Born in a Small Town

Posted: July 8, 2010 in Tilt

by Julie Keck

Millstadt Water Tower

Welcome to Millstadt

Grain silos on Main St.
The Main Drag

I’ve lived in Chicago for over 10 years, but I grew up in a tiny village called Millstadt, IL.  Last weekend I went home for 4th of July.  Since small town living is a part of TILT, I thought I’d share some of my own small town pics and memories.

Millstadt Consolidated Grade School

Millstadt Consolidated School

Millstadt is about 20 miles east of St. Louis.  When I was a kid, there were only about 2,ooo people living there.  It had (and still has) only one traffic light (a flashing red one), lots o’ churches, a few divey bars, one grocery store, and an elementary school (my dad and I had the same kindergarten teacher, Miss Mary) but no high school.  The town was small, but it was mine, and it suited me just fine.

My old house is in there somewhere

My old house is in there somewhere

My family actually lived about 10 minutes outside of town amidst farmland owned by my grandfather, his father, and his father before him. My grandfather’s parents spoke German; my grandpa and his sister Florence spoke it in dribs and drabs.  I clearly remember my Aunt Florence saying grace before family dinners in German, but my dad says she was just talking really fast.

The house I grew up in is slowly being reclaimed by the wilderness.  My parents live in a newer, nicer house on the other side of the driveway.

Billy Maserang's Gun Shop, where my sis and I would get candy after stacking wood for my dad

Billy Maserang's Gun (& Candy) Shop

When I was kid, my dad would make us stack wood (physical labor…what?) on weekends and then take us to Billy Maserang’s gun shop.  (I wrote more about Billy’s here).  My sister and I would get lost in the candy aisle, and my dad would talk politics at the counter with Billy.  My dad knew everyone in town (and still does).  He can’t go to the store or the post office or the gas station without falling into conversation with someone.  When I was a kid, it bothered me.  As an adult, I admire it.

Spikinger's Fish Stand

Spikinger's Fish Stand

Spikinger's Fish Stand

Spikinger's Fish Stand

As far as I’m concerned, Spikinger’s Fish Stand is (and has always been) the best place to eat in Millstadt.  There never have been too many options.  No McDonalds.  No Hardees.  Maybe a weekend fish fry at a church or the VFW hall.  A Subway sub shop moved in about 8 years ago, and people are still a little suspicious.  A pizza place took over (quite a while ago, actually) where the old True Value hardware store used to be, but it seems like people are just as happy with the pizza nuked at Casey’s convenience store on the edge of town.

There’s a spot by the old bakery (the one where my great-aunt and my uncle both worked) that has been resurrected as a few different sit-down restaurants through the years.  My favorite incarnation was the Cree-Mee, where they served hamburgers and hot dogs and ice cream.  There were probably a few other things on the menu, but I was too picky to notice back then.  When my grandma and grandpa took my sister and me to the Cree-Mee, my grandpa would always get a hot fudge shake.  My favorite was the banana split, because it seemed so grand and so special.  I don’t remember getting it too many times, but I bet I got it more than I recall; my grandpa was a big softie.

My ice cream disaster

My ice cream disaster

Now there’s a little ice cream place called Happy Days that serves, among other things, 24 flavors of soft serve. I have no idea how they accomplish this. What I do know is that a soft serve cone on a hot Southern IL day isn’t always the best idea.  This might be why the woman at the counter offered me a cup when I bought the one in the picture above.  Just out of view in this pic: my 4 nieces crying in the minivan because they hate their shakes and want my cone. Thanks goodness I didn’t give in on that one.

The Old Belleville West Auditorium

The Old Belleville West Auditorium

Belleville Township High School West, Est. 1924

Belleville Township High School West

Since Millstadt is so small, I attend a high school in a bigger town: Belleville.  Belleville Township High School West was the same school where my dad, all of his brothers and sisters, and my grandpa went.  (My mom, for the record, went to Belleville East.  This seemed like a REALLY big deal when I was 12.)  The place where I went to school was sold to a community college after they built a bigger school on the edge of town.  My little brother went to my school for one year and the new one for three.

My church

My church

My dad's Sunday school room

My dad's Sunday school room

That wing wasn't there back when I was a kid

That wing wasn't there back when I was a kid

The church I used to go to, St. Paul’s United Church of Christ (I wrote about my dad teaching Sunday school there here), is still there but very different.  My dad’s parents also went here (my grandma still does once in a while), even though there was another small United Church of Christ just up the road from their farm. St. Paul’s, smack dab in the middle of Belleville, was about a 30 minute drive.

Why the longer trip?  There’s some story about how my grandpa got into a fight with the pastor and pulled his whole family out of the church and off to St. Paul’s.  I like to imagine that there was a physical fight.  But my grandpa, a huge wall of a farming man, just wasn’t that sort of guy.  The pastor he parted ways with: David (Sledgehammer) Rasche‘s father. True story. The whole debacle wasn’t enough to keep my grandpa away forever, though.  He never gave up the plots he bought at the UCC church near the farm, and now he’s buried there.

Might as well have been called Cigs 'n' Snacks

Might as well have been called Cigs 'n' Snacks

This is the convenience store where my dad would stop after church to pick up smokes and potato chips.  Actually he’d often send me or my sister in to get them. And they sold cigarettes to us even though we were little kids. Ah, the good old days.

St. Clair County Fair Grounds

St. Clair County Fairgrounds, the site of many torturous flea markets and, well, fairs

Bel-Air Bowl

The Bel-Air Bowl, the site of many after-prom parties

The Hy-Ho Restaurant

The Hy-Ho Restaurant, where my dad used to like to gross us out by getting brain sandwiches. Or maybe he just liked them.

The Fountain

The Fountain, where I went to many summer concerts with my grandparents

The parking lot where my dad taught me to drive (even though I didn't want to learn)

The parking lot where my dad taught me to drive (even though I didn't want to learn)

Where my dad's office building used to be

Where my dad's office building used to be

My dad’s old office building is gone, razed and replaced with a parking lot for the funeral home across the street.  I spent many, many evenings in the back parking lot in the backseat of my parents’ car hitting my sister and waiting for my dad to be off work.  We only had one car, so my mom would drive into town to pick him up at the end of the day.  Dad always seemed to be working 30 minutes later than he said he would, and once in a while we’d get to go inside to see his secretary and get a piece of candy.  Usually we just had to stay in the car.  Songs like Baker Street and Right Down the Line take me right back to those carsick evenings.

Me & my baby bro, Henry

Me & my baby bro, Henry

My pa and my sis

My pa & my sis

In addition to seeing the sites of my old hometown over 4th of July, I also saw my family. But THAT is for a whole other post…

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Roy Tippett says:

    Great article, Julie. Brings back fond memories. I’ll keep an eye out for Tilt.

    • tiltthemovie says:

      Wow, Roy, thank you for checking out the article and for the kind comment. There were tons of little memory bombs “up in town,” like the house of my old babysitter (Nancy O.) who lived out near your folks and the rocket ship slide at the park. Would have taken more pics if my poor little nieces hadn’t been having a 4-way meltdown in the car. Next time…

  2. Laura says:

    This is lovely. I was back there not too long ago (May) and went to the art fair in the town square and saw the fountain. I’m sad every time we pass the old high school–can’t stand the idea that the next generation doesn’t have that auditorium.

    (By the way–at a used book sale a couple towns over in CT, I recently bought an Uncle Tupelo greatest-hits CD and realized that a photo of our high school was in the liner notes. Loved it. And I also love that I had to get that CD IN CONNECTICUT rather than back in Belleville.)

    • tiltthemovie says:

      Thanks, Laura. Usually when I go home I stick to my parents’ place for lots of food and Scrabble parties, but I’m glad my sis and I ventured out and plundered our wild blue childhood.

      Oooh, that was a lie – I sometimes do hop over the bridge to explore in St. Louis, which is fun but not really representative of my childhood. We could see the Arch from my grandma’s backyard, but we didn’t actually go over there too, too much. There’re so many things to do there as an adult that I couldn’t do as a kid. Too bad I didn’t spend more time in St. L when back in my partying 20s. Would probably have had a blast on the The Landing, but alas…

  3. Loved this post Julie, It is really great to see the place that you wrote about come to life in pictures.

    R

    • tiltthemovie says:

      Well, thank you, Richard. It’s definitely fun taking breaks from making up new worlds to explore the one I actually grew up in. I expect that there will be a lot of things in our movie TILT that draw upon my own personal experience as a small town girl.

      All the best to you and HEADS-UP DAD. What a great resource!

  4. Julie Hadley-Henderson says:

    Oh I absolutely love all the pics Julie. I miss that area so much… the little towns where the sidewalks roll up at 5PM… You even putt St. Pauls in there too… I forgot we went to church together too!

    • tiltthemovie says:

      I forgot we went to the same church, too, Julie. So funny. I actually remember you most from grade school. I seriously think I thought you were a bizarro version of me. Probably vice versa…you seem WAY more normal than me.

      Thank you so much for checking out the blog post and commenting. Means a lot to me!

  5. GOOD LORD! What a trip down memory lane. And thank you, thank you, thank you for the photographic evidence that the West auditorium still stands. How many countless hours did we spend inside that refuge? It would have been a travesty, emotionally and historically, had that building been torn down. P.S. Your family is crazy. But in a good way. (How come I never knew you had siblings though?)

    • tiltthemovie says:

      Yeah, I think I spent every evening and weekend in there making sets and practicing lines for about 3 years. How did we do that? All I know is that I loved every minute of it.

      As far as the sibling thing goes, my bro was pretty little when we were in high school (he’s 12 years younger than me), so he wasn’t around. My sis is only 2 years younger, but she ran with a different crowd. A cooler crowd. A party-ing-er crowd. People who wouldn’t have been caught dead in Meet Me in St. Louis.

      Thanks for stopping by the blog, M! I love seeing all of the Millstadt and Belleville folks checking this out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s