As told to me by my father-in-law, Bill:
When I was a boy, my grandmother lived in southern Illinois in a small town named Nokomis. I visited her there every summer. In fact, I didn’t spend any of my childhood summers in Chicago. Instead, my father drove us down in his 1938 Dodge to visit his mother at her tiny home. It was a nice way to spend summers, away from the crowded city and enjoying the rural life.
I was the only grandchild, so it was natural that she doted on me. She didn’t speak much English, and consequently I quickly learned the Slovak language. I learned to catch and clean fish, raise chickens, and collect coal in the neighboring town for use in the stove. I hunted for squirrels and rabbits. My love for the outdoors grew and I had opportunities that I wouldn’t find back in my neighborhood.
When I got older, my parents put me on a train by myself for the visits. However, one year I had the company of my Uncle Steve -- the summer before my he would enter naval service in World War II. We boarded a passenger train and, rather than spending a good amount of time back-trekking from the St. Louis stopover, my uncle asked the conductor if we could hop off earlier in Coalton, Illinois (an unscheduled stop). Back then such a request wasn’t unheard of, so the conductor spoke with the engineer and when we neared Coalton, we could hear the engine slowing down. They let us jump off early and from there we could see my grandmother’s house in the distance.
We enjoyed that summer together before my uncle was deployed – fishing and hunting were our favorite pastimes. My grandmother stored our skinned rabbits on her back porch, ready for stewing and preserving. When it was time to return to Chicago, she wrapped up about a dozen rabbits in newspaper and packed them away in an old suitcase for us to enjoy at home.
It was much later when my uncle and I were seated on the crowded train and we noticed spots of water on our knees. We didn’t know what to make of those suspicious droplets. Looking up toward the overhead luggage rack, we realized the timeworn suitcase was leaking – the rabbits were thawing out.
Uncle Steve signaled the conductor and asked how much time we had before we reached Chicago. I kept my mouth shut and wished for the train to move faster. It was warm on the train and we had several more stops until we were home free. We made it to Union Station without further incident and hurried out of the station into the humid summer evening. We had a pleasant visit with my grandmother and we were exhausted when we arrived home. But, regrettably, we still had an exceptionally soggy suitcase to unpack.