The recent tornado which swept across Northern Illinois all but wiped out the tiny town of Fairdale, of which I had fond memories from my childhood. About a year ago, I’d written a blog about Fairdale and a long-gone rural Midwest America. I’ve rewritten it and am reposting it in memory of a time—and place—now gone.
In the mid-to-late 1930s my grandfather and his wife owned and lived in a combination bar and gas station in Fairdale, Illinois, one of those tiny unincorporated hamlets quaintly but often accurately referred to as a "wide spot in the road." It was located on far-from-busy Hwy 72, which connected with the far busier Hwy 51 which cuts vertically through the center of Wisconsin and Illinois . It was probably less than 25 miles from my hometown of Rockford, but seemed like hundreds of miles—and decades in time—from anywhere.
Fairdale consisted of three very short streets, each no more than one-or-two-blocks long, The longest, and only one I can remember, had once served as the town's "main street." It ran north and south between Hwy 72 and the railroad tracks. Clustered along the end nearest the railroad tracks were perhaps three or four even-then-long-abandoned 2-story once-commercial buildings, but as I recall, Grandpa's bar/gas station was the only business in the town.
The bar, too, was old even then, a typical small farm-town bar which smelled of cigarette and cigar smoke and stale beer and whiskey. Once, when I was "helping" Grandpa sweep up in the morning before the bar opened, I found a $5 bill someone had dropped. A $5 bill in the mid-to-late 1930s was a very great amount of money, indeed, and when no one returned to claim it, Grandpa let me keep it.
Neither the bar nor the gas station made much money. This was a very rural area, and the effects of the Great Depression still bore heavily on all aspects of the lives of average people.
Just east of Grandpa's place, on the highway, was Fairdale’s one-room school, which I remember primarily because its playground had one of those metal self-propelled "merry-go-rounds" you can still occasionally find today, which kids would start by pushing it in one direction, running faster and faster until they could jump on and go round and round until the centrifugal force died and it slowed to a halt. Then you jumped off and started the process over again.
Across the street from the school was a farm with a large—to the eyes of a 5 year old kid, huge—barn. I can still close my eyes and smell the hay. The family that owned it had a couple of kids around my age, and we would sneak into the barn, climb up into the hayloft, and then ascend a ladder to a small platform almost to the barn's rafters. It seemed like a very great height, but was probably eight feet at most. We would then jump down into the hay, shrieking with laughter and the sense of excitement such courage warranted.
It was, indeed, a different time and a different world, with different values and attitudes, and the more harsh realities of life at the time gradually grow less distinct as the fog of time closes in. Sharper edges dim and soften, and nostalgia paints memories in softer colors, making the past often more appealing than the "now."
But man is a creature which craves comfort, and if memories of a tiny town long ago can provide me with some comfort, I'll savor it like a fine, vintage wine.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).