Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bouncing Between the Past and the Present

When I first read that this year’s annual Illinois State Historical Society Symposium was to be at nearby Southern Illinois University Carbondale, I knew I wanted to attend. Before I found the misplaced newsletter with registration form and wrote my check, emails began arriving saying that SIUC alumni and students could attend free, so I phoned in my registration as directed and prayed nothing prevented me from enjoying this rare opportunity. Amazingly, I was able to attend all three days.

One of the attractions for me was the subject of this year’s Symposium: “Sacred Oaths, Shallow Graves: Illinois in the Civil War, Part 1.” There are many mysteries among the veterans of that long-ago war which took the lives of over 600,000 and some experts say perhaps 700,000. I have many questions about the service of my great grandfather in the infamous 109th and also about the death of his baby brother who supposedly died at Andersonville. Nine Martin cousins volunteered for the Union army despite their Tennessee roots.

Any time you explore a topic, the information needed immediately broadens, and so presentations included slave spirituals,the Metropolis ship building industry, use of archives, our Mound City National Cemetery, life stories of individual soldiers whose lives became examples of many more, various ethnic groups in the Civil War, free black settlements in pre-Civil War days, emancipation Baptists, Oberlin’s anti-slavery agents, and on and on so that it was terribly difficult to have to select which break-out sessions to attend. I wanted to go to them all. The credentials of the presenters were impressive and their broad knowledge very rewarding in terms of how much one could learn in such a limited time.

There are always off-topic offerings too and I especially enjoyed Kara Allison’s report on “Chicago Convention 1968” when she was one of a panel of three students from Milliken University. The other two panelists spoke on Camp Douglas in Chicago, and women, slaves, and Indians in French Illinois, which I missed part of by arriving late. I always want young people to study history, so I was delighted this professor engaged his students for this fine presentation. The three young women fared very well in comparison to the majority of presenters who were recognized history scholars—both academic and independent scholars.

On Thursday, I wanted to hang and talk briefly with Ron Nelson, whose research is fresh and will be seminal for future abolitionist scholars. But he was surrounded before I could get to him. It was five o’clock and I needed to get home for grandson Sam’s 14th birthday surprise party. I stopped by Katherine’s to leave our card and money gift hoping this would throw Sam off a bit. I was also checking to see if Katherine needed me to help set up at the scheduled restaurant, but she had everything under control and urged me to go on to Woodsong, so that Gerald and I could come back to town together.

With fresh lipstick and a quick brushing of my hair, we were soon back at Mackie’s Pizza where a delightful fireplace area was reserved for Sam and his young teenage friends.

David had taken Sam and his neighbor friend Josh out to buy Sam new shoes for his birthday, and then the plan was to meet Katherine at Mackey’s. Since Josh and Sam frequently go out with each other’s families, this seemed normal to both boys—neither of whom knew about the party. (Katherine did not want Josh to have to try not to leak the surprise.)

A few balloons tied to a sports bag, crepe paper streamers and the carried-in birthday cake all in University of Tennessee orange increased the festive feel of the attractive area. (Since our grandson-in-law was one of the SIUC architecture students who participated in planning and decorating Mackey’s, our family feels pride in the pleasant results of their class project.)

A table-full of his friends were there to greet Sam and yell, “Surprise!” and soon they were digging into the cheese sticks and pizza. Both sets of his grandparents were there, and we went through the annual amazement at how our grandson had grown. Food and pitchers of cola were laid out by the fireplace in buffet style and a salad served in a huge lovely glass serving dish was absolutely delicious. Sam’s youth minister and family came, and one of the kids’ mother worked very hard handing out plates of pizza and drinks while the kids cavorted, laughed, took cell phone pix, and generally enjoyed themselves.

We adults were all sitting in booths surrounding these junior high students at the center table, and it was fun to see how comfortable they were with each other. These youngsters are very close, and I am sure last weekend’s 8th grade band trip to the Chicago Heritage contest, where they did very well, contributed to their obvious affection for one another.

I hurried to bed afterwards, so I could be up to drive to Carbondale for the second day of the Symposium. And Friday night I did the same although I mentally started planning for our weekend trip to our grandchildren’s home in mid-Illinois about 30 miles south of Springfield. Brianna, a sophomore at Lincolnwood High at Raymond, was participating in their school musical Oz. I missed their play last year with Brianna and Trent, and I was determined to be there this year for this adaptation of the famous story.

A dark cloud followed me from Smalls Store to the farm Friday evening. I’d bought sandwich fixings for our supper because we were going to be in Gerald’s office listening to Georgia play softball against Ole Miss. I had just reached our garage when three or four hail stones hit the top of our car and many more banged on the concrete garage floor with deafening noise before I could get the door closed. Hail was huge and lasted long, but the only damage we think was a torn screen door out to the deck.

Gerald reported after his Saturday morning walk down the lane to get the paper that it had turned cold. I was so tempted to hunker down and stay home, but I really did want to hear the Saturday morning presentations at the Symposium. I was glad I did, and we finished packing, listened to Georgia softball again, and took off in time (barely) to reach Mary Ellen and Brian’s country home out from the little town of Waggoner (population: 200) and ride over bumpy rural roads to the musical.

The kids in their high school at Raymond (with around 250 students) showed an abundance of talent with their singing and dancing as well as acting. Their music and drama teacher has been there for four or five years and done a good job doing a play one year and a musical the next. She was emotional as she said goodbye to the seniors who were in their last production, and I knew her affection and passion had influenced these students to willingly share their talents.

Gerald was amazed at the scarecrow who stood stock still and unblinking for probably 10 minutes or more before Dorothy freed her from the wooden post holding her. We loved the cowardly lion and tin man and, of course, sweet Dorothy and all their solos. And as Brian said, the girl playing Toto never missed a line: Arf arf! There was also a wall display in the auditorium by the art class, and we were pleased to see Bri and Trent’s work as well as the other students’. It was so good to have the rare treat of seeing these two grandkids in their high school milieu with friends we have heard about.

Mary Ellen had sloppy Joes and fresh banana bread waiting for us to indulge in before and after the musical. And Trent had the Apollo movie set up and ready for us to watch on the big screen in the living room after we’d had table time after the show.

I slept late this morning even though I heard Gerald visiting with Mary and Brian downstairs and would sleepily think it might be nice to be downstairs with them before I turned over for more sleep. But I joined them for Mary Ellen’s good breakfast. The exhausted kids were still sleeping, but we adults were able to get to l0:15 worship at their church in Raymond and had a wonderful lunch at the very attractive buffet where locals gather at a scenic motel.

One of the interesting aspects of this park-like place was a large steam boat replica sitting in a small pond, and we enjoyed that view and the rest of the scenery out the generous windows as we ate and had out final visit. (Mary Ellen told us that this was the site for a gathering of college friends for someone’s wedding. Mary Ellen was singing at the wedding and she was concentrating on preparing. Neverthelss, she and Brian, who had dated in college, did have some time for visiting and updating their friendship while there before he went back upstate and she went back to Tennessee. When they moved here two years ago, she realized that this was the town and the motel for that long-ago wedding gathering. I thought that was very romantic.)

After our drive home with lovely weather observing folks fishing in the bar pits along the highway, it was good to learn SIUC Salukis had swept Indiana State and that Georgia had swept Old Miss. Georgia Coach Lu Harris-Champer had earned her 750th win during her 15-year collegiate career as a head coach.

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