I love living in Chicago but I get very nostalgic around the holidays for my hometown of Dupo, Illinois. It’s the summer celebrations, like Memorial Day, that really make me wistful for days gone by in this small railroad town of 3000 people set near the banks of the Mississippi River in Southern Illinois. And although I appreciate the great parades in Chicago and its multiple street festivals, nothing can compare with the homespun touches that only a small town can offer.
The parades in Dupo are a little bit different than anywhere else I’ve ever been. For what they lack in size, they make up for with heart. The fire trucks (both of them) are polished for weeks leading up to the celebration and by the time they’re spritzed and spruced, you can see your reflection. Kathy Donigan recalled the service. “The VFW service is what I remember. As girl scouts, we marched in a parade from the VFW to the memorial in the triangle by our church for a ceremony. I recall it being very solemn and an honor to be the flag bearers. We got to wear white gloves.”
The American Legion Hall and the VFW are the top two hangouts in town and, during this festive time, little plastic American flags dot the tables and bars brightening up the dark wood. Townspeople who have served in wars pin medals on their shirts and walk a little taller. The pool tables in town are crowded with new faces, many who have returned home just for the holiday.
Besides the parade, THE highlight of Memorial Day for me has always been the Dupo Park picnic. The whole town shows up for this must-attend affair where you get to see all of your old friends and classmates. You can smell the fish frying from inside the little stands as families stake their claims on strategically placed picnic tables. The beer stands have the longest lines and, being close to Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, everyone is loyal to their hometown brands. Since you can reach out and touch the cornfields, the corn-on-the-cob is always a best seller, too. There are small carnival rides, live entertainment and sometimes even mouse races! (And before you ask, “Straight track, 6 lanes, you bet on a mouse and, if he wins, you win money depending on the odds.”) And don’t even get me started about the rooster crowing contests.
I still miss my friends there, the wonderful pace of the town and the beautiful scenery. The village, founded in 1750, was originally a French colonial settlement named Prairie du Pont. I remember scouring the bluffs for arrow heads that were left in abundance by the Cahokia Indians. Town history states that at one time between 3 to 7 thousand Indian dwellings were on the ridge where Dupo Park is located.
So, on this Memorial Day weekend, not only will I be giving thanks for the veterans but I will also be giving thanks for growing up in a small town, where life’s little pleasures become lasting memories.
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