Everyone at the Eiler household slept in Saturday morning except Rick, who was up and out running with his buddies. He had the morning paper already read and on the table for the rest of us. When Elijah came down, I had to tease him about coming in at 3 a.m. (This was an incident from the play where the mother would start with 3 a.m. and end up saying her son came in at 4 or 5. Elijah was in by midnight or shortly after I think. I heard him arrive home, but I didn’t open my eyes to check the clock. It is so pleasant to be a grandmother!) Elijah was soon off in the van to some morning activity.
Jeannie borrowed the car and went for groceries, which included lunch for all of us. Her allergies were still sounding miserable but the night’s sleep had helped. After lunch we had a couple of hours free, and I joined her in her wall paper scraping project.
She had invited me to sit in the rocker and visit with her while she worked—but I was intrigued by the difficulty of removing the ancient wall covering and I could not resist trying the spray-on goop that looked like jelled blue Windex. I wasn’t very good at it, but I enjoyed the visiting. We did not finish the room, but we had a lot of bits of damp paper on the floor to prove we’d tried.
Jeannie is my daughter who always has a project going. Was it l,000 origami birds she was assembling for a school tree one year? She brought materials along on her visit to Woodsong, and I tried making a few while we visited that time. Another time it was an ongoing mural in a preschool room that was adorable when finished. I lacked the talent to help with that one. Once it was letting her children experience the birth of puppies. They sold some, gave one or two away including one destined to a short life that a loving volunteer accepted with promises to make that short life a happy one. Other times she is planning a party or has a food project going. I am not usually around to help, but I enjoy seeing the photos or hearing her stories. I always love seeing the art on the walls of her home or her latest intriguing finds from rummage sales.
After a brief rest, it was time to go across town and pick up another friend of Cecelie named Jen also. (If I understood right, there is a third Jen too.) Jeannie took us downtown to a multi-theater complex where we saw Letters to Juliet. (Or was it Letters from Juliet? I am assuming this movie was based on a real custom of putting letters to Juliet in a wall in Verona, but I did not know of it before. If there was not such a custom before, there will be now after this romantic movie.)
Our plan was to grab a bite to eat before the play, but the movie was longer than Jeannie anticipated so everyone elected to hold off on food till afterwards and go on to the last night of Enter Laughing. Rick met us there, where we had great seats to enjoy the high energy production that exists when kids throw their hearts into making the last night the best of all. I vicariously experience both the exhilaration and the underlying sadness knowing the students’ weeks of close-knit work is coming to an end.
For Tim Conners, this play was a trip down memory lane. It was the first play he directed at Freeport High School twenty years ago. Conversations with some of those long-ago students inspired him to reprise this production. The cast picture after the play captured this year’s kids in the identical pose as those earlier thespians. Maybe memories keep alive what we don’t want to end.
Jeannie and I stayed up talking awhile after the evening ended, for I had told everyone I intended to leave the next morning whenever I woke up. We said our goodbyes at bedtime. At seven I woke, dressed, packed the car, filled up at the local gas station and was leaving Freeport at eight. Jeannie had printed directions from MapQuest showing me how to go straight down from Bloomington on Route 55 to reach Mary Ellen’s home.
I had also been extremely upset that I missed Trent and Brianna’s spring play because of a conflict. I so wanted to see their first high school performance. Since Brianna was playing clarinet in the band and choir concert on Sunday afternoon, I decided to surprise her by showing up. Again the weather was beautiful and everything went smoothly for me despite the somewhat tricky frontage road. I reached the town of Waggoner (population 250) without incident where I was delighted to see two sisters on two tiny bikes riding down the main street. The older was probably five or six, and it was obvious that this was a place where it was taken for granted that it was safe for the children to ride in the street. I was smiling as they pulled without haste into their yard. Only then was I able to increase my speed to arrive at Mary Ellen’s rural home five miles down the road.
I had chosen not to pull off the road for breakfast, and I expected to find a restaurant for lunch at Raymond, where Trent and Brianna’s high school is. I knew there was a band association banquet for the kids and their families at 1:00 and I would be invited if it was a pot luck, but not if it was a catered affair requiring reservations. Brian was on his tractor doing yard work and greeted me explaining that Mary Ellen and Brianna had gone on to the high school to set up for the banquet since Mary Ellen was immediately elected president of this band parent group last fall. (Parents with time for such volunteering are always scarce and Mary Ellen was willing to pitch in and get acquainted as a newcomer to the community.)
Brian phoned Mary Ellen to tell her I was there, which prevented my plan of walking in unexpectedly, but it got me an invitation to the banquet since Mary had bought a ticket for Trent and he had chosen not to go. As soon as Brian finished up and showered, we’d drive over together to Raymond, which I would never have found probably by myself.
In the meantime, I was able to go downstairs with Trent and check out his poetry project assigned by the junior class English teacher. He had hooked up his computer to the big screen television, and I could easily read his entries and enjoy his artistic arrangement and choice of fonts for each poem. The teacher had given the kids prompts and formats for various types of poems, and Trent had done a good job. The next morning I would see his printed-out version of the project.
Telling Trent goodbye, I encouraged him to catch up on his Algebra II assignments while we were gone. Again my car came in handy since a trailer was hitched to Brian’s truck.
We traveled across the flat acres of central Illinois divided into squares by the straight rural roads. That is why all the roads there look alike to me. (Here in Southern Illinois, roads curve following the woods, bluffs, and creeks that the roads are beside.)
The delicious buffet dinner in the gym foyer featured fried chicken and yummy slaw supplemented by veggies and salads carried in by the parents. We sat at decorated tables set up in the school gym, where there was a long dessert table tempting us with the parents’ specialties. Band and choir members were presented certificates rewarding their service and accomplishments, and Mary Ellen presented the parent association’s $500 scholarship to a senior student going on to study music at Greenville College. While parents pitched in helping put away tables and foods, the high school kids hurried to get into their beautiful new band uniforms or choir robes.
The 3 p.m. concert in a beautiful auditorium began with the fifth grade band and the typical squeaking clarinet and progressed through the junior high choir and band. Finally, both the high school choir and band performed, and the splendid results of hard work and years of practice were exhibited. Not only did we receive a program that listed all performers’ names, but we also were given a several page printed collection of notes on the music played and facts about the composers. I liked this added touch, which I’d never seen done before, for I thought it educated all of us in addition to the students.
Afterwards at Mary Ellen and Brian’s house, people changed into comfy clothes. Soon we climbed into Brian’s new truck with comfy back-seats despite the high step up to enter. He was returning equipment he had borrowed for his lawn, and I would see his office at Stone Seeds for the first time. After some more sight seeing, Brian took us to a favorite Springfield restaurant and we had a delicious late night supper. Back home with ink for Trent’s printer for his poetry project, we visited awhile. Mary Ellen printed me out directions over to Mattoon where my brother and wife live, and we went to bed in hopes of a good night’s sleep to start the new work week. I slept very well, but I think Mary Ellen had sleep troubles as her mind worked on some details for her first upcoming house sale. She started her day helping two teenagers get organized and drove them to Raymond for school and returned. A nine o’clock meeting and a trip to the courthouse would follow.
A realtor from an urban area of Missouri moving over to Illinois requires a lot of adjustments. Mary Ellen had to become acquainted with this rural area and find the business cohorts to help her meet clients’ needs. After counseling me on the road to Mattoon since Gerald’s morning phone directions were different from MapQuest directions, she drew a quick map on the back of an envelope with left and right directions to help me get to Raymond. With her final help, it was easy to follow Gerald’s suggestion to reach Route 16 from Raymond instead of from Farmersville. After stopping for breakfast at Pana, I phoned my brother Jim to see if they were going to be at home. They were.
I had a great four-hour visit with Jim and Vivian and caught up with family news there. I was able to share a just-received email from my second cousin’s daughter, who is interested in family history. Sandra and I have been having long email discussions about Mount Airy Farm and the Goreville Martins, and I’ve been forwarding them to Jim and my sister Rosemary for comments since they have memories I do not have.
Our great Uncle Sam was Sandra’s great grandfather, and like most people she was very fond of him. He had a sharp wit and loved children. He worked hard running a hay baler for neighboring farmers. He came up from Sleepy Hollow, our ancestral home, after his wife Meda died, and Sam lived out his life at Daddy’s home place--Mount Airy Farm. Later Sandra’s family moved into that farm house, and she said they could still smell Sam’s tobacco in the house. The house burned down while they lived there, and she saw her daddy fighting the fire after she and her sister ran to the nearest neighbor who had a telephone. Their large family moved to Marion, and shortly after that, her father died.
We grew up knowing Sam had once been in prison for killing a man over a line dispute. We were told the story by my dad, who was nine at the time of the incident, and he said it was in self defense. We knew Sam had stayed in prison only a year or so and was entrusted with many duties, but his family suffered terribly with Sam away. Another descendant told Sandra he was released early because he was exonerated.
Right before I left on this trip, Sandra had emailed me exciting information. She had phoned a relative of Meda, whose business card was in a Christmas card I received from my cousin Helen Martin Sitter five years ago. Helen said this man had information on Meda’s family. I did not have time to follow up on it, but fortunately I had filed that card in my folder for Uncle Sam. It was one of some items I had mailed to Sandra since she asked me about Meda’s family and I knew nothing.
He was able to tell Sandra why Sam was exonerated. A man who refused to testify in Sam’s defense at the trial had a salvation experience. He worked at the hardware store where the murdered man went to purchase a lap ring, and he heard him say he was going to kill Sam Martin with it. I suppose he did not want to get involved or was afraid to testify. Now he was filled with guilt at his suppressed knowledge and he went to the authorities and told this information, and Sam was released from prison.
This all happened over a hundred years ago, and yet our finding out this wonderful story of the man’s salvation brings us joy today. Truth sets a prisoner free and brings happiness a century later to Uncle Sam’s descendants and loved ones.
Reluctantly leaving Jim and Vivian, I got back on the road and came down Interstate 57, picked up a pizza in Marion for Gerald’s and my supper. It was good to be home. I was happy to see Jeannie’s flowers for Mother’s Day were still quite lovely on the dining room table and once again it looked as if the ant poison had finally worked on the annual invasion of tiny ants in the kitchen. Honeysuckle is blooming profusely everywhere on country roads and on our deck, and the golden day lilies beside the house began their summer blooming while I was away on my Big Adventure.
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