We traveled to Manteno, driving up early Friday so I'd have time to check out the wedding and reception sites before the rehearsal and to get checked into our hotel. Mama and daddy rode with us since they're all about a road trip to see family, especially if they can get chauffeured everywhere. It was also a chance for us to see the town we lived in during the early part of mama and daddy's marriage. We lived in Manteno until I was five. Daddy worked at the arsenal in Joliet, and we lived in a small upstairs apartment on the main drag in Manteno, right across from the rail station. On weekends, mama and I often road the train south to southern Illinois where grandpa and grandma picked us up at the train station for a short visit. I have vague memories of those train rides. It seemed like such a big adventure then. It was $6 a ticket, roundtrip, and they didn't charge for me. Which was a good thing because mama and daddy had no money back then. In fact, a lack of money is what sent them north when I was a baby. I didn't know the full story about that decision until we were talking on the drive north Friday.
Daddy was a mechanic in the tiny town where we lived. I was a baby, and mama had quit her nursing job to stay home with me. Daddy made $55 a week, and as mama put it, they were slidin' in the hole fast. Daddy asked for a raise. His boss grandly offered him $5 a week more. Daddy said that wouldn't work for him and asked for his final check. He walked out the door, went home to mama and told her to pack. They were going north where he heard there were jobs. That was a Saturday. They left on Sunday. THE NEXT DAY. They stayed with my aunt and uncle in Manteno until they could find a place to live and daddy landed a job. For the next few years, we lived in that small town until shortly after I started kindergarten. Work took us home to southern Illinois in 1969, where I grew up along with SuperCop, who was born in Manteno right before we moved south and Handy Man who came along later.
My memories of Manteno are of the train station, our second floor apartment (which is still there), the grocery store where I asked the owner to bring me a baby brother just like he shipped in baby chickens and the beauty shop where mama got her hair done and I got treated to a Dr. Pepper and Hostess cherry pie at each visit. I'm sure it was to keep me occupied while mama was getting her hair cut, but because it was a special treat I thought a Hostess cherry pie and a Dr. Pepper were the grandest thing outside of Christmas. I also have memories of spending time at my aunt and uncle's house which was a loud, hoppin' place because of their six kids, five of which were all older than me. There was always something going on there, and I loved being there. It was very exciting compared to our house. It was extremely exciting the day aunt Betty's pressure cooker blew up, spewing food to the ceiling and sending us kids diving under the kitchen table. There was also the day I choked on a peppermint candy and aunt Betty picked me up by the leg, turned me upside down and swatted that piece of candy out of my mouth and across the room. I'm not sure, but I think I saw a bright light right before she smacked my back. Or maybe it was after. All I know is I owe my life to her quick thinking.
We drove by their old house Friday while we were killing time before the rehearsal, only to find that it had been torn down. That made me sad. I haven't been there in 43 years, but I guess I just hated to see a memory disappear. We also drove down Main Street, where the heart of the downtown area is. Across the railroad tracks at 720 Oak Street was our old apartment building. It looked the same, really. They've painted it beige and added an awning. The yard in the back looks the same, and the upstairs balcony where mama took my picture with my birthday cake was still intact. It all looked like it did during the big winter storm where daddy had to shovel a path from that balcony because our front door was blocked by the snow.
We drove all over town and throughout parts of Kankakee all weekend as we attended all of the wedding festivities. We discovered that parts of that area have grown quite a bit. Some things have changed, much to Daddy's surprise since he couldn't remember how to get around as well as he thought he would. About thirty minutes after our arrival Friday, I started punching stuff into the GPS instead of relying on his memory. OR Hubby's internal compass. The man has a severe distrust of the GPS which gets us into all kinds of trouble and makes my head spin. Like in the hour before the wedding when we were racing across town to get to the church and they wanted to try some shortcut. If I don't get into heaven it's likely because of the thoughts I was having during that drive. Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned.It was good to see the old stomping grounds after 43 years. And it was good to visit the little spots around Manteno that hold fleeting memories from my five year old self. If we had had more time, we would have seen more and visited more with family. As it was, we had a great fast weekend that created new memories. The wedding was beautiful. The bride was gorgeous, and everyone involved just felt darn good after seeing such a wonderful young woman marry the man of her dreams.
I didn't take a picture of our old apartment building. I just had this unexplained reluctance to get out of the car and snap a picture, which is so unlike me. It didn't occur to me until the ride home that perhaps I just wanted to remember it the way it was back then. Back when Mama and Daddy had the incredible nerve to just pull up stakes and set up housekeeping in a brand new place hours away from home in the course of 24 hours. With a hungry baby in tow. When I asked Mama Friday how she felt about that she just said matter of fact like that they didn't have a choice. They just did what they had to do. And they managed to do it with the help of family. Some of those 23,618 family members that are scattered from one end of Illinois to another. Like the Rockefellers, but without the money.