A Boy’s Home Front – 1940’s Oglesby, Illinois

Oglesby, Illinois

A Boy’s Home Front in the Mid 1940’s

James Duncan   b.1941

Oglesby, a sleepy little farm town in the midst of vast fields of corn. Northern Illinois about 100 miles southwest of Chicago.  No interstate, no supercenters, TV or cell towers.  Nickel movies on Saturday afternoons. Tom Mix, Three Stooges and war time news reels (remember the narrators voice?).  Yo-Yo contests at intermission.  Mine had rhinestones and could “walk the dog”.

Sunday nights in front of the floor model Philco.  The Shadow, Amos n Andy and Fibber McGee .

Living with Dad’s parents, Tudie and Pa.  Mean cocker spaniel named Bunny.  Don’t stick your finger in the kitchen door crack. Bunny would and did bite.  Mom hated Bunny.  Six people, one bath, steam hot water, lump coal furnace.  Take out the clinker ash.  Dinner was noon.  Pa takes nap and goes back to his lumber yard.  Sandwiches at night.  Lard bucket on back stoop.  Cook everything in lard. Save lard.  Use it again.  Tudie picks concord grapes in back arbor. Squeeze them in cloth bags. Catch juice and make jelly.  Melt paraffin and pour over jars. Cool and seal.

Washington Park two houses down.  Swings, merry go round, monkey bars and metal slides.  No rubber mats or crushed tire mulch.  Skinned knees, splinters bumps and bruises.  Play through it.  World War 1 cannon also in park.. Two big wheels.  Shimmy up barrel and hang down.  Green Schwinn fat tire bike with Bendix brakes.  Band concert shell with concerts on summer Saturday nights.  Men just getting home from war.   John Phillip Sousa . Glenn Miller sounds.  Popcorn balls two for a nickel.

Pa and I walking Bunny after dark.  I sneak off to Bobby’s house and go to Ben Franklin with parents. Arrive home an hour later.  Confronted by Pa. My chin in his large hand.  He is shaking.  No more of that.

Doc Rock lives three door away. Very bulbous nose and thick glasses.  Think Dickens.  He birthed all three of us kids and removed my appendix and tonsils.  What’s a specialist? Would walk down to Pa’s house with black back any time. Like to have cocktails with Pa.  Christmas eves at Rocks. Hot egg nog.  Santa would pound on front door with great fanfare.  Smelled like bourbon.

Leave house summer mornings to find the  days adventure. Back at noon.  Summoned by bell on back porch.  Out again. No helicopter mom or name for free range parents.  No political with correct in same sentence yet. Forbidden to go down to Vermillion River . Sure.  Cross street into woods. Down hill past old coal mine buildings.  Great place to play war.  Over the slag heaps (red ash) left from mines.  Arrive at narrow fast moving Vermillion.  Skip rocks, look for stuff and critters.  Watch the bucket tram carry limestone from the quarry on the other side to the cement mill. (Where I would work four summers in college).

Jim Duncan with mother and sister on 4th of July 1949.

Home filthy and tired.  Sandwich, bath and to bed.  Mom, Dad and sister in room to the right.  Tudie and Pa each in separate bedrooms.  His very large.  Do not go in there.  Bunny locked in kitchen.  Prayers on knees.  Nod off to sounds on hoot owl family quietly vocalizing and the nightly steam engine  train revving up to make the grade to the mill.   I think I can….I think I can.

Yes we can and we did.




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