Stick with what you know…

Everyone knew they were right about the tax burden; the argument was about whether the money would be well spent, and that’s always an argument in Jo Daviess County, as it should be everywhere else for that matter.

Jo Daviess folks have always thought that some communities, like anywhere near Chicago, think that spending money is the solution to everyone’s problems, especially problems with their kids. Buy them a car, a video game, buy them anything to see if that makes them more loving, better young people. That means that the greatest failure as a parent comes from not having enough money to spend on their kids. In Jo Daviess County money doesn’t buy happiness and money doesn’t make you a better parent; maybe that’s because there’s not that much money around, and the money there is only comes from work and all the work in Jo Daviess County is hard work. So there’s a natural suspicion about throwing money at a problem, even if the problem is your own children.

That was the polite debate in town meetings and in Wiler’s diner, but everyone knew the real dispute was over the loss of each school’s traditions; Hanover’s school colors were red and gold, Elizabeth’s were navy blue and gray, Hanover’s school mascot/nickname/cheer was Go Wildcats! and Elizabeth’s was Hey Lions! In the compromise of consolidation the district’s school colors were navy blue and gray, and the mascot/nickname was Go Wildcats! One can be thankful that both school districts shared a lack of creativity when it came to school songs since they both used the same music (the Naval Academy’s Navy Blue and Gold tune) and the words were pretty much the same, except for the Wildcat/Lion thing.

Now they all sing:

Let’s Go you Wildcats, win you Wildcats,

Let them hear our name.

We are the team from River Ridge,

We’ve come to prove our fame, Rah, Rah.

Now Go you Wildcats, win you Wildcats,

Hold our colors high.

The Blue and Gray will march along

To vic-to-ry today.

We are the Wildcats, fight-ing Wildcats,

Give your best al-ways.

Stand up, with pride, for River Ridge

Your loy-al-ty dis-play, Rah, Rah.

Now go you Wildcats, win you Wildcats,

Hold our colors high.

The Blue and Gray will march along

To vic-to-ry to-day.

But some people to-day still say It isn’t the same, and Nobody wins with compromise, and It’s better just to stick to what you know.

Free coffee

Conferences are a blessed hell unto themselves,

a joyful working no work day that offers hope

that I am not alone after all, and everything

I’m hearing doesn’t directly apply to my work

but I’ll have to do that for myself sometime,

and that magical way of learning who you envy

for their larger than lifeness doing what you do

but without seeming frustration – all on PowerPoint

for all 12 of us in Mezzanine Carolina Room 126 to see,

and I’m happily surprised that the free coffee is pretty good.

Where the beautiful people live…

The young woman in line runs her fingers and manicured nails through her long, highlighted hair with the flair of a movie star capturing our attention (and she does for anyone within eyeshot) even as stray hairs float aimlessly through the sun-streaked air they dare not move unattractively, while a just tall-enough square jaw with a well-tanned man attached is shown unusual deference from un-shy women except, of course, from the finger-through-her-hair star who isn’t bothered by anyone else, and the rest of the world shift uncomfortably in place, unwilling to draw attention to our flaws and ordinariness and untamed looks – we are the wild beauties of lives filled with caring for parents, feeding and loving children while cajoling simple things like ‘Thank yous’ and empathy from untrained beings and the only consolation is the beautiful people still have to stand in lines just like us in ordinary places.

Death and taxes…

Families in this part of Jo Daviess County in Northwest Illinois send their kids to Hanover for middle-and junior high school (everyone except the Catholics and the growing number of home schooled these days), which means they take a bus ride each day and it gets iffy when ice and snow fall, as in anytime from November to March. Used to be that both Elizabeth and Hanover had their own schools in their own towns with their own teachers, but nowadays it’s different.

Back in the eighties the Elizabeth and Hanover schools consolidated into River Ridge Community School District number two hundred ten. The towns are eight miles apart and that was close enough to wonder if they couldn’t do more together than apart. Back in the seventies town leaders and pastors got involved and presented a united front about the unity of comm-unity, and then there was a referendum on the local ballot and everyone put big Yes or No signs on their front lawns.

Those in favor, the Yes sign folks, said that even though it would cost more in property taxes the quality of education would also improve. Some Yes sign folks got caught up in the rhetoric and made it sound like their new School District would be the next Ivy League of primary and secondary education in the Upper Midwest –as is their hayseeds would blossom into Albert Schweitzers. Those opposed, the No sign people, said that classes would be too large and the quality of education would decrease, and it would raise property taxes.

The Yes’s won with over seventy five percent of the vote and property taxes went up proving that Winner takes all, but how he takes it sometimes hurts. The school district quickly became the County’s largest employer with more employees than the local electric, gas and telephone companies combined. Oh, and the property taxes kept going up, but the kids’ I.Q.’s remained about the same.

A wedding chapel…

Now it’s the next century and Elizabeth, Illinois, is pretty much the same it was last century. Except the railroad’s gone now, the tracks torn up not long ago, the Depot is a historical site, and the impressive tunnel became such a burden to maintain that it was closed as well.

Mining lost its luster after its glorious contribution to the Civil War armory. And the Fort the settlers hastily built in the Black Hawk War is also gone, the lumber used to build a barn for farming. Only the farming remains, and the rest are the stories of history.

These days almost seven hundred people live in Elizabeth, in 1950 almost seven hundred people lived here, and in 1900 almost seven hundred people lived here.

And the same thing can be said for the town’s downtown; there is a diner named Wiler’s right along the main street cutting through town, a bar, a bank, a grocery and variety store, a B & B and a craft and antique shoppé owned by the same woman, a town hall and a township library, and two or three churches depending on how one defines the word Church.

There’s the Baptist church, cleverly named Elizabeth Baptist Church, unaffiliated with any Baptist Convention.

There’s a Lutheran church named St. John’s even though you’d expect it to be named after Paul, and the Saint part always bothered Baptists anyway because they say all true Christians (read Baptists) are saints themselves –at least Positionally, as they say.

To call any of Jesus’ apostles Saints seemed sacrilegious to the real Protestants who called themselves Baptists and thought all other Protestants were just closet Papists. Luther didn’t go far enough and should have thrown the baby out with the baptistery water according to Baptists because the child shouldn’t be there in the first place.

In town there’s also what used to be a Presbyterian church and it had one of those paedo baptisteries as well so they could sprinkle the secretly elect of God. But in the sovereign providence of the Almighty it seems Presbyterians weren’t predestined to thrive in the area and the church building was boarded up during in 20’s until a developer from Galena bought the building and turned it into a Wedding Chapel in the late 80’s, making for a sort of rural Las Vegas in Northern Illinois.

Some of us just aren’t special…

There are just so many, so alike,

so unheralded, unknown; the

unwashed are great in number

and fame, in volume; there

are more than many who are

ugly, ignored and broken, hidden

and lost; once a Mama’s joy or

sorrow, loved before the heartache

of life overcame innocence,

breaking into unmatched parts

of lives sung off-key, falling

flat from low elevation of

uninspired and undistinguished

mortality politely ignored.

The railroad comes to Elizabeth…

The first official settlers were a small crowd that stayed small; and the story always goes back to two men: John Winters the farmer and Captain Clack Stone. The Captain owned the claim to the village of Elizabeth and that meant they had all the responsibility but just a little authority.

They took care of settlement claims and kept the peace, which they thought would be an easy job and they’d nurture the area into a modest infamy. Infamy it was, but not modestly thanks to a little incident known as the Black Hawk War in 1832. On May 15th Captain Clack Stone’s Company, the 27th Regiment Illinois Militia was called out of retirement to repel the aggression of the Sac and Fox Indians all because they reacted poorly to President Andrew Jackson’s order of relocation to west of the Mississippi.

There’s a suspicious account of a cowardly retreat (or Was it wise? –that’s the debate) by some of the militia on May 14th that led to the Governor’s order the very next day to Captain Clack Stone and the war was on.

The battle took one farming season, May to August, which was unfortunate for the farmers, but the peaceful result of war was a happy irony that was tragic but short lived enough to become historically curious and provide the Chamber of Commerce another folksy attraction in what is now a quite farming community that it’s always been.

Soundly quiet, that is until the Chicago Great Western Railroad came ‘a steamin through in 1888, stopping at the Depot on Myrtle Street in downtown Elizabeth and connecting the sleepy community to Chicago to Iowa to Minnesota to Omaha, Nebraska, to Missouri (obviously not a straight route).

They built an elaborate tunnel west of Elizabeth called the Winston Tunnel. It was over a half-mile long and was the longest in Illinois –considering the topography of Illinois it was pretty much the only place someone could build a half-mile tunnel without digging straight down.

The lore of the ore…

Farmers followed VanMatre and VanVolkenburg and changed the balance of odd to ordinary names when Winters and two brothers named Flack cut the rich soil and planted a first crop of corn in the area and the rest, as they say, is history.

Mining and farming, farming and mining, made the area livable and that’s Jo Daviess County from its establishment February 17, 1827 to today; at first literally, then faming took over but mining became the first story in Elizabeth’s history, The Lore of the Ore, as they say

Why mining?

That’s the way it’s always been actually. Geologists call this the southern terminus of the Driftless Region, an area that covers the upper Midwest of southern Minnesota and Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Iowa. About two million years ago, back in the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch (that’s the sixth epoch of the Cenozoic era of geologic time for those of you keeping score), this area supposedly didn’t have glaciers while everywhere else nearby did.

That’s why all around is leveled land, flat and without contour, but the Mississippi River area has deep valleys that were pushed, shoved and cut by the undulation of advancing and receding glaciers nearby that teased the area only to dump their outwash deposits of silt, sand and gravel and made the mighty Mississippi a mighty drain, flushing waters but leaving the rugged and rich deposits that drew settlers to the area in the nineteenth century.

Thus it was, and thus it will always be.

Playing God…

When I grow up I want to be God,

capital ‘G’ – whole thing, just like you think,

maybe churches too, but that’s

not something I care about, like others;

I will listen to people when they talk,

do what I can, not what I want,

but not always when they want I’m sure,

good people will feel good about good

and not just for themselves either,

I’ll ignore pretty much most of what is

because that’s the way it seems best,

and my job will be to keep things running;

I’m sorry, but people will still die

because that’s what mortality means,

that, and the 2d law of thermodynamics,

and we’ll see if I can get people

to stop blaming themselves and others

for everything that they don’t like

because I won’t like everything either;

I’ll give gifts, but not on Christmas

so everyone else can feel special too,

but mercy will still be the toughest sell,

and I get that, but I’ll still try

and that’s the most anyone can ask.