Monday, October 7, 2013

Back to the cornfields of my youth

October 1-6, 2013
Woodstock, Illinois
Will Oaks Campground

Many, many years ago in the 1960s, my family lived in the small town of McHenry, Illinois, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. I had a pretty idyllic childhood there until my parents divorced and my mother and I moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, leaving my father, three brothers and sister behind in Illinois. My parents have since passed away, my three brothers all moved to Florida, but my sister Karen is still in McHenry where she has lived on her own for almost fifty years. She is in her 70s now and has had some health challenges, so it was important to me to spend some time with her as we head east.

Without going into too much detail, my sister could sure use my help and nothing has made me happier than to be here for her—if only for a few days. I could feel my mom and dad smiling down from heaven on me. My sister has a steel trap for memories and a great sense of humor, so it has been quite a fun and emotional time going down memory lane with her. It has been two years since I saw her last at our mom’s celebration of life and I don’t plan to let that much time go by before I visit again.

Before catching up with my sister, I made plans to see my best friend from the early 60s!  We couldn’t actually remember the last time we saw each other, but our best guess is that it had been about 40 years. We had lost contact with each other over the years, but I found her on Facebook and we made plans to have lunch while I was in town. Catching up on 40 years over lunch is quite the challenge. She even brought photos of us from our childhood.  How cute was that!  Here we are then and now!

pam 1961
pam and jane
jane 1961

One of the things I wanted to do with my sister was to visit our aunt’s old farmhouse where we used to spend time as kids.  I learned that the house, which used to be near Barrington, was restored as a historic site, so I thought it would be a special place for the two of us to visit. Thanks to the internet, I was able to find the name of it now, the Sunderlage Farm, and a phone number to call. The house itself is available to rent and is no longer open to the public, but the nice lady on the phone said she could get me the keys!  I had to get them from the Hoffman Estates police office.  She called ahead and they gave them to me with just a signature and phone #.  We discovered the farmhouse looking much different than we remembered it. First of all, it was surrounded by apartments—no more barn and apple orchard. I cropped out the apartments in the photos but the old house is literally sitting in the middle of a housing development in what is now called Hoffman Estates. Peter Volid was my uncle and they did rename the road it is on Volid Rd. It used to be just be a long driveway with gas lanterns leading to the farm.

I was especially happy, however, that they did keep the old smoke house, a little building that intrigued me as a child as it was full of smoked meats which were darn tasty. I didn’t know it had historical significance as it predates the house and is the only one of its kind in northern Illinois.

The saddest part was they ripped out the kitchen and put in a modern one that did not fit the historical period at all, plus the beautiful wrap around front porch was gone. Of course, none of my aunt’s original furnishings was there but I didn’t expect to see card tables and metal folding chairs inside.  I wanted to walk around in those rooms and relive the special memories this place once evoked, but mostly it just made me feel sad thinking about all the family members who are no longer living and that hardly anyone who visits this place now has any appreciation for the grand times we had there.  Good example of “you can’t go home again.”  

I am sure the large tree in the front of the house was there when I was a child.  I love its gorgeous bark, but I have no idea what kind of tree it is. (Anyone out there know?)

I found two photos of the old farm from our time there in the early 60s. The photo on the left is of my mom and me on Thanksgiving. I remember her putting the pumpkin-colored bow in my hair. The photo on the right is of me on Ahlvin, a pony my uncle bought for me. (No wonder I have such fond memories of this place.) That is my brother and a friend in front of the pony and my sister Karen next to me. I sure think the house looked better painted white with black trim. It also looks like the fireplace chimney was removed when it was renovated. 

eve pam volid farm 1963jerry karen pam volid farm 63

Another outing we took this week with my sister was to see my cousin Bob’s weekly performance at a German restaurant, the Schnitzel Platz in Glendale Heights. To make it even more festive, they were celebrating Oktoberfest, so the tables were all set family style like you see in the German beer gardens. Bob’s parents were musicians and he followed suit, mostly playing the piano or accordion for German style events. He and his partner Hank, billed as the Tyrolean Style Duo, were very entertaining. Bob even played an old Hungarian folk song for me that my mom used to sing in German which made me cry. It was a special evening to bring my sister there, to spend time with my cousin Carol (Bob’s wife), and to share this old style German experience with Vic.

The Schnitzel Platz serves authentic German fare and beer. Check out the size of this boot of beer. (We stuck with the more traditional pint-sized steins.) Even though it is a family place, I imagine things can get pretty lively as the evening wears on as Bob and his bass fiddle accompanist play a lot of audience participation songs as the Chicken Dance, etc. As much as Vic and I like to dance, we escaped that fate.

Next up was bringing my sister to see our grand-nephew play junior football . My nephew’s youngest child, Eli, who is only nine, was playing youth tackle football. They start them young here in the midwest—not something Vic and I endorse for kids this age, but that’s not our choice. Ha.  Anyway, it was a good chance for my sister and me to see our nephew Kai and his three kids. (The pink socks for cancer awareness were great.)

Vic and I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the downtown area of Woodstock, just a few miles from our campground, for the Saturday farmer’s market.  Woodstock is the town where the movie Groundhog Day was filmed. It has a lot of character with its brick streets, old time square, and Victorian-style Opera House.

woodstock opera house

woodstock square

It was hard to say goodbye to my sister (a common theme with me). I am hoping to get her down to Florida while we are there this winter.  We shall see.  On our drive out of town, heading south to Newton, Illinois, my cousin Carol had us over for a piece of homemade pie. Life seems simpler here somehow, but I am probably wrong.  I love the Indian Summer and the pumpkins, and the rustling leaves.  Feeling blessed to be able to enjoy these simple pleasures along the way and to experience so many different aspects of Americana.  Auf wiedersehen!

apple pie


  1. What a wonderful, fun visit you had with family. By the look on your sister's face, I could tell she was so happy to see you. I am sure she enjoyed the football game.

    How cool to visit the old farm house. It looks so new to me. What memories you made back then and now.

    We love visiting German restaurants. There is one here in Mission that is delightful. But sorry to say, I cannot drink that dark beer...yuck!

    1. The German restaurant experience seems to be another part of the midwest memories. I am not so keen on the food anymore--except for the apple strudel! I thought I would like the beer, but not so much. I have been spoiled by the Oregon craft beers.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful visit! I have a hard time with good byes also.... Please give my love to everyong down the road in Newton !!!

    1. Yes, I remember that you and I have similar challenges with departures. . . .

      The Newton gang sure enjoyed your visit here. We are especially enjoying the peacefulness of the cabin and gorgeous Indian Summer weather.

  3. How wonderful to spend time with your sister and a long ago friend. You have been making lovely trips down memory lane. I'm happy for you that the house was saved and is a National treasure. My grandfather's home where I spent nearly every Sunday - a ritual - until I went to college, is also surrounded by housing developments in what were his corn fields. It all looks SO different and not nearly as nice.

    1. Yes, I definitely have rose-colored glasses in viewing the past. It's amazing how much smaller everything also looks when you are grown. My mother always said, "If only the walls could talk." I do wonder what they would say. :>)

  4. I know as we reconnect with many in our past we also bring some enjoyment to them. Many of them don't have a means of reconnecting in person with people they may often think about because they are anchored in one geographic area. That is one of the reasons we like being able to travel where ever the road takes us.

    1. It's really true. We would not be visiting many of these places and people if we did not have this kind of freedom and time to pursue traveling in this way.

  5. How nice you could spend some time with your sister and retrace your roots, even though they weren't quite as you remembered.

  6. What a wonderful visit catching up with family and friends:) Sure sounds like you and your sister had a great time together.

    How fun to rekindle a friendship from your youth. It must have been a flurry of conversation to have to cover 40 years.

    I love that you got to visit the farm house of your youth. I can imagine the mixed emotions with all the renovations that were completed. But it sounds like you only have fond memories of the farm.

    Thanks for sharing this memorable stop:)

  7. What a beautiful post! I got a little teary eyed reading all about your memories! It's so wonderful this lifestyle allows us the time to enjoy the past and the present, to remember and relive or revisit the places of our past and at the same time make new memories and plans for the future. I loved reading about the's beautiful! And your "old" pictures sure brought it to life! And what a fun evening at the Schnitzel Platz. We have seen Grounghog Day several those interesting fact!

  8. Hi, Pam. This is BJ testing my ability to comment on your blog. So glad you are coming our way!

  9. True, you can't go home again, but that was pretty darn close! :c)


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