Monthly Archives: December 2012

My sister Eileen…

My sister Eileen finally succumbed to the multiple myeloma she’d been battling for the past three years late Saturday afternoon, Dec. 22. My sister Elaine and I had both visited her about an hour before she passed away, so we had fulfilled one of our family Christmas traditions. Since my folks’ death, the three of us had gathered around Christmas time for our own, smaller, family get-together.

Here is the Matile family at my sister Elaine's wedding in 1957. Eileen, standing behind Elaine, has yet to marry Dick Neely.

Here is the Matile family at my sister Elaine’s wedding in 1957. Eileen, standing behind Elaine, has yet to marry Dick Neely.

Eileen graduated from eighth grade at Church School out in Wheatland Township. She was the only person in her grade level during seven years at Church School. She went on to Oswego High School where she was involved in just about everything there was to be involved in before her graduation. Then she entered the old Copley Hospital School of Nursing in Aurora, where she earned her Registered Nurse degree. Her marriage to Dick Neely was eventful but not necessarily happy. Dick was a well driller who had unexplored depths. After living in Batavia for several years, he moved his family to a house on Lake Minnetonka near Minneapolis, Minn., and later to the desert of Saudi Arabia where he worked to supply water along ARAMCO’s oil pipeline. Eileen taught the pipeline workers’ children in school, did her monthly shopping in Beirut (these were the years before the Middle East went totally and completely nuts with violence), flying in on ARAMCO’s DC-3, and shopped in the local souk. The marriage survived awhile after they returned, but not very long.

She got her job back at the Dreyer Clinic and began steadily moving up there. And she remarried, this time to Lou Bacino, a Chicago native, Sears furniture salesman, and World War II veteran. They soon built Eileen’s dream home on the family lots across the street from the Matile Manse, right on the Fox River. If you look at the photo on historyonthefox’s front page, you can see her homesite, ca. 1902. It’s the tilled field just to the left of the Parker Sawmill and Furniture Factory.

Eileen loved her house on the river and watched the changing seasons, and dealt with the increasing numbers of annoying Canada geese. And then in 1996 came the Great Flood. Our area got nearly 14″ of rain in a relatively short time, and the Fox River became a raging torrent. But her house did not flood; the crawl space even remained dry. However, the lawn furniture in her backyard was starting to float away when she awoke that morning, which was totally unacceptable to her. Lou was stunned and didn’t know what to do, other than watch it float away. Not Eileen. She grabbed my dad’s lariat and like the farm kid she was, headed out to the backyard and, much to Lou’s near total amazement, made a pretty neat job of lassoing the floating chairs and the hammock.

After Lou’s death, Eileen continued to live life to the hilt. When one of our nephews got married in a ceremony at a Jamaica resort, she traveled there, and much to my sister Elaine’s consternation, went parasailing at the age of 72, explaining that she’d probably never have a chance to do it again and that besides that, it was really FUN!

Today, the family is holding Eileen’s visitation and funeral at her beloved Wheatland United Presbyterian “Scotch” Church (where both she and Elaine were confirmed and married), and I expect to see lots of our friends, relatives and neighbors from those days out on our Wheatland Township farm, as well as all the others whose lives she touched. We plan to give her a really good send-off.

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Filed under Fox River, Nostalgia, Oswego, People in History, Semi-Current Events

A holiday necessity…

As another of our beloved religious holidays approaches, our minds turn to what is most important during these times.

Pie.

It’s hard to have a real holiday celebration without pie. When we lived on the farm, my mother baked roughly a pie a day, which my dad started eating as dessert with his breakfast and which the rest of us continued throughout the day until supper, when the last excellent slices were carefully cleaned up. By breakfast, my dad had already worked a few hours doing chores. Cattle and hogs had to be fed. Daisy, our cow, had to be milked and the barn cats fed. One thing he didn’t fool with was the chicken house; that was my mom’s territory. But anyway, pie was virtually a separate food group in our farm household.

So I take pie seriously and that’s why it’s often so disappointing, especially boughten (as my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother used to put it) apple pie. Usually the boughten pie you get in the store has passable crust. It’s the apple filling in it that is so badly substandard it’s almost inedible.

Here’s the deal: Apples in pie MUST absolutely, and with no variations at all, be thinly sliced, NOT chunked. Bakery pie invariably has chunked apples, the pieces of which remain mostly uncooked and crunchy after baking. Of course, the kind of apples commercial bakeries use are also almost always the right kind. You’ve got to have actual cooking apples, not apples bred for eating raw. Two different breeds of cats there. But it’s the chunking instead of the slicing that causes the most trouble with store-bought apple pies because for proper taste, apples must cook down and become tender.

That is today’s holiday update. Read it, learn it, live it.

And if I don’t get back here until after the big day, have a Merry Christmas. But inspect the pie carefully before eating.

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Filed under Food, Frustration, Nostalgia

Start on gun safety?

I think a good start on gun safety would be restricting magazine and clip size to five or six rounds, no matter the kind of weapon. That would, in a way, take the “assault” out of assault weapons. It would also be easier to implement since plugs could probably be fashioned for existing magazines that would only allow for a reduced load.

As my dad used to say when he taught me how to shoot with his 12 gauge double-barreled shotgun, “If you can’t hit what you’re aiming at with two shots maybe you shouldn’t be shooting.”

I still remember when I bought my first shotgun, a used Mossberg 20 ga. bolt-action shotgun I got at the local pawn shop. It was a three-shot shotgun, with an adjustable choke, nice and light and well balanced. My buddies thought I was a wuss because it was a three-shot weapon. But I was able to trade it back at the pawn shop again for my first guitar, after my dad passed his Simmons Royal double barrel on to me.

I read the other day that when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s ban on handguns, Justice Antonin Scalia applied what he termed original construction to determine that just about any kind of weapon is allowed as long as it’s portable by one person. So I have to wonder, if the construction has to be original to the 1789 Constitution, then why doesn’t the right to keep and bear arms apply strictly to flintlocks?

I have a feeling if all these maniacs had to use muzzle loaders, the body counts would be considerably lower.

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My new phone is smarter than I am…

So for Christmas, my wife and I decided to buy each other what the cool kids call “smart phones.” So we wandered down to the nearest Apple Store, and bought a couple new iPhone 4S’s. Their boxes, carefully wrapped are residing under the Christmas tree in the front room while we try to divine the secrets of their operation.

As a person who remembers living out on the farm with phones that did have dials, but required calling the operator for “long distance” calls, which were all the way to Aurora and Naperville, this whole thing is pretty interesting.

Phone service got to our small farm town in 1897. On Dec. 1 of that year, the Kendall County Record reported that “The telephone poles are now all up and the trees all trimmed.”

Two weeks later, the wires were up and calls started circulating around the community.

It was a new technological experience, especially for the country folks whose homes were near enough to the phone lines to be hooked up.

In January of 1901, a farmer marveled: “We talked to the ancient city of Plattville over the ‘phone Friday. What a triumph! Certainly it would be such if the roads were as bad as they sometimes are. At the end of the century we expect to be able to talk to planets Saturn and Neptune, and to hear the songs of the stars as they sing together. Why not? It would be no greater achievement than those accomplished in the past century.”

The Chicago Telephone Company's new switchboard in the Burkhart Building on South Main Street, March 1911.

The Chicago Telephone Company’s new switchboard in the Burkhart Building on South Main Street, March 1911.

In fact, we had an embarrassment of riches when it came to phone companies, with both the Chicago Telephone Company and the Northern Illinois Company stringing lies and doing business in Kendall County. The two battled it out for nearly a decade. In 1901, the Chicago Telephone Company bought the local assets of the Northern Illinois company. By that time, there were 286 local phone users. In 1920, the Chicago Telephone Company was renamed Illinois Bell Telephone.

Out in the country in the 1950s, while we were on dial phones, we were still on a party line. I can’t, for the life of me, remember what our ring was—each subscriber had a distinctive ring so they’d know when an incoming call was for them. But I DO remember our phone number: 2225. That was it; no exchange prefix, no area code, just the four subscriber digits.

The whole party line thing was sort of interesting, too. In an era when we have lots of questions about someone listening in on our phone calls, it might be of some illumination to recall the party line era when anyone on the line could pick up their receiver and listen in on the calls.

One neighborhood farmer was notorious for listening in on calls between other farmers and the commission man who handled livestock sales with the Chicago Stock Yards so he’d know how much they were making on the sale. Everyone blamed it on his Scots heritage (including his own relatives). In reality, I suspect he was just a nosey old man.

When we moved into town, we were still on a party line, but there were only two other neighbors on it. And that situation changed within a few years so everyone in town had private lines. Wow!

Starting in 1955, Illinois Bell started holding annual Telephone Community Nights in small towns all over northern Illinois—including Oswego. At these events, the latest in communications technology was showcased. It was at one of these events in the early 1960s where I saw the first picture phone and the first wireless phone. Very impressive!

A few years later, Illinois Bell installed one of their very first electronic switching centers in our town, and things really started to modernize.

In 1971, thanks to the advanced telephone switching system, Oswego became the first community in Illinois to offer four specialized electronic services: speed calling, conference calling, call forwarding, and call waiting.

Nowadays, we’ve gone more and more wireless, and are enjoying phones with more computing power than the space craft that went to the moon had.

While we still can’t “talk to planets Saturn and Neptune,” like the Kendall County Record’s correspondent predicted back in 1901, we can do all sorts of other stuff on our new smart phones, including play games and e-mail people on the other side of the earth. We can even still make phone calls.

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Filed under Farming, Illinois History, Kendall County, Nostalgia, Oswego, Semi-Current Events

When RFD killed the rural post offices…

After the settlement era, those who moved to Kendall County put down roots and established communities.

In towns, communities were often formed by those who came from the same areas in the east to their new homes. In rural areas, communities were often established in much the same way, as neighbors in eastern farming communities often traveled west together and purchased land near each other.

These new farming communities came to be based around three institutions, at least to start. Churches, schools, and the local post office-general store provided communal connections for pioneer farm families.

Of the three institutions, churches and schools were started first. Many country churches can trace their origins back to pioneer missionaries who held services in pioneer cabins. Later, after churches were built, denominations established circuits where preachers traveled from congregation to congregation. That practice lasted right up through the early years of the 20th Century.

Before 1850, schools were also started when settlers—especially those from eastern states—established subscription schools. Subscriptions were collected, buildings procured, and teachers hired from the proceeds. Settlers from southern states were less enthusiastic about education, but most eventually went along with their northern neighbors when schools were established in their neighborhoods.

Both schools and churches not only promoted religion and education, but they were also part of the rural social framework.

As the frontier moved west, local Congressmen made sure their constituents were able to stay in touch via the U.S. Mail. Post offices were established throughout the Fox Valley early on, the first at Ottawa in December 1833 and the next at Holdeman’s Grove in April 1834. Post offices were valuable things for a community have, since they offered a communications pipeline back to their home communities in the east and south.

In those years, not everyone could afford, say, a newspaper subscription. So a few local residents would order papers from their Eastern hometowns. The arrival of the mail, in small towns, was an almost holiday-like event as those with subscriptions read their papers aloud to groups of residents. Ministers complained, in fact, because on Sundays when the mail stagecoach arrived at the village post office, most of the males abruptly left the service so they could find out the latest news.

But people still had to go to the post office to get their mail. In small villages that was no problem, but in larger cities and out in rural areas, it was. In 1863, the postal service had begun free house-to-house delivery in larger towns. But out in the country and in small villages, people still had to travel to the post office to pick up their mail.

Because patrons had to physically pick up their mail, small post offices came to be scattered around the countryside. Kendall County residents were served by a number of these rural post offices, many of which also included a small general store. Often, a school was located nearby, and sometimes a church, too. These crossroads hamlets sometimes became the bases around which small towns grew.

Here in Kendall County, for instance, there was the rural Specie Grove Post Office in Section 10 of Kendall Township, the Kendall Post Office, located nearly on the border with NaAuSay Township and the NaAuSay Post Office, in that township’s extreme northeast corner. Kendall County residents also patronized the Tamarack Post Office, the Wolf’s Crossing Post Office, and the Normantown Post Office in Will County. The Nettle Creek Post Office in Grundy County also served some county residents.

But between 1893 and 1912, 11 of these small post offices throughout the county closed. What happened? It was another historical example of “Be careful of what you wish for; you may get it.”

Mr. Ebinger, a rural mail carrier working out of the Oswego Post Office about 1915, pauses after completing his rounds.

Mr. Ebinger, a rural mail carrier working out of the Oswego Post Office about 1915, pauses after completing his rounds.

In the 1890s, farm organizations, such as the Grange, began a strong push for Rural Free Delivery. RFD was proposed to bring the mail right to the farmyard gate, and was eagerly sought by farmers and farm organizations alike. So in 1896, the postal service began experimental RFD. It proved extremely successful. But with RFD, many small rural post offices were no longer needed. Instead, postal service was consolidated into village post offices and rural mail carriers traveled routes six days a week delivering the mail.

Before the RFD initiative, the rural NaAuSay Post Office closed in 1893 after 43 years in business, probably as the result of simple lack of business due to the county’s continuing post-Civil War population decline.

But then in 1900, a veritable avalanche of local closures took place as rural post offices at Little Rock in Kendall County and Wolf’s Crossing and Caton Farm in Will County closed, followed by Tamarack in 1901 and Normantown in 1903. The Kendall post office closed in 1905 followed by Plattville in 1906, and White Willow and Nettle Creek in 1908. The tiny Norwegian hamlet of Helmar lost its post office in 1912.

Throughout the nation and Illinois, RFD consolidations resulted in huge numbers of post office closures. And that meant the disappearance of the small stores that went hand-in-hand with them, which also meant if not a break, at least a sort of dent in the continuity of those small rural post office-school-church communities.

While farmers could get their mail delivered right to their homes—along with all those wonderful mail order items from Sears and Montgomery Ward—it meant much longer trips to the nearest town to buy simple necessities once stocked by the local general store. And it put a bit of a crimp in the previous social opportunities those little stores and post offices offered for their rural communities.

But it’s likely most farmers—and their families—were fine with the change. After all, they could get daily newspapers delivered right to their front gate (usually on publication day in the era of several mail deliveries to post offices each day), right along with Christmas presents for the kids, medicine, and the vast amount of other items the big mail order companies were pedaling. RFD really did bring the world right to the farmer’s doorstep.

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Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Oswego