Saturday, August 22, 2015

Clinton, Illinoios

Everything is green.  There are many corn fields on each side of the road as far as one can imagine.  And then there it was.  A sign that read “Welcome to Clinton”.   Nearby another sign boasting a population of just over 7,000 people.  In the thirties there were under 6,000 people.

 Clinton was founded in 1835 and named after DeWitt Clinton, an American politician.  It is reported that in 1858 Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Clinton in which he famously said, ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot 
fool all of the people all of the time”.

They dedicated their town square to President Lincoln.

Two centuries ago, Clinton was known as a place where Lincoln gave a speech.  Today, Clinton is best known for its Apple and Pork Festival.  However, for my sisters and me, it is best known as the place where our father grew up.

Dad died in November 1979 when I was thirty.  I left home when I was 18.  I never got to know who he was as a person.  I have a snippet of information here and one there.  Today I try to put the pieces together.  Who was this man?  I love this picture.  He has a spark in his eyes that I don't remember seeing in my dad.  He looks happy and carefree.  I'm sure this picture must have been taken before the war.  I wonder what he was doing the day this picture was taken.  Who took the picture?  Where were they?  It seems strange to look at this smiling handsome man and know so little about him.

He was a Certified Public Accountant who worked at Hughes Productions until his retirement.  He was a veteran of World War II who I believe was haunted by things he did and saw.  He was an outdoorsman – a hunter and fisherman.  He was a bowler.  After the war he flipped a coin.  College?  New Orleans and Jazz?  The later won the toss.  He worked in a plastics factory when his money ran out.  He met mom in California who talked him into college.  He earned a Bachelors Degree in Accounting from the University of Arizona in Tucson.  He passed his CPA exam and began working at Haskins and Sells. These are all facts but it doesn’t tell me anything about who he is or his character.

I'm not sure what I expected as we drove into Clinton for the first time.  We stood at the sign, taking turns posing for a picture.

We were armed with the 1933 Census data and knew his boyhood home address.  It was the first place we set out to find.  There it stood - in disarray.  It appeared that a second story had been added but we could imagine my Grandmother and Grandfather living there with their three children:  two girls and a boy.  They were poor.  His dad, Otto Gideon Pettyjohn died young. He was alcoholic. I never knew him.  I got out and looked around the corner house, aware that I was walking in the very place that dad called his home.  What must life have been like for him as a young boy?

Our next stop was the Catholic Church.  Dad was an alter boy at this Church.  Although the church doors were locked we did return later and went inside.  The priest was less than friendly and seemed annoyed by our presence.  The intense hatred dad had for the Church leaves much for my sisters and I to imagine.

We meandered around town and stopped to talk with people who were sitting on porches, a policeman who gave us directions and passerby’s taking a walk.  Other than the Priest, everyone was very friendly and welcoming.  

We had lunch at the Shack.  A restaurant that was there when dad lived there.  As we sat at the table we speculated about whether he had eaten there.  His family was poor.  Maybe he worked there.  Maybe he just passed by now and then. 
The Shack
We visited the graveyard.  It was a large cemetary with four sites and thousands of graves. We didn't have any idea where we might find our grandfather although we knew he was buried there.  At one point I said, "Stop the car. Let me get out."  I began walking when I heard Sue say, "Right there!  There is a Pettyjohn."  Sure enough there he was, Otto Gideon.  That was a little creepy!  How did that happen?
Before we left on the trip I did some research, as I always do, developing an itinerary that maximizes our time.  I found the C.H. Moore Homestead Museum.  When I described this to my sisters, I said, “This probably won’t be that interesting.  I saw a video on line, but lets try it anyway.”  It turns out that it was a great find.  And, this is the reason for the Apple and Pork Festival.  It is a fundraiser to fund the mansion's upkeep.  Imagine.  This small community of just over 7,000 residents swells to over 80,000 during the festival.

Joey Wooldridge

Joey Woolridge, tells us about the old mansion before we explore. It turns out she was a wealth of information and had passion for Clinton history.  She was more interesting than the mansion.  

The Mansion was built after the Civil War and completed in 1867.  It only took a couple of questions and Joey was off, talking about various families and Clinton history beyond the home.  At one point she disappeared and upon return she presented information about James Pettyjohn who owned the Pettyjohn Saloon in Kenney, Illinois, a short drive from Clinton.   This was our Great-Grandfather.  There was a murder in his saloon. It must have been a big deal.  How fun to learn this small detail!

We later found that James Pettyjohn, a farmer, was the first settler of Kenney, Illinois.  He came from Kentucky in 1839.  It feels amazing to hear about people who, in part, made it possible for me to be here today.

And so as we leave this quaint, friendly small town, I am left with three things about my dad:  he was the child of an alcoholic, he was haunted by the war, he hated the Catholic Church.  Dad was distant, a womanizer and later an alcoholic himself.  Although I didn't learn much more about him than I knew before the visit, it was special to be part of this little town for a few hours.  Questions are still unanswered.  What haunted him?  I can’t be sure, but the speculation that has swirled around the questions is likely at least part truth.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Route 66

We woke early in the morning, gathering our things, sharing a bathroom and talking about the events of the day ahead.  It’s Saturday morning and we are on our way to Clinton, Illinois, but first a short trip down part of Route 66.  There appears to be only one problem.  We don’t really know how to get to Route 66. 

We stop at a gas station for gas and I declare, “I will buy a map!”  My sister Janyn says, “but we don’t know how to read them”.  I reply, “but we will learn”.  I go into the minimart and there it is…the map section.  They have lots of different maps.  I don’t know where we are or know anything about counties.  How do I pick a map that no one knows how to read that will be of major value to us.  I do the thing that makes sense.  I buy the most expensive map. It costs $4.  I bring it back to the car and my other sister, Sue, looks at me like I’m from mars.  She used to drive a truck.  She knows about maps.  She knows roads.  She can get us there.  I defend my map!  Okay, maybe we don’t need this map although it is a fine map.  Throughout the trip I insist on keeping the map.  But, in the mean time, I revert back to my smart phone!  That is where I’ll figure it out.  Sue is quiet, keeping her negative thoughts in check.

Somehow, Sue miraculously got us to Route 66, most of which was pretty mundane, although there were wonderful old barns . . . and lots of cornfields; the fields of dreams.  I keep commenting, “Everything is so green”.  As a drought conditioned Californian, anything that doesn’t resemble dead is a wonder of nature. 

 We are looking for Funks Grove.  There is a Sirup farm there.  No I didn’t spell syrup improperly; they did.  Actually, I looked it up and there is a difference:

“Syrup is an alternative form of sirup.  As nouns the difference between syrup and sirup is that syrup is any thick liquid that is added to or poured over food as a flavoring and has a high sugar content also any viscous liquid white sirup is (obsolete) a thick and viscid liquid made from the juice of fruits, herbs, etc. boiled with sugar”  HUH???  Oh well.

We stopped for lunch in Atlanta.  It is a nice little town filed with signs about all the historical Route 66 memories they hold dear.  I imagine the town once bustling with people and old cars.  Today, there are memorabilia shops, restaurants and a museum.  Unfortunately the museum is closed, but I did take a picture of the Christmas tree in the window.  No, I have no idea why there would be a Christmas tree in their window in July, but isn’t that fun!

Of course we had to take pictures of the "famous" hot dog man.

We walked through a couple of shops and ate lunch and were on our way to find what is referred to as “a sirup so good you will want to drink it straight”.  We are headed to Funks Grove Pure Maple Sirup. We drove through beautiful forest.  We stopped to tour an old cemetery.  There were many emblems honoring civil war casualties.  Many of the headstones were buried within trees that had grown from the ground nudging them so that they appeared to be one with the tree.  Janyn felt the need to get out of the car and photo bomb this picture.  I'm not sure why, lets just say she is the youngest of us and arguably the most immature.  Or, maybe she's just happy.

A short drive later we arrived.  It was a small shack with signs warning drivers to watch for their pets.  We walked inside the shack, which barely held four people and there was a woman behind the counter.  She immediately poured sirup into a cup for us to taste.  That really looked pretty disgusting, but after one sip I changed my mind.  Yes, this could be a drink!  

I may never spell sirup correctly again.  Rich and thick, I have never had sirup that tasted this good.  My only problem was deciding how many gallons to buy!  And sirup candy too.  She cooks the pure sirup down into a thick base, set in little leaf molds and cooled into an amazing sugary confection.  As a sugar aficionado, I am in heaven.  

Monday, August 17, 2015


Time passes quickly.  There is so much to do.  There are children to raise, jobs to go to, and errands to do.  My dad died in 1979 and my mom left us in 2008.  I have two sisters; one in Washington DC and one in New Jersey.  I often see Janyn, the youngest.  We have travelled together on several trips.  She met me in Saint Lucia and Ghana.  We recently went to New Orleans.  We visited Las Vegas.  I met her in New York and in Washington D.C.  But Sue has not been able to be with us until now.

The three of us planned this long weekend a couple of months ago….a long weekend in Illinois beginning in Chicago, stopping in Clinton and a short visit to Springfield.  The highlight of this trip was finding the street where mom grew up and the small town where dad grew up.

Janyn has a long history of the Pettyjohn family posted on Ancestry.  She has the 1933 Census that shows the homes of mom and dad.  As I get older, I realize how little I know of my parents.  I know them as parents, but not as people.  There are so many unanswered questions.

We meet at O’Hare.  Janyn and Sue drove and it would prove handy to have the car.  The day today is simple.  Find the place where my mom grew up, take a peak at Wrigley Field and eat Chicago Pizza for dinner and take a stroll in Lincoln Park.

It's unfortunate that we were in town when the Cubs were out of town.  Maybe next time.

Lincoln Park was nice, but we really lacked time to explore it fully.

As far as the pizza...well, sorry Chicago, New York wins.  Actually, I think John Stewart says it best!

But it wasn't just the pie.  It was also the place where we ate the pie.  It was part restaurant, part garage sale, part spiritual meditation.

Okay, enough about pizza.  It was a small part of our trip and, if nothing else, entertaining.  

We aren’t sure what kind of neighborhood we are entering, but as we get closer and although I definitely look different than the people on the street, I feel safe.  There are people sitting on the porches and others walking their children in strollers.  The street is lined with trees.  It is a fairly busy street.  The house where mom lived is an empty lot but there are homes on each side.  They are old brick homes each identical to the other.  Mom lived here during the depression.  She lived in the basement of this big house. Grandma worked at a meat packing company as a secretary.  Basements were less expensive.

An interesting side note is that my Grandma divorced and was surviving during the Depression, but was living “in sin” with a man named Dr. Orlich.  I know nothing more than the name, which I’m sure, is spelled incorrectly.

As I sit in the car looking at the homes, I see a man sitting on the porch and a young child playing in the small yard.  It’s not difficult to imagine my mother sitting on the front stoop – alone.  My grandmother would make her go outside to play.  She didn’t like being outside.  Sometimes she shivered as it snowed while she sat on that stoop. I have very few memories of my childhood, but I do remember this small snippet.  When I heard the story as a small child I wondered why grandma would ask her to play outside.  As a grown woman I completely understand.  Grandma had to do what she had to do to survive. 

Possibly this experience is partially responsible for making my mother who she was: damaged, a chameleon, image conscious and different from other mothers.  When I was in my early twenties, Grandma asked me to help her write a book about her life.  I wish I had taken that opportunity, but I was too young to appreciate the depth of understanding I would come to crave fifty years later.

It was interesting to reflect while standing on the sidewalk where my mother walked as a small child in this old Chicago neighborhood.