The Town Where I Grew Up

Describe the town where you grew up.  (Another WordPress Post-a-Week topic.)

Here’s the problem I have with this topic.  I didn’t grow up in any one place.  Our family moved and moved and moved.  And then we moved again.  I started out life in a tiny town in Missouri, then spent a year (when I was five) in Fresno, California.  Then we moved to Ottawa, Illinois.  That’s the town I have the most vivid memories of, maybe because we lived in one place from the time I was in first grade until the fifth grade.

We rented an old two-story house (seems like most of the houses there were old) on a cobble-stoned street.  There was a porch across the front of the house and a little shed in the back.  No garage.  The doorbell was attached to the front door and you turned it and it had the most annoying sound, but it was loud.  If the other kids in the neighborhood wanted you to come play they’d stand at the back door and call your name through the screen in a sort of singsong voice.  If they wanted all of us to come out, gosh I can still remember this, you’d hear maybe more than one kid’s voice but in unison, calling to us.  Barrr-bie, Ste-eve, Kevin, Chri-is.  (In my memory they always called my name first.)

Maybe I remember more about the house than I do about the town.  I started first grade (two weeks late) at St. Columba Catholic School which was three blocks away from our house.  Yes, I wore a beanie and a school uniform.  White shirt and navy blue pleated skirt.  My teacher was Sister Lillian.  I bet I can remember all of my teachers from St. Columba.  Mrs. Koteck for second grade, I think.  Mrs. Carpenter for third.  (I remember third grade because I got a D in math which sparked a lifelong hatred and dread of math classes.)  Sister Karen for fourth.  I’d heard about her from my older brother.  She would smack your knuckles with a ruler if you misbehaved.  I’m pretty sure he knew this from personal experience.  And Mrs. Hardin for fifth.  If we had extra time before the release bell rang Mrs. Hardin would instruct us to fold our hands on top our desk and “think kind thoughts.”

One of the things I remember the best about Ottawa was the Reddicks Library which at that time was a little more than a block away from the school.  This was back in the days where you could let a child walk alone to places like church and school and the public library.  I went there all the time.  I loved that library.  One of my big discoveries  was The Little House on the Prairie books and The Boxcar Children series.  Did I do anything but read as a child?

Yes, because I remember playing a lot of “house” with the other girls in the neighborhood.  My best friend who was also named Barbara lived next door to me.  She was an only child (which I envied because her parents spoiled her and she didn’t have to share).  She got a poodle named Suzette, which she hated but her mother adored.  I thought her mother was cool.  She always had a pot of coffee on the stove and lots of time to let me sit in her kitchen even if Barbie wasn’t around.  I had two other friends that I remember, sisters named Susie and Julie.

We walked to school everyday, walked home for lunch, walked back to school and then back home at the end of the school day.  One of the houses we passed was set close to the sidewalk and an angry Pekinese used to bark at us through the screen door each time we walked by.

For my birthday one year I got one of those big jump ropes.  It was green.  For hours we’d have a group of kids on the sidewalk in front of my house playing jump rope, taking turns twirling.  Sometimes when my dad came home from work, if we were jumping rope out front he’d take a turn as well.  My friends thought that was great.  We played jacks and hopscotch. 

Downtown Ottawa at that time was what I would think of as a thriving place.  There was a movie theater, a Woolworth’s with a lunch counter, a Hornsby’s and a Carson Pirie Scott store.  Carson Pirie Scott was very upscale and we couldn’t afford to shop there.  They had a restaurant inside and I think somehow I got to go to lunch there once.  It was a big deal.  I do recall a special treat was going to the Woolworth’s lunch counter sometimes with my mom and my younger brother.  He and I had to share a hamburger and a milkshake and French fries.  In the summertime outside Woolworth’s was a stand that sold Sno-cones.  What a treat that was.

On Sundays after church sometimes my dad would get donuts from Barney’s Bakery.  Other times, Dad would take out his old-fashioned egg beaters and make pancakes.  There was a drive-in hamburger place where you could get seven hamburgers for a dollar.  Because there were six people in my family, we each got one and my Dad got two. 

Behind our house was an alley where the garbage trucks came to pick up the garbage and there were also burn barrels for paper and the like.  I remember my younger brother starting a major fire one time in the burn barrel.  I think the fire department was called.

On the opposite side of the block was an old general store.  Seems like it was called “Ed’s” but my memory may be faulty on that.  Ed had an entire array of penny candies, though and since about all we ever had was pennies we were probably some of his best customers.  He and his wife ran the store.

There was a public pool and if we could scrape together the admittance fee sometimes we went there in the summer.  My mother had forced YMCA swim lessons on me when I was probably too immature to handle them.  That experience bred a hatred of both indoor pools and putting my face in the water.  I always say I could swim now to save myself if I had to, but I am not a good swimmer.  I remember one time at the pool in Ottawa standing on the edge and someone pushed me in the deep end.  I thrashed and glubbed and thought surely I would drown before I finally managed to make it to the edge of the pool and grab hold.  Although the pool was crowded that day, no one noticed, no one helped me and I wonder now, where was the lifeguard?

Special outings were to Buffalo Rock State Park or Starved Rock.  Usually these were picnic cookout events with the families of people my dad worked with. 

When I was in fifth grade my parents bought a house a few blocks from where we’d been living.  My brothers and I loved that house.  It was huge and had been an apartment house at one time.  We each had our own room upstairs, even though some of us had stoves and refrigerators in our bedrooms.  In my memory it was and still is the coolest house we ever lived in.  My dad claimed to have hated that house.  It didn’t matter because I don’t think we lived there for even a full year before we had to move.  Again. 

Until my next post come visit me at


  1. This was really interesting, I love the way you described everything

  2. Thanks. I do have a few vivid (non-traumatic) memories of my childhood. 🙂

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