By Ron Page
When the glacier retreated from northern Illinois, it left in our county a lake roughly 15 miles in diameter. Over the centuries, it receded to “swamp” status, and, around 1910, it was drained, leaving a flat-as-a- pool-table layer of thick, black, fertile soil.
Our house and outbuildings sat on a little glacial hump on the edge of “the swamp”, a hump sitting about 30 feet above the surrounding flat terrain. From our vantage point, we could see our flat 320 acres, as well as distant water towers in towns we never visited. At night, stars were brilliant and the Milky Way, which a college friend from Chicago believed was fictitious, was clearly visible. We could see the lights from a highway intersection a few miles to the southeast. To the north, we could sometimes see the “Northern Lights”, which could be a bit unsettling when returning home alone late at night.
It was very dark when my dad arose at 4:00 a.m. to begin the chores that were part of raising cattle, hogs, and chickens. But as did all farmers, we had a big yard light mounted near the top of the machine shed that was essential for the two or three hours before sun-up. From our view atop the little glacial drumlin, Dad could easily count the yard lights of the neighbors scattered over the flat swamp.
It was not unusual for Dad to come in for breakfast with some startling news such as: “Irv Wagner’s light never came on this morning!!!!!” This could not be good!!! Something was wrong. At this point, my mom went into full intelligence mode – – she had already noticed an unusual amount of chatter, and with this new information from Dad, she scampered to the big old wooden wall-mounted telephone. With one hand on the receiver and the other on the crank, she prepared to ring someone up, but quickly realized someone was already on the party line. Mom’s right hand would then move from the crank on the side of the phone to the big mouthpiece sticking out from the middle. With her right hand muffling any sounds form our kitchen, she was gathering important information.
“Well for goodness sake”, she might have said to us, as we anxiously awaited the news. “Irv Wagner broke his arm and is bruised up pretty bad from a fall off a tractor while he was disking. As soon as the line clears, I’ll call some of the neighbors about who is fixing meatloaf and who is baking pies. I wonder if I should take down some breakfast.”
Dad would have then chimed in “Guess I better get on down there! Breakfast can wait. Irv’s gonna need some help. I’ll check on the livestock and find out what fields need to be disked. Leroy, Harold, Vince, and whoever else we round up can take our equipment down there and get his disking done in a day.”
That’s how we did it on the farm back in the 50’s. We also maintained our own telephone lines. After a storm we threw saws, axes, pliers, and other tools in the backs of our trucks and proceeded to remove broken branches from the phone lines, untwist the crossed lines, and otherwise restore service.
I don’t remember anyone complaining about this. We called it being good neighbors, and a neighbor is a neighbor, with no regard to anything about their ethnicity or lifestyle. It was a simple protocol: we just dropped whatever we were doing and turned out to help. We didn’t know about Rotary. If we had, we would have called it “Service Above Self!”
Great story, Ron! I miss those “good old days” in small town America where everyone was like family!
Thanks Ron. Having also grown up in central Illinois in the 50’s and 60’s I too remember neighbors helping each other without ever being asked.