Childhood memories

I was born in a house my father built. This is not to say that my father drew up the architectural plans for the house, that he dug the basement or poured the cement for the foundations of the house. Nor did he raise the walls, shingle the roof, or install the plumbing and electrical work. My parents paid professional workers to do all these tasks; they oversaw the work and even suggested two or three small refinements to the original plan. But it was their house from the beginning; no other family had ever lived there before, and no other family has lived there since.

The land was a gift from my mother’s parents. In 1939 they purchased a farmhouse and three acres of land from the original farm. Their plan at the time was that their son and their daughter would each be given a quarter of the property to build a home. This plan was fulfilled; so my nearest neighbors growing up were my grandparents next door and my uncle and aunt and cousins behind us. For legal purposes, my parents were required to pay some money to my grandparents to acquire the land. My father gave my grandfather a ten dollar bill the day the papers were signed to transfer the property; at the end of the ceremony, my grandfather secretly returned the cash to my father, telling him, “You need this more than I do.”

Not only did my father really build the house; I was not really born in the house. I was born eleven miles away, in the maternity ward of a hospital. The family doctor my parents chose practiced in that hospital, not in the hospital located in their hometown, which was much closer to their house. My birth certificate lists my legal birthplace as one town, but my genuine hometown has always been the house where my parents lived when I was born, the town where I grew up and went to school, the town where I was baptized and confirmed, where I attended church with my parents, where I played outdoors with the neighborhood children or alone, where I learned many of the things that I know and remember today.

Winfield had 567 residents in 1940, the year after my grandparents moved there. I had a railroad station, a tavern, and a tuberculosis sanitarium that would become Central DuPage Hospital. By the time I was in school, in 1970, the village had grown to 4,285 residents. Today the population approaches ten thousand Winfielders. The hospital is the largest employer in town, along with the school district and some stores. For the most part, Winfield is a bedroom community; workers live in Winfield but drive or take the train to their jobs in other places. Wikipedia lists a number of famous people who have lived in Winfield: professional athletes, writers, artists, and the like. My name is not yet on that list. Also missing from the list is Colonel Robert McCormick, whose mansion is just south of the village. McCormick once owned the Chicago Tribune. His estate has become a museum commemorating his life and remembering his service with the First Infantry Division of the United States Army. The property also includes flower gardens, picnic grounds, and a display of tanks on which children have climbed and played for years. The McCormick Estate is called Cantigny—technically pronounced “canteen” for the place in France, but always given the obvious three-syllable designation by those of us who lived nearby.

Wikipedia also mentions Schmidt’s pond, from which ice was harvested every winter to sell to families during the spring and summer and fall. Peter Schmidt dug the pond and began the ice business, but my mother knew it as the Klein pond and I knew it as the Enders pond, since the land changed ownership over the years. In the late 1980s, I met two women in Chicago who had traveled out to Winfield and visited the Kleins when they were girls, long before I was born. The pond was across the street and on the other side of the creek from the house where I lived.

My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse. I went to the same school years later, but several wings had been attached to the original structure, and a new Middle School was built across the street while I was a student. I walked to school every day regardless of the weather, went home for lunch and returned for afternoon classes, and walked home again at the end of the day. The walk was short; I had to walk farther to catch the bus that took me to high school after I graduated from eighth grade.

I cannot go home again. Our house was built in a flood plain. A few years ago it was bought by the local government and leveled. Other than the school and Cantigny, not much remains from the village that I remember. Things change. People change. The landmarks of my childhood live on only in memory. J.

9 thoughts on “Childhood memories

  1. Our lives were often on the go, except for about 8 years which I considered my home and childhood, for that was where I stayed until graduation, having longer term friends. I went back decades later, appreciating, but times change. Good memories.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I left my hometown in 2006 and went back in 2013 and again in 2016. Time had already caused enough changes it was nowhere near what I remembered in most areas. Some places had stayed pretty much the same like the riverfront and the forested areas. The town itself had vastly changed though. I still have many good memories from my youth though.

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  2. My hometown was right next to the Mississippi River. Floods are an every year danger there. Houses in the flood plain there have to be built in stilts or not at all. Two huge floods I remember there was from 1973 and 1993 both caused so much destruction. The one in 1993 was made even worse by a man that broke a levee on the Missouri side of the river. Which caused a gas station to explode, killed live stock, destroyed homes and farmland.
    I left there in 2006 and moved near San Antonio Texas and though I love it here sometimes I really miss that big old muddy river, walking in the forests, fishing, and mushroom hunting. I still have my memories from the past and they will have to do now. I feel as long as we keep our memories it keeps those times alive in our minds at least.

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    • I remember the Flood of ’93 on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Our little creek overflowed several times within my memory, putting three to four feet of water in the basement. The first time, they said that the event was a Forty Year Flood, something that would only happen once every forty years on the average. If that were true, I would now be over two hundred years old. J.

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      • I was 11 years old when the flood of ’73 happened and they told us it was a 500 year flood and then it happened again in ’93 and I thought wow that was a fast 500 years. My hometown is Quincy Illinois if you know where that is not many do. Now I live in a semi desert where there never seems to be enough water.

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  3. An interesting yet melancholy story, J. Was I correct in reading that it was your father’s home that he built that was razed? As I recall Cantigny is a brick building. Maybe you should have bought that one. 🙂

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