Hometown, USA (aka Forrest, Illinois)


Forrest is a small farming community in north central Illinois, in the heart of the prairies. Two hundred years ago this was grassland as far as the eye could see, with prairie grass often growing 8 or 10 feet high. It is flat country, with vision limited mostly by the curvature of the earth. It makes fabulous farm country, with topsoil being several feet thick in most places. Now, however very little prairie grass can be found, except in a few scattered sections left undisturbed. In Naperville (a Chicago suburb), the largest plot of prairie grass is being cultivated in the center of a the Argonne National Laboratories nuclear accelerator (a giant ring buried underground). Logical enough place to make the old merge with the new, I guess!

Forrest has about 1,000 residents; about the same as when I was growing up there in the 1950's and '60's. We had a grade school, a seperate high school, a small "uptown" section (about a block and a half long), a train station and three gas stations. You could walk from one end of town to the other in less than 30 minutes, or ride your bike the same distance in 10 (which we did, frequently). I have very strong memories of a happy childhood in Forrest. The seasonal changes: the smell of burning leaves in the fall, the warmth of the spring sun, and the thrill of winter's first "covering" snowfall still evoke very powerful, good feelings in me. Since Jim and I were so close in age, we spent most of our time playing together. Jim was the one with the pets: guinea pigs, turtles, hamsters, even ducks. Kathy was a couple of years older and (as she constantly reminds us) since girls matured sooner than boys, her interests and activities would sometimes send her in different directions. We had the normal childhood spats, but Jim, Kathy and I developed a bond that we still cherish today. I have learned that family relationships are the most important things in my life. Mom says that she and Dad created an environment of love and security, and I certainly wouldn't argue with that...

The school we all attended (at least for most of the grade school years) was a short walk from home, so we would usually walk home from school for lunch. Dad would come home from the office and we would have lunch together. Supper was the same (usually around 5:00 or 5:30). That seems odd to me today, as neither Cathy nor I get home from work until usually 7, and often don't have our dinner until 8:00 or sometimes even later. In any case, we almost always had at least 2 meals together each day. We would get home from school between 3:30 and 4:00; homework until supper and then sometimes afterwards as well. Shaddle family law stated that TV was only for after homework. We all did well in school, I think because we developed pretty good study habits early, which I think have stood us well through adult life.

We lived a block from Grandma and Grandpa Shaddle's house, but as we were small when we moved from there to the house Mom still lives in, I don't have too many memories of that house. One I do recall (and pretty vividly at that) is how, one night when Mom and Dad had gone out for the evening, and we had a baby sitter, Kathy thought how fun it would be for us to sneak out onto the roof of the front porch (the window in one of the bedrooms opened right out onto the roof); so off we went. Jim (probably 3 or so) was scared that Kathy and would get too close to the edge and fall off, but of course nothing bad happened...until the next day. We were convinced we were scot-free, until Mom and Dad got a phone call from "She-P" Loomis across the street (I am not sure I ever knew here real name, but Mr. Loomis was referred to as "AP" by everyone, and it seemed logical to me that Mrs. Loomis should be "She-P"). Anyhow, she had seen us skulking around on the porch roof and ratted us out to Mom and Dad. When they asked the babysitter (who was oblivious to this whole escapade), we got a clean bill, but then they did a bed check and our dirty little feet gave us away. I don't remember the exact consequences, but I'm sure they were dire.

In 1956 Dad bought the house across the street from us from "AP" Loomis and we moved. This is the house of most of my childhood memories (Mom still lives there). The train set we built in the basement, how Jim and I turned a storage room into our "laboratory," listening to the nighttime sounds in the summer, the huge yard to play in (we had 3 "major" yards--the side yard, the back yard and the front yard, all three big enough to hold their own games and adventures). We also had a patch of fairly dense undergrowth behind the garage we called "the jungle." (Since it was only about 25 or 30 feet across at the widest, I hardly think it qualified as a jungle, but little kids have pretty vivid imaginations!) We would build forts in there, have secret meetings, and do typical kid stuff. Everyone in Forrest knew everyone else, the kids played together in the evenings and in the summer...Forrest is beginning to sound like Garrison Keiller's Lake Woebegone!

Forrest was a very small, parochial town; many of the people who grow up there stay and raise their families in or near Forrest. (It hasn't changed much since I left, 25 years ago...I doubt it will change much over the next 100!) Growing up in small town America has lots of advantages and relatively few disadvantages, although at the time it seemed like all the fun things in the world were happening elsewhere. Small towns provide an opportunity for kids to establish a strong sense of community, and are (or were back in the 50's anyhow) relatively safe and secure. I would imagine that in any size community, from a small town all the way up to a city it is possible to create that kind of security, but my experience relates to a small town and the sense of community that goes with it. I suppose I have created a little bit of an idealized memory, but it still seems extremely real!


We connect with our Australian family

When we were small, we had the good fortune to travel to Australia to visit our relatives there. In 1962, Kathy was just turning 12, I was 9 and Jim was 8. We took an extended (more than 3 months) trip--Kathy flew down in August, Jim, Mom and I sailed from San Francisco, and Dad joined us in November. Kathy went early (prior to her 12th birthday, she could fly for a lot less cost, so she got a longer vacation than the rest of us!) We had some friends who accompanied her on the trip, which made everyone feel more comfortable.) Since time was not a concern for Mom, Jim and I, it was decided we would take a cruise ship (in those days, less expensive than plane travel). We took the Santa Fe "Chief" to San Francisco, then sailed on the P&O Orient's "Canberra," a brand new ship. It took us nearly three weeks to get to Sydney, with stops in Vancouver, Honolulu, Fiji and Auckland, New Zealand. Each stop was a full day, which gave us time to get off the boat and look around a bit. Mom had contacted acquaintances in each port, so that when we got there we had people that met the ship and showed us around a bit. I remember it as a constant adventure; even the times at sea (which would be 5 or 6 days at a stretch) would be fun, with all kinds of ship-board activities to keep us entertained.

We stayed with Mom's parents in Sydney: 2 Nundah Street, Lane Cove, New South Wales. There was a little cabin in the back that Jim and I stayed in. Uncle Bill and his wife Dawn lived a few minute's walk from 2 Nundah, and since my cousins David and Kenneth were close to our ages (David was older, Kenneth younger), Jim and I spent a lot of time with them getting into mischief and generally being boys. Uncle Jim and Aunty Maureen lived in a northern suburb of Sydney, so it was a drive to get to their house, but we still would see them often. In the late 1950's, Jim and Maureen had taken an extensive trip around the world, and actually lived in Chicago for 6 months or so. They would drive down to Forrest each weekend (about a 2 1/2 hour drive), so we got to know them then and became very close. Since Uncle Jim and his family were Jehovah's witnesses, and by that time so were we, there was an extra connection. When they returned to Australia, both families got matching audio tape recorders (which was pretty high tech back then!), and would record long voice "letters" and send them to each other. When we got to Australia it was like a reunion with Uncle Jim. By that time they had 2 daughters, Janine and Michelle. Although they were pretty young, I remember a lot of fun at the beach (some of the most beautiful in the world) and just hanging out.

We were able to travel to Australia three times during my childhood, and I went back several times as an adult. One particularly memorable trip was with Jim and a family friend, Tom Schembari. We took 6 weeks and traveled from Sydney south to a beautiful bay about a day's drive from Sydney, and also north to Brisbane. Mom's cousin Col Simons lived just south of Brisbane in the town of Surfer's Paradise (great name for a beach town!) and we had a great time with him and his family; he has a son about our age, and a couple more kids a little younger. Mark (the oldest boy) traveled with us back to Sydney for a visit, so we spent quite a bit of time together. We made a trip up to the Great Barrier Reef (Tom and I had taken diving lessons so we would be able to get the most out of the trip to the Reef), and stayed on a great diver's destination called Heron Island--some of the most memorable diving in the world. On the return trip, we had scheduled a stop in Fiji, and stayed at a resort island named Mana. Great diving there as well! We had scheduled 4 or 5 days in Fiji, and then had to return to the US to get in under the cheaper excursion fare time limits. When we checked in at the airline counter, the ticket agent told us that the flight out of Sydney (which included Mom and Dad) was oversold from Fiji, and would we be willing to give up our seats. (They would pay for our hotel, meals and a spending allowance if we would!) I asked if they would like Mom and Dad's seats as well (assuming they wanted to get off the plane) and I was able to go into the transit lounge and ask them if they wanted a 5-day, all expense-paid-stay in Fiji, courtesy of Continental Airlines. Needless to say, that was one of the most memorable trips in my experience!


To learn more about the Parker family, click here. If you want to know about the Shaddles and the history of that side of my family, click here.

Click here to learn about Lloyd and Joy Shaddle's early days. Click here to learn about Jim and his life Click here to find out more about Kathleen Click here to go to Bill and Cathy's section Click here to go to the Table of Contents page Click here if you would like to send something to Bill to include here