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November, 2006


by Valerie

By the time we are adults, many of our childhood memories are reduced to a jumble of unrelated images and snippets of information. That's sort of how I remember Millington - in bits and pieces. Millington is a small town on the Fox River in Illinois. We went there to visit Mrs. Christopherson on her farm, which was right along the river. When I was a kid, I assumed she had no known first name (just as for my first few years I assumed my mother and father, unlike other people we knew, had no other names than Mom and Dad - I actually remember discussing this possibility with my sister when we were both preschoolers). I know now that my mother, Evelyn, had known the Christopherson family when she was young, so the family ties went back a bit.

Val's maternal grandmother, Mary, at Millington, 1949

We often took my maternal grandmother, who didn't drive, to go and visit her friend. They would spend quite a bit of time talking and doing chores, during which my sister, Vicky, and I could play outside or sometimes go on hikes with our mother. We did occasionally go into the house. It was an old, ramshackle structure, with a very dark interior and lots of velvety upholstery with satin fringe. There were scads of boxelder bugs huddled around the door we used to enter, hiding under the flaking pieces of linoleum in what was probably a laundry room or storage space. The house had a peculiar, but not unpleasant, smell, most likely emanating from the cellar, which was dug out of a very unusual clay formation. This unique clay was much sought after for fine hand-made pottery.

Val's uncle Charlie as a boy, under the bridge at Millington, 1949
I don't remember Mrs. Christopherson's voice. I do, however, remember that of her dog. On the other hand, I never really got a good look at the dog, and so only have a vague image of it. Being a high-strung Chihuahua, whenever strangers (everyone other than Mrs. Christopherson being a stranger) entered the house, the dog would yap hysterically for a bit while retreating under the sofa in the living room. From this hiding place, it would nip at ankles that got too close, so we learned to keep our feet away from the base of the couch or try to sit in a chair on the other side of the small room.

It was much preferable to spend the time outside rather than indoors. Although we did not dare play in the river, because the water was too deep and fast, we could climb about on the large chunks of concrete piled along the shore for erosion control. We frequently played under a nearby bridge over the river. There was a fair amount of land on the farm and we could wander in the fields, carefully avoiding a mean old sow that was in one fenced area. Not far off, along the steep hillside parallel to the river, there was a blow-out which revealed pure white silica sand, a delight to touch and play in. Most of the fields were rocky, but the lawn down near the river was soft and grassy, probably because of the accumulated silt from the nearly annual floods. The most pleasurable thing for us kids was a big swing, shaped like a hexagonal pyramid, with a pole in the middle and a wooden seat all around the perimeter. This could both sway and spin like a combination swing and merry-go-round. The view of the nearby river made the setting almost magical.

As the years passed, we eventually outgrew the childhood games and swing, and I remember it eventually fell off its base and became overgrown with weeds. Mrs. Christopherson died and, although we once passed by on a Fox River canoe trip, we never returned to the old farm.

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