The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
By Sally Day for the Quill
Who would have ever thought, a girl from Wheaton, Illinois, would end up on a farm in Henderson County? Not me, that is for sure!
Now, Wheaton is not Chicago, but it is twenty-five miles from the Loop in that city. As a family, we did not go to Chicago a great deal, but I had many field trips there from school and many of my family outings ended up at the Field Museum, Brookfield Zoo, the Aquarium, or the Museum of Science and Industry - my personal favorite! Although I did love the zoo, nothing was so cool as visiting a coal mine, watching chicks hatch, seeing two human bodies dissected in segments showing all the body parts, a plane hanging from the ceiling, a U-boat submarine, or seeing yourself on color tv! There were many more exhibits and I honestly loved all of them. As a child, I believed everyone enjoyed field trips to places like Chicago.
Aside from living near Chicago, I imagine Wheaton could have been any other town of 50,000 or so in the Midwest. We lived in the suburbs, the burbs. And, it wasn't much different from most towns in those days. We did not lock our houses. We trusted our neighbors and we played outside from dawn to dusk. High School was great, but a bit of a blur; so much to do!
I really did know all of my neighbors. There were about twenty houses or more on our block. I left that little house on Evergreen Street when I was seventeen. I lived in about seven more houses in various locations before moving to Stronghurst. I moved from a country house north of Blandinsville to a country house west of Stronghurst. We did have livestock there - a few bucket calves, some goats, a pig, a number of dogs and cats, and one pot-bellied pig. So, I guess that first little house was a farm of sorts.
Then in 2000, we moved to the big farm house on the Schunick curve. I soon learned what a true farm house was. I loved living out on the farm. I loved it all - the sights, sounds, and even the smells! I promised myself I would walk every inch of the property out there. But, of course, I never did. I did investigate a good portion of the farm, though. I loved the barn - all the rooms downstairs at least. I was never in the hayloft - it always looked a little fragile.
We had sheep, goats, some calves, a dog or two and cats. At times, I had to take care of the animals. A girl from Wheaton? Really? But I did and enjoyed it! A few winters ago, I had to buck snow drifts nearly as tall as I was! Uphill both ways! No, I really did, and except for being scared I was going to fall and die in one of those snow drifts, I enjoyed it! I fed the bucket calves quite frequently and I liked doing that, too.
I envied all the girls (and boys) having been brought up on farms in Henderson County. How lucky they were. How lucky they were to be given chores and to learn to do them and all that entails. It is so much, much, more than the work the chores entail. It is responsibility; it is trust; it is tenacity. When I was young and didn't want to clean my room, sometimes I didn't. I paid for that, but it was just a room. If a farm girl or boy doesn't do his chores, an animal could go hungry or not have its needs met. That is a big deal.
My husband taught me how to drive a tractor. I was always secretly proud of that fact; proud to be the only McNeil (my maiden name) girl to drive a tractor. He further taught me to "dump on the run". If you haven't been brought up on a farm, you may not know what that means. It means that when a combine is gliding through the rows of corn, that a person in a tractor pulling a cart pulls up next to them, all while they are driving the combine through the grain. Meanwhile, you have to keep your eyes on where you are going and on the driver of the combine, because he is motioning to you with his fingers the speed at which you are supposed to be traveling. Then the combine's auger swings toward you and you have to drive so that the cart is underneath the auger. When that is all in position, the corn spills out of the auger and into the cart. Now I did all of that with a two-year-old boy curled around my backside, asleep in the tractor.
There was more to love on the farm....the way the corn looks when it is just a few inches tall; that green stalk with the leaves cascading towards the dark earth....beautiful as you drive by and you can distinguish each row.
The early morning was so sweet, as the promise of each new day broke with a magnificent sunrise.
Then there were the nights - so quiet except for an occasional coyote or bull frog. The night so dark and the stars so bright and so bountiful. If you were lucky enough to see a shooting star you continued to watch hoping to catch another.
But, the thing I miss the most, the very most is sitting on the side porch with a cup of tea in my hand, watching either a magnificent sunrise or an equally magnificent sunset.