years since we moved and the 14 years since my last visit.

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We stopped by to visit my dad's aunt Doris, who still lives in the same house she lived in when my dad was a kid. Her daughter and daughter's family live there as well, and we got to meet the whole bunch. That was the first time I had met that particular set of cousins.

After that, we tried to visit my dad's Aunt Donna & Uncle John, but they weren't home. They are in their mid 80's and still active and social. We found out later that Friday is their night out on the town. They called and we arranged to go back the following morning. Donna & John live in East Moline, which is also the World Headquarters of the John Deere Corporation (my dad worked for John Deere in the early 80's, he was laid off, and we moved to Arizona). We drove by the old factory where my dad worked, which is still there,
although the building he worked in has been torn down, and also visited the World Headquarters, which has a free small museum right inside the entrance. The headquarters are situated on several hundred acres that is kept up as a park, and is beautifully maintained.

We arrived at 10 to 5, so only had a brief tour of the museum. Did you know John Deere started out building bikes?

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After that, we headed into Moline to have dinner at Frank's Pizzeria, a local treasure, and some of the best homemade sausage I've ever had. My parents said it hasn't changed at all since they went on dates here during High School. We tried to get ice cream at The Ice Cream Palace just down the road, my dad talked about how when he was a kid they served cones with two heads so you could have double the ice cream. We were disappointed though; they may still be named The Ice Cream Palace, but guess what they DON'T serve?? That's right; they now only serve Mexican food as a sit-down restaurant. I didn't realize that signage was that expensive to replace. . . .

Still full from pizza, we decided the lack of ice cream was probably better for us, and headed to Viola to try and visit Paula Lundquist, my mom's best friend from high school. We were in luck, because even though we didn't have a working phone number, she happened to be home and she put us up for the night.

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The next morning we woke up and visited with Paula's husband Doug (he had been working the night shift when we showed up, and Paula left for work early Saturday morning), then headed out to find some breakfast and back to Donna and John's house. We succeeded in both. I even bought some crafts that my great-aunt Donna had made, for my niece Zoey. (pictured here upon return from IL)

We did find ice cream after leaving John & Donna's, we stopped at Whitey's, a Quad City treasure. You can order it online and have it shipped, but $80 is a little pricey for me. I'll just have to go back for more. Finally we were on the road to Grandmother's house, quite literally over the river and through the woods. I hadn't seen my Grandma in over a decade, since she moved away from Arizona, and it was great to visit. Since I was just an annoying know-it-all teenager when my grandma had lived with us, I hadn't really taken the time to get to know her, or her stories. I spent the two days we visited catching up on everything I'd never asked before, and learned quite a bit. My grandma is a tough lady; she is currently undergoing dialysis 3 times per week, but her mind and memory as still sharp as a tack. My uncle Bill is working with my Grandma to develop a family tree and the stories to go along with it; and by memory she can go 4 generations back for both her family and my Grandpa Don's family. My grandfather passed away a few years ago from prostate cancer.

It was a great weekend. I hadn't seen Christine and Lyndon since my last trip to Illinois 14 years ago, and it had been about 9 years since I'd seen Bill, so it was nice to catch up with everyone. On Sunday we went to a town fair in Lincoln, then Bill made fantastic fajitas for dinner; and I impressed even Lyndon with my homemade salsa.

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I'm looking forward to visiting again soon; this spring when the snow melts. Hey, I'm a desert dweller now!! I've posted pictures from the trip; as I review them I realize I didn't take nearly as many as I should have, but I was trying to take in everything and pay attention to my dad's stories, so forgive me for not having my camera always at the ready.

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