MPT#2: Preschool-Kindergarten Years
Although I was born on a farm in central Illinois, Dad didn’t farm there for long. The meager proceeds from rented farmland proved too minimal financially to support a growing family, with four young daughters under the age of six. Around that time, the US government needed skilled civilian workers to build LST (Landing Ship Tank) boats for WWII. When they offered a training program in welding, my father was among the first group of eager volunteers.
Along with a new job came good pay and a steady income; my parents bought what seemed like a mansion in a tiny nearby town with a population of a few hundred people. That became the first home I remember.
The two-story house was yellow, with a huge white wrap-around porch on three sides, and a distinctive round turret in the southeast corner. There were two massive parlors (such a charming old-fashioned name for a room) in the front of the house, with gigantic wooden doors that magically slid apart to hide inside the walls. An attic occupied the topmost floor and served as our playground for make-believe on rainy days.
The kitchen was cozy and warm, with a built-in breakfast nook. It had a wooden table and benches on each side, with a scrolled design across the back. My designated seat was a red step-stool at the end, but I always tried to quickly scoot into the far corner and snuggle into a comfortable position. I felt so much more grown up there, rather than having to sit on the “baby chair.”
I loved to listen to fairy tales at that age. Looking out the turret window like Rapunzel, I dreamed of lowering my long braided hair to some knight in shining armor. On other days, my sisters and I sat out on the porch, making dozens of dolls from colorful hollyhocks. Just in case you never made dolls like that, we used toothpicks to hold two buds and a full flower for each doll; with more blooms, we made a beautiful layered skirt, rather like Chiquita Banana’s costume. Unfortunately, not many homes today grow hollyhocks, so this simple pastime is fading away.
Continuing the fairy tale theme, my best friend lived a few blocks away in a big, white house surrounded by a huge black wrought-iron fence. Approaching the house, I always held tightly to my mother’s hand and looked for trolls and ogres around every corner. Apparently, I was listening to too many stories at that impressionable age. Many years later, I drove past that house and was completely surprised to discover that the fence I remembered as being monstrous was actually only about three feet tall.
Kitty-corner from our house was a landmark building that was eventually placed on the National Register of Historic Places: the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It was also called the Cathedral of the Cornfields, or the Prairie Cathedral. It is amazingly elaborate, especially considering the size of the town in the middle of farm fields. The original builders must have done some serious sales and marketing to convince the community to erect such an impressive structure.
Cathedral of the Cornfields
One Sunday morning while we were all getting dressed for Mass at the Cathedral, we heard someone chuckling outside, followed by another and another until they were laughing out loud. Curious, Mom stepped outside and saw what was going on. My younger brother Pete was standing on the porch, smiling and waving at all the people on their way to church – bare-buck-naked! At just over a year old, he had developed an aversion to wearing clothes. Any chance he had, he was likely to tear everything off, then stand there and giggle.
Picture of Elizabeth at age 4
Even though we only lived in that house for a few years, it is the one that I think of as “home.” Perhaps it is because I have such vivid memories there, or because it was such a carefree time in my life, but I think that place will always be home to me.
What are your fondest memories of home? I’d love to hear about them.