And then today….
I was once again drawn to a Facebook group page named “You Know Ur From CHENOA, IL…
Yesterday I got caught up checking out posts and pictures a number of Chenoa fans have been publishing, and I enjoyed a warm, fuzzy flashback to my childhood. Chenoa is a small town (population just over 1700 when I grew up there and probably still just 1700) in central Illinois at the “Crossroads of Opportunity”–Routes 66 & 24. Old Route 66 still exists there for local traffic, but I-55 has replaced it as a super highway.
My childhood was in a family of six children on a livestock farm (milk cows, chickens, sometimes sheep and mostly pigs. That’s a memory for another time. We lived just 2 miles from town. (I’ve lived in a western suburb of Chicago for the last 40 years.)
My memories as I wrote on Facebook included a description of my 1950’s Chenoa downtown with two grocery stores, two drugstores, restaurants, a dimestore, furniture, hardware and other businesses which offered us everything we needed. We felt like we had it all and supported our local shops. Now the downtown is mostly vacant and I believe only one drugstore remains. Good for Shuirman’s, now Chenoa Pharmacy, for hanging in there so locals can at least get prescriptions and other necessities.
I waitressed at a small restaurant on Route 66 where the owner favored truck drivers and saved a large table reserved just for them. (I discovered years later, while pulling out my yearbooks to take to a reunion, that I must have put my yearbook on their table, as I have two pages filled with their notes.) Both locals and highway traffic frequented the restaurant, so it was a positive “slice of life” in the fifties.
One sad commentary, however, is that a sign was posted “We reserve the right to seat and serve our customers” which allowed the owners to discriminate in their treatment and service to African Americans. They were never allowed to sit at the counter and they always would get their food to go. Again, the civil rights movement is a memory for another time. I could write books about it now, reflecting back over my lifetime and what I’ve experienced and learned.
The basis of my Facebook paragraph was my appreciation of the people of Chenoa and gratitude for the small town values I’ve carried with me for a lifetime. Seems like none of us had much money, but we didn’t know it. We had everything we needed including respect and support from each other.
Chenoa High School had a population of 200 with my graduating class being 42. Now the schools have been consolidated and the students bus approximately 15 miles away. More change….
Our favorite hang-out with the best cheeseburgers is long gone, although I do believe the building still exists.
One thing that does remain the same is the Chenoa Cemetery, just outside of town. In recent months I’ve been to the cemetery three times for burials. Of course, it’s larger and filling with headstones of names I haven’t thought of in years. The visits offer layers of emotion and reality.
But one of the best things that I take away from the Facebook experience is the outpouring of comments and “likes” from generations of Chenoa residents. Many express their pride of having been part of Chenoa’s history and relationships they continue to cherish.
I find this particularly rewarding. Also, Thank God, it means some things never change. Good people continue to be good people.